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Nolan Stolz

Nolan Stolz is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Commercial Music at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Stolz authored the book Experiencing Black Sabbath: A Listener’s Companion; “Progressive Rock Elements in Black Sabbath’s Music from 1972 to 1980” in Prog Rock in Europe: Overview of a Persistent Musical Style; “A Rumination on Black Sabbath’s Birmingham and the Value of Music Tourism” in Riffs Journal; essays on Black Sabbath, Genesis, Rush, and Frank Zappa in The 100 Greatest Bands of All Time; and other writings. As a composer, his works are clearly influenced by his performance background in jazz fusion and progressive rock, yet firmly rooted in the contemporary classical tradition. As a drummer, Stolz has performed and/or recorded with a variety of bands in styles such as progressive rock, jazz-rock fusion, avant-garde, J-Pop, indie rock, and straight-ahead jazz. For information about his other publications, compositions, and discography, visit 

The Emergence of Heavy Metal and Progressive Rock in Black Sabbath’s Music from 1969 to 1971

Nolan Stolz

As argued in Cope 2010 and generally accepted by most, heavy metal emerged out of Birmingham (UK) in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the band Black Sabbath. Starting as a blues band, their music became darker and heavier. Paired with some lyrics related to the occult, their music became a blueprint for heavy metal. Although the blues remained an important part of their music, references to that style became infrequent and less overt. Additionally, as they distanced themselves from the blues, Sabbath’s music became aesthetically closer to progressive rock. Stolz 2014 and 2018 identify the progressive rock elements in Sabbath’s music from 1972 onward, a marked change in their musical style. This paper discusses the emergence of heavy metal and a progressive rock aesthetic in their music through an examination of their first three studio albums and live recordings leading up to 1972. Advertisements for their earlier performances promoted “blues and progressive music.” Vertigo, Sabbath’s European record label, marketed themselves as a “progressive” label. The term “progressive rock” in this paper, however, refers to a more-specific genre as codified in bands such as Genesis and Yes. Based on Fabbri 2016’s list of musical elements that he argues help identify a musical event as progressive rock, this paper shows how Sabbath’s increased formal complexity and chromatic density moved their style closer to prog territory. As classical music influence and reference is an important aspect of progressive rock, this paper identifies where Sabbath engaged with classical music in their early years. Band members’ quotes from the early 1970s show that the classical influence was intentional. The paper concludes with a discussion of the commonalities of metal and prog as they apply to Sabbath’s music.

Keywords: heavy metal, progressive rock, blues, classical music, topic theory

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