Sure, heavy metal music has a history. But could heavy metal music be history? With inspirations ranging from Ancient Egypt and Rome to the American Revolution, and even the Second World War, many bands representing various genres of metal are composing music that pays homage to our collective past, in both modern times and antiquity. Who knew head banging and history lessons could go hand in hand? This is our list of the Top 10 Historic Metal Bands.
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This LA-based underground extreme metal band brings forth a ravenous black metal assault, as part of a thrashy spiritual tribute to the Aztec people. The band's name refers to an Aztec God of the Dead, and the band do a good job conjuring up the old school morbid, evil, and raw sound, with all song lyrics in the native Nahuatl. With a tradition running a decade and a half, these Aztec death warriors prefer the darkness of the underground, LA metal scene and a still perform throughout gigs in LA and throughout Southern California and the region.
In 1999, this heavy metal band formed in Sweden and have since been cranking out albums full of tunes based on war battles, mostly from the First and Second World Wars. With an emphasis on battles, the songs tell the tales from leaders on both sides of the wars. The band has played to tens of thousands across the world and is very popular throughout Scandinavia and the rest of Europe having played most of the huge outdoor festivals. With some line up changes in the past several years, the band has seven albums under its belt and has shared the stages with everyone from Dragonforce to Iced Earth.
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Led and formed by Dutch lyricist vocalist and musician Mark Jansen, from the bands Epica and After Forever, Mayan is a symphonic metal band whose music revolves around the Mayan civilization, and the lives of these indigenous, innovative and spiritual people. Jensen's fascination with the Mayan culture and the so-called prophecies of 2012, human sacrifice and the Serpent God Quetzalcoatl, come out musically in the two albums released with Mayan, Quartermaster (2011), and Antagonise (2014).
This band's origins go back to 1995, in Taipei, Taiwan, a country and part of the world where heavy metal music isn't always allowed to flourish freely and openly. The history, culture and political struggle of the band's native country is the foundation for this metal band's melodic and malevolent music. With a very obvious but distinct Eastern Asian influence, the band utilizes various acoustic stringed instruments, flutes, and even Tibetan bells to add a different take on heavy metal music. CHTHONIC is sure to please fans of Bathory, Old Man's Child and even Cradle of Filth.
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Featuring death metal vocalist Iacono, from Canadian band Kataklysm, Ex Deo is an epic melodic death metal band based entirely on Ancient Roman times. With two albums, the band has musically chronicled times in ancient Rome when Gladiators, not metal bands were live entertainment for the masses. The band's first offering, Romulus (2009), is more about the mythical founding of what would become a World leading Empire, where as 2012's Caligvla is based on the notorious, sadistic, and blood thirsty Roman tyrant, Emperor Caligula.
Arguably, more occult than historical in nature, Absu's own style is sometimes referred to as ' Mythological Occult Metal.' Formed in 1991, in Texas of all places, the band's unrefined black metal meets speed metal hybrid dissects the ancient mythology, sorcery, and religions of ancient cultures like the Celtic people, the Mesopotamians and the Babylonians. When it comes to the ancient deities and rituals, Absu knows what it is talking about the songs are an extreme metal interpretation of some of the world's first writings on spirituality and creationism. Absu has remained a cult like band with little or no publicity, mainstream support, and video or radio airplay.
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Formed in 1993, in Israel by members who were Assyrian and Israeli and Armenian, this band is now based in Amsterdam. With a Middle Eastern take on thrashy blackened death metal, Melechesh translates roughly into “God of Fire,” and the thrash heavy black metal attack encapsulates the tales of Sumerian legends of creationism, and lineage of the Gods while still retaining the dark occult vibes and mystical sounds of extreme metal. The songs and lyrics scream out extreme, with a definite blackened death metal sound, while the songs and lyrics could be coming from the History Channel show Ancient Aliens.
This band, formed in 1985, is about as American as Apple Pie, when it comes to heavy metal music. Though not all the band's albums over the years have been historically based much of the band's vibe, image and sound is patriotic, and the music is founded on literature, film, and of course historical events. Main songwriter and guitarist Jon Schaffer has led the band through a dozen studio albums, various lineup changes and many worldwide tours. Be sure to check out the album The Glorious Burden (2004) for a heavy metal musical opus with songs about everything from Attila the Hun, the Battle of Gettysburg, the American Revolution and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
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Hailing from South Carolina, these death metal masters have crafted and perfected the art of technical and unrelenting death metal. But instead of using their monstrous, evil and majestic sound, for songs about corpses, zombies, serial killers or Satanism, the members of Nile thought outside of the box, and instead chose a pyramid. Which brings us to the concept of Nile, from the onset, a musical an extreme metal tribute to one of the greatest, if not the greatest ancient civilization to exist, Ancient Egypt. With over seven studio albums, the band's music is an eternal dedication to the Pharaohs, the Gods and Egyptian spirituality, cosmology and ancient religion. Nile have toured the world more than once, and have shared the stage with everyone Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, and Danzig, to become one of the most revered and respected American extreme metal acts.
How could we not mention history, and heavy metal music, and not of course acknowledge the mighty and epic Iron Maiden who have made a nearly 40 year career fusing tales of literature and history into their primitive hard rock sound that would (with the help of others) create heavy metal music for all to follow. Of course, the list could go on and on. With classic albums such as Powerslave and Number of the Beast based on the past, and events in religion and ancient history, the UK based band is considered to be one of the leading bands of the early British Wave of Heavy Metal Movement. Always taking heavy inspirations from literature, battles from various wars and history, the band has influenced generations of metal heads and pop culture in general with their tons of iconic songs, including “Alexander the Great,” “Children of the Damned,” “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” “The Trooper,” “Number of the Beast” and of course the famous “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which is based on the epic poem by Englishman Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Alex Distefano is an established freelance writer and music blogger from the Los Angeles area. With over a dozen years under his belt as a published Journalist, he covers the worlds of heavy metal music, punk rock, current events, cannabis culture, comedy, radio, food, tattoos, the paranormal, and ‘conspiracy theories.’ He graduated from California State University Long Beach in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in both Journalism and Ancient History. Aside from his professional writing endeavors, Distefano works as an Educator, and delivery/rideshare driver.