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Yuli Ban
Metal newbie

Joined: Tue Dec 04, 2018 11:07 am
Posts: 139
Location: United States
PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2021 5:47 pm 

Since all the cool kids are doing it, I figured I'd get around to making my own "Alternate History" thread on something that's been rattling around my head for years.

First of all, this obviously isn't going to be the deepest of threads. What are we going to discuss beyond "Then I guess heavy metal gets going a few years sooner?"

Second of all, there's a set-up I need to explain. People typically decide that heavy metal music began in 1970 with Black Sabbath's debut album or, less generously, Paranoid. Even if neither is heavy metal to you (the s/t I can understand, but Paranoid would be considered heavy metal, if very traditional-doom metal, if it came out today so that's where I draw the line), their overwhelming influence on metal and their continued contributions make it impossible to not use them as the turning point. Of course, they weren't the first to play heavy metal ever. They simply took a sound bouncing around heavy rock, acid rock, R&B, and garage rock bands before them and unified it into an actual sound by basing their whole sound and aesthetic around it. Before, a heavy metal song was that one-off track on an album that was louder and crazier and often more devilish than any other (or maybe even just only a break in the middle or obscured by the fade-out at the very end), but Sabbath made whole albums out of that one song.
They weren't alone, obviously. We had Sir Lord Baltimore in the USA at around the same time who also played a very wild and chaotic variant of heavy rock that possessed so much lighting and thunder that it easily crossed over into full-fledged heavy metal. Even though they never achieved even a thousandth of the success of Sabbath, they did beat them to the punch in one respect: they're the first band to actually be CALLED "heavy metal." Then you had Lucifer's Friend in Germany, who took that Deep Purple-style use of gothy keyboards and mixed it with Black Sabbath's metal riffs and occultsploitation.
They also weren't alone by any means, as there was an entire wave of proto-metal artists and music coming out between 1966 and the mid-70s. But here's the thing, I also tend to start "First-Wave Metal" with Sabbath (if only to build back from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal— can't have a new wave without an old wave). What's more, unlike proto-metal, the first wave of metal isn't quite as nebulous; it only includes the metal artists of the time or, if that's not good enough, the metal albums. And it doesn't end until NWOBHM, whereas proto-metal fades out by punk. Both proto-metal and first wave metal overlap, and making that delineation can be difficult because what metal was at the time was so different from what it is now. We don't have that same issue with NWOBHM or later metal, at least not until we get to the era of the -cores, but even then at least we have a cohesive idea of what metal is nowadays.
There's really only issue keeping first wave metal from feeling whole, and that's the fact it's still too raw: the bands playing it often still didn't know they were playing heavy metal music. This was the era where rock and roll bands just happened to play heavy metal, almost always by accident, because they were being the 1960s equivalent of edgelords. What we know of as metal, with its culture, ethos, accepted cliches, and whatnot still needed a full decade more of collecting and assimilating different influences.

Speaking of punk and new wave, let's compare heavy metal to punk.

It seems like punk hit the ground running with everyone fully on board with the sound, genre, aesthetic, and ethos. Whereas metal floundered for at least a decade before NWOBHM artists decided to unify all of the above. But it's actually fairly messy there too, if not even messier than metal. This is because punk's history goes back even further than metal, being born out of garage rock and a general outlaw ethos.

The sound of what would become punk, that extreme focus on power chords and the disaffected and stripped-back 50s rock 'n roll definitely didn't start with the Ramones and Sex Pistols. You could hear it in the general '60s garage rock sound, British freakbeat, the Detroit rock sound, Dutch Nederbeat, and so on.
After all, this is from 1970 and is basically punk:

This is from 1966:

As is this. It sounds like it could've come out of the New York punk underground from a decade hence:

Why even beat around the bush? We can see antecedents to punk even in the 50s itself:

So delightfully 50s!

Heck, the Beatles themselves described themselves as a punk band during their Hamburg era, before they were cleaned up for mainstream success.

But we're avoiding a few notable names, mainly the MC5, Death, and especially the Stooges. That said, in a manner very similar to proto-metal/first wave metal bands, the Stooges certainly didn't think of themselves as punk. They were rock and roll first and foremost. But you can't listen to their debut, Funhouse, or especially Raw Power and not hear what would eventually be described as punk rock. It technically WAS described as "punk rock" but just like heavy metal before NWOBHM, it was used to describe bands that had little to do with punk as well as bands that would eventually be considered the definition of proto-punk.

But it wasn't until around 1974-1975 that we saw punk actually take off in a way that was unified and cohesive to the point you had punk purists, punk fashion, and the punk ethos. Coincidentally, that's when a lot of people consider punk to have started in the popular imagination. It's such a massive difference from heavy metal, with its full decade's difference between its accepted birth and when it actually found its identity. But again, that's because punk itself had already effectively existed for some time.

To put it another way, imagine if the popular idea of heavy metal said that the first heavy metal band was Iron Maiden or Motörhead. By the time these two broke through, there was no doubt what heavy metal looked and sounded like.
The way heavy metal should have evolved follows Sir Lord Baltimore than Black Sabbath. Heavy metal should've been a sound that grew up deep in the underground for years before exploding in the late '70s, but Black Sabbath put it in the mainstream as soon as reasonably possible (which some being even more generous to say that Blue Cheer or even the Beatles did their job even sooner).

So rather than imagine what if heavy metal took several more years to develop or if Black Sabbath's albums failed (or the band never formed at all), why not imagine what if heavy metal became a cohesive ethos circa 1970-1971 like punk did.
Proto-metal bands stopped being rock and roll bands playing heavy metal and instead deliberately made heavy metal from the outset. Groups didn't shift over to prog, glam, blues, or jam rock but instead kept up that early heaviness.

How does heavy metal develop going forward if the early '70s bands embrace heavy metal? That when Black Sabbath releases Master of Reality, they aren't alone. Blue Cheer, instead of going towards power-blues, instead goes back to the raw sound on Vincebus Eruptum or better, being the ones to do a cover of Rumbling Man instead of Cactus; Lucifer's Friend's follow-up is literally Mean Machine; Bobbly Liebling doesn't sabotage Pentagram and they instead become a hit circa 1974; Deep Purple becomes what Rainbow would become circa Rainbow Rising & Long Live Rock 'n' Roll; Sir Lord Baltimore's Kingdom Come tops the charts and they decide to keep outdoing themselves in heaviness rather than follow a '70s rock direction; Iron Claw, Warpig, Budgie, Cactus, Buffalo, Grand Funk Railroad, KISS, Nazareth, etc. stick with heavy metal (even if it'd be very conservative '70 metal by modern standards), and perhaps most importantly, Judas Priest starts out with Sad Wings of Destiny rather than the much more limp Rock and Rolla due to navigating their way out of a shitty situation so that we basically get SWoD circa 1972 instead of 1976 (and likewise Sin After Sin the same year as Sabbath Bloody Sabbath).

Speed metal likely gets its start much sooner to boot, and if that happens, heavy metal might steal some of punk's thunder before it can get going:

Plus, if Iron Claw and Cactus play their cards right, we might get shredding sooner as well:

All the parts we needed for NWOBHM going forward was already there by 1971-1972 or so, and that's why I can easily imagine heavy metal being an actual genre years ahead of time. Without punk, going for speed would be more preference than anything, but sooner or later, groups would've exploited it. In fact, it's entirely possible that, with heavy metal culture arriving in '71, what would've otherwise been punk could've instead have become alternate-universe thrash metal.
The Ramones in particular had at least some root in heavy metal, so it's not entirely alien space bats:

And just imagine what if this track, rather than an extremely obscure gem of the flower power age lost to dinky discount record stores until the rise of the internet, had become a big enough hit to influence various artists going forward:

It'd certainly inform more than a few people that this whole "metal" thing didn't have to just be post-blues rock noodling taken up to eleven but possibly something more esoteric.

But maybe heavy metal would've actually failed to develop along accepted lines. I've sometimes described traditional/epic doom metal as what heavy metal would've become if not for punk, so perhaps if metal reached maturity so soon after Sabbath, bands would have instead stuck at the same tempo as Sabbath while taking in influences elsewhere, like operatic vocals and Phrygian dominant scale. Perhaps we'd recognize acts like Motörhead as being "punk metal" rather than traditional metal/speed metal.

TLDR: What if heavy metal matured almost as soon as it started rather than floundering trying to find its identity for another decade?

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