Heavy metal +

Heavy metal, traditional metal, or sometimes just "metal", is a catch-all term for all of the sub-genres derived from heavy metal. Within the context of those genres, it has a more specific definition.

That being said, the heavy metal genre, the one from which all others stem, is named so because it doesn't exhibit any special qualities. That is, it is metal at its most stripped down and primal, only containing the basic properties: thundering drums, powerful, clean vocals, aggressive rifs, and guitar solos. It is not especially fast or especially slow, but can be either at times. Double bass drum patterns are also common, but not mandatory, and not used in the as blast beats as they are in more aggressive metal.

The sound of heavy metal changes from generation to generation. Many consider Black Sabbath to be the first "heavy metal" band. However, the sound of 70's era heavy metal was noticeably different than 80's or 90's era metal. In this way, Black Sabbath and Dio would both be considered heavy metal, just with a different take on the same genre, depending on a the genration.

New Wave of British Heavy Metal

Not so much a genre unto itself but rather a movement defining heavy metal's sound for that era, the NWoBHM lasted from about 1979 - 1983. The term is derived from the idea that bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath were the "first wave" of metal, any bands directly after being considered the new wave. Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Motörhead, and Saxon were a few bands to emerge from this era. It\'s difficult to pinpoint the sound of the NWoBHM, sounding something like a more melodic, catchier version of prior heavy metal, that focused more on a groove and flashy solos. Its lyrics and typically soaring vocals laid the groundwork for what would later become early power and speed metal.

Notable Bands
Black SabbathJudas PriestIron MaidenDeep PurpleMotörheadDio
Power metal +

Power metal is an extension of traditional heavy metal. It is everything that heavy metal is raised to an even higher magnitude. It is most notable for its high-pitched, often falsetto vocal histrionics, the epicness it evokes both musically and lyrically, and fanatasy or science fiction-oriented lyrics. Power metal vacolists are typically trained in some style of singing, operetic being common. The guitar is used primarily as a melodic, rather than ryhthmic instrument. The drums typcially take over the roll as the ryhthm machines with a consistent double bass pattern to keep up a driving pace.

Largely a European phenomenon, power metal proper can be traced back to Germany\'s Helloween and their Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 1 and Part 2. Power metal would take much of its inspiration from these albums as well as from the template laid down by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, among others. Just about every power metal song can be guranteed to have a fast, melodic solo section in it, harkening back to speed metal acts like Cacophony and neo-classical guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen.

Power metal has been known to use keyboards more prominently than its brethern, to varying degrees. Some bands use the instrument for ambiance or effects while others use it as a full-on melodic instrument that competes with the guitar for leads and solos.

The combination of keyboards, high-register vcoals, and uplift themes has lead some to label power metal as "flower metal."

Speed Metal

Power metal can be grouped into two camps (with some exceptions), the most prominent being the European melodic power metal. This form of faster power metal practiced by bands like Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, and DragonForce has come to be known as "speed metal." This is somewhat confusing, as during the 80\'s, fast-paced thrash acts who employed neo-classical solos were also referred to as speed metal, though the two share common traits in terms of drum patterns and guitar solos.

Riff-oriented power metal

No actual term exists for the power metal that stays closer to its traditional heavy metal roots. Some might call it teutonic power metal (for its being played by German power metal bands like Brainstorm), others thrash-power metal. This type of power metal tends to eschew melody for a crunchier, less pretentious sound. Keyboards are notnearly as prevalent, used more for background. The higher-pitched vocals still remain, though it is not common to hear more midrange singing and shouting to match the tone of the guitar. The drums still play typical 16th-note patterns, but the guitar has gone back to being a ryhthmic instrument. Though played by German bands, this type of power metal is popularized mostly by American acts like Iced Earth, Metal Church, and Nevermore.

Notable Bands
EdguyHammerfallBrainstormStratovariusIced EarthIron Savior
Thrash +

Thrash metal is the synthesis of heavy metal and punk. Taking the machismo and guitar solos of heavy metal, thrash melds it with the speed and down-to-earth ethic of punk. Unlike its parent genre, thrash is typically less polished both in terms of its midrange, shouted (or growled) vocals, and lack of a focus on melody. Though thrash can be quite musical, it is more often than not, due to its aggressive nature, more about evoking an attitude.

Thrash metal is very riff-centric, making the rhythm guitar a prominent instrument. The rhythm guitar is played in a palm-muted, staccato fashion, giving thrash its signature “crunchy” sound. The drums are really where thrash takes its punk influence from. Double bass configurations are almost universally standard, and are used for all manner of fast beats, punk-based “D-beat” (bass-snare-bass-bass-snare) variations being very common. Guitar solos are also very fast and usually lacking the more subtle, melodic elements of traditional metal. Lyrically, thrash deals mostly with real-world affairs, most notably war and violence, with the occasional politically-minded song.

The origins of thrash is a topic disputed by many metal historians, but Hellhammer and Venom are seen as setting the blueprint for it, with Metallica’s Kill 'Em All album being the first record to really popularize the sound and Bay Area movement.

Bay Area Thrash

In America, most notably the Bay area of California, thrash as a whole was born from teens who wanted to play music faster and heavier than their predecessors. Glam metal was becoming popular on the Sunset Strip and thrash was the antithesis to the radio friendly songs and feminine image of glam. Of the other thrash movements, the Bay Area scene was the closest to traditional metal in its sound. Bay Area thrash had typically higher-pitched vocals and more technical fretwork than their European or east cost counterparts. The Bay Area movement also gave birth to three of the big four of thrash: Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer, Anthrax coming from the East Coast scene. The sound of Bay Area thrash is typically considered to be what people are speaking of when referring to speed metal in its original context.

Teutonic Thrash

Originating in Europe, specifically Germany, another thrash scene was developing parallel to the Bay Area sound. Easily the most extreme of the thrash sounds, teutonic thrash was greatly influenced by Venom, sowing the seeds for what would later become death metal, with raspy vocals, spastic drumming, and down-tuned guitars. Unlike its American counterparts, this brand of thrash did not have much punk influence and opted for blast beat drumming at a consistently more frantic pace.

Notable Bands
Death metal +

Death metal is the logical evolutionary descendant of thrash metal. Taking the elements from thrash to a more extreme degree, death metal eschews any subtleties or songwriting that thrash metal had in favor of harsh vocals, and frenetic guitar and drumwork. Death metal is known for its abrupt time changes, tremolo-picked guitars, and extremely fast blastbeat drumming. Though perhaps not as "musical" as some of its contemporaries in terms of songwriting or accessibility, death metal is no less lacking in skill, requiring a great degree of dexterity for its fast tempo and key changes. Perhaps most notorious is its vocal style which is typically described as "Cookie Monster" vocals for their growled, and even sometimes gurgled approach.

Death metal really started taking off in the mid-80's, inspired by bands like Venom and the more aggressive thrash of Slayer. The breakneck speed, harsh vocals, and Satanic imagery of these bands would influence early death metal acts like Possesed and Death. Though starting only shortly after the Bay Area thrash movement, many consider the first proper death metal album to be Death's 1987 release, Scream Bloody Gore. Death metal scenes in Florida and in Scandinavia countries would begin popping up by the late 80's, the former crafting a death metal that was slower and more groove-based, the latter adding a hint of melody and slightly slower sound that would eventually blossom into an entire offshoot genre. Death metal would go on to be combined with hardcore to create the various permutations of grindcore.

Notable Bands
PossesedMorbid AngelDeicideObituaryDeathEntombedCannibal Corpse
Black metal +

Black metal is one of those peculiar, sort of difficult to define genres, at least by those who would profess themselves to be afficionados of it. Stylistically, black metal shares a lot in common with death metal, despite the fact that some death metal purists hate black metal fans and vice versa. Vocally, both black and death metal make use of harsh vocals, where death metal has generally lower, guttural vocals, and black metal has shrieked, raspy vocals. Gregorian chanting is also common in Norwegian black metal (sometimes called "viking metal"). The guitars tend to be less about riffs and palm-muting, and opt for a thinner, tremelolo-picked sound less heavy than death metal. Drumming styles vary from band to band and can range from simple, almost 70's rock beats to the frantic blast beats of death metal. Comparatively, black metal is much less technical than death metal and does not go out of its way for blistering solos and/or complex song structures, instead opting for straightforward, almost droning passages. One thing that is almost universal amongst all black metal is a preference for low-fi production values, often as a testament to how "true" a given band is.

Black metal would be more accurately defined as a movement than a subgenre of metal, being more about a scene and image than an actual sound. Almost universally, black metal has anti-Christian, Satanic lyrical themes and aesthetics. The movement is also infamous for its church burnings, murders, and criminal records. Norwegian black metal bands are known to be legitimately Satanic, using the genre almost as a religion and the music as an outlet for those beliefs.

The First Wave of black metal, and the origins of the genre itself, were ironically not truely black metal at all. The band to coin the term and single-handedly invent the genre was Venom with their 1982 album Black Metal. Venom's sound was actually not black metal at all by today's standards, being closer to thrash than anything else. However, Venom's then-unconventional emphasis on Satanic imagery and use of unclean, shrieked vocals would become hallmarks of the genre their landmark album would inspire. Their use of pseudonyms has also become somewhat of a standard for black metal acts. Other First Wave bands exhibiting a similiar, low-fi, thrash sound include Bathory and Hellhammer. Similarly, the band Mercyful Fate, though actually a NWoBHM band in era and sound, is considered to be a forefather of black metal for singer King Diamond's use of corpse paint - black and white makeup used to ellicit the image of corpse-like decay and forboding evil.

The Second Wave of black metal is really the first true group of black metal bands, the First Wave being influences rather than actual black metal bands in and of themselves. Starting in the early 90's with Norwegian bands like Emperor and Darkthrone, the Second Wave is sonically and philosophically what the modern definition of black metal is. At this point, most bands were wearing corpsepaint and doing sufficiently anti-Christian things to cement their status as legitimate black metal acts.

Notable Bands
EmperorSatyriconBurzumDark ThroneMayhemDimmu Borgir
Melodic death metal +

Though technically an offshoot of death metal, melodic death metal has evolved enough into its own sound and movement to separate itself from its death metal roots. Melodic death metal takes the harsh vocals and fast guitar and drum-work from its parent genre and it hybridizes it with melodic, often Iron Maiden-esque guitar harmonies and leads. Melodic death metal, as its name implies, treads closer to heavy and power metal with its use of groove melodies and melodic leads, providing much more of a musical, memorable song structure than the more brutal, pure death metal. Older records of the genre also have a more "tweedlly-tweedly" sound to the guitarist with their frequent use of tremolo picking. Melodeath, as it is sometimes called, differs further from standard death metal with its use of accoustic passages, comparitively slower tempos, higher (almost black metal), comprehensible vocals, and lyrics that focus on topics more introspective and romantic than violence or gore.

Arguably the first melodic death metal album would be gore metal band Carcass' Heartwork, though it is often not credited as such. Hailing from the town of Gothenburg (for which the genre has received its namesake nickname), Sweden, In Flames, At the Gates, and Dark Tranquillity are widly considered to be the forefathers of the genre with their seminal albums (see this article) in the mid-90's, however. The Gothernburg scene came as a result of the rising death metal trend of the late 80's/early 90's when straight up death metal bands in Sweden, such as Entombed, were riding its popularity. This Swedish death metal would evolve into the melodic death metal sound we are familiar with today. In fact, the first releases of the aforementioned three bands were closer to straight-up death metal than their later, more melodic, genre-defining leanings.

There's a lot of debate amongst metal enthusiasts as to whether melodic death metal is really "death metal" at all. It certainly has the harsh vocals of its namesake, at least in its early-to-mid releases. However, the ferocity and brutal elements that make death metal what it is are largely absent in most melodic death metal in favor more thrash-oriented riffs and hooks and flashy solos. Melodic death metal also wavers in terms of the magnitude of its extremity. Some albums lean more toward the pure death metal as At the Gates, while others take on a more progressive or power metal air as with In Flames. Melodic death metal, by the very nature of its name, seems contradictory in that an extreme genre like death metal could not possibly display melody or thoughtfulness and thus must not truely be a form of death metal.

"Powered" Death Metal

A term of my own invention, powered death metal refers to the wave of melodic death metal acts that came after the initial Gothenburg scene, mostly from Finland. These bands including Children of Bodom, Kalmah, Norther, and Eternal Tears of Sorrow have a sound that is certainly melodic death metal, but with even greater power metal tendencies with their heavy use of keyboards. This form of death metal has most of the hallmark traits of Swedish melodic death metal but with even catchier and more accessible song structues. The leads and solos are almost pure power metal in essence, with dualing guitars and keyboards. The beat is also less blast beat oriented, opting for more of the traditional power metal driving feel of constant 16th notes. Keyboards are very prominent as accents, ambiance, and full-on lead instruments. The vocals, while still harsh, are of a higher, slightly cleaner delivery more akin to black metal than death metal.

Notable Bands
In FlamesAt the GatesDark TranquillityArch EnemySoulscarChildren of Bodom
Progressive metal +
Metalcore +
Industrial metal +
Glam metal +
Nü -metal +