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Alternative Metal

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Primary Stylistic Influences :
Secondary Stylistic Influences :

Alternative metal is... what the hell is it, anyway?

OK, let's try this... you know Alternative Rock? Stuff like R.E.M., Radiohead and They Might Be Giants? Well, imagine alternative rock. Imagine all its weirdness, all its... "alternativeness". Now, imagine that with the sonic amplitude of metal, and you've basically got alt-metal.


Alt-metal started off in the mid-to-late-eighties as a response to Hair Metal, which was the commercial darling of MTV and had in many people's eyes reduced (non-underground) metal to a watered-down pop movement; consequently, alt-metal bands sought to bring back metal's original fire. There was no specific "scene" for alt-metal bands, and not even a specific sound, but they were all united by experimental flourishes and influences from other genres.

The genre became popular in the late eighties/early nineties (around the same time that alt-rock got its big break) thanks to a few bands that are considered the founding members of the genre; these bands included Faith No More and Primus. A couple of years later, Tool took alt-metal and made it considerably darker.

The genre is wide enough that bands will often have totally different sounds to each-other (compare Primus and Korn - do they sound the same?), which causes a fair bit of annoyance with people who like to categorise their bands. At the end of the day, though, alt-metal is a handy catch-all term for bands that are both arguably metal and hard to classify.


Today it is, alongside Metalcore, the most commercially profitable form of metal, and certainly the type that gets the most airplay on rock radio.

Depending on the band, alternative metal can either lean more towards alternative (Chevelle, Incubus, Primus, Three Days Grace, most of Seether, etc.), or more towards metal (Sevendust, Alice in Chains, latter-day Alter Bridge, Godsmack, etc.). Because of this, much like Nu Metal, it's better to discuss the "metalness" of alt-metal on a case-by-case basis.

See also Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly, a trope that many alt-metal bands possessed.

Bands typically classed as alt-metal include:

Tropes that apply to the alternative metal genre:

  • Gateway Music: If you're a metalhead, and you're close to graduating college, you either got into metal through this or Nu Metal. More likely the latter, but the trope still applies to alt-metal.
  • Hatedom: It's not as polarizing as its offshoot, but it's still often rejected by metal purists. For example, you won't find most of the bands listed above on the Metal Archives.
  • Heavy Metal: It's this mixed with Alternative Rock.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Usually most bands under alt-metal tend to be in the 7 range, with the more alternative bands at level 6 and the more metally bands getting up to 8. Due to its eclectic nature however, songs can be literally anywhere on the scale, for instance Dir en grey and Slipknot are both capable of surpassing an 8.
  • More Popular Spinoff: Nu-metal was this to the original alt-metal movement for a period.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: This genre brings in a lot of influences, depending on the band in question. Each band has their own unique style because of it. Here are some examples:
  • Nu Metal: Numerous bands fall under both genres (at least at some point in their careers), such as Korn, Deftones, Slipknot, Disturbed, Sevendust, Linkin Park, Godsmack, and Evanescence. Not surprising, since nu metal spawned from this genre.
  • Post-Grunge: Many bands were influenced by this genre in the '00s, such as Breaking Benjamin, Chevelle, Seether, Trapt, Godsmack, Stone Sour, Three Days Grace, 10 Years, and Red. It was to the point where it seemed like at least half of all alt. metal bands played post-grunge.
  • Trope Makers: Generally considered to be Faith No More.
  • Ur-Example: Possibly Mother's Finest.

Alternative metal songs:

Alternative Title(s): Alt Metal


Example of: