A Guide To Heavy Metal Genres & Sub-genres

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Genre Index
Traditional   NWOBHM   Speed   Thrash   Death   Grind   Black   Gothic   Doom   Industrial   Melodic   Power   Progressive
Neo-classical   Symphonic   Folk   Epic   Nu-metal   -Core   Others

METAL!!! If youíre on this site and reading this guide you probably like it and know something about it. Either that or you got seriously lost on the information highway. Itís loud! Itís proud! Itís thundering, pounding, driving, and it just plain kicks ass! But... with all that being said... what exactly is it? Surprisingly, thatís actually not a question that can be answered simply.
            To the general public the term Heavy Metal often conjures up visions of leather, chains, pentagrams, devil horns, Satan worship, decapitated bats, sacrificed virgins, and all sorts of heathenistic rites. The words ďHeavy MetalĒ are often enough to launch an evangelist into a Bible thumping, album burning frenzy, and cause Tipper Gore to run screaming into the night. Metal is even illegal in some countries, and just wearing a black t-shirt can get you arrested in some Arabic countries. Crazy as that seems itís true.
            Okay. So itís true that some of whatís listed above does actually find itís way into the metal scene to some degree. Well, maybe not the sacrificed virgin thing, but the other things sometimes do, especially in the darker genres like Death and Black Metal. Nevertheless, none of that actually defines what Metal is. Nor does it describe the various styles, as Metal songs range from furiously fast double bass driven screamers to slow, dark, and moody ballads.

Metal is, if nothing else, a vast and varied form of music. Thrash. Power. Death. Gothic. Symphonic. Progressive. DoomÖ The list of Metal genres is an extensive and evolving creature. The beast grows constantly as Metal musicians incorporate and experiment with new elements, prompting writers and fans to scramble to label them. In Classical Music the categorization, description, and study of the many forms is the vocation of many a scholar. Indeed, no small number of PhDs have been awarded by some very prestigious institutions to those who undertake such endeavors. Heavy Metal, while arguably no less complex or diverse than Classical, suffers from a pronounced shortage of such degreed experts. It is, therefore, the undertaking of Metal fans and writers of the various Metal magazines to catalog the ever-growing multitude of artists, genres, and sub-genres.

Much good work has been accumulated and published on the subject of Metal. As the bodies of work have proliferated so too have the controversies these works invoke. On the subject of genres many metal fans maintain a ďWho cares? Itís all Metal. Itís all good!Ē attitude. They consider the entire subject of genres to be irrelevant or even ridiculous. These fans usually describe bands as they relate to other bands in sound and style.
            For example: ďAccept sounds like classic Judas Priest music with AC/DC like vocals.Ē Thatís a fairly adequate depiction when describing Accept to someone whoís actually heard of Judas Priest and AC/DC. That may seem simple enough to metal fans, because the metalhead that hasnít heard of those two legendary bands probably hasnít been bornÖ yet. Nevertheless, it probably wouldnít work for someone who customarily listens to the works of Mozart or Ravel, nor a fan of Kenny Rogers, Madonna, or Snoop Dog.

Many others consider the accuracy of categorization and description to be of utmost importance. The vast majority of controversies arise from this sector. Thatís hardly surprising as the differences in some genres are very subtle, and many bands and artists actually cross over into several genres as they incorporate multiple elements into their music. As an example: Most people would consider the band Cradle of Filth (CoF) to be Black Metal. Thatís true, but since CoF incorporates symphonic elements they could also be called Symphonic Metal. Plus any given bandís style may change from era to era, album to album, or even from song to song.
            To further complicate the issue many of the various sub-genres have a common root. Using the example of CoF we can describe them as Speed metal, as Black Metal springs from Thrash, which is a form of Speed Metal. Backtracking through all the sub-genres that categorize Cradle of Filth would mean that itís totally appropriate to say that CoF is Heavy Metal. How far one needs to progress through the various sub-genres to "accurately" describe CoF is where the debate often lies.
            If all the muddling through genres isnít complicated enough we find that the characteristics that define any genre may also be debatable. Power Metal is such a genre. Some argue that lyrical content is itís defining nature. Others define it as a distinct style of playing and singing. All of this occasionally leads to squabbles and arguments between the ďexperts.Ē Not to mention that there are two recognized schools of Power Metal, and one of those has two or three sub-genres. Frankly the plethora of newly coined terminology on an almost daily basis can well leave the casual listener somewhat dumbfounded.

The rest of the Metal fans fall somewhere in the middle feeling that genres are useful for a quick frame of reference, but donít need to be taken to extremes. If a limited number of genres can be defined and modifiers applied for descriptive purposes then the entire process is greatly simplified. It is from this school of thought from which this guide arises. The purpose here is to generally define the genres and describe modifiers that lead to sub-genres. How one chooses to apply the combinations is totally subjective and generally a matter of personal opinion.
            This list is by no means the definitive authority on the subject matter. If you are here researching for your PhD thesis in Metal it is strongly suggested you turn elsewhere. Also if anything here affronts your sense of order to the degree that you feel you must debate a point, do it in a civil manner. Debate is always welcome. Flaming, ranting, and raving are not. If you don't like it, go write your own guide. On the other hand, if you're totally blown away by the brilliance herein, and should you have naught but high praises by all means please e-mail them. Better yet put them in the Guestbook.
WARNING: The speaker icons you may note throughout this guide denote sound clips. Click at your own risk!

            The term "Heavy Metal" is frequently misused by the musically illiterate as an umbrella term to loosely characterize all forms of heavy music, which include Metal, Hard Rock, Punk, Grunge, and modern Nu-Metal. The term is freely used by DJ's (many of whom should know better), reporters, and the general public this way, but Heavy Metal is in fact distinctively different from other heavy musical forms. It is also considered a somewhat derogatory term in much of the public for some or many of the reasons listed above. The public shunning of Metal is considered a blessing to many fans that prefer to have their music delivered through the "underground." And who, perhaps a tad arrogantly, despise the MTV spoon-feeding of clearly inferior music to the mindless masses. The origins of the term "Heavy Metal" is a subject of much debate, and it will probably always remain so. It is also a debate outside the scope of this guide.

Heavy Metal, or Metal, is a Rock and Roll hybrid from which all other genres of Metal have evolved. It makes extensive use of the distorted amplification of guitars combined with a heavy drum sound. The distortion gives the music an underlying vibration resulting in a humming or buzzing quality that can be heard and even felt. Musically Heavy Metal originated between the late 1960's and early 1970's and has its roots in its predecessor Hard Rock. Musicians of the era combined Hard Rock with distortion and elements of European Classical music, which was undergoing a resurgence at the time.

It is the influence of Classical music, specifically the use of motivic structure, that differentiates Metal from other hard music. Rock and Roll uses a basic verse-chorus-verse structure, and both Rock and Roll and Hard Rock guitar playing retains much of the influence of Rhythm and Blues with lamenting strumming and picking solos. Metal, however, demonstrates a musical progression between ideas beyond the scope of simple verse-chorus composition. As a result in Metal songs one finds prolonged musical segments, bridges, and prominent highly structured solos based on the Cadenza; a fast piece built on scales and meant to demonstrate the virtuosity of the guitarist. Thus Metal songs tend to be more complex than the more freestyling Hard Rock. This complexity is in stark contrast to Punk Rock, which evolved at roughly the same time and also incorporated distorted guitars. Punk, however, stressed simple three-cord structure and extremely short songs- some no more than 90 seconds. A comparison of those elements to Iron Butterfly's 17 minute In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida demonstrates clearly the technical differences between the two forms.

Modern popular music has a way of developing and projecting a distinguishing attitude around itself. The words Country and Western, Rap, Punk, Grunge, and Heavy Metal usually invoke an associated image of fans of those particular styles. In this Heavy Metal also distinguishes itself from other hard music. Metal fans by and large appreciate musicianship and virtuosity as well as complex lyrical poetry, regardless of how those lyrics may be delivered. The culture of Metal also appreciates the graphical artwork associated with album covers and band logos.
            It is in attitude that Metal distinctly differs from other forms of heavy music. That is not the attitude of fans but of the music itself towards society in general. Punk reflects defiance or irreverence, Grunge withdrawal and discontent, Nu-Metal anger and outright disrespect. Heavy Metal is assertive, aggressive, or utterly savage. A somewhat amusing article on the contrast between Heavy Metal and Nu-Metal can be found here.

Heavy Metal is the foundation for all forms of Metal; therefore, it is technically correct to call all Metal Bands "Heavy Metal." Nevertheless, Heavy Metal itself is still a genre. Commonly referred to as "Traditional" or "Classic" Metal there are bands old and new that still fall into this category. Simply put if a band plays metal without the prevalent use of characteristics of another genre they are Heavy Metal or Traditional Metal.

Examples of Heavy Metal Artists: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Dio, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen, The Scorpions.

            Or New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Never to be confused with "New Wave" which was a musical fad during the 1980's featuring electronic synthesizers and drums. NWOBHM is not a genre per say, but an era, which must be mentioned because of its importance to the development of the U.S. Metal scene.

The late 1970's witnessed the loss of many of the original Metal bands, which were breaking up for various reasons. Led Zepplin, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, and others were all disbanding or undergoing major internal turmoil. At the same time Punk was experiencing a resurgence led by bands like The Kinks, Blondie, and The Clash. The electronic Punk offspring New Wave also emerged during this period. The Talking Heads, Devo, and The Vapors among many others came to dominate the airwaves. Rock and Metal fans, who had just suffered through Disco, were almost desperately seeking an alternative source for music.

Their salvation soon appeared with the arrival of a flood of Heavy Metal bands from Britain. Dubbed the NWOBHM most of these bands never gained significant commercial success as they existed outside of the mainstream spotlight which was still dominated by New Wave. They did, however, galvanize the U.S. and European music scenes leading to the emergence of a larger Heavy Metal movement. Hence in the mid 1980's Heavy Metal experienced its heyday overthrowing New Wave, and dominating until the mid 1990's.

During this era the foundations were built for many of the stereotypes currently and commonly associated with Metal. The NWOBHM artists were louder and faster than their predecessors, but the more important change was the content of their lyrics. Many of the songwriters of the NWOBHM drew much of their inspiration from classic and fantasy literature, horror stories or movies, mythology, pagan religions, and the occult. It was this subject matter, or the misunderstanding of it, that resulted in the "Satanic" stigma that came to be associated with Heavy Metal. Accusations of demon worship, subliminal messages, and Satanic rites abounded. Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were both sued for wrongful deaths related to alleged subliminal message triggered suicides. Both were acquitted of all charges. Osbourne had his albums burned, along with copies of Iron Maiden's "Number Of The Beast" album, by Christian activists in a large bonfire.
            Ronnie James Dio popularized the "Devil Horns" salute, when he stepped in to replace Osbourne in Black Sabbath. However, at the time he claimed that it was a misinterpretation of a gypsy sign used to ward off the "Evil Eye." Dio insisted that the gestures were identical except for the orientation of the protruding little and index fingers. When the fingers are pointed down they imply a curse. When pointed up they represent a ward. Dio never explained exactly what he was warding against while on stage, though the case could be made that he was actually blessing the crowd. Nevertheless, Christian activists seized upon the symbol as further proof of Devil worship in Metal.
            The antagonism between Metal artists and their critics only increased as the bands started to deliberately provoke the activists. Some began to incorporate occultist themes and symbols into their artwork and music to purposefully evoke the wrath of evangelists and their followers. Eventually a small faction inside the metal community seriously latched on to these themes and became Satanists. As a result the "stigma" became permanently associated with Heavy Metal.

Examples of NWOBHM artists: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon, Praying Mantis, Grim Reaper, MotŲrhead.

Genre Index
Traditional   NWOBHM   Speed   Thrash   Death   Grind   Black   Gothic   Doom   Industrial   Melodic   Power   Progressive
Neo-classical   Symphonic   Folk   Epic   Nu-metal   -Core   Others
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