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Article Index

Heavy metal (often referred to simply as metal) is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and in the United States. 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.

The first heavy metal bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black 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; Motörhead introduced 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 fans became known as "metalheads" or "headbangers".

During the 1980s, glam metal became a commercial force with groups like Mötley Crüe and Poison. Underground scenes produced an array of more extreme, aggressive styles: thrash metal broke into the mainstream with bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax, while other styles of the most extreme subgenres of metal like death metal and black metal remain subcultural phenomena. Since the mid-1990s, popular styles such as nu metal, which often incorporates elements of grunge and hip hop; and metalcore, which blends extreme metal with hardcore punk, have further expanded the definition of the genre.

Characteristics

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." 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.

The electric guitar and the sonic power that it projects through amplification has historically been the key element in heavy metal. The lead role of the guitar in heavy metal often collides with the traditional "frontman" or bandleader role of the vocalist, creating a musical tension as the two "contend for dominance" in a spirit of "affectionate rivalry". Heavy metal "demands the subordination of the voice" to the overall sound of the band. Reflecting metal's roots in the 1960s counterculture, an "explicit display of emotion" is required from the vocals as a sign of authenticity.

Critic Simon Frith claims that the metal singer's "tone of voice" is more important than the lyrics. Metal vocals vary widely in style, from the multioctave, theatrical approach of Judas Priest's Rob Halford and Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, to the gruff style of Motörhead's Lemmy and Metallica's James Hetfield, to the growling of many death metal performers, and to the harsh screams of black metal.

The prominent role of the bass is also key to the metal sound, and the interplay of bass and guitar is a central element. The bass guitar provides the low-end sound crucial to making the music "heavy". Metal basslines vary widely in complexity, from holding down a low pedal point as a foundation to doubling complex riffs and licks along with the lead and/or rhythm guitars. Some bands feature the bass as a lead instrument, an approach popularized by Metallica's Cliff Burton in the early 1980s.

The essence of metal drumming is creating a loud, constant beat for the band using the "trifecta of speed, power, and precision". Metal drumming "requires an exceptional amount of endurance", and drummers have to develop "considerable speed, coordination, and dexterity...to play the intricate patterns" used in metal. A characteristic metal drumming technique is the cymbal choke, which consists of striking a cymbal and then immediately silencing it by grabbing it with the other hand (or, in some cases, the same striking hand), producing a burst of sound. The metal drum setup is generally much larger than those employed in other forms of rock music.

In live performance, loudness—an "onslaught of sound," in sociologist Deena Weinstein's description—is considered vital. In his book Metalheads, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett refers to heavy metal concerts as "the sensory equivalent of war." Following the lead set by Jimi Hendrix, Cream and The Who, early heavy metal acts such as Blue Cheer set new benchmarks for volume. As Blue Cheer's Dick Peterson put it, "All we knew was we wanted more power." A 1977 review of a Motörhead concert noted how "excessive volume in particular figured into the band’s impact." Weinstein makes the case that in the same way that melody is the main element of pop and rhythm is the main focus of house music, powerful sound, timbre, and volume are the key elements of metal. She argues that the loudness is designed to "sweep the listener into the sound" and to provide a "shot of youthful vitality."

Lyrical themes

Black Sabbath and the many metal bands they inspired have concentrated lyrically "on dark and depressing subject matter to an extent hitherto unprecedented in any form of pop music," according to scholars David Hatch and Stephen Millward. They take as an example Sabbath's second album Paranoid (1970), which "included songs dealing with personal trauma—'Paranoid' and 'Fairies Wear Boots' (which described the unsavoury side effects of drug-taking) —as well as those confronting wider issues, such as the self-explanatory 'War Pigs' and 'Hand of Doom.'"

Nuclear annihilation was addressed in later metal songs such as Black Sabbath's "Electric Funeral", Iron Maiden's "2 Minutes to Midnight", Ozzy Osbourne's "Killer of Giants", Megadeth's "Rust in Peace... Polaris", and Metallica's "Fight Fire with Fire". Death is a predominant theme in heavy metal, routinely featuring in the lyrics of bands as otherwise widely different as Slayer and W.A.S.P. The more extreme forms of death metal and grindcore tend to have aggressive and gory lyrics.

Deriving from the genre's roots in blues music, sex is another important topic—a thread running from Led Zeppelin's suggestive lyrics to the more explicit references of glam and nu metal bands.[33] Romantic tragedy is a standard theme of gothic and doom metal, as well as of nu metal, where teenage angst is another central topic. Heavy metal songs often feature outlandish, fantasy-inspired lyrics, lending them an escapist quality. Iron Maiden's songs, for instance, were frequently inspired by mythology, fiction, and poetry, such as Iron Maiden's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem.

Led Zeppelin lyrics often reference Lord of the Rings as well as other mythology and folklore, such as in the songs "The Battle of Evermore", "Immigrant Song", "Ramble On", "No Quarter", and "Achilles Last Stand". Other examples include Black Sabbath's "The Wizard", Megadeth's "The Conjuring" and "Five Magics", and Judas Priest's "Dreamer Deceiver". Since the 1980s, with the rise of thrash metal and songs such as Metallica's "...And Justice for All" and Megadeth's "Peace Sells", more metal lyrics have included sociopolitical commentary. Genres such as melodic death metal, progressive metal, and black metal often explore philosophical themes.

The thematic content of heavy metal has long been a target of criticism. According to Jon Pareles, "Heavy metal's main subject matter is simple and virtually universal. With grunts, moans and subliterary lyrics, it celebrates...a party without limits.... [T]he bulk of the music is stylized and formulaic." Music critics have often deemed metal lyrics juvenile and banal, and others have objected to what they see as advocacy of misogyny and the occult. During the 1980s, the Parents Music Resource Center petitioned the U.S. Congress to regulate the popular music industry due to what the group asserted were objectionable lyrics, particularly those in heavy metal songs.

In 1990, Judas Priest was sued in American court by the parents of two young men who had shot themselves five years earlier, allegedly after hearing the subliminal statement "do it" in a Priest song. While the case attracted a great deal of media attention, it was ultimately dismissed. In some predominantly Muslim countries, heavy metal has been officially denounced as a threat to traditional values. In countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and Malaysia, there have been incidents of heavy metal musicians and fans being arrested and incarcerated.

Image and fashion

For certain artists and bands, visual imagery plays a large role in heavy metal. In addition to its sound and lyrics, a heavy metal band's "image" is expressed in album sleeve art, logos, stage sets, clothing, and music videos. Some heavy metal acts such as Alice Cooper, Kiss, Lordi and Gwar have outrageous performance personas and stage shows.

Down-the-back long hair, according to Weinstein, is the "most crucial distinguishing feature of metal fashion." Originally adopted from the hippie subculture, by the 1980s and 1990s heavy metal hair "symbolised the hate, angst and disenchantment of a generation that seemingly never felt at home," according to journalist Nader Rahman. Long hair gave members of the metal community "the power they needed to rebel against nothing in general."

The classic uniform of heavy metal fans consists of "blue jeans, black T-shirts, boots and black leather or jeans jackets.... T-shirts are generally emblazoned with the logos or other visual representations of favorite metal bands." Metal fans also "appropriated elements from the S&M community (chains, metal studs, skulls, leather and crosses)." In the 1980s, a range of sources, from punk and goth music to horror films, influenced metal fashion. Many metal performers of the 1970s and 1980s used radically shaped and brightly colored instruments to enhance their stage appearance.

Fashion and personal style was especially important for glam metal bands of the era. Performers typically wore long, dyed, hairspray-teased hair (hence the nickname, "hair metal"); makeup such as lipstick and eyeliner; gaudy clothing, including leopard-skin-printed shirts or vests and tight denim, leather, or spandex pants; and accessories such as headbands and jewelry. Pioneered by the heavy metal act X Japan in the late 1980s, bands in the Japanese movement known as visual kei—which includes many nonmetal groups—emphasize elaborate costumes, hair, and makeup.


History

Antecedents: 1950s to mid-1960s

Heavy metal's quintessential guitar style, built around distortion-heavy riffs and power chords, traces its roots to early 1950s Memphis electric blues guitarists such as Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson, and particularly Pat Hare, who captured a "grittier, nastier, more ferocious electric guitar sound" on records such as James Cotton's "Cotton Crop Blues" (1954);the late 1950s instrumentals of Link Wray, particularly "Rumble" (1958);the early 1960s surf rock music of Dick Dale, including "Let's Go Trippin'" (1961) and "Misirlou" (1962); and The Kingsmen's version of "Louie, Louie" (1963), which made it a garage rock standard.

However, the genre's direct lineage begins in the mid-1960s. American blues music was a major influence on the early British rockers of the era. Bands like The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds developed blues rock by recording covers of many classic blues songs, often speeding up the tempos. As they experimented with the music, the UK blues-based bands—and the U.S. acts they influenced in turn—developed what would become the hallmarks of heavy metal, in particular, the loud, distorted guitar sound. The Kinks played a major role in popularizing this sound with their 1964 hit "You Really Got Me".

In addition to The Kinks' Dave Davies, other guitarists such as The Who's Pete Townshend and The Yardbirds' Jeff Beck were experimenting with feedback. Where the blues rock drumming style started out largely as simple shuffle beats on small kits, drummers began using a more muscular, complex, and amplified approach to match and be heard against the increasingly loud guitar. Vocalists similarly modified their technique and increased their reliance on amplification, often becoming more stylized and dramatic. In terms of sheer volume, especially in live performance, The Who's "bigger-louder-wall-of-Marshalls" approach was seminal.

The combination of blues rock with psychedelic rock formed much of the original basis for heavy metal.[80] One of the most influential bands in forging the merger of genres was the British power trio Cream, who derived a massive, heavy sound from unison riffing between guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce, as well as Ginger Baker's double bass drumming. Their first two LPs, Fresh Cream (1966) and Disraeli Gears (1967), are regarded as essential prototypes for the future style. The Jimi Hendrix Experience's debut album, Are You Experienced (1967), was also highly influential. Hendrix's virtuosic technique would be emulated by many metal guitarists and the album's most successful single, "Purple Haze", is identified by some as the first heavy metal hit.

During the late sixties, many psychedelic singers such as Arthur Brown, began to create outlandish, theatrical and often macabre performances; which in itself became incredibly influential to many metal acts. Vanilla Fudge, whose first album also came out in 1967, have been called "one of the few American links between psychedelia and what soon became heavy metal."

Origins: late 1960s and early 1970s

In 1968, the sound that would become known as heavy metal began to coalesce. That January, the San Francisco band Blue Cheer released a cover of Eddie Cochran's classic "Summertime Blues", from their debut album Vincebus Eruptum, that many consider the first true heavy metal recording. The same month, Steppenwolf released its self-titled debut album, including "Born to Be Wild", which refers to "heavy metal thunder" in describing a motorcycle. In July, another two epochal records came out: The Yardbirds' "Think About It" (from the 1967 Yardbirds album Little Games)—B-side of the band's last single—with a performance by guitarist Jimmy Page; and Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, with its 17-minute-long title track, a prime candidate for first-ever heavy metal album.

The Jeff Beck Group, whose leader had preceded Page as The Yardbirds' guitarist, released its debut record that same month: Truth featured some of the "most molten, barbed, downright funny noises of all time," breaking ground for generations of metal ax-slingers. In October, Page's new band, Led Zeppelin, made its live debut. The Beatles' so-called White Album, which also came out that month, included "Birthday" and "Helter Skelter", then one of the heaviest-sounding songs ever released by a major band.[88] The Pretty Things' rock opera S.F. Sorrow, released in December, featured "proto heavy metal" songs such as "Old Man Going" and "I See You".

In this period MC5, who began as part of the Detroit garage rock scene, developed a raw distorted style that has been seen as a major influence on the future sound of both heavy metal and later punk music. The Stooges also began to establish and influence a heavy metal and later punk sound, with songs such as "I Wanna Be Your Dog", featuring pounding and distorted heavy guitar power chord riffs. Pink Floyd released two of their heaviest and loudest songs to date; "Ibiza Bar" and "The Nile Song", which was regarded as "one of the heaviest songs the band recorded".

In January 1969, Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut album was released and reached number 10 on the Billboard album chart. In July, Zeppelin and a power trio with a Cream-inspired, but cruder sound, Grand Funk Railroad, played the Atlanta Pop Festival. That same month, another Cream-rooted trio led by Leslie West released Mountain, an album filled with heavy blues rock guitar and roaring vocals. In August, the group—now itself dubbed Mountain—played an hour-long set at the Woodstock Festival. Grand Funk's debut album, On Time, also came out that month. In the fall, Led Zeppelin II went to number 1 and the album's single "Whole Lotta Love" hit number 4 on the Billboard pop chart. The metal revolution was under way.

Led Zeppelin defined central aspects of the emerging genre, with Page's highly distorted guitar style and singer Robert Plant's dramatic, wailing vocals. Other bands, with a more consistently heavy, "purely" metal sound, would prove equally important in codifying the genre. The 1970 releases by Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath and Paranoid) and Deep Purple (In Rock) were crucial in this regard.

Black Sabbath had developed a particularly heavy sound in part due to an industrial accident guitarist Tony Iommi suffered before cofounding the band. Unable to play normally, Iommi had to tune his guitar down for easier fretting and rely on power chords with their relatively simple fingering. Deep Purple had fluctuated between styles in its early years, but by 1969 vocalist Ian Gillan and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had led the band toward the developing heavy metal style. In 1970, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple scored major UK chart hits with "Paranoid" and "Black Night", respectively. That same year, two other British bands released debut albums in a heavy metal mode: Uriah Heep with Very 'Eavy... Very 'Umble and UFO with UFO 1. Bloodrock released their self-titled debut album, containing a collection of heavy guitar riffs, gruff style vocals and sadistic and macabre lyrics. Budgie brought the new metal sound into a power trio context. The occult lyrics and imagery employed by Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep would prove particularly influential; Led Zeppelin also began foregrounding such elements with its fourth album, released in 1971.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the trend-setting group was Grand Funk Railroad, "the most commercially successful American heavy-metal band from 1970 until they disbanded in 1976, [they] established the Seventies success formula: continuous touring." Other bands identified with metal emerged in the U.S., such as Blue Öyster Cult (1972), Aerosmith (1973) and Kiss (1974). In Germany, Scorpions debuted with Lonesome Crow in 1972. Blackmore, who had emerged as a virtuoso soloist with Deep Purple's Machine Head (1972), quit the group in 1975 to form Rainbow. These bands also built audiences via constant touring and increasingly elaborate stage shows.

As described above, there are arguments about whether these and other early bands truly qualify as "heavy metal" or simply as "hard rock". Those closer to the music's blues roots or placing greater emphasis on melody are now commonly ascribed the latter label. AC/DC, which debuted with High Voltage in 1975, is a prime example. The 1983 Rolling Stone encyclopedia entry begins, "Australian heavy-metal band AC/DC..." Rock historian Clinton Walker writes, "Calling AC/DC a heavy metal band in the seventies was as inaccurate as it is today.... [They] were a rock 'n' roll band that just happened to be heavy enough for metal." The issue is not only one of shifting definitions, but also a persistent distinction between musical style and audience identification: Ian Christe describes how the band "became the stepping-stone that led huge numbers of hard rock fans into heavy metal perdition."

In certain cases, there is little debate. After Black Sabbath, the next major example is Britain's Judas Priest, which debuted with Rocka Rolla in 1974. In Christe's description,

"Black Sabbath's audience was...left to scavenge for sounds with similar impact. By the mid-1970s, heavy metal aesthetic could be spotted, like a mythical beast, in the moody bass and complex dual guitars of Thin Lizzy, in the stagecraft of Alice Cooper, in the sizzling guitar and showy vocals of Queen, and in the thundering medieval questions of Rainbow.... Judas Priest arrived to unify and amplify these diverse highlights from hard rock's sonic palette. For the first time, heavy metal became a true genre unto itself."

Though Judas Priest did not have a top 40 album in the U.S. until 1980, for many it was the definitive post-Sabbath heavy metal band; its twin-guitar attack, featuring rapid tempos and a nonbluesy, more cleanly metallic sound, was a major influence on later acts. While heavy metal was growing in popularity, most critics were not enamored of the music. Objections were raised to metal's adoption of visual spectacle and other trappings of commercial artifice, but the main offense was its perceived musical and lyrical vacuity: reviewing a Black Sabbath album in the early 1970s, leading critic Robert Christgau described it as "dull and decadent...dim-witted, amoral exploitation."

Mainstream: late 1970s and 1980s

Punk rock emerged in the mid-1970s as a reaction against contemporary social conditions as well as what was perceived as the overindulgent, overproduced rock music of the time, including heavy metal. Sales of heavy metal records declined sharply in the late 1970s in the face of punk, disco, and more mainstream rock. With the major labels fixated on punk, many newer British heavy metal bands were inspired by the movement's aggressive, high-energy sound and "lo-fi", do it yourself ethos. Underground metal bands began putting out cheaply recorded releases independently to small, devoted audiences.

Motörhead, founded in 1975, was the first important band to straddle the punk/metal divide. With the explosion of punk in 1977, others followed. British music papers such as the NME and Sounds took notice, with Sounds writer Geoff Barton christening the movement the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal". NWOBHM bands including Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Def Leppard reenergized the heavy metal genre. Following the lead set by Judas Priest and Motörhead, they toughened up the sound, reduced its blues elements, and emphasized increasingly fast tempos.

In 1980, the NWOBHM broke into the mainstream, as albums by Iron Maiden and Saxon, as well as Motörhead, reached the British top 10. Though less commercially successful, other NWOBHM bands such as Venom and Diamond Head would have a significant influence on metal's development. In 1981, Motörhead became the first of this new breed of metal bands to top the UK charts with No Sleep 'til Hammersmith.

The first generation of metal bands was ceding the limelight. Deep Purple had broken up soon after Blackmore's departure in 1975, and Led Zeppelin broke up following drummer John Bonham's death in 1980. Black Sabbath was routinely upstaged in concert by its opening act, the Los Angeles band Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen established himself as one of the leading metal guitarists of the era—his solo on "Eruption", from the band's self-titled 1978 album, is considered a milestone.

Inspired by Van Halen's success, a metal scene began to develop in Southern California during the late 1970s. Based on the clubs of L.A.'s Sunset Strip, bands such as Quiet Riot, Ratt, Mötley Crüe, and W.A.S.P. were influenced by traditional heavy metal of the earlier 1970s and incorporated the theatrics (and sometimes makeup) of glam rock acts such as Alice Cooper and Kiss. The lyrics of these glam metal bands characteristically emphasized hedonism and wild behavior. Musically, the style was distinguished by rapid-fire shred guitar solos, anthemic choruses, and a relatively pop-oriented melodic approach. The glam metal movement—along with similarly styled acts such as New York's Twisted Sister—became a major force in metal and the wider spectrum of rock music.

In the wake of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and Judas Priest's breakthrough British Steel (1980), heavy metal became increasingly popular in the early 1980s. Many metal artists benefited from the exposure they received on MTV, which began airing in 1981—sales often soared if a band's videos screened on the channel. Def Leppard's videos for Pyromania (1983) made them superstars in America and Quiet Riot became the first domestic heavy metal band to top the Billboard chart with Metal Health (1983). One of the seminal events in metal's growing popularity was the 1983 US Festival in California, where the "heavy metal day" featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen, Scorpions, Mötley Crüe, Judas Priest, and others drew the largest audiences of the three-day event.

Between 1983 and 1984, heavy metal went from an 8 percent to a 20 percent share of all recordings sold in the U.S. Several major professional magazines devoted to the genre were launched, including Kerrang! (in 1981) and Metal Hammer (in 1984), as well as a host of fan journals. In 1985, Billboard declared, "Metal has broadened its audience base. Metal music is no longer the exclusive domain of male teenagers. The metal audience has become older (college-aged), younger (pre-teen), and more female."

By the mid-1980s, glam metal was a dominant presence on the U.S. charts, music television, and the arena concert circuit. New bands such as L.A.'s Warrant and acts from the East Coast like Poison and Cinderella became major draws, while Mötley Crüe and Ratt remained very popular. Bridging the stylistic gap between hard rock and glam metal, New Jersey's Bon Jovi became enormously successful with its third album, Slippery When Wet (1986). The similarly styled Swedish band Europe became international stars with The Final Countdown (1986). Its title track hit number 1 in 25 countries. In 1987, MTV launched a show, Headbanger's Ball, devoted exclusively to heavy metal videos. However, the metal audience had begun to factionalize, with those in many underground metal scenes favoring more extreme sounds and disparaging the popular style as "light metal" or "hair metal."

One band that reached diverse audiences was Guns N' Roses. In contrast to their glam metal contemporaries in L.A., they were seen as much more raw and dangerous. With the release of their chart-topping Appetite for Destruction (1987), they "recharged and almost single-handedly sustained the Sunset Strip sleaze system for several years." The following year, Jane's Addiction emerged from the same L.A. hard-rock club scene with its major label debut, Nothing's Shocking. Reviewing the album, Rolling Stone declared, "as much as any band in existence, Jane's Addiction is the true heir to Led Zeppelin." The group was one of the first to be identified with the "alternative metal" trend that would come to the fore in the next decade. Meanwhile, new bands such as New York's Winger and New Jersey's Skid Row sustained the popularity of the glam metal style.


Other metal genres: 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s

Many subgenres of heavy metal developed outside of the commercial mainstream during the 1980s. Several attempts have been made to map the complex world of underground metal, most notably by the editors of Allmusic, as well as critic Garry Sharpe-Young. Sharpe-Young's multivolume metal encyclopedia separates the underground into five major categories: thrash metal, death metal, black metal, power metal, and the related subgenres of doom and gothic metal.

Thrash Metal

Thrash metal emerged in the early 1980s under the influence of hardcore punk and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, particularly songs in the revved-up style known as speed metal. The movement began in the United States, with Bay Area thrash metal being the leading scene. The sound developed by thrash groups was faster and more aggressive than that of the original metal bands and their glam metal successors. Low-register guitar riffs are typically overlaid with shredding leads. Lyrics often express nihilistic views or deal with social issues using visceral, gory language. Thrash has been described as a form of "urban blight music" and "a palefaced cousin of rap."

The subgenre was popularized by the "Big Four of Thrash": Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer. Three German bands, Kreator, Sodom, and Destruction, played a central role in bringing the style to Europe. Others, including San Francisco Bay Area's Testament and Exodus, New Jersey's Overkill, and Brazil's Sepultura, also had a significant impact.

While thrash began as an underground scene, and remained largely that for almost a decade, the leading bands in the movement began to reach a wider audience. Metallica brought the sound into the top 40 of the Billboard album chart in 1986 with Master of Puppets; two years later, the band's ...And Justice for All hit number 6, while Megadeth and Anthrax had top 40 records.

Though less commercially successful than the rest of the Big Four, Slayer released one of the genre's definitive records: Reign in Blood (1986) was described by Kerrang! as the "heaviest album of all time." Two decades later, Metal Hammer named it the best album of the preceding twenty years. Slayer attracted a following among far-right skinheads, and accusations of promoting violence and Nazi themes have dogged the band.

In the early 1990s, thrash achieved breakout success, challenging and redefining the metal mainstream. Metallica's self-titled 1991 album topped the Billboard chart, Megadeth's Countdown to Extinction (1992) hit number 2, Anthrax and Slayer cracked the top 10, and albums by regional bands such as Testament and Sepultura entered the top 100.

Death Metal

Thrash soon began to evolve and split into more extreme metal genres. "Slayer's music was directly responsible for the rise of death metal," according to MTV News. The NWOBHM band Venom was also an important progenitor. The death metal movement in both North America and Europe adopted and emphasized the elements of blasphemy and diabolism employed by such acts. Florida's Death and the Bay Area's Possessed are recognized as seminal bands in the style. Both groups have been credited with inspiring the subgenre's name, the latter via its 1984 demo Death Metal and the song "Death Metal", from its 1985 debut album Seven Churches (1985).

Death metal utilizes the speed and aggression of both thrash and hardcore, fused with lyrics preoccupied with Z-grade slasher movie violence and Satanism. Death metal vocals are typically bleak, involving guttural "death growls," high-pitched screaming, the "death rasp," and other uncommon techniques. Complementing the deep, aggressive vocal style are downtuned, highly distorted guitars and extremely fast percussion, often with rapid double bass drumming and "wall of sound"–style blast beats. Frequent tempo and time signature changes and syncopation are also typical.

Death metal, like thrash metal, generally rejects the theatrics of earlier metal styles, opting instead for an everyday look of ripped jeans and plain leather jackets. One major exception to this rule was Deicide's Glen Benton, who branded an inverted cross on his forehead and wore armor on stage. Morbid Angel adopted neo-fascist imagery. These two bands, along with Death and Obituary, were leaders of the major death metal scene that emerged in Florida in the mid-1980s. In the UK, the related style of grindcore, led by bands such as Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror, emerged out of the anarcho-punk movement.

Black Metal

The first wave of black metal emerged in Europe in the early and mid-1980s, led by Britain's Venom, Denmark's Mercyful Fate, Switzerland's Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, and Sweden's Bathory. By the late 1980s, Norwegian bands such as Mayhem and Burzum were heading a second wave. Black metal varies considerably in style and production quality, although most bands emphasize shrieked and growled vocals, highly distorted guitars frequently played with rapid tremolo picking, a "dark" atmosphere and intentionally lo-fi production, with ambient noise and background hiss.

Satanic themes are common in black metal, though many bands take inspiration from ancient paganism, promoting a return to pre-Christian values. Numerous black metal bands also "experiment with sounds from all possible forms of metal, folk, classical music, electronica and avant-garde." Darkthrone drummer Fenriz explains, "It had something to do with production, lyrics, the way they dressed and a commitment to making ugly, raw, grim stuff. There wasn't a generic sound."

By 1990, Mayhem was regularly wearing corpsepaint; many other black metal acts also adopted the look. Bathory inspired the Viking metal and folk metal movements and Immortal brought blast beats to the fore. Some bands in the Scandinavian black metal scene became associated with considerable violence in the early 1990s, with Mayhem and Burzum linked to church burnings. Growing commercial hype around death metal generated a backlash; beginning in Norway, much of the Scandinavian metal underground shifted to support a black metal scene that resisted being co-opted by the commercial metal industry. According to former Gorgoroth vocalist Gaahl, "Black Metal was never meant to reach an audience.... [We] had a common enemy which was, of course, Christianity, socialism and everything that democracy stands for."

By 1992, black metal scenes had begun to emerge in areas outside Scandinavia, including Germany, France, and Poland. The 1993 murder of Mayhem's Euronymous by Burzum's Varg Vikernes provoked intensive media coverage. Around 1996, when many in the scene felt the genre was stagnating, several key bands, including Burzum and Finland's Beherit, moved toward an ambient style, while symphonic black metal was explored by Sweden's Tiamat and Switzerland's Samael. In the late 1990s and early 2000s decade, Norway's Dimmu Borgir brought black metal closer to the mainstream, as did Cradle of Filth.

Power Metal

During the late 1980s, the power metal scene came together largely in reaction to the harshness of death and black metal. Though a relatively underground style in North America, it enjoys wide popularity in Europe, Japan, and South America. Power metal focuses on upbeat, epic melodies and themes that "appeal to the listener's sense of valor and loveliness." The prototype for the sound was established in the mid-to-late 1980s by Germany's Helloween, which combined the power riffs, melodic approach, and high-pitched, "clean" singing style of bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with thrash's speed and energy, "crystalliz[ing] the sonic ingredients of what is now known as power metal."

Traditional power metal bands like Sweden's HammerFall, England's DragonForce, and Florida's Iced Earth have a sound clearly indebted to the classic NWOBHM style. Many power metal bands such as Florida's Kamelot, Finland's Nightwish, Italy's Rhapsody of Fire, New York's Manowar and Russia's Catharsis feature a keyboard-based "symphonic" sound, sometimes employing orchestras and opera singers. Power metal has built a strong fanbase in Japan and South America, where bands like Brazil's Angra and Argentina's Rata Blanca are popular.

Closely related to power metal is progressive metal, which adopts the complex compositional approach of bands like Rush and King Crimson. This style emerged in the United States in the early and mid-1980s, with innovators such as Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, and Dream Theater. The mix of the progressive and power metal sounds is typified by New Jersey's Symphony X, whose guitarist Michael Romeo is among the most recognized of latter-day shredders.

Doom and Gothic Metal

Emerging in the mid-1980s with such bands as California's Saint Vitus, Maryland's The Obsessed, Chicago's Trouble, and Sweden's Candlemass, the doom metal movement rejected other metal styles' emphasis on speed, slowing its music to a crawl. Doom metal traces its roots to the lyrical themes and musical approach of early Black Sabbath. The Melvins have also been a significant influence on doom metal and a number of its subgenres. Doom emphasizes melody, melancholy tempos, and a sepulchral mood relative to many other varieties of metal.

The 1991 release of Forest of Equilibrium, the debut album by UK band Cathedral, helped spark a new wave of doom metal. During the same period, the doom-death fusion style of British bands Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Anathema gave rise to European gothic metal, with its signature dual-vocalist arrangements, exemplified by Norway's Theatre of Tragedy and Tristania. New York's Type O Negative introduced an American take on the style.

In the United States, sludge metal, mixing doom and hardcore, emerged in the late 1980s—Eyehategod and Crowbar were leaders in a major Louisiana sludge scene. Early in the next decade, California's Kyuss and Sleep, inspired by the earlier doom metal bands, spearheaded the rise of stoner metal, while Seattle's Earth helped develop the drone metal subgenre. The late 1990s saw new bands form such as the Los Angeles–based Goatsnake, with a classic stoner/doom sound, and Sunn O))), which crosses lines between doom, drone, and dark ambient metal—the New York Times has compared their sound to an "Indian raga in the middle of an earthquake".

New fusions: 1990s and early 2000s

The era of metal's mainstream dominance in North America came to an end in the early 1990s with the emergence of Nirvana and other grunge bands, signaling the popular breakthrough of alternative rock. Grunge acts were influenced by the heavy metal sound, but rejected the excesses of the more popular metal bands, such as their "flashy and virtuosic solos" and "appearance-driven" MTV orientation.

Glam metal fell out of favor due not only to the success of grunge, but also because of the growing popularity of the more aggressive sound typified by Metallica and the post-thrash groove metal of Pantera and White Zombie. A few new, unambiguously metal bands had commercial success during the first half of the decade—Pantera's Far Beyond Driven topped the Billboard chart in 1994—but, "In the dull eyes of the mainstream, metal was dead." Some bands tried to adapt to the new musical landscape. Metallica revamped its image: the band members cut their hair and, in 1996, headlined the alternative musical festival Lollapalooza founded by Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell. While this prompted a backlash among some long-time fans, Metallica remained one of the most successful bands in the world into the new century.

Like Jane's Addiction, many of the most popular early 1990s groups with roots in heavy metal fall under the umbrella term "alternative metal." Bands in Seattle's grunge scene such as Soundgarden, credited as making a "place for heavy metal in alternative rock", and Alice in Chains were at the center of the alternative metal movement. The label was applied to a wide spectrum of other acts that fused metal with different styles: Faith No More combined their alternative rock sound with punk, funk, metal, and hip hop; Primus joined elements of funk, punk, thrash metal, and experimental music; Tool mixed metal and progressive rock; bands such as Fear Factory and Ministry and Nine Inch Nails began incorporating metal into their industrial sound, and vice versa, respectively; and Marilyn Manson went down a similar route, while also employing shock effects of the sort popularized by Alice Cooper. Alternative metal artists, though they did not represent a cohesive scene, were united by their willingness to experiment with the metal genre and their rejection of glam metal aesthetics (with the stagecraft of Marilyn Manson and White Zombie—also identified with alt-metal—significant, if partial, exceptions). Alternative metal's mix of styles and sounds represented "the colorful results of metal opening up to face the outside world."

In the mid- and late 1990s came a new wave of U.S. metal groups inspired by the alternative metal bands and their mix of genres. Dubbed "nu metal", bands such as Slipknot, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, P.O.D., Korn and Disturbed incorporated elements ranging from death metal to hip hop, often including DJs and rap-style vocals. The mix demonstrated that "pancultural metal could pay off." Nu metal gained mainstream success through heavy MTV rotation and Ozzy Osbourne's 1996 introduction of Ozzfest, which led the media to talk of a resurgence of heavy metal. In 1999, Billboard noted that there were more than 500 specialty metal radio shows in the U.S., nearly three times as many as ten years before. While nu metal was widely popular, traditional metal fans did not fully embrace the style. By early 2003, the movement's popularity was on the wane, though several nu metal acts such as System of a Down retained substantial followings.

Recent trends: mid–late 2000s

Metal remained popular in the 2000s, particularly in continental Europe. By the new millennium Scandinavia had emerged as one of the areas producing innovative and successful bands, while Belgium, The Netherlands and especially Germany were the most significant markets. Established continental metal bands that placed multiple albums in the top 20 of the German charts between 2003 and 2008, including Finnish band Children of Bodom, Norwegian act Dimmu Borgir, Germany's Blind Guardian and Sweden's HammerFall.

Metalcore, a hybrid of extreme metal and hardcore punk, emerged as a commercial force in the mid-2000s decade. It is rooted in the crossover thrash style developed two decades earlier by bands such as Suicidal Tendencies, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, and Stormtroopers of Death. Through the 1990s, metalcore was mostly an underground phenomenon; early bands include Earth Crisis, Converge, Hatebreed and Shai Hulud. By 2004, melodic metalcore—influenced as well by melodic death metal—was popular enough that Killswitch Engage's The End of Heartache and Shadows Fall's The War Within debuted at numbers 21 and 20, respectively, on the Billboard album chart.

Welsh band Bullet for My Valentine's third studio album Fever debuted at position number 3 on The Billboard 200 and number 1 on Billboard's Rock and Alternative charts, making it the band's most successful record to date. In recent years, metalcore bands have received prominent slots at Ozzfest and the Download Festival. Lamb of God, a groove metal band, hit the Billboard top 10 in 2006 with Sacrament. The success of these bands and others such as Trivium, which has released both metalcore and straight-ahead thrash albums, and Mastodon, which plays in a progressive/sludge style, has inspired claims of a metal revival in the United States, dubbed by some critics the "New Wave of American Heavy Metal".

The term "retro-metal" has been applied to such bands as Texas-based The Sword, California's High on Fire, Sweden's Witchcraft and Australia's Wolfmother. The Sword's Age of Winters (2006) drew heavily on the work of Black Sabbath and Pentagram; Witchcraft added elements of folk rock and psychedelic rock; and Wolfmother's self-titled 2005 debut album had "Deep Purple-ish organs," "Jimmy Page-worthy chordal riffing," and lead singer Andrew Stockdale howling "notes that Robert Plant can't reach anymore."

"Woman", a track from the album, won for Best Hard Rock Performance at the 2007 Grammy Awards. Slayer's "Eyes of the Insane" won for Best Metal Performance in 2007; their "Final Six" won the same award in 2008. Metallica took the honor in 2009 for "My Apocalypse". Other recent developments in the world of metal have been the resurgence of the thrash metal scene, and the recent emergence of the 'djent' scene.


Original movement: 1967–1981

In the late 1960s a number of bands began pushing the limits of blues-rock into a new genre which would be called heavy metal.

In 1981, three of the 'Big Four' Thrash metal bands emerged: Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax (to be joined on the scene in 1983 by Megadeth).

Band NameYears activeBrief summary
44 Magnum 1977–1989, 2002–present  

A

  
A II Z 1979-1982  
Accept 1968–1989, 1992–1997, 2004–2005, 2009–present Accept played an important role in the development of speed metal and Teutonic thrash metal, being part of the German heavy/speed/power metal scene which emerged in the early-to-mid 1980s.
AC/DC 1973–present  
Aerosmith 1970–present  
Alice Cooper 1968–present  
Angel 1975–1981, 1987, 1998–present  
Angel Witch 1977-1982, 1984-1998, 2000–present  
Anthem 1980–1992, 2000–present  
Anthrax 1981–present  
Anvil 1978–present  
Atomkraft 1979–1988, 2005  
Axe 1979-1984, 1997-2004  

B

  
Bang 1970–1973, 2001–2004  
Barnabas 1977-1986  
Barón Rojo 1980–present  
Battleaxe 1980–1988, 2010–present  
Bitch 1980–present First band to be signed by the Metal Blade Records label.
Black Death 1977–present The first all-African-American heavy metal band.
Black 'n Blue 1981–1989, 1997, 2003, 2007–present  
Black Rose 1980-1989, 2006–present  
Black Sabbath 1968–2006, 2011–present Black Sabbath was formed by Ozzy Osbourne (lead vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass guitar), and Bill Ward (drums). Alcohol abuse led to Ozzy Osbourne getting fired and replaced with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio.
Black Widow 1966–1973, 2007–present  
Blitzkrieg 1980–1981, 1984–1991, 1992–1994, 1996–1999, 2001–present  
Bloodrock 1969–1975  
Blue Cheer 1966–1972, 1974–1976, 1978–1979, 1984–1994, 1999–2009  
Blue Öyster Cult 1967–present  
Bow Wow 1976–present Also known as Vow Wow for part of their career (1984–1990).
Edgar Broughton Band 1968–2010 Cited in the 2010 BBC TV documentary Heavy Metal Britannia as a formative influence on the genre in the UK.
Budgie 1967–present  
Buffalo 1971–1977  
Bulldozer 1980–1990, 2008–present  

C

  
Cactus 1970–1972, 2006–present  
Chateaux 1981-1985  
Cirith Ungol 1972–1992  
Cloven Hoof 1979–1990, 2000–present  
Cream 1966–1969  
Crimson Glory 1979–1992, 1998–present  

D

  
Death SS 1977-1984, 1988–present  
Deep Purple 1968-1976, 1984–present  
Def Leppard 1977–present The band began as a heavy metal outfit.
Demon 1979–present Headlined the first British Steel Festival in 2006.
Diamond Head 1976–1985, 1991–1994, 2002–present  
Dokken 1978–1989, 1993–present  

E

  
Earthshaker 1978-1994, 1999–present  
E.F. Band 1979-1986  
Electric Sun 1978-1986  
Elf 1967-1975 Ronnie James Dio on vocals.
Ethel the Frog 1976-1980  
Europe 1979–1992, 1999 (partial reunion), 2003–present  
Exciter 1978–present  
Exodus 1980–1993, 1997–1998, 2001–present  

F

  
Faith No More 1981–1998, 2009–present  
Fallout 1979-1982  
Fist 1978-1982, 2001–2006  
Flower Travellin' Band 1968–1973, 2007–present  
The Flying Hat Band 1971–1974  

G

  
Gamma 1978–1983, 2000  
Geordie 1972–1980, 1982–1985, 2001 Singer Brian Johnson went on to join AC/DC in 1980, after the death of Bon Scott.
Gillan 1978–1983  
Girl 1979-1982  
Girlschool 1978–present All-female band formed during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
The Godz 1976–present  
Gordi 1977–1984  
Grand Funk Railroad 1968–1977, 1980–1983, 1996–present  
Grave Digger 1980–1987, 1991–present  
Gravestone 1977-1986  
Great White 1977–2001, 2002–present  
Grim Reaper 1979–1988, 2006–present  
The Gun 1967-1970  

H

  
Sammy Hagar 1967–present  
The Handsome Beasts 1972–present  
Hanoi Rocks 1979–1985, 2001–2009  
Hard Stuff 1971–1973  
Heaven 1980–2000  
Heavy Load 1976–1985  
Heavy Metal Kids 1972-1985, 2002–present Initially featured actor Gary Holton on vocals.
Helix 1974–present  
The Jimi Hendrix Experience 1966–1970  
High Tide 1969–1970  
Hollow Ground 1979-1982, 2007  
Holocaust 1977–present  
Holy Moses 1980–1994, 2000–present  

I

  
Icon 1981–1990, 2008–present  
Iron Butterfly 1966–present Second guitarist Erik Braunn died in 2003 of a heart attack.
Iron Claw 1969-1974, 1993, 2010–present  
Iron Maiden 1975–present Iron Maiden achieved success during the early 1980s. After several line-up changes, the band went on to release a series of U.S. and UK platinum and gold albums, including 1982's The Number of the Beast, 1983's Piece of Mind, 1984's Powerslave, 1985's live release Live After Death, 1986's Somewhere in Time and 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

J

  
Jag Panzer 1981–1988, 1994–2011  
Jaguar 1979–1985, 1998–present  
Jameson Raid 1975–1983, 2008–present  
Jerusalem 1972  
Josefus 1969–2005  
JPT Scare Band 1973–present  
Judas Priest 1969–present  

K

  
Kat 1979-1987, 1990-1999, 2002–present  
Kerber 1981 – present  
Kick Axe 1976–1988, 2003–present  
Killer Dwarfs 1981–1995, 2001–2008  
King's X 1980–present  
Kiss 1973–present  
Kix 1977–1996, 2003–present  
Krokus 1974–present  

L

  
Leaf Hound 1969-1971, 2004–present  
Leatherwolf 1981–present  
Led Zeppelin 1968–1980  
Legend 1980–1984, 2003–present  
Legs Diamond 1975–present  
Leviticus 1981–1990  
London 1978–1981, 1984–1990, 2006–present Early lineups featured future members of Mötley Crüe, Guns N' Roses, W.A.S.P. and Cinderella.
Lone Star 1975–1978  
Loudness 1980–present  
Lucifer's Friend 1970–1982, 1993–1997  

M

  
Mahogany Rush 1970–1980, 1998–present  
Mama's Boys 1978–1993  
Manilla Road 1977-1990, 2001–present  
Manowar 1980–present  
Marseille 1976–present  
MC5 1963-1972, 1992, 2003-2012  
Mercyful Fate 1981–1985, 1992–1999 King Diamond on vocals.
Metal Church 1980–1994, 1998–2009  
Metallica 1981–present Second bassist Cliff Burton died on 27 September 1986.
Misfits 1977–1983, 1995–present  
Montrose 1973–1976, 2005  
More 1980–1982, 1985, 1998–2000  
Mötley Crüe 1981–present  
Motörhead 1975–present  
Mountain 1969–1972, 1973–present  

N

   
Nazareth 1968–present  
Necromandus 1970–1973  
Night Sun 1970–1973  
Ted Nugent 1975–present  
O   
Overkill 1980–present  
Oz 1977-1991, 2010–present  
Ozzy Osbourne 1980–present  

P

  
Pagan Altar 1978–1982, 2004–present  
Pantera 1981-2003 The guitarist Dimebag Darrell was shot to death onstage on 8 December 2004 during a Damageplan concert.
Pentagram 1971–1976, 1978–1979, 1981–present  
Persian Risk 1979–1986  
Picture 1979–1987, 1997–1999, 2007–present  
Praying Mantis 1974–present  
Pretty Maids 1981–present  
Primevil 1973-1974  

Q

  
Quartz 1974-1983, 1996, 2011  
Queensryche 1981–present  
Quiet Riot 1975–present  

R

  
Rainbow 1975–1984, 1993–1997  
Ratt 1976–1992, 1996–Present  
Raven 1974–present  
Riot 1975–1984, 1986–2012  
Rock Goddess 1977–1987, 1994–1995, 2009  
The Rods 1978-1986, 2008–present  
Rose Tattoo 1976–1987, 1993, 1998–present  
Uli Jon Roth 1968–present  
Rough Cutt 1981–1987, 2000–2002  
The Runaways 1975–1979  
Running Wild 1976–2009, 2011–present  
Rush 1968–present  

S

  
Saber Tiger 1981–present  
Saint 1980–1989, 1999–present  
Saint Vitus 1978–1996, 2003, 2008–present  
Salem 1980–1983, 2009–present  
Paul Samson 1978–2002  
Satan 1979–88, 2005–2011  
Savage 1976–present  
Savage Grace 1981–1993, 2009-2010  
Savatage 1978–2002 The band currently continues as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Saxon 1976–present  
Michael Schenker Group 1979–present  
Scorpions 1965–present  
Shark Island 1979-1992  
Sir Lord Baltimore 1968-1976, 2006–present  
Sister 1976–1978  
Skitzo 1981–present  
Slayer 1981–present  
Sodom 1981–present  
Sortilège 1981–1986  
Sound Barrier 1980-1987  
Stampede 1981-1983, 2009–present  
Starz 1975–1979, 1980, 1990, 2003–present  
Steeler 1981–1988  
Steppenwolf 1967–present The 1967 recording Born to Be Wild was one of the first rock songs to contain the phrase "Heavy Metal" in its lyrics.
Stormwitch 1979–1994, 2002–present  
Stray 1966–present  
Suck 1970–1971  
Sweet Savage 1979–present  

T

  
Tank 1980-1989, 1997–present  
Tesla 1981–1996, 2000–present  
Thin Lizzy 1969–1984, 1996–present  
Thor 1978, 1983–1986, 1997–present  
Tobruk 1981–1987  
Trespass 1978–1982, 1992–1993  
Triumph 1975–1993, 2008–present  
Trouble 1979–present  
Trust 1977-1985, 1988, 1996-2000, 2006  
TSA 1979–present  
Turbo 1980–present  
Twisted Sister 1972–1988, 1997–present  
Tygers of Pan Tang 1978–1987, 1999–present  

U

  
UFO 1969–1988, 1992–present  
Uriah Heep 1969–present  

V

  
Vandenberg 1981–1987  
Van Halen 1972–present  
Vanilla Fudge 1967–1970, 1982–1984, 1987–1988, 1991, 1999–present  
Vardis 1973–1986  
Venom 1979–present  
Vicious Rumors 1979–present  
Virgin Steele 1981–present  
Vixen 1980–1991, 1997–1998, 2001–present  

W

  
Warhorse 1970–1974, (partial reunions: 1985, 2005)  
Whitesnake 1978–1990, 1994, 1997, 2002–present  
White Wolf 1975-1986, 2007–present  
Wild Horses 1978–1981  
Witchfinder General 1979–1984, 2006–2008  
Witchfynde 1974–1984, 1999–present  
Wrathchild 1980–1990, 2009–present  

X

  

Y

  
Y&T 1974–1991, 1995–present  

Z

   

Dedication Scroller

Artist:
Soundgarden

Song Played:
Spoonman

Requested by:
The_Cat

Dedication:
hmmm I wonder what the "man" used the spoon for???


Artist:
Metallica

Song Played:
Better Than You

Requested by:
Ghost

Dedication:
TO MY BLACKWATER RAIDERS FOR DUNGEON RUNNIN


Artist:
Metallica

Song Played:
...And Justice For All

Requested by:
The_Cat

Dedication:
Here you go Johnboy lol


Artist:
Jon Bon Jovi

Song Played:
Blaze Of Glory

Requested by:
Ghost

Dedication:
TO THE WOW CREW THIS IS HOW WE DO MYTHIC PLUS'...LOL


Artist:
Godsmack

Song Played:
Vampires

Requested by:
The_Cat

Dedication:
to the WOW boys


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