Who Is the First ‘Definitive’ Heavy Metal Band? Judas Priest’s Rob Halford Answers
Who is the first "definitive" heavy metal band? The general consensus is that the style of music began with Black Sabbath, a notion that has been challenged by others (such as Zakk Wylde and even Sabbath's own Tony Iommi) and, as a guest on the WTF With Marc Maron podcast, Judas Priest's Rob Halford gave his answer to the popular question.
The origins of heavy metal have long been debated, with plenty of examples of overwhelming heaviness in music that pre-dates Black Sabbath's 1970 debut, while others who followed played a style more recognizable as what traditional heavy metal ultimately wound up becoming.
Rob Halford Names The First 'Definitive' Heavy Metal Band
Podcast host and comedian Maron asks Halford about metal's origins, to which the Metal God replies (transcript via Classic Rock, “Some say there was the great band called Blue Cheer, 'Summertime Blues' was a really heavy song."
The thunderous Eddie Cochran cover appears on Blue Cheer's 1968 debut Vincebus Eruptum, which finds the San Francisco based psychedelic blues band pushing sonic boundaries in pursuit of newfound heaviness.
“Some people suggested the name heavy metal was from a Steppenwolf song, ‘heavy metal thunder’ [from 'Born To Be Wild']," Halford continues, noting one of the earliest instances where the words "heavy" and "metal" were used in succession regarding rock music.
Further surveying the early metal landscape, the Judas Priest frontman goes on, “But as far as the sound, this is the great debate. Using Sabbath as a primary example… I’ve always pushed that Sabbath were a heavy metal band, but my friend Tony Iommi will always go, ‘No, we’re like a rock band, a hard rock band. I said, ‘No, you’re heavy metal.’ ‘No, no…’"
Rather than contesting his pal, Halford gladly claims the honor for himself and his Judas Priest bandmates, who released their first album, Rocka Rolla, in 1974.
“So, I will take that trophy that Judas Priest were the first ever, definitive heavy metal band. So that‘s a big thing to say," he says, aware that his soundbite will likely generate news headlines (heh, guilty!) — "‘Halford says that Priest were the definitive heavy metal band…’. I stand by the statement for a lot of reasons. It’s a definitive sound, it’s a well-honed craft that came from these guys in the band that all had their own definition of what this heavy sound, this heavy experience should be."
Listen to the full interview below.
Rob Halford on WTF With Marc Maron
READ MORE: Who Really Invented Heavy Metal?
Is Rob Halford Right?
There may never be one true answer to this decades-old question, but it's more than fair to say that Judas Priest were indeed the first true heavy metal group, at least through the lens of which band popularized the style that became unanimously understood to represent traditional/classic heavy metal — high pitch singing, harmonized lead guitars, searing riffs, forceful drums.
It's a topic Loudwire has explored in-depth, asking many artists this very question.
Even Zakk Wylde, one of the biggest Black Sabbath fans on the planet and a guy with deep, deep connections to the band, acknowledges that the honor belongs to Priest.
"To me, metal, really, I'd have to say Judas Priest is more metal than Black Sabbath. Priest, to me, is the defining metal band. I'm talking heavy metal," the guitarist once told Loudwire.
About Judas Priest's New Album Invincible Shield
Next year, Judas Priest will released their 19th studio album Invincible Shield, which arrives on March 8. Impressively, it will mark 50 years since the band's first record came out and, with the first single "Panic Attack" as evidence, the metal pioneers are in remarkably fine form all these years later.
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