Who Invented Heavy Metal?

If you’re reading this on my Black Sabbath site, it is a pretty foregone conclusion what the thought you have for the answer is.  Still, Martin Popoff, noted rock author has penned a book with that exact question.  Check out some details from his latest…

Martin Popoff here, with the culmination of everything important, namely…

Who Invented Heavy Metal?


Boxes sitting in my office – shipping immediately!

Folks, this was a monster undertaking, comprising quotes from 126 different speakers (mostly the metal-makers themselves), many of them interviewed multiple times, blasted at you with much of my own contextualizing over 120,000 words of oral history, strict and detailed timeline, obsessive philosophizing, punctuated by more than 250 graphics. This book arose from years of debating this question with people, as well as talks I’ve given on the topic at university conferences (the below text is derived from the Finland program). I’ve endeavored to include everything related to the story, the result being a massive arrangement of all the salient arguments, in a weighty tome that ends in 1971!

It’s one of the great debates in headbanged musicology and the answer is as complicated as it is hotly contested. Martin Popoff’s Who Invented Heavy Metal? provides the most detailed, well argued, reasonable, ridiculously complete, and most lively and readable telling of the early history of heavy metal yet, arming the argumentative headbanger with all the facts and figures one needs on hand to win those bar room bets around this provocative question.

Ultimately, Who Invented Heavy Metal? aims to be a book that doesn’t limit itself to fans of heavy metal, given the genre’s unarguable cultural value and pervasiveness, as well as the wide umbrella of topics discussed within the volume. Put another way, it is the author’s wish that the book provides wide instructional scope of teachable moments through unfolding, subconscious, telling by osmosis of the very history of heavy metal’s origins through events inside the genre but, surprisingly, many events outside of its own kerranging reverberations.

Martin’s presentation is compartmentalized into four parts:

Trace Elements: 1250 BC – 1966

Our story begins with the Battle Of Jericho and quickly moves through shocking concerts in ancient Greece, Vikings, Paganini, Robert Johnson and the blues, the invention of the electric guitar and the why Little Richard, Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis—but most notably, Johnny Burnette—might be called the first headbangers.

Lead: 1967 – 1969

Most of our time here will be spent discussing extreme vocals, distortion, feedback, guitar heroes, psychedelics, amplification, the first riffs, the first power chords and the first heavy metal songs.

Steel: 1970

Essentially, this is where Martin argues for the “real” or “correct” answer to the titular question being Black Sabbath given their groundbreaking Black Sabbath album, issued February 13, 1970, but also that band’s Paranoid, Uriah Heep’s debut, and most important of this set of three, Deep Purple’s In Rock. And of course, by this point, dozens of other bands are discussed as well. In fact, we will see that the events of 1970 cause a fuzziness to the accepted answer, resulting in the need for an examination of the events of one more year, namely 1971.

Titanium: 1971

In the final stretch of the lecture, Martin will argue the necessity of a fresh—or at least “refreshed”—answer to the question, which requires us to talk about the wildest, heaviest full albums of 1971. Not to give too much away, but readers should come away with a new way to look at this question, whether they become convinced of Martin’s arguments completely or not!

Price including shipping:
US orders: $34.00 US funds
Int’l orders (all books go air): $43.00 US funds
Canadian orders: $36.00 Cdn. funds

PayPal happily accepted. Ask me if you’d like a PayPal invoice (please indicate what country you are in), or just do yer usual and direct funds to martinp@inforamp.net

Or mail payment (personal check in US funds, cash, or INTERNATIONAL money order), to:
Martin Popoff, P.O. Box 65208, 358 Danforth Ave.,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4K 2Z2

Email me at martinp@inforamp.net with any further questions, and see www.martinpopoff.com for descriptions, cover art and ordering info for my other available 35 or so books (and no, this won’t be up at the site for another week or so, BUT YES, THEY ARE IN MY OFFICE READY TO SHIP).


  1. Michael Shaw says

    I never bought into the Uriah Heep thing or even Deep Purple’s In rock. The Uriah Heep debut has a few hard rockers but nothing I call Metal. It’s more blues oriented then hard rock. In Rock is a great album but while close it’s still to far to be called metal. Black Sabbath blues influenced too like the others but far from anything you would call blues. There is not a track on that album that could be compared to a classic blues track. Every cut is BAM right in you face,. So powerful that it made me forgot temporarily what the blues was. I didn’t get that feeling with that Uriah Heep album or In rock. A heavy track here and then right back into a more noticeable blues oriented sound. Nothing that kept me going wow like the Black Sabbath album. From the first track on it just continued that WOW factor. The only time I was disappointed was when it was over. So I kept replaying it over and over until my mom yelled at me to knock it off. Even then I just turned it down a little.

  2. Alan Pilke says

    This looks like it would be good infotainment, for sure.
    If the answer lies in 1971…. have a look at this:
    The only album on the list other than Master of Reality that is even a challenger, as far as I’m concerned, is Led Zeppelin IV. And I would even hesitate to call LZ4 heavy metal.

  3. Usually is common to read,to liste that BS are the pioners that have influenced a lot of bands,but I think that there is really only one LP that remind to me the beggining of heavy metal: it is DEEP PURPLE IN ROCK.

  4. I’ve always thought of Sabbath as heavy metal, but the vast majority of people I’ve met put them under “hard rock” and contend that they’re not a metal band. Regardless, even if they didn’t invent it per se, I still consider them the forerunners of the genre. They turned it into an art form.

  5. TheRedPen says

    Titanium is not a heavy metal. It is primarily used because of its lightness.

  6. Vincent Pavia says

    I am 57 yrs old and had paranoid album when I was 12. I never remember hearing term Heavy Metal until the 80″s. I am going out on a limb here and saying Judas Priest pushed the Metal envelope. God Bless Black Sabbath

    • Rick Clements says

      Vince . I mirror that statement in age and sentiment. maybe be the late 70’s 78 -79 and it was Judas Priest who was the band associated with the Metal term. But it certainly is Sabbath that created the genre.

  7. I absolutely agree with Vincent i am 56 been listening to Sabbath since i was 13 but for me heavy metal started with Judas Priest’s British steel album, with this they moved away from their roots of Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin after Sin ( unfortunately i add ) then others took it up such as Iron maiden et al.
    Zeppelin 4 had touches on the first side but they never followed it up but it certainly influenced later bands.
    Sabbath and purple were never heavy metal, hard rock yes and influenced everything and everyone vol 4 and In rock are probably the 2 of the greatest albums ever, for me Vol 4 when i first heard it just was almost unbelievable it sounded so good and it still is.

    • I love Priest and they will even tell you Sabbath invented the genre. The thing about Priest is their heaviness comes from the two lead guitar players and the amazing vocals. But I don’t think anyone with an ear would call their bass and drums “heavier” than Sabbaths. Much of Sabbaths Heavyness comes from Geezer and Ward.

      And I hate labels myself but for arguments sake you have to call it something. And of course to Sabbath themselves they were just a heavy rock band. But when something comes out that’s heavier and more mind blowing than anything before you have to create a new category for it, so heavy metal was born.

  8. Answering that question is not important at all. It can’t be answered by pointing at one band or one guy.
    Surely enough, Sabbath contributed their huge part to the metal cake. Nevertheless, I think it’s not okay to use the lettering and the watermill from the sabbath debut to cash up.

    Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t read one single line of this book besides the title. But I know lots of other stuff Popoff published. Therefore, I guess that nothing new will be added to the picture by this outcome.

    My best Sabbath read ever was “Rad Salad – … The Classic Years” by Paul Wilkinson. As far as I remember, Joe posted a review when it was published back in 2006. Wilkinson opens a whole new perspective by combining early sabbath history, their lyrics and the crucial news stories of the early seventies.

    Just want to take the opportunity to say Thank You to Mr. Siegler for keeping up the good work. I’m a long time fan of Sabbath and user of this page. Cheers from Germany, Uli

  9. MacGregor says

    The term ‘heavy metal’ & the so called music attributed to it, existed before Black Sabbath. They were the ones who were commercially successful with it & are known for nailing it so to speak! Looking back into the mid to late 60’s reveals a few artists cranking it out & sounding very dark indeed! Hard rock it is, metal is a paradox!

  10. Another Ancient Warrior says

    Maybe I missed it, but throughout this Topic, there was no mention whatsoever of Link Wray, and his sledgehammer hit, “Rumble” from 1957. People were so frightened of, and angry at, Link’s pioneering buzzing sound, that it was nigh impossible to for him to get gigs–more lethal than Elvis’ hips! I was extremely lucky to have caught him playing in 1977, with Robert Gordon. He nearly made it to 80 years of age, and could run circles around a lot of today’s young punks. Perhaps if you mention Link to Dr. Iommi, he’ll flash a broad smile, and tell you how Link still, to this day, warms the cockles of his heart.

    • Lets not forget a big part of the “metal” sound is technology. There was no distortion , all these electronic effects, Marshall stacks, etc in 1957. Hendrix was the first to make the electric guitar “truly electric”….there has been no truer quote.

  11. As much as I would Love to give credit for Black Sabbath for inventing heavy metal I must give credit where credit is due. BLUE CHEER started it with their awesome debut Lp “Vincebus Eruptum” back in 1968. Those who don’t have that LP, check it out & hear it for yourselves

    • That album to me is very tinny, punk rocky. You need more bottom heavy bass and Bass drum to drive the heaviness, not just ear piercing treble and a snare drum. Otherwise all you have is…..AC/DC.

  12. Steppenwolf was singing Heavy Metal Thunder in the 60’s.

  13. There is some difficulty in trying to nail down the definition of heavy metal versus hard rock. I’ll say that, as much as anything else in the world, rock music evolved. Maybe the spandex clad kids of the ’80’s really defined heavy metal but it was an evolution of music others were defining a decade or more before. So I say that without trying to be too literal, we have a base knowledge of the genre of music. That being said, to me the answer to the question of who invented heavy metal is Black Sabbath. Why? Because no one was doing this “thing” before them. They were an original, no THE original in the field.

    • Yes it has become apparent that Sabbaths influence on the heavy rock musicians that came after has outlasted their peers, giving Sabbath more cred now then they even had in their prime. All four of them were heavy. You can say the only player that matched Sabbaths heaviness in Zeppelin was Bonham….sure cream had some heavy songs but no way does Claptons or Jack Bruces vocals hold a candle to Ozzys much harder stuff if what your talking is heaviness, or Plant for that matter.

      Basically Sabbath was the Heaviest band until “Thrash Metal” came along in the 80’s. And heavier, faster etc. doesn’t mean better, BTW. Music is an art , not an athletic competition. Its not all about who is the Fastest, Heaviest, Loudest…. that has very little to do with it. Sabbaths music hit a chord with Humans of all ages worldwide, and still does. How many countries did 13 go #1 worldwide? Over 10 I think it was.

  14. Paul Martinez says

    I compare the development of Heavy Metal to U.S. independence from the British: it took years to develop but in the midst of that there is a celebrated moment. For U.S. independence that was the Declaration of Independence, which was signed well into the American Revolution but wasn’t confirmed until a treaty with Great Britain 7 years later. The Heavy Metal equivalent to the Declaration of Independence is undoubtedly the song “Black Sabbath” which is metal in every way, even if that term took years to be recognized.

  15. Looks like an interesting book.I would say the first Heavy Metal was and is Black Sabbath.Not Deep Purple,Cream,Zeppelin,or anyone before(maybe except Alice Cooper)?Heavy Metal to me is supposed to be either-sad,angry,and scary or all the above.Sadly these days one has to yell or growl like a bear to be Heavy Metal.Heavy Metal can be slow or fast or both.

    Some could say “Tocatto In D Minor” by composer Bach is the first heavy metal on organ.The song is spooky and has been used in countless horror films since the 1930’s.The roots go back far.You have loud classical,opera,blues,horror film music,and jazz that helped invent heavy metal.The first suicide song was on phonograph in the 1900’s.Let’s not forget that a big contributor was African American music.The organist at silent horror films was heavy metal on organ,no doubt.

    So let’s not forget horror films,plays,and novels as the roots of metal.Gregorian chant music as well.In one form or another heavy metal has always been around.I love this genre and history.Don’t forget about voodoo music.The spirituals of African American slaves could been included as well.Rightfully so, the white slave master was the devil to the slaves and to the sincere practicing Christians who were white who supported the beautiful underground railroad and laws protecting integration.

    Heavy Metal is also about protesting injustices in society.Black Sabbath did that along with the sad and scary.That is why we fans love them.They believed that good wins in the end.So may God bless Black Sabbath.Much love to every line up.45 years of the best heavy band ever!!!!!

  16. Another Ancient Warrior says

    And now some more on Link Wray. I would have not learned about Link, were it not for the efforts of John Cippolina, Lead Guitarist of Quicksilver Messenger Service, one of the premier acid bands out of San Francisco, of the 1960’s. I forget exactly brought Link out here, and how he and John LINKED (Now, there’s a pun.) to my neck of the woods in the late ’60’s, but, the fact was, poor Link was a’rumblin’ (Another interesting pun??) towards obscurity. John pretty much sacrificed his own career, to re-advance Link’s. He got airplay on the then progressive Underground FM station, KSAN–mostly LIVE-to-recorded material, and BOOKINGS at most of Frisco’s Rock ‘n’ Roll palaces. Link even got a new series of Recording Contract–and, up until his 2005 death, recorded at least 10 new albums that I know of.

    The thrust of the marketing was: “Here’s an ‘old-timer’, who sounds far fresher than a lot of our contemporaries, and, he does it crazy, if not crazier than us. He’s a PIONEER, a PATHFINDER. Forget the fact that he’s 10,15, 25 years older than us.”

    At the time that I learned of Link in 1974, I was not aware of John’s working behind the scenes, but I want to thank you, John–along with you, Link, in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven–for adding so much richness to the lives of us Metallovers. May all of those guitars forever buzz, drone, scream, and wail, FOREVER!!!!

  17. All these writing appear to me as an effort to sell something which would not sell on its own. Every reasonable reader already knows the answer to that question.

  18. Abdullah Rashad Dawood Main(Dylan) says

    To end all debates Sabbath is-Hard rock,classic rock,blues rock,heavy rock,heavy metal,psychadelic rock,stoner metal,doom metal,and gothic metal(sort of).We do know they are not easy listening or big band and swing,right?

  19. I don’t know about ‘heavy metal’, but I know about ‘heavy’. Back in the 70’s when I was a kid, for whatever reason, I was on a quest to find the heaviest music out there. I remember hearing Deep Purple for the first time when I was delivering newspapers. I actually asked the kid at the door what band that was and when he told me, I thought “this is it”! And it was, that is, until I heard Black Sabbath for the first time. That happened at a friend’s house when he played me his brother’s LP. I don’t even know which album it was, all I know is that I became addicted to Sabbath, as the heaviest band out there, that very day. From that point on, every band’s heaviness was judged against Black Sabbath – and none surpassed them in those days. So, for me, Sabbath was the heaviest band out there throughout the 70’s. Whether that means they invented heavy metal, I don’t know, but I think if you asked every heavy metal band, the answer would be pretty close to unanimous.

  20. Serenity says

    I’d go with Wagner. I mean, ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’, anyone?If that wasn’t heavy metal I don’t know what is??


  21. Matt Dennett says

    Tony Iommi was the first guitarist out there to turn the blues and jazz runs and licks into something much heavier and sinister. No one quite matches Tony for pure heavy dense riffs, or Geezer with his weaving string bending bass lines. The only other guitarist too add to the mix in my opinion is Richie Blackmore, but not in a heavy riffage way, I mean in the way he played wild over the top lead solo’s with abandon, matching Lords immense Hammond organ pummeling, often destroying the guitar in the process. Watch Purples 1984 Perfect Strangers live dvd, loudly, and tell me that is not heavy metal! But T.I is the man, always will be number one to me.

    • Well I’m amazed that there is not one Mention of Jimi Hendrix in these comments. I look at it from a guitar players perspective, after all “metal” is mostly loud distorted guitar. As far as LEAD metal playing it was Jimi Hendrix who invented that style across the board in effects volume sustain attitude and technique. But as far as using power chord heavy rhythem Riffs to construct 90% of their material it was no doubt Iommi. Add to that Iommi started down tuneing a crazy step and a half (C#) beginning with masters of reality in 1971. I dunno if anyone did that before Iommi.

      So I would say artists like Hendrix Cream Zeppelin etc laid the seeds but Sabbath put it all together to create the genre, which is basically just a music critic label.

  22. Michel LeGrisbi says

    Let’s just say it began with Mussorgsky & drop the argument …


  23. I remember Sabbath in the early 70s being labeled Acid Rock . But you also had at that time Grand Funk who would blow your face off live in those days. As well as many other bands . John kays term Heavy Metal was about motorcycles. But I will agree with Judas priest taking the term to new levels .

  24. Does it really matter which band started metal? If Sabbath hadn’t sung about the darker side of life and sang about falling in love, would they be considered the creators of metal? The term heavy metal wasn’t even part of the musical landscape until after Sabbath made their mark. There was rock, soft and hard. Some bands blended both when recording albums while Sabbath played mostly HARD rock with dark lyrics. Into the Void just wouldn’t work as an acoustic song, nor would Stairway to Heaven work as a hard rock song. Putting bands into categories is unfair, especially bands from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Most of the Sabbath stuff was more hard rock/metal than other bands of that era so it’s not surprising to hear them called the creators of metal music. Where ever it came from and whoever created it isn’t all that important. Rock music evolved from blues and jazz inspiring a new generation of musicians. Metal has also evolved branching into many sub-genres and continues to grow. As long as hard rock and heavy metal are part of the musical landscape, it really doesn’t matter who started it, It just needs to keep going. It preserves the LIVE show at a time when pop bands can’t perform their stuff live. Too much dancing and lip syncing. Metal isn’t about the show, it’s about an attitude. From it’s beginnings, it ‘s the most powerful musical form that has ever existed. For nearly half a century it’s still going strong!

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