If you were looking for the 1981 movie, go here: Heavy Metal
If you were looking for the music genre supertrope, go here: Heavy Metal
One of the most frequently
misunderstood genres of popular music, heavy metal traces its origins back to the late 1960s, as the hippie movement began to burn out and hard/acid rock bands began to proliferate, bringing with them a new, hard-edged
style of guitar playing. When the acid rock bands began adding more lightning and thunder to their music, something new was born. Something big.
And that something was Heavy Metal
But who strummed the first metal riff? Surprisingly, many consider The Beatles
' "Helter Skelter" the first heavy metal song while the electric guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix
, is credited as a major inspiration with the story that a supposed music magazine article described his music as "like bars of metal raining down on the stage." Other potential starters include Blue Cheer in 1968, Led Zeppelin
in 1969, and a very little known garage band, 'Bitter Creek', who played a very interestingly speed/sludge metal-esque song, 'Plastic Thunder
' all the way back in 1967
Few, however, deny that the ones who hit the lights were an obscure little English band known as Black Sabbath
who fused these chaotic sounds with raunchy, aggressive blues and jazz routines on their 1970 self-titled album. The band's morbid Crapsack World
imagery and Tony Iommi's signature aggressive guitar riffs became wildly popular with young people on both sides of the Atlantic, much to the consternation
of their parents
and the newly un-hip '60s "flower generation". Despite the controversy (which would persist and mutate into different forms as heavy metal itself evolved), Black Sabbath enjoyed brisk album sales and a sizable fanbase.
If Black Sabbath was the Trope Maker
of heavy metal, Judas Priest
and Deep Purple
were certainly the Trope Codifiers
. They provided a faster, smarter variation on Black Sabbath's crushing riffwork, mixing razor sharp riffs, agile leads, and the earliest examples of the dramatic, high-pitched vocals and searing "Metal Scream
" that would become almost synonymous with metal in the mid-to-late 1980s. Fast-paced burners like "Highway Star", "Tyrant", and "Exciter" stripped away Black Sabbath's doomy blues baggage, providing a sound that was nothing short of revolutionary. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too revolutionary for the conservative '70s rock scene and heavy metal enjoyed limited mainstream success at this time, with almost all of the mid '70s metal bands remaining small, unsigned, and having been forgotten by history while leaving the progressive/glam/heavy rock bands of the day to merely experiment with heavy metal but never adopting the sound in full. Nevertheless, by combining its prowess with the then huge popular punk scene, heavy metal grew until it finally exploded into one solidified movement in England, 1979.
The source of the name "heavy metal" is, like most things to do with metal, hotly debated. Those who prefer a more "high culture" or "respectable" inspiration point to characters called "the Heavy Metal Kid" and "Heavy Metal People" in works by William S. Burroughs
. Lowerbrow types often point to the line "heavy metal thunder" as a metaphor for the sound of motorbike engines in the proto-metal hit "Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf
. More generally, the word "heavy" had been used for a long time among hippies to mean "serious" or "depressing", and some people point as well to the group of often-toxic chemical elements known as "heavy metals" in chemistry. In UK, one of the most prominent centres of heavy metal was Sheffield, which also happened to be The Steeltown, UK - Tony Iommi himself hadd worked as a steelworker before going fulltime musician. Various critical magazines also use the term as early as the late '60s, describing bands from Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix to '70s shock acts such as Alice Cooper. Black Sabbath wasn't even referred to as a heavy metal band- they were considered Progressive Rock
! And some claim that "heavy metal" is merely a natural progression of heaviness from "hard rock" and "heavy rock" (i.e. suggesting an even harder brand of music) so the term was inevitable.
When it was first used and when it gained mainstream use is debated, but few deny that it was a well-established term in music by at least 1975, though it was referred to or was used interchangeably with 'heavy rock' and a multitude of heavy bands from Sabbath to Rush
, Uriah Heep
to Buffalo, Rainbow
were all labeled heavy metal even if most didn't consider themselves such, tried to avoid the label, or weren't metal to begin with— even Aerosmith
was called an "American heavy metal-rock band!" This led to a bit of confusion in the early days/
Heavy metal largely fell under the radar in the mid to late 1970s as Black Sabbath began to fall apart at the seams. They and Deep Purple were considered the flagships of the genre with few others taking up the role, and many of the 'mod-metal' bands from 1973-1978, including Bedemon, False Prophet, and Lucifer's Friend, were left as independent acts that never saw any commercial success or even album releases, dooming them to obscurity and denying them a place in the history of metal. With heavy metal not only a dying trend but also an undefined label given to bands with negative press, there needed to be some sort of movement, one that would give heavy metal its own image. The new sensation of punk music provided much of the aggression of heavy metal in a rawer, stripped-down package to appeal to a music-buying public sick of the theatrics of Progressive Rock
and sluggish tempos of the remnants of classic rock. However, the success of British punk bands was providing fresh inspiration to a new generation of metal musicians, who blended the gritty, street-smart anger of punk with the drama and thunderous bombast of heavy metal. In late 1979, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal
(NWOBHM) exploded onto the British music scene, bringing with it new bands like Motorhead
, Iron Maiden
, Def Leppard
, and more that were faster than Priest, louder than Sabbath, and angrier than The Sex Pistols. Soon, even the classic metal acts were signing into this new movement, with new and uncompromising releases from Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Dio
. The collapse of the original punk scene brought even more wind into heavy metal's sails and metal bands began springing up, not only in the UK, but all over America and Europe, and as the genre's success grew, three very different movements were coalescing within a once more-or-less unified genre.
The first movement came from when punk rock's own offspring, the nastier, noisier, more aggressive "hardcore punk", trickled down into a metal scene already amped-up on punk rock rage. When hardcore punk bands such as Minor Threat
and Black Flag
brought heavy music to the fastest it had ever been, many within the metal scene decided to beat them at their own game and turn it Up to Eleven
. British band Venom
's 1981 album Welcome to Hell
was perhaps the first prominent fruit of the budding extreme metal subculture. Blisteringly fast, stupendously aggressive, and unabashedly offensive with its lurid Satanic
imagery and violent themes, Welcome to Hell
was perhaps the most aggressive album ever published at the time, and became a lightning rod for controversy from people who claimed that it was subversive, Satanic, and encouraged all manner of social ills. This, of course, only made it more popular with rebellious youth. European "Speed Metal
" bands began to one-up each other in aggression, creating a massive metal arms race of chainsaw guitar riffs, frenetic drumming, and new vocal styles that mutated the high-pitched wail that had now become the definitive metal voice into nearly incomprehensible shrieking and gibbering. These early extreme metal albums were raw, uncompromising, and hostile, attracting a small but loyal following of hardcore fans, but were too unpolished and off-putting to crack the larger music world.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in southern California, a clique of like-minded musicians were working on a curious fusion of socially conscious street punk and the more melodic, intellectual strains of NWOBHM as a second wave of social upheaval began to sweep America in the first half of The Eighties
. The seeds of what would become Thrash Metal
were being sown with provocative, often sarcastic lyrics, a rigid, driving sense of rhythm, and extensive use of palm-muting, which was used to create long, choppy, often highly intricate staccato passages with a crunching, almost mechanical sound. This new sound had much of the aggression of European extreme metal (which was still several years away from achieving significant recognition in the US) but a much higher standard of musicianship and a more social, political bent (which would become Flanderized
in the later 80s into what some called "CNN thrash"). Thrash metal baffled listeners upon first listen, and even followers of other, lighter forms of metal were perplexed by thrashers' penchant for the complex and the unstoppably fast.
were the first thrashers out of the gates with their 1983 debut Kill 'em All
. The distinctive guitar styles of James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine (who, although already departed from the band, arguably
had far more impact on Metallica's early style than his replacement Kirk Hammett) and tougher, more masculine imagery of the band themselves were a hit, and they were quickly joined on the scene by not just other thrash founders like Exodus, but dozens of followers like Megadeth
(masterminded by an enraged Dave Mustaine trying to one-up Metallica), Testament, Slayer
, and others. The thrash movement spread across the America but truly found second homes in New York, where Anthrax
infused an extra dose of punk elements to create a pounding, crowd-pleasing "mosh" rhythm and acerbic Deadpan Snarker
attitude, and in Germany, where it intermingled with European extreme metal to fuse the best of both worlds, springing bands such as Kreator, Sodom, Tankard and Destruction.
At the same time, the mainstream music business had gotten wise to the burgeoning success of heavy metal and were busy making a more accessible, radio-friendly version, infusing metal elements into glam and arena rock to create a form of music that has at different times and places been called "glam metal", "pop metal", "Eighties metal" (a serious misnomer as there were plenty of other forms of metal at the time), "Hair Metal
", "cock rock," and other more unflattering terms (some, like glam metal, oft get confused with '70s Glam Rock
). Glam metal featured a bouncy, dance-friendly beat with an exaggerated echoey "gated" snare tone
, a mixture of aggressive distortion and sugary mainstream-friendly guitar work, a scaled-back, more rockish variant of the Metal Scream
, and a sleazy Hotter and Sexier
image with androgynous musicians in highly sexualized
outfits, raunchy lyrics that often centered around prostitution, sex, drugs, and L.A./Vegas nightlife. While reviled by the core metal faithful from its very inception, glam metal became outrageously popular, and many "vanilla" heavy metal bands like Def Leppard, Tygers of Pan Tang, and, most infamously, Judas Priest, jumped on the bandwagon after the diversification of the metal genre took the wind out of NWOBHM's sails. And, despite its negative connotations, glam metal featured many of metal's most celebrated musicians such as Sebastian Bach, Slash, and Rick Allen and was the first major "gateway" scene into more extreme sub genres.
One far less known genre of heavy metal was born during this period and hailed little attention: "Doom Metal
". Doom arose directly from Black Sabbath
and other '70s proto metal groups (especially from the mid-70s) rooted in the blues, such as Pentagram, Sir Lord Baltimore, Lucifer's Friend, Captain Beyond, Blue Öyster Cult, and others, but it didn't truly grow until the early '80s with the arrival of Saint Vitus, Trouble, and Witchfinder General. It faced brutally stiff competition throughout the late '70s and '80s from genres such as glam metal, and the emerging thrash and speed/power metal scenes. Many doom mental bands relied on mid-paced to slower-paced riffs, and focused more on personal themes of sorrow and depression, and death, which were a departure from the usual themes of sex, drugs and rock n' roll, aggression, sword & sorcery, and anti-Christianity/Satanism commonly associated with the genre. The lack of speed in particular led to it being ignored by fans more used to the faster paced styles of metal, and it was generally ignored by mainstream media as well. It wasn't until Candlemass
's 1986 album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus that doom enjoyed its first bout of commercial attention. Nevertheless, in the face of more commercial genres such as hair metal, more aggressive genres such as thrash and death metal, and more traditional genres such as power metal, doom metal remained a niche genre, though, with its dirges and sludgy guitar tones, it did wind up directly and indirectly influencing more than its fair share of genres and musicians, some of which would come back
to haunt metal
in the future.
The period between 1985-1990 is widely considered the golden age of heavy metal and was the zenith of the genre's popularity and influence and filled with many of the genre's most esteemed classics, but even in these heady years, there manifested the forces that would soon send metal spiraling downward. As the Eighties progressed, the formerly quite distinct divide between American and European metal blurred and the various strains of metal began to hybridize. In continental Europe, the "vanilla" heavy metal had taken a different path from that in the US, becoming more and more refined and intellectual in nature as a contrast against the raw fury of extreme metal, which was by now starting to congeal into a cohesive scene that would one day be known as black metal. While this "power metal" had analogues in American bands like Queensr˙che
, it was far more popular in Europe, where bands like Iron Maiden (not a power metal band itself, but the first significant "thinking man's" metal band and the most important progenitor of power metal) Helloween
, Yngwie Malmsteen
's Rising Force, and others were wowing metal fans with high-flying instrumental theatrics and escapist, fantasy-oriented
lyrics. Power metal and progressive rock, which was now losing the bad reputation it had acquired in the 1970s, spawned a host of new "white-collar" American power metal bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning, and Crimson Glory.
Thrash metal also felt the influence of power metal. Thrash had always had a technical, "musician's music" streak with its penchant for lengthy compositions like Metallica's "The Four Horsemen" and Exodus' "Deliver Us to Evil" and noodly "shred" guitar solos, but a new wave of "technical thrash" or "tech thrash" bands took this to an extreme. Bands like Forbidden, Toxik, Watchtower, Coroner, and Heathen reveled in multilayered compositions and tricky, jagged rhythms, and even the more mainstream elements of the subgenre got in on the act—Metallica's 1986 and '88 albums Master of Puppets
and ...And Justice For All
had songs that approached the ten-minute mark and Dave Mustaine recruited a succession of guitarists from the highly musician-oriented fusion jazz scene (most notably neoclassical virtuoso Marty Friedman) for Megadeth, their practiced chops providing a striking contrast to his wild and creative leads. Two- and three-guitar bands proliferated as guitarists throughout the metal scene reveled in playing off each other and "dueling" with elaborate solo passages.
The extreme-influenced, harsh, German strain of thrash metal was now also taking root in America, and a number of bands in California and Florida were putting a violent new twist on it. The new "death metal" scene resembled thrash but was clearly not thrash, with heavily down-tuned, percussive, hammering riffs, a fixation with gruesome
, horror movie-like violence, and the harsh screaming of ordinary extreme metal further mutated in gurgling, monstrous growling noises. The impact of Possessed's Seven Churches
and Death's Scream Bloody Gore
was felt on both sides of the Atlantic, signaling a new wave of extreme metal as death metal took the US metal faithful by storm and Europeans, especially in Sweden, put out their own variations on the genre.
As the metal hardcore continued their campaign of one-upmanship, Hair Metal
was now one-upping everyone
on the charts, with singles by bands like Def Leppard
and Mötley Crüe
shooting to the top of radio playlists and selling millions of records to a mainstream largely ignored by the "true" metal bands. This absurd level of pop success not only boosted the public's knowledge of heavy metal, but also established heavy metal as "the rock and roll of the 1980s." But this success came with a downside—glam metal's sleazy "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll
" image had become The Theme Park Version
of heavy metal, a stereotype that was beginning to overrun the whole genre in the eye of the general public, and many were becoming discontented with the glamour and glitz of the L.A. glam scene. The media labeled them as a bad influence; fickle, style-conscious youth began to see them as posers; hipsters, college-rockers, and punks viewed them as too distant and removed from the common music listener and his/her life to be relevant; most of their contemporaries— whom had already rejected the scene— were becoming either too esoteric or too extreme to appeal to the average consumer, leaving no ready replacement.
By 1991, hair metal was more hair
than metal with the only judge of a band's worth being their flash and their love ballads. Fourth and fifth generation glam bands were incredibly processed and cookie cutter in nature, with their only resolve being 'make money and get women', leaving their musicianship to be a passing after thought and their song structures being very simple and corporate "Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus." The genre hollowed out. As The Eighties
turned into The Nineties
, even as the record industry were drunk on the genre's success and former bad boys Metallica came within a hair's breadth of taking home a Grammy award, the scene suddenly collapsed.
By 1990, the writing was on the wall—the genre was already oversaturated with a raft of subgenres and thousands upon thousands of bands, and talks of the decline of metal as a whole began. The hair metal bands were now too focused on showing off and were filled with musicians of increasingly plastic and decadent personalities. By the 6th generation of hair bands, the tropes had been so played out that many metal acts such as Tesla
, and others began releasing albums with more love ballads than there were rocking anthems. And it wasn't just glam metal selling out— thrash metal artists, tired of regurgitating old tropes, began diversifying, with debatable results. Following Metallica's near-win at the Grammy's in 1989, more underground extreme metal artists came to the attention of major labels. This allowed them to achieve success at the cost of bowing to major label demands, including bands such as Celtic Frost and Testament. These acts led to increasingly disillusioned fanbases, who felt that the genre they had grown up with was now living for little more than than almighty dollar. The extreme bands that remained true to their roots weren't widely know enough to keep the underground stable, and the bands that went overground were conforming to the mainstream's preconceived notions of metal at an alarming rate.
Then came Nirvana. The Seattle 'grunge' band released their opus, Nevermind
, in 1991, which signaled a sea change in popular and hard rock music. Suddenly the youth of the Nineties had found their icon, which not only reflected the angsty new cultural zeitgeist
, but seemed simpler and more "authentic"
than the glam scene which had now become the face of heavy metal to most people and weren't as unapologetically anti-mainstream and inaccessible as thrash and power metal. The scene initially brought in a wide variety of fans from all across the hard rock landscape, from the rawest of punk to the most meticulous of metal, with many metal fans even considering grunge to be a form of punk metal— but it soon became clear that something had changed. The grunge movement soared to prominence in the music scene with the same sort of overwhelming force as punk in the late 1970s and, ironically, heavy metal itself in 1979-81, many of the metal acts that were signed to major music labels were betrayed
by their own publishers and sidelined in favor of hip new alternative rock bands. Some metal bands, most notably Metallica with their self-titled "black album" and glam-cum-power-cum-thrash metallers Pantera, who abruptly broke all ties with their past and advanced a stripped-down, testosterone-heavy "groove metal" with 1990's Cowboys from hell
, managed to achieve commercial success during this time and keep metal blasting on. Still more heavy metal bands, faced with the choice of abandoning their scene or being buried, simply quit. Grunge, once seen by some metalheads as a breath of fresh air, even a return to real hard rock and metal, had led to the downfall of their very own genre in the mainstream. And when they realized this, metalheads quickly turned tail and dissed grunge, only to find metal had been discarded.
With the much more down to earth and simpler Alternative Rock
now the preferred form of rock music by the youth, metal had become irrelevant. Bands that had placed all their trust in their label, whether they had been from traditional, thrash, or extreme metal, had only two options: split up, or listen to record executives and "go grunge." By 1993, heavy metal was being used as a punch line on Beavis And Butthead
, and 2 years later, Headbanger's Ball
was abruptly cancelled. By 1996, with Alternative Rock
, Pop Punk
, and Hip Hop
the dominant forms of youth music, long hair and guitar solos were deemed "uncool" and metal was stuck between irrelevance and archaism.
The genre seemed dead.
The period between 1992 to 1998 was the Dark Age of Heavy Metal
. During this time, anything that was once glorified by metal was now vilified, and the theatrical, technical, and excessive natures of metal became a reason for headshaking and scorn as Alternative's Three Chords and the Truth
ideology became mainstream. Stacking the odds against metal further was the stratospheric success of hair metal in the '80s. This brand of metal was advertised extensively thanks to MTV, and thus, in the popular mind, metal rested squarely from the silliness of Cinderalla, Poison, and Bon Jovi to the 'brutality' of Metallica and Slayer, leaving the experimental, traditional, and underground bands and genres to rot and branding the term "heavy metal" with goofy connotations of big hair, macho posturing, overt sexism, pigheadedness, an obsession with destruction, and unrealistic opulence.
Despite this, metal never actually died. Remnants of it had survived and, in some places, thrived. One such place was Europe, where glam metal and grunge had much less impact than in the US. Just as Britain was contending with Madchester and the earliest days of Britpop
(essentially their own version of Grunge), German act Helloween rose from a second-tier speed/power metal act to a megahit with their Keeper of the Seven Keys
duology, which focused on catchy vocal melodies, a more light-hearted Lighter and Softer
attitude, and influences from synthesizer-heavy European pop music, spawning hundreds of imitators throughout The Nineties
. Dream Theater
created a modest but enduring fanbase by taking the progressive rock influences on power metal and running with them, merging metal and prog-rock into a unique new "progressive metal" sound that found a following with people who wanted something "smarter" than grunge. Their sophomore effort Images and Words
sold 800,000 copies despite being released at the height of the grunge craze. Pantera rides upon the fame and knowledge that they kept heavy metal alive through its Dark Age, with their grooving mid-tempo thrash connecting with millions of fans (though inadvertently laying the groundwork for another "groove" movement).
Black Sabbath survived by ignoring most of the developments of the 80s and returning to the bluesy, stomping proto-heavy metal that had carried them through The Seventies
, culminating in a brief resurgence of fame as they reunited with former frontman Ronnie James Dio
for the 1992 album Dehumanizer
, which is still highly regarded to this day. Death metal, a niche genre to begin with, maintained a small but devoted fanbase, with an up-and-coming band from Long Island by the name of Suffocation
making a particularly big splash in 1991 with Effigy of the Forgotten
, their Roadrunner debut, which combined extreme heaviness and technical proficiency to create a new style of death metal that would slowly but surely shape the scene to come. And a group of musicians in Norway had turned the chaotic extreme metal scene into a coherent musical movement that would gain notoriety far beyond its small fanbase.
This new movement was called black metal
, an evolution of the violent extreme metal bands of The Eighties
that was fiercely independent, virulently anti-mainstream, and even more provocative than its antecedents. Many of them believed that metal was doomed the moment it courted the mainstream, and cultivated a sound that was as exclusive and "out there" as possible. With deliberately muddy production, extremely harsh soundscapes, and anti-Christian lyrics that ranged from God Is Evil
to literal Satanism, black metal was the ultimate in cult fandoms (and some people have literally compared the early scene to a cult). While the movement was very small, often with album sales in triple digits, black metal musicians became most identified with a sort of cultural jihad against Christianity, with outrageous anti-religious statements, disturbing imagery featuring Satanic symbols, bondage gear, and ghoulish makeup, arsons and other attacks on churches and other Christian cultural sites, and identification with Norse mythology (whose association with Those Wacky Nazis
was milked for all it was worth). The scene spread slowly but surely, first in Scandinavia and then worldwide, with black metal bands springing up in America, Eastern Europe, and even Japan
Other genres also began reaching their stride or being born during the nineties, and it was during this time that metal's speed began to max out at abominably fast tempos. Punk was mixed with metal as far back as the seventies to produce NWOBHM and thrash metal, but in the late '80s, metal started returning the favor and several new strains of 'punk metal', such as Metalcore, Crust, Fusion/Crossover, and Grindcore began to emerge, each varying in their proportion of metal and punk. Metalcore focused primarily on mixing the virtuosity of thrash with the rawness of hardcore punk (moreso than thrash already had), hence the term 'metalcore'. Compared to thrash, metalcore was more reliant on breakdowns and varying between clean singing and gravel growling.
Crust focuses heavily on punk, and relies almost solely on guttural vocals. Fusion/crossover thrash is a more balanced mix of thrash and hardcore punk (moreso than metalcore), and follows thrash's jagged patterns with hardcore punk's straight-edge power. Grindcore emerged in Britain and the United States as one of the most extreme subgenres to date, with band such as Napalm Death
and Anal Cunt
pushing punk and metal to their absolute limits of speed and aggression (often within absurdly short songs). While employing techniques such as guttural screaming, Grindcore introduced the blast beat
, a form of drumming born from '80s punk with tempos reaching nigh-ridiculous levels, such as 200 bpm and higher.
On the opposite side of the speed spectrum, the ever Sabbathine doom metal finally caught hold of a sizable underground market and saw itself expand, adopting sounds as far as Folk Metal
and extreme metal. This update to doom's unapproachable sound widened its audience while its perpetual underground status kept it from being warped by the mainstream. From these points, doom metal began to evolve on its own and subsequently split into four more genres- Drone Metal which featured drawn out chords and completely lacked traditional musical progression for the sake of hauntingly bizarre soundscapes; Gothic Metal
, which fused doom's self-deprecating style with thrash metal and sometimes death metal to produce a symphonic mixture of Goth
and metal; Stoner Metal
, a fuzzy, sludge-esque genre which rose with stoner rock (a genre that gained quite a bit of popularity alongside Grunge) as an attempt to recaptured the feel of Seventies psychedelic-blues based heavy rock and metal with occasional influences from hardcore punk; Sludge Metal
, which fused hardcore punk and doom metal and sometimes added in the fuzzed guitars of Grunge
and stoner metal to create, would could be called, a spiritual successor to grunge rock. Sludge Metal
was perhaps one of the more influential of the new scenes as, along with Post-Grunge
, it introduced the heavily d-tuned style that would soon become a near trademark of a 'new' style.
Another form of metal that formed within all this was Alternative Metal
, which fused traditional stylings of metal with the mind-numbingly popular Alternative Rock
. Born in the late '80s amongst the likes of heavy alternative bands such as Jane's Addiction
, Butthole Surfers
, Living Colour
, and the original grunge acts, Alternative Metal
was to metal as alternative rock was to 'old-school' rock, introducing to metal the concepts of breakdowns and introspective themes. Helping its chances at hitting the mainstream, alternative metal also boasted itself as having less complex solos, more basic riffs
and more "down-to-Earth" musicians than metal usually identified with, as the alternative scene viewed the extreme complexity, virtuosity, and macho attitudes of power, thrash, and glam metal as "decadent" and "self-absorbed." Alternative Metal
itself would be cleverly fused with other genres, even with those outside of metal. Rap Metal
bands such as Faith No More
and Rage Against the Machine
achieved great success at the height of the grunge movement, capable of tapping into the alternative hype of the day to garner massive fanbases. These bands mixed the groove of hip hop with the aggression of metal without losing the rhythmic power of the former or the musicality of the latter. This too would come to coalesce into something that would lead many to view metal as a shadow of its former self.
Another alt-metal development was its diversification into Progressive Metal
. Progressive metal had long been spearheaded by bands such as Dream Theatre, but in 1993, Tool
broke onto the scene bearing a dark, unsettling sound that was different than anything that had come before. With them came a wave of dark alternative bands and progressive metal acts that were more technical and skewed than Tool, and then another generation even more extreme than they, with few bands resembling the original progressive rock movement of the '70s.
Another form of alternative metal music that would greatly influence this coming movement was the return of Shock Rock
with the rise of Marilyn Manson
, who took the shock rock acts of old and mixed them with Industrial Metal
and alternative metal. Though not a metal act as himself, Manson set down the templates for future 'shock' tendencies in metal.
With the fall of grunge in the mid '90s and these many developments in the world of heavy music, rumors began to circulate and speculation rose: was heavy metal about to stage a comeback?
The tide begin to turn for heavy metal as The Nineties
gave way to the Turn of the Millennium
. The resurgence of heavy metal had a
start of sorts with "Nu Metal
" (or Nü Metal
was not heavy metal at all, although it was marketed as such
is extremely controversial, to the point where arguments about its metal status even occur on this page. Nu Metal
took all the disparate developments from the Dark Age of Metal and mixed them together, producing a nearly avant-garde mixture of Alternative Metal
, Industrial Metal
, Thrash Metal
, Groove Metal
, Hardcore Punk
, and Hip Hop
(though far from all bands would rely on each and every aspect).
Nu Metal was, at the very least, unique for its time and its "chug" riffs, psuedo-death growls, extensive breakdowns, inclusion of rap music, and angst-ridden
themes of inner demons and personal struggles was popular among teens and tweens from 1998 to around 2001, but never caught on with the actual heavy metal community and was slapped with the derisive label "mallcore" by its detractors. Despite this, nü-metal achieved a level of commercial fame that simply hadn't been matched by other metal subgenres, with some bands even outselling '80s pop metal acts, registering it as the most successful 'metal' has ever been. During this time, even long-runner bands such as Slayer and Metallica tried out the genre to commercial, if not exactly critical, success. Following the early success of Sepultura
and Coal Chamber, and the meteoric rise of Korn
and Limp Bizkit
, a wave of Nu Metal bands erupted, and bands such as Slipknot
, System of a Down
, Linkin Park
and many others became the biggest 'metal' bands in years, and although some bands also don't consider themselves metal, nu metal remains a gateway for many much as glam had been a decade prior.
In 2001, the music industry enjoyed a bubble with record album sales. Nu metal commanded and led this pop music blitzkrieg and soon its nickname 'mallcore' played into effect as those who once shunned metal (i.e. mall dwellers such as jocks and preps) began following bands without knowing anything about the music, its history, or the style. Nu metal's diverse sounds of industrial, rap, and hard rock made it the darling on MTV. In fact, it was MTV that pushed this scene the most, marketing it as the faithful return of heavy music with a more musically diverse twist, and Nu Metal
thus enjoyed much airplay. A new generation of fans were brought into the fold, many of whom had grown up never having heard of the likes of hair metal or NWOBHM. The divide between older metal fans was visible, as many of the supporters of traditional metal felt that this new style simply lacked the power, virtuosity, and draw that older genres had, while fans of nu metal thought that most old-school metal was simply "outdated." Coupled with Post-Grunge
and the early days of Emo
, though people were saying metal was back, it still seemed the genre was nowhere to be seen.
By 2002, although the genre's biggest act— Linkin Park— had yet to reach their stride, nu metal was beginning to recede from the top and most of the first and second wave fell under the radar by 2003, leaving only a core few bands. As backlash set in, most nu metal bands subsequently dropped the label, instead falling into other genres such as the equally divisive Alternative Metal
, "straight" hard rock, and other alternative genres. By 2004, despite the successes of bands such as Papa Roach, Evanescence
, and P.O.D., the movement had either dissipated or the bands have given themselves new labels. When it was all said and done, metal fans discovered that, despite nu metal's bizarre stylings, a whole new generation of youth had been introduced, and, following the gateway genre's fall, were ready for something new, something bigger and better. Many were picking up their own guitars themselves and playing their own brand new riffs.
Although the aftershocks of nu metal would continue to divide metal fans over its metal authenticity, it did show that the public had warmed up again to the idea of "metal" and that the genre could be viable again, if in a newer and more self-actualized form. With the dawn of the 2000s, heavy metal began to crystallize into a major scene once more as the Internet allowed metalheads across the world to come together and share their fandom. Many major metal bands of the "golden age" reunited or otherwise got a second wind, most notably Iron Maiden, who reunited with longtime singer Bruce Dickinson and released their comeback album Brave New World in 2000 to rave reviews. Judas Priest got back Rob Halford, Black Sabbath got back Ozzy (although that reunion never really went anywhere), and underground legends Jag Panzer started releasing albums again. Dream Theater was now leading a whole host of progressive metal bands that found great popularity in Europe and Japan. Power metal was becoming a sensation in northern Europe, with bands like Helloween, Stratovarius, and Sonata Arctica experiencing considerable success.
By 2004, with grunge and post-grunge all but dead, nu metal in evanescence (for lack of a better pun), alternative rock becoming too Emo
for its own good, and alternative hard rock simply unable to cut it, the time was ripe for a comeback.
Around 2005, the genre took off like a rocket. The site Metal Archives, devoted to cataloguing every metal release ever made and providing a focus for the online metal community, gained widespread popularity and raised awareness of the older 80s subgenres. Rhythm games like Guitar Hero made guitar solos cool again, and modern metal bands like DragonForce
used their chops to enthrall a generation sick of Three Chords and the Truth
. Even more metal reunions sprung up, and metal bands started breaking the top 50 on album charts in their opening weeks. By 2006, thrash metal was experiencing its first major wave of popularity in 15 years, with a raft of new "thrash revival" bands perpetuating the style in modern times. Since then, the scene has only continued to grow despite occasional cries of They Changed It, Now It Sucks
, It's Popular, Now It Sucks
, and sometimes a painfully visible Broken Base
when dealing with old-school and new-school genres. Black Sabbath reunited with Dio again
under the banner of Heaven and Hell and their new debut album has become an instant success. Although the genre is nowhere near as popular as it was at its height, its core fanbase is also more stable and metal isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Today, in 2014, heavy metal continues to change with the times. With the popularity of the Internet, metal fans have largely eschewed music television— which has become too obsessed with electronic pop, rap, indie, and dubstep— and instead focus their interests as a community and welcome those who find their way into this culture. Meanwhile, the mainstream has also embraced metal in most of its forms, with many prominent names being known metalheads while metal super stars also top headlines. Trends in metal change- from alternative metal to metalcore to deathcore to djent to the recent wave of occult metal, metal fans continue to expand their horizons while awaiting the 'new Metallica's arrival.
It's been 40-odd years. Things will change, but the spirit of metal charges on.
The exact definition of heavy metal is a point of contention even among metal fans
, but it is generally understood that the most defining element of heavy metal is the "metal riff", a sequence of chords (usually power chords, but not always) that is both melody and rhythm, and exudes a sense of power, aggression, urgency, weight, or various combinations thereof (in simple terms, it's "heavy"). A typical metal song typically uses several riffs instead of the one or two featured in a normal rock song), varying from a mere three or four to more than 10. Vocal style varies widely, but medium to high, dramatic tenors and guttural shrieks or growls are the most prominent vocal styles. Thrash tends towards gruff shouting as part of its punk roots, and some very conservative metal bands have more traditional blues/rock vocals. Soprano and Gravel
is popular among "gothic" and "symphonic" bands. Lyrics vary, but the most universal and popular lyrical theme for metal is death. Virtually every metal band that has ever existed has written at least one song concerning death, and it has a similar role as a dependable standby subject as love does in traditional rock music—you just can't go wrong with a song about death. Metal also comes with far more bombast than does hard rock or punk rock. Metal comes in many different speeds as well, from the most insane .0005 second-per-beat Grindcore bands to Drone metal acts who sometimes have no beats within an album at all.
Heavy metal is known for its diverse subgenres and styles, which include:
- Heavy metal, also known as traditional metal, trad metal, or "true metal" (although that overlaps with American power metal), is the original style. It usually features medium to fast tempos (although some bands are slower) with a high degree of melody and clean vocals. Prominent examples include Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Manowar and Iron Maiden. Note that what is called Heavy Metal can also be labelled as Power Metal by some, as many Power Metal bands make use of the same tempos as "trad" metal bands. Traditional heavy metal has, in recent years, undergone a major resurgence in the metal underground. This is typically referred to as the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal and is oft confused with American Power Metal.
- Speed metal is relatively hard to pin down, but is generally faster and rawer than traditional heavy metal, with a driving feel. It ranges from relatively tame material like Helloween, to really raw stuff like Venom. It overlaps with both power metal and early extreme metal. Early (1985-1992) X is a good example of speed metal fused with thrash metal and infused with punk sensibility. This is not to be confused with thrash metal, even though their speed often matches each other- speed tends to feature higher vocal ranges and up-tuned guitars.
- Thrash metal is characterized by its choppy rhythms, frequent tempo shifts, and typically large number of riffs per song. Lyrics tend towards more concrete and less fantastic than other types, often with a political or social bent. Prominent examples include Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer ("The Big Four"), Kreator, Sodom, Flotsam and Jetsam, and Watchtower. The more intellectual forms can overlap with aggressive power metal and the more aggressive forms overlap with death metal. Sometimes mixes with hardcore to form "crossover thrash", as exemplified by Suicidal Tendencies and D.R.I.. To differentiate from speed metal, thrash metal vocals feature more of a growl and the guitars tended to be downtuned in some respects. Expect fans to argue that this is metal at its purest.
- Power metal has a sort of dual origin, having arisen separately in the US and Europe, and mixed later, which leads to a very sharp divide between US and European power bands. As a rule, power metal is more thoughtful and orderly than most metal, with an emphasis on instrumental ability (but not to the degree of prog metal or tech death) and fantastic lyrics. American power metal, typified by Sanctuary, Attacker, Iced Earth, Omen and Savatage, is usually more aggressive, with influences from thrash and Low Fantasy lyrics. European power metal, typified by Helloween, Edguy, Stratovarius, and Blind Guardian, is usually more melodic, with lots of synthesizers, a distinctive "double bass" beat, and High Fantasy or Sci-Fi lyrics. Some metalheads look down on power metal and its fans for not being "metal" enough, referring to the genre as "flower metal". Think of American power metal as Robert E. Howard and European power metal as J. R. R. Tolkien. One might also say that power metal is also the most "traditional" (not necessarily retro) of all metal subgenres.
- Relatively recently, Japan's power metal scene has started to produce its own brand of power metal with bands that cues from European neo-classical metal bands such as Stratovarius and Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force. As with their European neo-classical metal cousins, Japanese power metal tends to be fast paced and song writing is based heavily on classical music. Examples of Japanese power metal bands include post-1993 X Japan (before 1993, as mentioned above, it was speed metal/thrash metal outside of ballads), Galneryus, Concerto Moon and Versailles.
- Power metal is also known for the amount of ease that it can be fused with other genres. For this reason, there are umbrella terms like progpower metal for bands that are one part progressive metal and one part power metal such as Kamelot and Symphony X and thrash-power metal for bands that mix thrash metal and power metal such as Iced Earth and 3 Inches of Blood.
- Early extreme metal is a very raw and chaotic style of music, often with little regard for instrumental proficiency and a fixation with being as aggressive and furious as possible. Venom is the Ur Example, and Celtic Frost, Bathory (who are the sort of "missing link between this and black metal), and early Mayhem (who later became a black metal band) important members of the genre. Later evolved into black metal, and mixed with thrash to form death metal. The term "extreme metal" in the modern sense is generally used as a blanket term encompassing black metal, death metal, thrash metal, metalcore, (some) doom metal, sludge metal and other "extreme" sub-genres, along with any other bands that don't neatly fit into any of the aforementioned.
- Venom's album "Black Metal" is often held to be the inspiration for all extreme metal. However, some black metallers have explicitly denied the impact of Venom's music on their work, Varg Vikernes for instance claiming that he thought of Venom as simply an American Motorhead (despite the fact that both Motörhead and Venom are British).
- Black metal is a development of early extreme metal, featuring tremolo-picked riffs, harsh shrieking vocals, "fuzzy" production, and extremely anti-Christian lyrics. The scene has a reputation for violence and criminal activity that is not entirely undeserved. This form of metal is a very niche product and proud to be so, but more commercial offshoots such as Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth have seen some mainstream success. Unfortunately, this is the subgenre that far too many people think of when you mention metal nowadays, if it's not metalcore.
- Due to evolving directly into this genre, the early extreme metal scene is often called "the first wave of Black metal", even though their sound somewhat differs from the early Norwegian scene that codified Black Metal as we know it today.
- Many of the black metal bands who have run with Emperor's symphonic/melodic, synthy black metal sound have deviated so far from the blueprint that they sound more like power metal. Thematic pre-occupations with the devil generally only extend so far as the lyrics, and most modern popular black metal bands have little "kvlt" credibility. Black metal's influence can now be found in most extreme metal bands, and is far from a niche genre - everything from folk (Finntroll) to thrash (Aura Noir) carries examples of genre-crossing from black metal.
- Anti-Christian lyrics are not a requirement for the genre and there is, in fact, a strong Christian black metal scene. However, many fans of the Christian portion of the genre prefer to call it either unblack metal or white metal.
- Despite black metal's connotations of intentional garbage-level production and musicianship, not all bands/musicians keep it tethered to Three Chords and the Truth, with some even bringing in melodic, even progressive, signatures and structures.
- Death metal is a development of thrash metal, recognized by its gruesome themes involving corpses and gore, and low-pitched growled vocals. Death, Possessed, Morbid Angel, and Deicide are names to know in this style. Started as an American thing, but has a following in Sweden as well. Swedish bands, such as At The Gates, early In Flames, and Edge of Sanity, are lower-key and more refined. Death metal is related to a very extreme offshoot of hardcore punk called "grindcore" that carries a similar ethos. The two often mix to form "death/grind" or "goregrind" bands, which are basically Death Metal carried Up to Eleven and exemplified by bands with such charming names as Circle of Dead Children, Cattle Decapitation, and Anal Cunt. Death metal has a penchant for really disgusting album covers. This is one of the biggest metal genres today.
- Death metal is also known for its multiple fusion genres, such as with progressive metal (Opeth, later Death albums), NWOBHM (also known as Melodic Death Metal - At The Gates, In Flames, and Dark Tranquillity are generally regarded as the Trope Makers), or power metal (Scar Symmetry). Bands filed under death metal tend to be diverse enough, such that Cannibal Corpse (Trope Codifier for American death metal) might sound to some ears more like Kreator than At The Gates, even though the former is a thrash metal band and the latter, death metal of the more melodic variety.
- Death metal also introduced to the world the "death growl" (also known as 'cookie monster vocals', 'guttural screams,' and 'death screams') which is the aforementioned growled vocals. Whereas thrash metal featured graveling singing styles, death metal has become famous for its vocalists not even sounding human (for a comparison to any who are unfamiliar, imagine a low bear or a lion or, more accurately, a demonic growl)
- Doom metal is essentially a development on very early heavy metal before Judas Priest and other mid-70s bands sped it up. The emphasis here is on slower tempos- already a huge departure from "traditional metal", huge, crushing riffs, and, often, extremely dark lyrics, with themes such as inescapable depression and the inevitability of death being common. Epic fantasy (of the darker sort) and occultism are also common themes, particularly in the more traditional styles. Black Sabbath is the archetype, with the actual style being codified by bands such as Pagan Altar, Saint Vitus and Trouble. A more "epic" style of doom arose with Candlemass's landmark Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, and was continued by bands such as Solitude Aeturnus and Solstice, and it remains the more popular form of traditional metal to this day. Has spinoff styles in the form of, sludge, funeral doom, and drone doom, each of which is slower, drearier, gloomier, and more unbelievably depressing than the last. Another spinoff style that is, surprisingly less depressing is Stoner Metal, which subsequently spawned stoner rock, that came up thanks to doom metal's penchant for '60s/'70s psychedelic blues rock. There are often fusions with death metal (death doom, though many would owe more to Hellhammer and Celtic frost than traditional doom) and black metal (often called "dark metal"). Unless it's truly traditional doom metal, this is not for the faint of heart. Alongside power metal, it is considered a traditional metal genre. In 2010, this subgenre, usually under the name "occult rock", has become increasingly popular, and may see an explosion of popularity if it manages to latch on to the previously Emo/ Post-Grunge/ Nu Metal audience.
- It's also worth mentioning that this genre greatly inspired Grunge music.
- While less of a subgenre than a style that is attached to a previously existing subgenre (usually power metal), symphonic metal has become increasingly popular in recent years. Combining aspects of heavy metal with the orchestral drama of film soundtracks and 19th-century classical, Symphonic metal features lush orchestral textures, provided either by synthesizers or a proper orchestra, and often female vocals, which are rare in other forms of heavy metal. More extreme symphonic bands often pair a female clean vocalist with a male harsh vocalist for a Soprano and Gravel effect. Therion is the Trope Maker, Nightwish is a Trope Codifier, with other important bands including Epica, Within Temptation, and Rhapsody. Some (but by no means all) power metal bands add some orchestral sounds to their music, but it only really qualifies as "symphonic metal" if the orchestra is a dominant component of the music.
- Also related to symphonic metal and power metal is progressive metal, which combines the power and aggression of metal with the instrumental technicality and odd song construction of prog-rock. Some of the bands, like Shadow Gallery, also take on classical influences, while others such as Liquid Tension Experiment have a jazz-fusion influence. The genre tends to be focused on Epic Rocking and instrumental technicality. Some well-known bands in this genre include Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Queensryche, Symphony X, Pain of Salvation, Ayreon and the aforementioned bands. There are also quite a few progressive death metal bands around, including Opeth, Atheist, and Cynic.
- Nu-metal is a genre that many metalheads despise that is seen as a combination of various different styles, including grunge, hip-hop, funk rock, hardcore and groove metal. The guitars are usually downtuned, the riffage isn't particularly complex, and the lyrics are often quite angsty. Rapping is occasionally used. The genre is extremely controversial; mentioning it near a metalhead is rather risky. We'll leave it at that...
- Metalcore, while immensely divisive among many metalheads, does occasionally fall under the heavy metal umbrella, having two flavors: "first-wave" or "traditional" metalcore, which is a fusion of hardcore and various genres of metal (frequently sludge) and which commonly features odd time signatures, astoundingly ferocious shouted/screamed vocals, and frequent experimental elements; as far as metal fans go, this variety is generally well-liked. The other one is "melodic" or "pop" metalcore, which fuses Melodic Death Metal with modern breakdown-oriented hardcore music. Its most iconic features are chugging "breakdowns" (where the tempo and musical complexity are reduced for a period and the band rides only one or two chords), disjointed song structures, and hoarse, shouted vocals alternated with clean poppy vocals that tend to be far tamer in range and intensity than usual metal singing. Important bands in the former category include Starkweather, Converge, and Shai Hulud, while the latter category includes Trivium, Avenged Sevenfold, and Killswitch Engage. It has a derivative called "deathcore" that adds influences from down-tempo "slam" death metal and grindcore. Job For A Cowboy's debut EP is probably the definitive deathcore record. Recently many metalcore bands have begun taking in influences from thrash metal (probably in imitation of Trivium), but most dedicated thrashers are not impressed.
- Sludge metal fuses elements of doom metal and crossover thrash with old school Hardcore Punk, with several bands being influenced by stoner rock and grunge (particularly, The Melvins). There are also several bands that played sludge while incorporating elements of genres such as Death Metal, Noise Rock, Grindcore and Crust Punk. Somewhat peripheral to the metal scene throughout much of the '90s, it was centered around a number of regional scenes, the most notable of which was the New Orleans, Louisiana or "NOLA" scene, which produced such acts as Eyehategod, Crowbar and Acid Bath, while a thriving North Carolina scene produced Corrosion of Conformity and Buzzov* en. The genre was brought to prominence in the mid 90s when now-former Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo formed Down, a side project which brought together musicians from several major sludge bands. In the 21st century, a new scene emerged in Georgia which gave sludge metal with a progressive, psychedelic rock edge, including Mastodon, Baroness and Kylesa. Many bands, including Isis, Cult of Luna and Pelican, took a Neurosis inspired sound and incorporated more prominent Post-Rock influences, forming a style now known as post-metal, sometimes called "atmospheric sludge". Both of these newer styles tend to be looked down upon by sludge purists, and many would argue that the post-metal bands shouldn't be considered a part of sludge metal.
- It introduced the extremely popular D-tuned guitar tone, which is one cause of its fuzzy n' sludgy, tar-esque guitar work. Born with the punk acts of the early '80s and codified by Grunge bands such as The Melvins and Mudhoney, it was adopted in spades by Nu Metal and Post-Grunge, for better or for worse, which led to the chord ultimately becoming a staple of modern rock.
- Folk metal is a style fusing the folk melodies, often (but by no means only) Celtic or Finnish, with metal, usually from one of the more peripheral genres. Its sound ranges a spectrum from black to power metal, with vocals also ranging from growl through Soprano and Gravel to clean singing. What's, then, characteristic of this style, lies (not unlike symphonic metal) primarily in the instruments and themes it uses; you can expect a folk metal band to use at least one violin, or some less common, often traditional, instrument. The lyrics tend to center around a given theme, related to the people whose traditional sounds the band is emulating. The genre started with Skyclad (1990) and Cruachan and Orphaned Land (1994), and earned its respect in 2000s.
- Groove metal (also known as post-thrash metal) is a style that emerged in the early 90s which takes the guitar style, aggressive vocal delivery and technical skill of thrash and fuses with more hard rock-esque song structures and slower tempos. As its name suggests, it has a greater emphasis on rhythm and "groove" than thrash metal. Debates rage as to whether the true originator of the style was Exhorder or the Genre Popularizers Pantera, but in either case it was something of a commercial peak for the genre in the early 90s before the dominance of Nu Metal - Pantera's seventh album Far Beyond Driven debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard charts in the US, easily the most extreme album to do so at that point. Later notable bands in the genre included Sepultura, Throwdown, Machine Head, and DevilDriver.
As a traditionally niche genre that is currently a commercial darling, information about heavy metal is somewhat conflicting these days. The forums and album reviews at Metal Archives
will help you understand the metal community. They're not a forgiving forum due to having to deal with Periphery Demographics
and trolls a lot, so beware of Internet Backdraft
if you decide to post. The black metal scene is the most prominent there too, so if you see someone write something really bizarre and/or offensive, it's almost certainly a black metal fan. Black metallers are... weird. Also, they tend to shun anything that isn't "definitively" heavy metal (that means, no alternative metal, mallcore, or glam metal)
For related tropes, see Heavy Mithril
, Epic Rocking
, Soprano and Gravel
, Metal Scream
, Black Metal
, Death Metal
, Thrash Metal
, Hair Metal
, Doom Metal
, and Progressive Metal