The Doom Generation: The Art of Playing Heavy

Reprinted from Maximum Guitar, July 1997 What do Mountain, the MC5, Motörhead, Metallica, Megadeth, Ministry, Marilyn Manson and Machine Head all have in common? Besides the obvious fact that these bands’ names all begin with the letter “q,” they are all purveyors of heaviness. In fact, heaviness forms a common bond between bands from genres as disparate as hard rock, heavy metal, punk, classic rock, grunge, grindcore, N.W.O.B.H.M. (New Wave of British Heavy Metal), thrash, alternative, industrial, death metal and so forth. Despite whatever differences may lie on the surface, bands from Black Sabbath to White Zombie, from the Sex Pistols to Slayer, from Soundgarden to Sepultura, all play guitar-based music that’s heavier than a hippo. Yes, “heavy” is the common thread here, and, consequently, that is the subject of our discussion. Aside from balls-to-the-wall power chords and angst-ridden minor scale riffage, a vital ingredient of all heavy rock is a dark and distorted guitar tone that goes straight for the jugular. Many rock historians, not to mention the editorial staff of Maximum Guitar, consider “Rumble” to be the first rock and roll record to display a truly heavy sensibility. Released in 1958 by the living legend Link Wray, “Rumble” was not only a million-selling instrumental, it was the first appearance ever of a distorted power chord. “Rumble” predated the first Marshall stack by at least five years and was released long before fuzz pedals came into being. How in Hades did Mr. Wray (that’s Mr. Guitar to you!) manage to distort his sound? By poking a pen through his amp’s speaker and cranking the amp sky-high! Link was looking for a sound nobody else had and, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Although “Rumble” is nowhere near as brutal or as brooding as say, music by Judas Priest or Machine Head, it definitely qualifies as a heavy-as-granite historical landmark. Like all great heavy moments, “Rumble” caused teenage fans and guitarists to scream with glee while leaving parents, teachers and ministers in a state of shock and utter despair—and without the help of shocking lyrics, no less.

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