Guide To Metal Sub-Genres

Author: Dave Harrison   Date Posted:5 June 2018 


With a 40+ year history the world of metal music is filled with sub genres - these brief descriptions should give you a clue as to the stylistic elements of particular artists or groups that may fall under such a category.  Maybe just a little confused or curious as to what all the different metal category listings are then look no further ladies and gentlemen we are here to help! A few well chosen categorical tags never hurt anyone if used with a sense of responsibility.

NWOBHM - As in New Wave Of British Heavy Metal one of the most collected fields of Heavy Metal. Refers to, as one would guess, the resurgence of metal that originated in the UK in 1979-80 typified with such bands as Iron Maiden, Saxon, Motorhead, Angel Witch, Samson, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Quartz, later including Chateaux, Savage, Witchfinder General, Fist and a raft of others. The NWOBHM brought respectability & renewed vigour back to the metal scene after the transformation of punk, spawning huge underground swellings in Europe & stateside that continue unabated to this day.

Hard Rock – Or heavy rock is a sub-genre of rock music which has its earliest roots in mid-1960s garage and psychedelic rock and is considerably harder than conventional rock music spanning at least 3 eras. Part of the metal lineage appealing to several generations of music lovers with roots in the 70’s and now popularised in the latest video games Guitar Hero & Rock Band etc. Examples being classic acts AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, UFO, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, Bad company, Ted Nugent, Van Halen to newer artists such as Airbourne, Buckcherry. 

AOR - As in Adult Orientated Rock. Largely an American phenomenon. Journey, Styx, Loverboy etc. AOR is above all melodic, polished and hooky generically structured. Almost always involves bright colours, the big beat, rock poses, stadiums, attitude, partying etc. For our purposes often interchangeable with the term hard rock or melodic rock.   Pop metal variants such as latter Def Leppard & Bon Jovi. Not stricktly metal per se The Collectors Guide To Heavy Metal refers to it as: That nebulous low-slung, hair band guitar fluff that makes you want to drink coolers, put on a nice shirt and chase women, rather than drink beers dress in black and defile graveyards. 

Traditional Metal - (TRAD) The seminal genre of Metal music before it evolved and splintered into many different styles and sub-genres. As time rolls on, this term has less to do with the 70’s, & more to do with the 80’s describing bands with heavy technical, gothic, progressive elements, vaguely bracketed by Judas Priest, Dio, Iron Maiden, Accept, Manowar, U.D.O., Warlock, Doro, Blaze, Ozzy Osbourne, Halford, Metal Church, Sinner, Saxon, Wolf, Savatage, Scorpions, Anvil, Holyhell, Metalforce, D.S.G. & perhaps Helloween. Can be somewhat interchangeable with the terms 'Classic Metal', 'True Metal' by the diehard defenders or simply 'Heavy Metal'..

Progressive Metal - (PROG) The marriage between progressive rock & heavy metal, pioneered by Rush & then ‘80s bands like Queensryche & Fates warning. Experiencing a resurgence due to the success of Dream Theater, bands like Morgana Lefay, Tad Morose, Cynic, Vanden Plas, Angra, Symphony X taking up the flag. Typically musical proficiency, chops, superfluous indulgence, long songs, fantasy based lyrics & operatic singing.

Euro – The Euro sound is something most associated with Danish, Swedish, or German metal; that deep emotive, stirring, mysterious, melodic tone that on the heavier side results in goth-metal and on the lighter side, Euro-hard rock. Examples of bands who possess the Euro soul, yet use it in radically different ways, include Scorpions, Accept, Heavy Load, 220V, Gravestone, Helloween, Mercyful Fate, Overdrive, Picture, Sabbat and Rage. Was considered a little cheesy & out of date during the 90s, just like AOR, which intertwines with some Euro sentiments quite readily.
Power Metal – Originally referring to straight up heaviness in the 80s (Pantera named an album after it, vintage gig flyers once referred to Metallica as Power Metal). These days though most power metal bands pride themselves on their playing ability and can lean towards progressive at times taking fantasy, mythological, battle or personal struggle themed lyrics mixed with melodic guitar and vocal lines, double kick drumming cues from 80s blueprints Helloween & later Gamma Ray, A massive upswing in popularity in recent times from a whole new generation check out HammerFall, DragonForce, Rhapsody Of Fire, Edguy, Falconer, Firewind, Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, Primal Fear, Sonata Arctica and American proponents Iced Earth, Jag Panzer, Virgin Steele and Manowar.

Thrash – Referring to a style popularised by the big four Metallica / Slayer / Megadeth / Anthrax / Testament oops that five.. Think crunchy sounding riffs, socially aware lyrical themes, snarling although not always growling vocals. Sometimes referring to the Bay Area Sound (of San Francisco) ie Exodus, Death Angel , Overkill, Heathen, Nuclear Assault, Holy Terror, Artillery, Whiplash or Canadian band Annihilator & German bands Kreator, Sodom & Destruction..Sometimes can be referred to as Speed Metal.  Generation Y upstarts Municipal Waste, Evile, Bonded By Blood, Toxic Holocaust, Gama Bomb,  Enforcer, Merciless Death, Warbringer, Bludvera, Manic Ritual have created a youthful resurgence of popularity affectionately dubbed the New Wave Of Thrash Metal.

Gothic Metal – Or Goth. Sonically speaking, goth is richly dark and Euro sounding, with much pilfering of classical music styles, sometimes orchestration, symphonic. Pioneered by Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema. Today there are lots of popular chart topping female fronted bands like Evanescence, Nightwish, Within Temptation, Lacuna Coil, Tristania, Leaves Eyes, The Gathering etc. More rock metal or industrial based gothic bands such as Type O Negative,  Danzig, Therion, Tiamat & Moonspell, expand this solemn landscape..  

Metalcore –Music that uses the metal skillset to write hardcore-style songs. A post-metal genre which rejects the metal style of narrative composition for the post-hardcore style of intense unrelated diversity, borrowing riffs from rock, funk, jazz, metal, emo, punk and playing them in odd tempo and with abrupt changes. The use of the musical style of heavy metal, especially melodic death metal and the shouting vocal style of hardcore. are also heavily utilized. Emphasis on breakdowns (pioneered by the likes of Pantera), which are slow, intense passages when the audience can mosh. Examples: Parkway Drive, Earth Crises, Unearth, Darkest Hour, Poison The Well, (early) Avenged Sevenfold, All That Remains, Underoath, Sonic Syndicate, Atreyu, Deadlock, Haste The Day, Autumn Offering, In This Moment, As I Lay Dying, God Forbid, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, Chaimera,.

Hardcore – As in hardcore punk. In a metal context the lines got blurred during the 80’s with thrash / speed punk with crossover acts like C.O.C, D.R.I, Suicidal Tendencies. Pulling the lyrics out of the equation hardcore was pretty much always thrash. Through the 90’s the activism, anger and outrage of hardcore seeped into the cutting edge of bands like Pro-Pain, Biohazard & Pantera.

Industrial -  Draws from industrial music and heavy metal, using repeating metal guitar riffs, sampling, synthesizer or sequencer lines, and distorted vocals. Obvious proponents Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Godflesh, KMFDM.  Cyber metal variants abound such as Fear Factory, Rammstein, Filter, Stabbing Westward, Orgy & Static-X, Skrew, Prick, White / Rob Zombie.

Death Metal – Pretty much interchangeable with grindcore (on the more extreme end) early Napalm Death & Carcass. Black metal topics are game, but really the idea is gore, blood, body parts, Cannibal Corpse being pretty much the far-flung reaches of the idea. Other signatures: blastbeats, grindcore vocals, down tuning, doom chords. check out bands such as Morbid Angel, Death, Obituary, Deicide, Six Feet Under, Dismember, Hypocrisy, Entombed, Carnage, Unleashed. Offshoot genres such as Gothenburg Melodic Death Metal (Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, Soilwork, At the Gates), Technical Death (Cryptopsy, Atheist, Cynic), Goregrind.(Cephalic Carnage, Pig Destroyer), Prog Death (Opeth), Deathcore (Job For a Cowboy), Death/Doom, Blackend Death…  confused yet?

Death Core – Combines death metal’s dark tones, speed, dissonance, low guttural growling screams and frenetic blast beats metalcore’s melodic riffs and heavy, down-tuned breakdowns, minus the clean singing. Examples: Suicide Silence, Whitechapel, Carnifex, Job For A Cowboy and All Shall Perish.

Tech Death - Technical death metal (also known as tech-death, progressive death metal, or prog-death)  is a musical sub genre of death metal that began and developed in the early- to mid-1990s, with bands like Atheist, later day Death, Petilence & Cynic. Focus is on challenging, demanding instrumental skill and complex songwriting.
Examples: Archspire, Psycroptic, Dying Fetus, Beyond Creation, Spawn Of Possession, Necrophagist, Decapitated, Decrepit Birth, Obscura, Brain Drill and Beneath The Massacre.

Melodic Death Metal - Originated in the ’90s this extreme form of metal combines fast, harmonic guitar riffs borrowing from traditional heavy metal with death metal elements such as distorted guitars, blast beats, and fast drumming. Example: Arch Enemy, Amaon Amarth, (early) In F lames, Soilwork, Dark Tranquillity, Children of Bodom, Misery’s Crown, Be’lakor, Scar Symmetry

Black Metal – A term arguably brought to fruition by Venom although most likely only clarified by the evil trio assisted by 80s Bathory, Hellhammer & Celtic Frost helping carve out the foundations. Refers to Satanic metal. a bunch of infamous church burning characters from Norway.  Dark imagery incorporating corpse paint and studs, The music can be harsh, basic and abrasive or juxtaposed by a majestic symphonic sweep often employs fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, double-kick drumming, and unconventional song structure. Names like Immortal, Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, Darkthrone a lot stemming from Norway . Considered  a somewhat underground form of music although modern day merchants Dimmu Borgir, Satyricon and Cradle Of Filth are seen to be bringing it to the masses.

Viking Metal – A term invented to describe the growing pre-occupation of Scandinavian death bands away from Christian themes towards more nationalistic themes, themes from their own early history. Manowar is an American anomaly of the genre. Bathory practically invented it back in the 80s with respects to it’s current form, Amorphis, Unleashed.  Battle Metal as Metal Hammer likes to refers to it as coming to its own with Amon Armarth, Turisas, Kiuas, Finntroll and the like many incorporating folk elements in thier music..

Doom Metal – Pioneered by the likes of Sabbath (the inventors of metal), Sometimes slow, sometimes sludgy, always thick ominous and heavy. Think Cathedral, Candlemass, St Vitus, Pentagram, Trouble. Some Stoner rock can sometimes be an offshoot genre of Doom.

Glam Metal – Often referred to as hair (or occasionally Sleaze) metal that arose in the late 70’s early 80’s particularly in the US LA Sunset Strip music scene. Origins arising from Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Kiss, New York Dolls, Van Halen - Big hair, party rock hair bands you know the ones Poison, Cinderella, Quiet Riot, Ratt, Pretty Boy Floyd, Motley Crue, Warrant, Slaughter, Dokken, Faster Pussycat, Tigertailz, Twisted Sister, Winger, White Lion, L.A. Guns, W.A.S.P, Nitro, Stryper.

Nu Metal – Rising to prominence post grunge 90’s big down tuned heavy on the groove riff based mostly devoid of guitar solos, taking cues from alternative heavy hitters like Rage Against The Machine, Faith No More, Mr Bungle and stylistic elements of hip hop, alternative, funk. Image often sporting baggy clothes / sports labels rather than denim, leather & spike clad traditionalists. Some bands most commonly associated with Nu metal are Korn, Deftones, P.O.D., Limp Bizkit, Sevendust, Mudvayne, Mushroomhead, Powerman 5000, Staind , Coal Chamber, Godsmack, Linkin Park, Papa Roach. Slipknot sometimes (maybe incorrectly) get lumped in this genre and others such as Disturbed & Drowning Pool have veered toward a more Heavy Metal sound in recent times.

Djent – Named after the chunky poly-rhythmic groove and guitar tone and rhythms of Meshuggah this offshoot subset genre of Progressive metal typically features palm muted guitar chords, syncopated riffs, virtuoso soloing and polymeters. Many practitioners utilize the extended range of 7, 8 and even 9 string guitars. Some bands incorporating Djent elements inclue TesseracT, SikTh, Textures, Veil Of Maya, Periphery, Architects, Monuments, after The Burial, Born of Osiris, In Hearts Wake and Northlane.

Folk Metal – A style that features traditional folk elements of an artists country, many folk metal style bands feature violin players. Examples: Skyclad, Eluveitie, Korpiklaani,Finntroll, Ensiferum, Primordial, Falkenback, Elvenking and the jolly pirate buccaneers Alestorm.

As you can see metal and all its variants and offshoots is such a diverse and now days such a hugely popular and collectible music genre that a guide like this cannot possible be totally comprehensive or 100% accurate, more an approximation. I do hope though that this guide may be of assistance in navigating your way through a sometimes overlooked and under appreciated world of music with an exciting and sometimes controversial history and helpful when browsing music and merchandise items in the Heavy Metal Merchant store.

The Collectors Guide To Heavy Metal - Martin Poppoff
The Goldmine Heavy Metal Record Price Guide
The Book Of Metal - Chris Ingham
Metal The Definitive Guide - Garry Sharp Young
The Sound Of The Beast - The Complete Headbanging History Of Heavy Metal - Ian Christie
Headbangers - The Worldwide Megabook Of Heavy Metal Bands - Hale
The Great Metal Discography: From Hard Rock To Hardcore - M.C. Strong