Sunday, September 23, 2012

Heavy Metal Versus Hard Rock



You’d probably have to be an aficionado of the music to appreciate the differences between the musical genres called Heavy Metal and Hard Rock, and probably would have to have listened to quite a bit of the music to even begin to describe the differences between them. Many folks I know don’t hear any differences, but I think they are there, and here’s my take on it. Let me say, up front, that I love both genres and am not trying to make the point that one is better than the other.

Let me start off by naming some of what I consider representative albums in the two genres.

Heavy Metal
1. We Sold Our Souls For Rock and Roll – Black Sabbath
2.  Screaming for Vengeance – Judas Priest
3.  The Number of the Beast – Iron Maiden
4.  Shout at the Devil – Motley Crue
5.  Master of Puppets – Metallica
6.  Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying – Megadeth
7.  Vulgar Display of Power – Pantera

Hard Rock
1.  Highway to Hell – AC/DC
2.  Machine Head – Deep Purple
3.  Tres Hombres – Z Z Top
4.  Free-For-All – Ted Nugent
5.  Gold and Platinum – Lynyrd Skynyrd
6.  Van Halen – Van Halen
7.  Aerosmith – Rocks

Some folks might dispute the inclusion of Motley Crue in the Heavy Metal list. The Crue were one of the progenitors of the subgenre known as Glam Metal. But there was no such thing as the Heavy Metal subgenre explosion when the Crue put out Shout at the Devil, and it is very heavy and one of my favorite albums of all time.

In the same way, Z Z Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd are often called southern rock or blues rock rather than Hard Rock, but I think those are subgenres rather than reflecting significant differences. And while Van Halen is sometimes called Heavy Metal, they don’t quite cross the metal line as I see it.

So what is that line? What are the differences?

First, there is the sheer heaviness of the music. Put on “Leper Messiah” by Metallica and compare it to “Gimme Back My Bullets” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Both are rocking songs, but there is a density in the Metallica song that just isn’t there in the Skynyrd. That doesn’t make it better or worse. It is different. Heavy Metal must have a denseness that Hard Rock does not require. Sometimes a Hard Rock Band will cross over that line with a song or two. “Ain’t Talking about Love” by Van Halen does that. “Saturday Night Special” by Lynyrd Skynyrd does.  But the average denseness is less in Hard Rock than Heavy Metal. 

Second, there is a lyrical approach to the music that is different. Hard Rock lyrics are much more about having a good time, about partying (alcohol and drugs), and about sex, than is the case with Heavy Metal. Metal lyrics are about death, about violence and war, and, more often, about historical or even current affairs. Metal lyrics are more often anti-Christian (although there are certainly exceptions), and more explicitly talk about evil. (Note that for most bands this is not because they actually worship Satan.)

Consider AC/DC’s songs like “Girls Got Rhythm, “Walk All Over You,” “Touch too Much,” “Beating around the Bush,” and “Love Hungry Man.” Although this album is entitled Highway to Hell, suggesting a more metal type of lyrics, the songs are primarily about partying and sex. Van Halen is largely the same way on their self-titled album, although there is variety in their lyrics. “Ice Cream Man” is a good example, and later Van Halen albums were even more about Hard Rocking sex than about Metal themes.

On the other hand, look at Master of Puppets, by Metallica, with songs like the title song, and “Leper Messiah,” “Sanitarium,” “Disposable Heroes,” and “The Thing That Should Not Be.”

Here’s where we could have some debate about the band Motley Crue. The Crue have many songs about sex on their Shout at the Devil album, such as “Ten Seconds to Love,” “Too Young to Fall in Love,” and “Looks that Kill.” They also, however, have songs like “Shout at the Devil,” which is pretty damn evil, as well as “Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid,” and the remake of the Beatles “Helter Skelter.” This puts it in a kind of between-land, but in my judgment the album is more metal in its lyrics than Hard Rock. I will say, though, that some of Motley Crue’s later albums really cross more into Hard Rock territory with their lyrics, especially on songs such as “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and “Dr. Feelgood.”  I could see the Crue as being put into either camp and there could be good arguments either way. I think there’s much less room to argue for bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden on the metal side, and Z Z Top on the rock side.

There’s certainly room for debate on this issue. Ultimately, this post is about how I feel about the music I listen too.  Your opinions are welcome, of course.
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32 comments:

Cloudia said...

Scholarly! Interesting and authoritative, Charles



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Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I enjoy both!
And the term heavy metal was in Sammy Hagar's song for the movie of the same name back in 1981. (Also in a BOC song that didn't make it into the soundtrack.)
Ultimately, I'll still take progressive rock over either.

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eric1313 said...

Metallica also shows quite a bit of classical music influence in their music, something that does not always blend well with the blues roots of rock, and even hard rock. It blends if you make it, but that's really the sharpest difference to me, is Heavy Metal's classical connection. Iron Maiden also has that connection, though not with the discipline that Metallica exhibits. Dimebag Daryl had it too.

Hard Rock musicians are great too, Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix... that bluesy base is what lends rock its character, though it has room to be heavy too at times.

It's all very complicated. AC/DC, for example... how many people call them heavy metal? Millions. But ask a heavy metal fan and he'll tell you for sure, no doubt, AC/DC is simply one of the best rock and roll bands ever. Another example, a little different... The Ramones. Who calls them punk rock? Millions do. Ask a hardcore punk fan what the Ramones are, and you'll get the answer that they are simply a kick butt rock and roll band.

When Motley Crue did Live Wire back in 81 or 82, or when they got older and thicker and played a lot of power balads, they were still Metal, even if the music they were playing denied that.

Good post

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, well, maybe just a little. :)

Alex, You may have to define progressive rock for me. I'm thinking I'm probably not a big fan but I'm not sure.

Ba San, thanks for dropping by.

eric1313, I agree, I'd put Motley crue firmly in the metal camp, and great point about the classical influence on bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden, and another band I like a lot, Savatage. I've always said that classical music and heavy metal have something in common.

Merisi said...

Cloudia said it so well, and I totally agree. ;-)

Deka Black said...

Well... interesting read. The problem sometimes i think is many people are label-addicted. I always called all this groups, since i was a kid "rock music".

Charles Gramlich said...

Merisi, thankee

Deka, yeah, I think if you get all obsessed with the labels it gets to be a problem, but as a point of discussion it can spark some interesting stuff. Not arguments but discussions.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sadly, these are all groups I have never really listened to. I am more the folk and soft rock sort. I am sure I could acquire an ear for it if I persevered but like opera, something music eludes me.

Ty Johnston said...

I'm going to have to disagree about Crue. While I can recognize "Shout at the Devil" as mostly a metal album, and potentially a few of the songs from "Too Fast For Love," both albums I love, I think of Neil and the boys as a hard rock band, just a notch darker than the likes of Van Halen, and much of that darkness merely showmanship along the lines of Alice Cooper. However, it's interesting that both Crue and Metallica were originally L.A. bands, playing many of the same venues.

Maybe I look at music a little differently. For me, the difference between metal and hard rock is intent, or at least my interpretation of intent. When I listen to a (young) Hetfield, for example, I can feel the rage brewing, sometimes beneath the surface and sometimes right in your face. I don't get that same sensation from most of Crue's work. What I do take away from much of Crue is a sense of high showmanship, which I rarely if ever see or hear in metal, mainly because such showmanship rings false (selling out?) from a metal point of view.

That's why I consider such groups as KISS and even later Ozzy as more hard rock than metal, because they're more about the showmanship.

Not that there's anything wrong with showmanship. Hell, Van Halen has practically built a career around it, and though Eddie and gang have had their low points, they've also turned out some great tunes.

But all of this is debatable, and by no means do I think my opinions are the only "truth."

Ty Johnston said...

And to add ... while looking back to the pre-metal days of the early to mid '60s, I can see the influence rising, that "intent" I was speaking of. Eric Burden definitely has that intent in several songs, vocally and lyrically, as does Roger Daltry and a handful of others. Heck, even a Beatles song or two (though mainly from the late '60s).

Not that I would in any way label such bands as metal, though they were precursors to metal and had an influence.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, thanks for explaining the two musical genres. I have listened to both, including the bands you mentioned, though I might have mixed them up. I used to listen to a lot of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, and AC/DC. "Enter Sandman" was the first and only song by Metallica that I heard and it nearly blew my eardrums off. But I'll listen to "Leper Messiah" and give the band another shot. I'd forgotten all about Van Halen. I also enjoyed Jethro Tull and Peter Frampton, both rock musicians I think.

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, something in opera eludes me too. :)

Ty, I think the "intent" is a bit of what I think of as attitude. I certainly do think it's possible to argue that "most" of the Crue's output has been Hard rock rather than metal. The showmanship thing is part of it, although Iron Maiden did some of that with Eddie, and with the Powerslave album. There is definitely "hate and rage" on the "Shout at the Devil" album, with lines like "taste the hate, explode in your face, the evil of all man's sins" etc. I'd also agree that Kiss is hard rock rather than metal. Most songs are about sex. Ozzy is a gray area. The anger isn't there so much, but the lyrics of songs like Suicide Solution and others definitely feel more metal to me. The Crue and Ozzy are in those gray areas between I would say.

Prashant, Tull and Frampton have at least one foot in the hard rock ranks, although they are a bit more softer rock, I think. I like Tull a lot, and some Frampton.

Erik Donald France said...

Excellent ~! Looks on target to me. I remember when I was a kid, one of my (older) sisters would often call certain bands and albums "Acid Rock," including Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix. How would that fit into your classification? Would that be a subgenre? Also, that it was William S. Burroughs who coined the term "Heavy Metal," not to mention "Steely Dan." p.s. How about Led Zeppelin?

Steve Bailey said...

Yes but can you tell the difference between modern pop music and someone pooping?

Ty Johnston said...

Erik, I'm one of those people who tends to think Led Zeppelin is beyond traditional subjection to genre labeling. Yeah, sure, a lot of people think of them as hard rock, some even think they're heavy metal.

Personally, the only somewhat metal Zep song I can think of is "The Immigrant Song," and maybe ... just maybe ... "Achilles Last Stand."

Zeppelin did some hard rock music, but I think the band was much more than that, more eclectic than the credit they generally have been given. Zeppelin did blues, country, pop, folk, almost gospel, classical ... just about everything that was known at the time of their recordings.

I don't think Plant and gang were much into the darker influences and attitudes that would define heavy metal, and really they didn't have a lot of party/rock-n-roll songs, which might boot them out of the hard rock corner, too. Still, a number of their blues tunes do have sexual undertones, and one can't dismiss "The Lemon Song" as sexual unless one is deaf.

If I had to give Led Zeppelin a simplistic label, it would probably be "heavy blues."

Sheesh, I sound like a fan boy, and I'm really not.

Maybe. :-)

Travis Cody said...

Interesting disucssion. I come at it from the perspective of my ear.

Simply put...if my ear can distinguish a melody and backbeat, I consider it hard rock. If my ear cannot distinguish those things, I consider it metal.

Unscientific, yes, and without much room for debate, I guess.

G. B. Miller said...

The majority of what you've listed I used to listen to (exception of Motley Crue) quite a bit while growing up.

"Highway to Hell" was one of my favorites as I more than got the inside humor of Bon Scott on this album.

However,as I've gotten older, I find myself not really listening to this kind of rock music anymore. Sadly, it reminds me more and more of my youth and thus becomes the "classic rock" genre that I've come to loathe on most levels.

Still, what you've listed is a great starter set for the young neophyte who may not know the background/history of what they may be listening to.

As for what I listen to in regards to rock music, my ears are now tuned to what is being spat out on college radio, both current and the rock of yesteryear that was only popular locally.

Randy Johnson said...

SHOUT AT THE DEVIL was my first Crue album and cemented my love for the band. That I fell out after DR. FEELGOOD matters not at all.

Another band that people mix in metal is Zeppelin. They're more hard rock, though they occasionally strayed. Even a country song or two.

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, the first use of the term heavy metal in song was in Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf, I believe. Acid rock is a kind of precursor to heavy metal I think. Jimi Hendrix certainly had a heavy metal vibe about him but the songs aren't quite there yet it seems. I think of Zepplin as generally hard rock, although they did a lot of stuff that was just unclassifiable.

Steve Bailey, no. No I can't. :)

Ty, the Immigrant song and When the levee breaks are pretty metal songs from Zep's repertoire. but Stairway to heaven and many others certainly are not. I tend to agree with you on them being too all over the range to be easily classifiable. Perhaps just 'rock and roll.

Travis Cody, a lot of what I call Metal does have a melody that is played very fast and buried in the sludge, but it may be hard to find. And there are bands that just really don't have much in that way.

G.B., I still listen mostly to this kind of music, although I like some of the new rock stuff that you hear too. The most recent metal stuff has progressed somewhat beyond my general preferences but I do listen to it at times. I've got Liquid Metal tuned on my satellite radio, as well as the Boneyard and Hair nation. Guess I'm still living in that age, and I've still got the hair for it too. :)

Randy, I almost abandoned the Crue after Home Sweet Home hit it so big, but I do have most of their albums. Their most recent Saints of Los Angeles really has only the title song on it that is good, though, to me. Most of Zepplin certainly isn't metal, though definitely rock. Still, they really ranged through all kinds of weird things. My favorite song by them these days is When the Levee breaks, which is probably their heaviest tune.

Chris said...

Great analysis, Charles, and a subject you know I hold near to my heart. There is a great documentary called, Metal: A Headbangers' Journey that I would recommend to anyone with any interest in all this stuff at all. It's probably streamable via Netflix, I'm guessing.

The 80s were almost defined by the links between classical and metal. Take away the hair and makeup, and a lot of those dudes could friggin' play. I saw the band Europe in Seattle in about 1986 or so, and they did a rock version of "The Flight of the Bumblebees" that ripped my face off.

I agree on most of what you say here. Today's idea of metal I don't like at all; my roots are with Sabbath/Maiden/Priest. Other bands I grew up with -- KISS, Scorpions, Van Halen, etc. -- I'd call hard rock.

I'd put Motley Crue in the category of bands who evolved themselves right out of where they started. Like Def Leppard. Def Leppard are commonly listed right up there as one of the original NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) bands like Maiden, Priest, and Motorhead. Their first couple records, On Through the Night and High and Dry are blistering rock masterpieces. They started to wobble a little bit with their first big commercial breakthrough (Pyromania), then progressively got worse from there. I can't listen to any of that offal. Just like Crue and their unlistenable Theater of Pain record. Others will argue the same with Metallica from the Black Album forward.

Feels odd to be discussing this without a beer in my hand.

As for prog, I hate it. Bands like Yes, King Crimson, the bad Rush albums. Ugh. I like some (early) Pink Floyd, and they certainly qualify, but that's about it.

Richard Godwin said...

Oh Yes!! Charles a man after my own heart. I love most of these bands. Where would you place Pearl Jam and Nickelback? I think we should have a beer. And turn up the volume.

laughingwolf said...

good analysis...

i see most as anti-establishment, been going on for ages... 'kids' breaking free of the 'moral' constraints imposed on em, first by parents, then 'church' [of every persuasion], and 'society', all dictating as to what's 'best' for their offspring to listen/dance to

as long as there are kids, you will have some kind of 'pushback', as today's buzzwords indicate....

Erik Donald France said...

Re: Ty Johnston's and your comments about Led Zeppelin. Eclectic, yes. "Heavy blues" -- also sounds good to me. After going all the way back to the first recorded blues songs and forward in time again, it's truly cool to play the various interpretations along the way. LZ does some amazing variations, certainly. I tend to listen to less overplayed Zep all day upon occasion.

Charles Gramlich said...

Chris, ahh, so that is what “prog” is. I don’t like Rush either, or Yes, although I didn’t mind “roundabout” for some reason. One or two riffs I can stand from those bands. The only song I liked off “Theater of Pain” by the Crue was “Louder than Hell.” They definitely went through some wide scale changes in their day. I like a lot of the music off New Tattoo, and some stuff like Primal Scream. I’ve seen Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Very interesting. Savatage is another of those bands that really showed the link between classical and heavy music. They did “in the hall of the mountain king.” Def Lepperd became a major disappointment for me. Pyromania I could live with, although I really liked their early two albums. When they put out “Pour some sugar on me” I just said, “I’m done.”

Richard Godwin, Nickleback is a good hard rock band, although they play some lighter music. I like their rockers. Pearl Jam is a bit different. They are part of that grunge movement although they can rock out at times. Most of their stuff is pretty angsty, though, perhaps too much for me. Maybe they are what is called progressive rock. Beers and some volume sounds nice!

laughingwolf, absolutely. Kids need some kind of a connection that helps them separate and identify themselves to each other, as opposed to being part of the large scale society.

Erik Donald France, Zepp’s range was pretty amazing given where they came from. They have some songs I don’t care for, but most of it I can listen to for a change of pace. Then things like “levee breaks” I really love.



Vesper said...

Your two lists are a good place for me to start... :-)

X. Dell said...

When I look at differences in rock subgenres, I usually look at marketing niches.

Charles Gramlich said...

Vesper, mayhaps! :)

X. Dell, you're going about it way too rationally, my friend.

Ty Johnston said...

Ya know, the funny thing about grunge is that so many bands that received the "grunge" label really weren't grunge bands. Grunge at its core was an outpouring of punk, sort of a mix of punk with hard rock and some lighter echoes. Nirvana, for example, was definitely a grunge band. I seem to remember a Cobain interview in which he said the sound he was going for was a mix of Black Sabbath with The Beatles, and I actually think he accomplished such on some of the band's early material, before making it big.

Soundgarden, not grunge, though they got lumped in because of the Seattle connection. Before Nirvana hit big, Soundarden had been promoted as a more traditional hard rock or metal band, but those labels never really hit.

Pearl Jam was more influenced by '60s rock, The Doors, The Who, Hendrix, etc., and to some extent folk music, definitely Dylan, and prog rock. No punk background here, though the Ramones were somewhat of an influence.

Smashing Pumpkins has a weird, almost unique set of influences, from New Wave material of the late '70s and early '80s, to ... believe it or not ... heavy metal. Billy Corgan was a huge Pantera and Sabbath fan.

Stone Temple Pilots ... well, in my opinion, the band was just a bunch of wannabes who were influenced by other bands making it big in the early 90s. They wanted to be the next Pearl Jam or Alice in Chains, maybe. I'm not saying they're music sucks, but I do think the lyrics were lacking and the music was more derivative than original.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, the lables get spread around to bands that don't fit when marketing groups get hold of them. The same thing happened when metal got kind of popular. Lots of bands were labeled metal who had no connection at all. Soundgarden was definitely not grunge. The songs I liked by them were on the metal edge of their repertoire. I'm not a fan of Nirvana's at all, though their drummer was/is pretty cool. I'm also not a fan of Pearl Jam.

jodi said...

Charles-Hard rock any day! Sometimes all day!!

Kelly Meh said...

I tried many times to dance on hard rock music. But unfortunately, I could not get it out in sense of dancing steps. But metal genre of heavy metal bands is best loved to me every time. I really enjoy this kind of music freely.