Is Led Zeppelin metal?

In the course of my research into the origins of metal, I’ve been listening to bands from the 1970’s that might qualify as “the first metal band”. I understand that many music historians consider Led Zeppelin the first heavy metal band, but I disagree. To my mind (and ears), Black Sabbath is the only band that deserves that distinction. There were a lot of guitar-heavy bands in the 70’s that had elements of metal in their sound, or perhaps had one or two songs that could be considered metal. In addition to Led Zeppelin, I’m thinking of bands like Rainbow, UFO, Pentagram, Budgie, Deep Purple, etc. But Sabbath is the first band to put it all together, and were consistently “metal” in their approach

This begs the question: what defines the “metal” sound, and in this particular instance, how does it differ from “hard rock”, (which is what I would call all of the bands I just mentioned)?

Wikipedia defines metal as the following:
“Heavy metal is typically characterized by a guitar-and-drum-dominated sound, strong rhythms, and classical, bluesy or symphonic styles…The most commonly used line-up for a metal band is a drummer, a bassist, a rhythm guitarist, a lead guitarist, and a singer —who may or may not be an instrumentalist…Common themes in heavy metal lyrics are sex, violence, fantasy, and the occult.”

Now, that definition could also apply to a lot of hard rock bands, including the aforementioned. I would add a (admittedly vague) distinction between the two: For me, there has to be an pervasive “darkness” in metal music. It can be cheesy, D&D darkness like a lot of power metal is (hello, Dragonforce), but no “it’s good times, let’s party” stuff like you get from bands like Van Halen. Obviously, there are going to be exceptions. Judas Priest has some songs that fall into the “party” camp, and they’re as metal as you get.

I ended up using that idea of “darkness” in metal as a litmus test to thin the herd of bands that have might be considered metal by some people. Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, KISS – not metal. Motley Crue? Metal.

Getting back to Led Zeppelin, they got disqualified for too many up-tempo, feel-good songs. They can enjoy their place in rock n’ roll history with that “hard rock” label as far as I’m concerned.


~ by mikehill25 on April 9, 2007.

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