Indie music and heavy metal are two genres in the mainstream that are never really conflated or mentioned in the same breath. However, this is ignorant of the fluid genealogical nature of music. It is fair to say without the original wave of indie bands that germinated in the chasm left by punk; the contemporary metal landscape would not be the same, or not as we know it.
Yes, the term “heavy metal” is rumoured to have originated in the 1968 Steppenwolf hit ‘Born to Be Wild’ — “Heavy Metal Thunder”, and the genre definitely takes major cues from Black Sabbath et al., but indie music has certainly made its mark on the traditionally insular genre. In this case, when we mean indie as an umbrella term for sub-genres such as post-punk, goth, art-punk, shoegaze and even to a lesser extent, Britpop.
If we note the bleak lyrical narratives and black-clad aesthetic of post-punk and goth, using this as an entry-level example, it is hard to dispute any similarities between them and metal. For instance, goth heroine Siouxsie Sioux and post-punk/industrial icons Killing Joke have incorporated metal sounds latterly in their careers and even featured on the bills for metal festivals such as Download.
Metallica, Deftones, Faith No More, Napalm Death and Celtic Frost are just some of the titans from across the metal spectrum that have cited indie as having an influence on their sound at some point in their careers.
Originally, the term ‘indie’ referred to the music released via independent record labels; however, that definition became diluted over time. It would seem, then, that a key feature that splits indie and metal is how “hard” the music is. Regardless of the purists on both sides of the argument, the overlap cannot be ignored.
Join us, then, as we list ten records that have influenced bands from across the metal genre. This ranges from musically, stylistically or even down to a band’s ethos.
6 indie albums that influenced metal:
6. The Cure – Pornography (1982)
Pornography, the fourth studio album by legendary British Goth’s The Cure, is an album that sustains a mood of suffering throughout, sonically and lyrically. The recording sessions saw the band on the brink of combustion. Heavy drug use, in-fighting and frontman Robert Smith’s depression added to the album’s hopeless feel. Pornography concludes The Cure’s dark, gloomy phase, which began with their second album Seventeen Seconds in 1980.
The first lines of the opening track, ‘One Hundred Years’, are “it doesn’t matter if we all die.” This chronicle of a mental descent paved the way for Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral in 1994.
5. Sparks – Kimono My House (1974)
Kimono My House is the third album by art-rockers Sparks. While not technically indie, this album had a huge influence on the scene a decade later. Morrissey wrote to the NME, aged fifteen extolling its virtues. Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols loved the album. Bjork and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are also Sparks disciples.
Showing that Sparks eccentric style has had a massive impact, metal’s own unhinged pioneers, Faith No More, are huge fans. In 1997, Sparks released Plagiarism, their seventeenth album, which comprised alternative versions of their best-known songs. Unsurprisingly, their biggest hit, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us’, was included, featuring a guest appearance from Faith No More.
Mike Patton and Faith No More have long been among Sparks’ most prominent fans. The eccentricity of Sparks is right at the forefront of a lot of Faith No More’s work. After all, they named one of their albums Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins. ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us’ was the lead single off Kimono My House.
4. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)
My Bloody Valentine‘s opus, Loveless, is undoubtedly one of the most influential and sonically pioneering albums of all time. The long, winding recording progress took an age (two years), and it bankrupted label Creation in the process. However, what resulted is a masterpiece.
Kevin Shields’ guitar work on Loveless is second to none. It opened a whole new world of possibilities, causing listeners and players to reevaluate what the instrument is capable of. Loveless is the defining album of the shoegaze subgenre, characterised by piercing volume and walls of delay and distortion; these hallmarks would be appropriated by metal and black metal bands alike. The subgenre Blackgaze is a direct consequence of this.
3. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)
The impact Unknown Pleasures and Joy Division had on culture, in general, is massive. The band began after guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist Peter Hook went to that legendary Sex Pistols show at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976. It comes as no surprise that they, like the band who inspired them, would lend many cues to heavy music in the future.
Taking their name from groups of Jewish women in concentration camps, kept for the sexual gratification of Nazi soldiers, the band’s music was, of course, just as bleak. After all, this was post-industrial Manchester in the ’70s. Ian Curtis’ dark lyrical content and the angular guitars of Hook and Sumner made their mark on metal. Celtic Frost and Hellhammer have been two of many bands to vocalise Joy Division’s influence of their sound.
2. The Smiths – Meat is Murder (1985)
The Smiths are a band that is as synonymous with the original indie wave as any other. Johnny Marr’s technical guitar and Morrissey’s miserable lyrics have made their mark on metal.
Marr has been influential to metal axemen because of his unconventional and chunky riffs, which defined the sound of an era. Meat is Murder is full of metallic atmosphere that includes the industrial-sounding title track. Given the eponymous subject matter, the band has inspired generations of vegetarians, and I would bet all my belongings on it that Refused are fans too.
1. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
In 2017, months after the tragic bombing of Manchester Arena, which claimed the lives of 22 music lovers, Metallica played a show at the venue. At one point during their set, as they often do, they played a cover. This was the Oasis track ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’.
A touching moment. However, Oasis and Metallica seem about a far apart as one could imagine—but it turns out not so much. Lars Ulrich, the Metallica drummer, is a massive Oasis fan. The attitude of Oasis, in addition to the anthems, is what Metallica love about Morning Glory? They don’t stop there with their love of Manchester indie either. There exists footage of them playing the Stone Roses’ ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ at the Etihad stadium in 2019.