Metal Genres You Should Know: The Beginner’s Guide to Metal

Metal music has arguably remained one of the most controversial genres of all time. Hardly any genre has such a division of fanbases: you either love metal, or you hate it. With its development over several decades and the emergence of thousands of metal bands, there are numerous subgenres used to define bands today, which could completely confuse anyone new to the alternative scene. Hence, here is a list of the basic genres that everything starts off with.

1. Heavy Metal

Iron Maiden live in concert

Heavy metal bands are the Adam and Eve of metal music. This is where it all begun, and its thanks to these guys. Black Sabbath have often been cited as the pioneers of heavy metal, the first to bring the genre into the mainstream industry. It’s not hard to see why. With loud, heavily distorted guitars, hard hitting drums, dense bass to back theses rhythms up, and loud, energetic vocals, it’s not hard to see why metal bands made an impression in the 1960s. Around the same time came Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, each known as staple, classic bands at this point. These are the bands the parents of the current generation grew up with and rebelled to.

Soon after came equally legendary bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The powerful, high vocals left you stumped and speechless, only to be further conflated with speedy guitar solos that illustrated some of the most famous guitarists of all time. The metal bug was addictive, the power-chorded riffs leaving you humming them for days. Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden are classics that still tour and perform to this date. 

Funnily enough, if listening to a heavy metal track compared to several genres formed later, heavy metal might be rated the least “heavy” in terms of sound and composition. This is because of the change in the heaviest music present and what was defined as heavy over time. 

2. Thrash Metal

Thrash metal originated in the 1980s, mixing heavy metal with punk influences in order to produce a much more extreme sound. With fast tempos came lower guitar riffs, often heavily distorted and palm muted, high solos, the usage of double bass for the drums, and shouted or melodic vocals. Several bands had political lyrics, owing to the punk roots of the genre.

Thrash metal is recognizable by 4 very distinctly famous names, that are said to be the epitome of the genre. These four bands are Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. All four were genre defining and set thrash apart while inspiring countless other bands, styles, and childhoods. 

3. Death Metal

Death metal is a form of extreme metal, referring to certain genres that spurred from thrash metal to create something heavier and harder. Death metal can be recognised by the signature use of low growls, blast beats combining with double bass to create aggressively progressing tempos. 

The genre often evokes violent imagery and uses explicit lyricism for shock value. Extreme acts such as necrophilia and torture are very common subjects for death metal tracks. Some of the first death metal bands include Death, Possessed, and Morbid Angel. Cannibal Corpse is a more recent example, and one that has gained quite a lot of prestige in the subgenre.

4. Black Metal

Black metal is another subgenre that falls into the extreme metal category, like death metal. However, the two genres have developed into something very different, with multiple subcategories of their own. 

The characteristic sound of black metal is very specific in itself, and hence immediately strikes a chord for anyone familiar with this genre. The fast tempos are superseded by shrieked vocals that often sound agonised, tremolo picking (picking the same guitar string rapidly), subpar recording quality, and ambience and atmospheric natures of a freezing dark winter forest. 

Black metal started off as the child of death metal and thrash metal bands coming together, forming the first wave that include timeless bands such as Bathory, Venom, and Celtic Frost. However, it was the second wave that really defined the sound used by multiple black metal bands today, spurring in Scandic countries mainly comprising of Norway and Sweden. This wave gave birth to black metal legends, including Mayhem (picturised), Satyricon, Burzum, and Dark Funeral. 

This genre is surrounded by dark pasts, stories, and Satanic roots. Either you hate it, or it grows on you until you come to appreciate it. There’s no easing into black metal.

5. Nu metal

Nu metal is a genre that, for as popular it was, is rather hard to describe or categorise. The easiest description would be rap metal, but this is overly simplistic and drives out bands such as Staind who do not usually feature rap vocals. 

The genre often uses down tuned guitars and five or six stringed basses to create lower, heavier sounds and enable a greater focus on rhythm. Bands like Slipknot may have multiple percussionists to do this. Much of the rhythmic style draws inspiration from funk and hip hop. Apart from this, screamed, sung or rapped vocals are staple, and the presence of DJs in the band does not raise any eyes. 

The genre includes a large fraction of bands that rose to fame around the ’90s and 2000s, such as Slipknot, Korn, Staind, and Linkin Park. Word of caution: A lot of metalheads do not consider Nu Metal to be a part of metal subgenres, claiming it strays too far from metal to do so. However, this genre had too much fame and impact to be ignored, and fits best under metal compared to any other genres. 

So there you have it: those are five of the biggest genres of metal. Of course, this list is by no means a complete one due to the variety of bands present today. However, these are probably some of the biggest genres and most easily identifiable for anyone new to the scene.

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