4 of the Best British Heavy Metal Bands from the 1970s

Is Led Zeppelin a heavy metal band?

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Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham influenced heavy metal music when Page continued the heavy blues he’d begun with The Yardbirds. They certainly had aspects of what became common in metal groups: interest in the occult, Plant’s Viking lyrics, Page’s heavy riffs, and Bonham’s thunder-god grooves. But is it correct to call them metal?

For this list, the answer is no. The bands below, perhaps in rivalry with Led Zeppelin, became darker, heavier, and, in some places, faster. Think of Led Zeppelin as the caterpillar and the bands below as gloomy butterflies (or moths).

Arrange your fingers into the sign of the horns and check out four of England’s best heavy metal bands.

Deep Purple

Before Deep Purple helped pioneer heavy metal, they played psychedelic blues in the late ’60s. However, Ritchie Blackmore began laying down heavier riffs on Deep Purple in Rock (1970). Jon Lord still busted psych-Hammond licks but Deep Purple’s evolved sound shared the heavy blues of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. They dropped “Smoke on the Water” in 1972 and Blackmore, with a simple riff, kick-started generations of metal guitarists.

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground now

Judas Priest

Judas Priest has the most heavy metal band name this side of Iron Maiden. Though The Priest has had many members, the classic lineup of Rob Halford, Ian Hill, Glenn Tipton, K. K. Downing, and a whole bunch of drummers arrived in the ’70s declaring they were “Hell Bent for Leather.” The twin guitars of Tipton and Downing alongside Halford’s operatic multirange screams set the fog-machine standard for British heavy metal.

Black as night, faster than a shadow
Crimson flare from a raging sun
An exhibition, of sheer precision
Yet no one knows from where he comes


Lemmy Kilmister and his trio played louder and faster than the other bands. Motörhead fused sped-up rock ‘n’ roll with heavy blues and is embraced by both punk and heavy metal bands. Listen to Phil Taylor’s opening double-kick drumming on “Overkill” and you’ll hear what might have inspired a teenage Lars Ulrich. Besides Metallica, Motörhead shaped Slayer, Guns N’ Roses, and Foo Fighters.

Only way to feel the noise
Is when it’s good and loud
So good I can’t believe it
Screaming with the crowd

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album opens with a thunderstorm and a lonely church bell before Tony Iommi enters with an ominous riff. Ozzy Osbourne sings like John Lennon if Lennon had been to hell, experienced a first-hand account of history’s evils, then returned to earth to recount the tale. “Paranoid,” “War Pigs,” and “Iron Man” are heavy metal touchstones, a starting point akin to Robert Johnson at the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Zakk Wylde calls Iommi “Lord” because the Black Sabbath guitarist—missing two fingertips—created the blueprint for Osbourne’s future guitar legends like Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, and himself.

All day long I think of things
But nothing seems to satisfy
Think I’ll lose my mind
If I don’t find something to pacify

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Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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