It’s been debated for decades. Since the release of Led Zeppelin in 1969 and Black Sabbath in 1970, fans, critics, and metal heads around the world have bandied about who is truly responsible for the creation of “Heavy Metal.” There’s no arguing that both Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath can make a claim to that throne. They both debuted with a sound so unique and inspiring that they could be compared to The Beatles. Both bands launched heavy metal into the mainstream and transformed the way people heard music. Without a doubt, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin are the pioneers of metal music. But which band is truly the inventor of metal music? Which band would we say metal never would have existed without them? Which band truly deserves the title of “The Godfathers of Heavy Metal?”
In the opening of his fantastic book, Bang Your Head: The Rise And Fall of Heavy Metal, author David Konow opens with this debate. He launches into the history of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and recognizes them both as the forefathers of metal music to come. While other hard rock bands from the time are covered, there is no mistaking that there are only two bands that could compete for the throne. Those two bands are Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
Led Zeppelin is soaked in a blues style of music, but with screaming Robert Plant on vocals and the legendary, innovative Jimmy Page on guitar, a claim can be made that they are responsible for creating heavy metal. They also have the edge in that their self titled album debuted almost a year before Black Sabbath’s.
When the opening riff of “Good Times Bad Times” filled the air for the very first time, music fans paid attention. This was hard. This was heavy. This was amazing. The drum beat that kicks everything into place is a signature sound for Led Zeppelin and the hardness that is contained on their debut album resonates. This is metal (although it wasn’t called heavy metal then). Fans just knew that this music rocked.
Black Sabbath, on the other hand, was all about darkness. With an insane frontman in Ozzy Osbourne, and a guitarist that learned to play without fingertips in Tommy Iommi, Black Sabbath is the epitome of darkness. The opening notes of “Black Sabbath” (the song) just ooze dark metal. In 1970 when the album debuted, metal was an unknown form of music. Led Zeppelin had captured the imagination of teenagers with their heavy guitar laden debut album, but Black Sabbath took it to that next level.
The dark toned music, the deep lyrical content, and that scary album cover, all combined to prove that Black Sabbath was different than anything you had ever heard before. When the thunderstorm breaks and the bell tolls on “Black Sabbath” the listener knows something evil is coming. Yet even evil can be very enjoyable, as is the case on “Black Sabbath.”
Both Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath are extremely popular bands that stood the test of time over the years. Both bands still receive a ton of radio play to this day. Both bands helped to move the heavy metal scene to the forefront of modern music and inspired a ton of metal bands including Kiss, Judas Priest, AC/DC, and Iron Maiden. However, in the end, I would have to say that Black Sabbath is truly the band that started the heavy metal movement. Upon hearing Ozzy’s voice and that dark, devilish music, well, everyone wanted to perform that way. The problem is, Black Sabbath could never be duplicated. And while Led Zeppelin will always have their place in metal history, it’s Black Sabbath that deserves the credit and the title of the “Godfathers of Heavy Metal.”