As inflexible enthusiasts we like to complain about it, but we are also secretly proud of it. The tirelessly proliferating subculture of heavy metal is the most poorly documented movement in popular music. So much has happened since the rise of pain-breaking guitar music with accompanying screams, more than forty years ago. And it was so quiet on the radio, in the pop magazines and the culture supplements. And at the festivals and the better equipped pop stages, where night after night it was full of punk and then post-punk, new wave, synthpop and ska.
The attention for the genre remained scant, despite the unstoppable march through music culture. Reference works and compilations are still scarce, although music journalist Robert Haagsma brought the beautiful collection in 2014 Dutch Steel out, with energetic work from the early years. But today’s heavy metal, split into a thousand subgenres, also has life force. The faith community, from the very young to the very old, has spread all over the world, from Indonesia to Iraq, Brazil and Angola.
A wall of disdain
The first metalheads who cautiously advanced from the smallest village centers to the urban areas had to break through a wall of disdain. Citizens, of course, had nothing to do with that mat in the neck, that shirt with those devil marks on it and those crazy tight pants. But the pop connoisseur with good taste and the nose in the wind also preferred to see the hard rock boys (in the early years often boys) leave the pop landscape as soon as possible, full throttle on that Kreidler.
Where did that aversion come from, two beautiful books that appeared almost simultaneously wonder. And why did heavy metal develop into the most steadfast art movement and lifestyle in music history? Wasn’t the aversion to the good community also the driving force behind the genre, and did the music of cultivated melancholy flourish precisely because of the contempt?
In any case, the new counterculture produced groundbreaking music from the late 1970s, by Dutch and Belgian bands with combative names such as Killer, Hammerhawk, Warhead and Danger. The writers AHJ Dautzenberg and Vincent Loozen bring these bands, who had to build the genre from the ground up, together on a delightful double album. And in an accompanying, richly illustrated book, they give the floor to the most important players from prehistoric times, from bands to boys (and fortunately also more and more girls) behind the scenes and, for example, the magazine earthquakewhich would fight for the genre to mature in the Netherlands.
The editor-in-chief of that magazine, who has been called Metal Mike for almost half a century, explains that he started his magazine because there was simply nothing else available. While the first British wave of innovative metal had really already started to cross the road. ‘The first edition was five hundred copies, stencilled by hand and stapled.’ Metal Mike took the magazines to record stores by car, from Satisfaction in Heerlen to De Put in Leeuwarden. His magazine grew into a music glossy with a circulation of 28 thousand copies.
He also decided to organize a concert, and that too went almost carelessly in the early years and in the manner prescribed by punk. do-it-yourself-way. Metal Mike called Metallica’s drummer and asked if his band would like to play at Aardschokdag, a festival in honor of loud music. “And then came Metallica. I sent money for the flight and they flew to the Netherlands.’ Hotel hassle was not necessary: Metallica stuck with Metal Mike.
Room for adventure
That’s how metal flourished in the Netherlands, with home industry and citizen initiatives. The music became more complicated: the metal wanted the aggression of the punk, but with a little more ingenuity in the guitar playing. The guitarist Arjen Lucassen performed the first miracles with his bands Bodine and Vengeance. But in the big cities hardly a stage was willing to book him. Lucassen and bandmates therefore sought refuge in the smaller municipalities. ‘In the countryside there was more room for adventure, the public had not yet been spoiled and was open to new things.’ Let the Randstad settle for it.
The fans often had to awaken the monster themselves; the pop music infrastructure left the metal to the metal, in the conviction that the misery would blow over. Beautiful is a story about two boys from the Flemish village of Uikhoven who organized Iron Maiden concerts between the dryers of a hair salon called Lady Fashion. The hairdresser turned into a sort of pilgrimage site for enthusiasts: concert tickets and buttons were sold at the box office. And of course the hair products that are just as necessary for metalheads.
The book Denim and Leather by British music writer Michael Hann, about the rise of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), tells an almost identical creation story. Hann lets club owners and band members have their say and shows that the still widely used genre name NWOBHM could arise when a real pop journalist finally came to a concert evening.
In 1979, the writer Geoff Barton of the pop and rock magazine Sounds to join the London music theater Music Machine, where the fledgling bands Iron Maiden, Angel Witch and Samson were brought together by an enthusiastic promoter. Barton did what he had set out to do: approach the new metal bands very critically. Angel Witch played way too fast, he thought, and it made him “comatose”.
But he was also enchanted, especially by the smoke, light, confetti and fireworks spectacle that Samson let splash from the stage. “You have to see this show to believe it,” Barton wrote. His magazine decided to unpack with his report, and an editor-in-chief put a roaring intro above it: ‘If you want blood (and flashbombs and dry ice and confetti) you’ve got it: the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.’
The metalheads, overjoyed to finally have some serious attention, happily took the term, and the genre took off all over the world. Geoff Barton later turned out to have definitely gone for the axe: in 1981 he founded the metal magazine Kerrang op, which still exists and was even the best-selling British music weekly in the 2000s. And we are proud of that too.
AHJ Dautzenberg and Vincent Loozen: Crash! Anxious! wallop! – New Wave of Low Lands Heavy Metal (book and double album). Re/Excelsior; 72 pages; € 39.99 (with LP).
Michael Hann: Denim and Leather – The Rise and Fall of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Constable; 462 pages; approx. €23.40.