Friday, August 18, 2006

Mainstream dominance (Late 1970s and 1980s)

Punk rock emerged in the mid 1970s as a reaction against social conditions in contemporary society as well as the overindulgent music of the decade, including heavy metal. Facing disinterest from major labels fixated on punk, while still energized by the punk sound and its do-it-yourself ethos, many newer British heavy metal bands put out releases independently to small, devoted audiences. British music papers such as the NME and Sounds began to take notice of these bands, with Sounds writer Geoff Barton christened the movement the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal." NWOBHM bands including Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Saxon, Diamond Head, and Def Leppard reenergized the heavy metal genre by toughening up the sound, reducing the blues influence, and emphasizing the punk influenced tempos. By the 1980s some bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard became internationally successful while other bands like Diamond Head and Venom, while not successful, became influential on subsequent bands.

In comparison, older metal bands were seen as out of date. Led Zeppelin was out of the limelight for much of the late seventies, Deep Purple had broken up in 1975, and Black Sabbath was routinely upstaged in concert by its opening act, Los Angeles band Van Halen. Guitar virtuosity was brought to the forefront of the genre by Eddie Van Halen, and many consider his 1978 solo "Eruption" (Van Halen, 1978) a milestone. Ritchie Blackmore (formerly of Deep Purple), Randy Rhoads (with Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot) and Yngwie Malmsteen went on to further virtuoso guitar work; in some cases, classical nylon-stringed guitars were played at heavy metal concerts and on heavy metal albums, e.g., Rhoades' "Dee" on Blizzard of Ozz. Classical icons such as Liona Boyd also became associated with the heavy metal stars in a newly diverse guitar fraternity where conservative and aggressive guitarists could come together to "trade licks."

Heavy metal's success blossomed in the wake of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with a rash of successful releases by metal bands in the early 1980s. Following Van Halen's lead, a metal scene began to develop in Los Angeles during the late 1970s. LA bands like Mötley Crüe, Ratt, W.A.S.P., and Quiet Riot were influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal but also incorporated the theatrics (and sometimes makeup) of forebearers Alice Cooper and Kiss. With the debut of MTV in 1981, many metal artists benefited from exposure on the channel; sales often doubled or tripled if a band had videos on the channel. Def Leppard's videos for 1983's Pyromania made them superstars in America, Quiet Riot became the first American heavy metal band to top the charts domestically, and Ozzy Osbourne teamed up with former Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhodes to launch his successful solo career. One of the seminal events in metal's growing popularity was the 1983 US Festival held in California, where the special "heavy metal day" featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen, Judas Priest, and others drew the largest audiences of the three-day festival.

Heavy metal's popularity continued to grow as the decade wore on, and several professional and amateur magazines devoted exclusively to the genre, such as Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, emerged. Billboard noted "Metal has broadened its audience base. Metal music is no longer the exclusive domain of male teenagers. The metal audience has become older (college-aged), younger (pre-teen), and more female." One of the more popular forms of heavy metal to emerge during the 1980s was glam metal, which was based around the club scene in Los Angeles' Sunset Strip. Glam metal bands including Mötley Crüe, Poison, and New Jersey's Bon Jovi dominated the US charts, MTV, and arenas, but the underground scene of the increasingly factionalized heavy metal fanbase often considered these bands "posers"