In its most primary form, metal is a kind of music that is defined by a rough sound with aggressive vocals alongside distorted guitars. The roots of metal music go back to the latter part of the 1960s, when it emerged from jazz and blues. However, the precise origins are difficult to determine. The electric guitar that was used in blues before the late 1950s and early 1960s was the driving force behind early metal music.
In this article, we will take a look at the different types of metal music and some of the most popular artists from the subgenres.
15 Metal Genres to Know About
1. Heavy Metal
Heavy metal is the core metal subgenre from which all other metal subgenres emerge. It is essentially metal that is influenced by the original metal bands. These are bands that are directly related to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath without significantly modifying the levels of speed, intensity, or distortion.
Examples – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon, Motley Crew, and Twisted Sister.
2. Thrash Metal
The thrash metal genre is characterized by double bass drums and fast guitars with aggressive but comprehendible vocals. Even though several bands have played Thrash Metal at some point in their musical career, Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth are known as the ‘The Big Four Of Thrash’ as they played a major role in popularizing this sub-genre.
Examples – Slayer, Metallica, and Megadeth.
3. Power Metal
Power Metal blends elements with elements of Speed Metal with Heavy Metal. The songs primarily have a fantasy-based approach which makes them anthemic and theatrical. One of the most striking features of Power Metal is clean vocals inspired by artists such as Ronnie James, Bruce Dickinson, Geoff Tate, Rob Halford, James Tio, where the songs are usually sung in higher notes and require a vast vocal range.
Examples – HammerFall, Kamelot, DragonForce, and Helloween.
4. Symphonic Metal
Apart from guitars and heavy drums, Symphonic Metal is characterized by its use of various elements of orchestral music. While certain songs might include an entire orchestra, a choir, or even symphonic instruments, others use programmed orchestra elements such as DAWs or keyboards.
Examples – Within Temptations, Epica, and Nightwish.
5. Glam Metal
This genre was an evolution of the 1970s Glam Rock culture. It borrows from the visual elements of artists like the New York Dolls, T. Rex, and David Bowie, and the heavier-leaning music of theatrical acts like Alice Cooper and Kiss.
In terms of sound, Glam metal combines a conventional Heavy Metal sound with elements of pop music like guitar hooks and catchy riffs. There’s also massive use of harmonies in the form of power ballads.
Examples – Van Halen, Dokken, Alice Cooper, and Motley Crue.
6. Black Metal
Black metal is heavy metals extreme sub-genre. The songs typically have satanic or pagan imagery, and lyrics and the vocals are generally high-pitched and raspy. Common features of this music are unusual song structures, shrieking vocals, fast tempos, blast beat drumming, raw recording, and incredibly distorted guitars with tremolo picking.
There are essentially two waves of black metal – early black metal is essentially an off-shoot and extreme version of thrash metal. However, in the late 1990s, several German bands took the initial black metal style to its logical extreme, becoming an entirely different subgenre.
Examples – The first wave of black metal includes Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Venom. The second wave of black metal includes Emperor, Immortal, and Darkthrone.
7. Death Metal
Combining elements of thrash metal and first wave black metal, death metal is an incredibly loud and distorted metal subgenre. It is characterized by distorted guitar riffs, intense drums, and loud, growling vocals.
However, as death metal became more popular, several off-shoots of the genre began to emerge, often blending other musical styles and genres. Consequently, death metal became a very innovative subgenre full of new music.
Examples – The pure death metal genre includes Venom, Slayer, and Kreator. The off-shoots include Nocturnus, Gorefest, Archenemy, and Sacramentum.
8. Industrial Metal
This genre takes elements of industrial rock and adds some metal to it. Its defining traits are distorted music and heavy guitars. Industrial metal songs are quite dark, both with regards to lyrical content and atmosphere.
An interesting thing to note is that the industrial metal genre has several subgenres in itself. These include New German Hardness, Cyber Metal, Industrial Black Metal, Progressive Industrial Metal, and Industrial Thrash and Death Metal.
Examples – KMFDM, Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, and Nine Inch Nails.
9. Christian Metal
Also known as “white metal,” Christian metal is metal with Christian-themed lyrics. In terms of style, there’s nothing unique about Christian metal. Therefore, a band can be nu metal or thrash metal while simultaneously being a Christian metal band. This type of metal music is defined by lyrics, not by style.
Examples – Jerusalem, Demon Hunter, Resurrection, and Underoath.
10. Stoner Metal
Stoner metal has a more psychedelic touch than ordinary metal in order to create a blues-influenced, slower-tempo subgenre of metal intended to mimic a rock-retro feel. Many times, stoner metal bands add marijuana imagery to their aesthetic.
Examples – Electric Wizard, Mastodon, and Queens of the Stone Age.
11. Doom Metal
The Doom Metal genre uses the same scales as Blues music but is played on heavily tuned-down basses and guitars with distortion.
Doom metal music is defined by its lyrics and is based on themes like anxiety, suffering, fear, and depression. Several songs are influenced by blues musicians like Son House and Robert Johnson.
Examples – Pentagram, Count Raven, Pagan Altar, and Black Sabbath.
12. Avant-Garde Metal
Avant-Garde Metal, also known as Experimental Music, combines elements of Progressive Rock and Death Metal. This type of metal music deviates from conventional instrumentation and structures. It incorporates technical complexity and unconventional sound elements.
Examples – Sunn o))), Celtic Frost, and Boris.
13. Funk Metal
Funk metal blends elements of funk music and alternative metal to create a soul-infused and jazzy metal genre. This type of metal music kicked off back in the 1980s and is quite similar to thrash metal, as both genres incorporate elements of one another into their genre.
Examples – Mordred and Race Against the Machine.
14. Nu Metal
This Nu metal music genre is a blend of alternative metal and hip-hop. This subgenre peaked during the late 1990s through the early 2000s but lost its popularity eventually. In fact, several bands that started out as nu metals evolved into alternative metals.
Examples – Papa Roach, Linkin Park, Korn, and Deftones (at the start of their careers).
Metalcore fuses hardcore punk and heavy metal to create a truly intense aesthetic. Growling vocals, hardcore drums, and hardcore guitar riffs, metalcore usually brings the music down to the lowest possible settings to produce a distorted and grave sound.
Examples – Avenged Sevenfold, Killswitch Engage, Atreyu, and Bullet for My Valentine.
The Metal Overview
The best thing about heavy metal is that it is constantly evolving, improving, and changing. Just when you think it can’t get any more extreme, something new pops up. Whether you enjoy the complexity and melody of power metal or the intensity and aggression of death metal, it is all part of this widely encompassing genre known as heavy metal!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.