Question: Is Led Zeppelin A Heavy Metal Band?

A coworker, much younger than me, started this debate with me earlier today. It’s an interesting question. Is Zeppelin really a heavy metal group? Consider: seemingly half their songs feature acoustic guitar. Many are sedate, more plain rock. When you compare them to the other early metal groups, like Deep Purple, and the group considered really the father of metal, Black Sabbath, they just do not seem to cut it.

Consider other early metal bands. The Scorpions (formed 1965). UFO (1969). Uriah Heep (69). Vanilla Fudge (67). Twisted Sister (1972, if you can believe it). Triumph (75). Saxon (76). Moterhead (75). Elf (67). So many others I could name. And, of course, Judas Priest (1969) and Iron Maiden (1975). There’s absolutely no doubt about their metal pedigrees, is there?

Now, would you call Jimmy Hendrix “heavy metal”? How about Cream? How about Blue Oyster Cult? Have you listened to their music other than their well known hits? Much like Rush, Yes, Pink Floyd, they seem much more of a Progressive Rock band. Which, in retrospect, is what Zeppelin seems like.

Buuuuuuuuut, let’s go back in the way back machine. At the time, despite lots of the acoustic and softer sounds, the people of the time considered Zeppelin heavy metal, because it was still a typically heavier sound than the sounds of the day. Much like they considered Cream and Hendrix.

It’s not because they used a lot of distortion for the guitars. The Who used distortion. So did the Stones and the Beatles. So did The Band. Creedence Clearwater Revival. No one mistakes them for a metal band, right? Kiss, though, is considered metal for the time, though I always thought them more of a straight rock group, or more of a hard rock group. Kinda like how AC/DC is more hard rock, than metal. At least to me.

Consider this, from a Princeton article

Heavy metal (often referred to simply as metal) is a genre of rock music[1] that developed in between 1968 and 1974 , largely in the United Kingdom and the United States.[2] With roots in blues-rock and psychedelic rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. Heavy metal lyrics and performance styles are generally associated with masculinity and machismo.[3]

The first heavy metal bands such as Led ZeppelinBlack Sabbath and Deep Purple attracted large audiences, though they were often critically reviled, a status common throughout the history of the genre. In the mid-1970s Judas Priest helped spur the genre’s evolution by discarding much of its blues influence; Motörheadintroduced a punk rock sensibility and an increasing emphasis on speed. Bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal such as Iron Maiden followed in a similar vein. Before the end of the decade, heavy metal had attracted a worldwide following of fans known as “metalheads” or “headbangers“.

Extended solos? Check. Thick, massive sounds? At times, yeah, especially when you consider John Bonham on drums and John Paul Jones on bass. Loudness? Yup.

As a sidebar, I’m not sure about the masculinity and machismo, though, for all. Sure, it shows up, but lots are about love, from a metal POV. And other things. Consider Saxon’s Princess Of the Night. It’s about a train. Iron Maiden has used lots of Edgar Allen Poe, religious elements, and, hey, took the poem Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and made it an 8 minute song!

Anyhow, most of the Princeton article leads to Wikipedia, which has its uses, and notes

Heavy metal is traditionally characterized by loud distorted guitars, emphatic rhythms, dense bass-and-drum sound, and vigorous vocals. Metal subgenres variously emphasize, alter, or omit one or more of these attributes. New York Times critic Jon Pareles writes, “In the taxonomy of popular music, heavy metal is a major subspecies of hard-rock—the breed with less syncopation, less blues, more showmanship and more brute force.”[6] The typical band lineup includes a drummer, a bassist, a rhythm guitarist, a lead guitarist, and a singer, who may or may not be an instrumentalist. Keyboard instruments are sometimes used to enhance the fullness of the sound.[7]

Does that fit Zeppelin to a tee? Except for the “less blues” thing. Really, lots of the early metal bands continued to use blues as a base. It really wasn’t till Ozzy Osbourne brought in Randy Rhodes, who truly brought classical into the songs, that metal exploded towards other forms. Though Richie Blackmore used some classic during his Rainbow and Deep Purple days. Dude is stone cold awesome on a classical guitar.

Finally, again, the people at the time considered Zeppelin a heavy metal band. And, they were definitely a good show. And virtually ever band after them should be thanking them (and their manager) for creating a situation where the bands get paid a good chunk of the door receipts and making a lot of money. But, that’s a different story.

What’s your take?

BTW, one thing I forgot, this turned into a rather larger conversation at work (we have a lot of downtime mid-morning), and one young whippersnapper mentioned that Zep had to be metal, because the Heavy Metal soundtrack featured Stevie Nicks and Devo. But, the problem with that, is that the movie was based on the magazine Heavy Metal, which was not about the music, but the gothic, graphic, erotic, fantasy/scifi themes. Don Felder had two awesome songs (he was a lead guitar player for The Eagles), not metal.

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6 Responses to “Question: Is Led Zeppelin A Heavy Metal Band?”

  1. rg says:

    Trying to lock in any group to a specific genre is impossible, In my opinion some of the best ballads have been sung by hard rock big hair bads and rappers
    Some of the best/true religious songs have been performed by some of the hardest rockers and outlaw country singers.. Music is Music – if it moves you who the hell cares what “genre” they are.

  2. Mike G. says:

    Zeppelin is hard to classify into any one genre, although at the time of their founding, they might have seemed like heavy metal when compared to popular bands of the time like The Rascals, Strawberry Alarm Clock, the 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Cowsills and all the Surfer bands. Of course, lets not forget all the folk music at the time, too, like Joan Baez, Pete Seegar, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, etal.

  3. Blick says:

    I thought EPA was in charge of cleaning up heavy metal and led contaminated sites. EPA fails (again) at protecting citizens and the environment.

  4. The Neon Madman says:

    On one level, I’d have to say “Sure, the Zep were pioneers in metal”. But the other commenters have a solid point as well – any group which has a wealth of talent and some longevity will wander around a bit on the musical map. Zeppelin did everything from pure hard-driving rock to ballads to some mean blues. So, what do you classify them as? Heavy metal, hard rock, progressive rock? At one time or another they were all of these. I’ll just call them damn good in the day and grumble about how I never got a chance to see them live.

  5. Led Zep and Black Sabbath basically invented Heavy Metal, for the reasons listed above-
    I personally consider the first Black Sabbath album to be the first truly heavy metal album produced.

    The acoustic songs don’t change that, LZ’s material was always varied.
    They are not easy to classify really, so will always be know for their most
    pioneering and innovative work.

    Plant/Page and a few others originated the heavy metal sound

    Just like Todd Rundgren is famous as one of the first in Power Pop,
    while he did all sorts of ballads and such too.

    Lack of blues base/80s metal bands no improvement whatsoever, imho- mostly rubbish

  6. I’ll just call them damn good in the day and grumble about how I never got a chance to see them live

    Yeah, me too. I had tickets to see them in NYC. Then Bonham died and the show was cancelled. Someone was nice enough to steal those tickets, too.

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