The Dawn Of The Heavy: 20 Proto-Metal Hard Rock Pioneers

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This month, heavy metal turns 45 years old. The unofficially official birthdate is Friday, February 13, 1970. That’s when the band Black Sabbath released its first album, Black Sabbath, which opened with a terrifying first song titled “Black Sabbath.” But alas, Black Sabbath (and Black Sabbath and “Black Sabbath”) didn’t just come from nowhere. Rock-and-roll had been branded “the devil’s music” from its roots up, as embodied by the myth of 1930s blues shaman Robert Johnson obtaining his guitar powers from Satan “down at the crossroads.” That same infernal spirit carried on through Chicago blues blazers such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters before Screamin’ Jay Hawkins explicitly combined horror and heavy sounds, most famously in 1956’s “I Put a Spell on You.”

Upon the 1960s, the primordial ooze that begat Black Sabbath bubbled furiously by way of, among others, corpse-paint innovator Screaming Lord Sutch, The Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” and the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” on various blistering efforts by the likes of Jeff Beck and the Who. Other groups, as well, produced unmistakable proto-metal: hard and heavy sounds driven by virtuoso musicianship, sludge-feast riffs, ride-the-lightning solos, wailing vocals, and subject matter that veered often from the taboo to the downright scary. Some pre-Sabbath vets evolved quickly enough into all-out metal acts, most notably Alice Cooper and Deep Purple. Others still got close, but never quite went the full-on leather and hellfire.

To those who lit the cauldron from which heavy metal burbled up fully formed, we now salute you.

Jimi Hendrix

“Killing Floor” at the Monterey Pop Festival (1967)

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