Oh…This is actually kind of rough since I think deciding where the lines that separate the sub-genres lie is quite subjective but here goes:
I have gotten into metal at least partially because my father has been something of an aficionado since the 80s when he was in his teens and his take on the early development of metal has always been that its most direct predecessors were Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix but that metal as we now know it wasn’t quite created before the emergence of Black Sabbath. I generally subscribe to this story and the common historical tidbit that gets brought up at this point is that Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath detuned his guitar due to a factory accident that hurt his fingertips which then gave Black Sabbath their characteristic sound. The fact that their lyrics were also inspired by horror movies and occult themes is one of the other things that is taken as representative of how they have given the genre its canonical characteristics. Another early heavy metal band that was remarkably influential for the genre is Judas Priest who started out as more of a hard rock band and ended up not only promoting the term heavy metal but also giving it the denim-and-spikes-and-leather visual aesthetic. The change in their sound is evident by comparing albums such as for instance Rocka Rolla and Painkiller with the latter being very much a heavy metal rather than a hard rock album.
In the late 1970s the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal went through something of an explosion and in some sense cemented the idea of heavy metal being its own genre and a very popular one at that. The key bands here were Iron Maiden, Saxon, Samson, Tygers of Pan Tang and so on. As I mentioned, this was the time at which metal became really popular and this definitely marks the sub genre of metal that should be referred to as heave metal per se (sometimes heavy metal is used as an umbrella term but I am not in favor of that - historically it should refer to the 1980s British new wave, sometimes abbreviated NWOBHM). Since Iron Maiden is my favorite band I can’t skip over noting that they were definitely the most influential and are the only band still putting out high quality material despite adopting a more progressive sound. On top of Bruce Dickinson’s vocal range, Iron Maiden has always been distinguished by complex solos often following each other and very polished lyrical content drawing from mythology and classical literature.
I guess one of the side effects of heavy metal being so popular was the development of glam (hair) metal in the United States which was all about big hair and glitter while the music was more formulaic and less heavy (or harsh or raw or however you want to qualify that). I guess the representative band here is Motley Crue.
In some sense thrash metal was a response to this sort of artificialness that some recognized in glam metal. This is definitely one of the things that inspired a lot of the work on Metallica’s debut “Kill ‘Em All” and is evident, for instance, in the lyrics for “Whiplash” (my personal favorite of the album) or “Motorbreath”. In general, Metallica is considered to be one of the Great Four of thrash metal together with Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth. The debut albums of all of these bands are considered to be representative of what thrash metal is all about with a necessary mention of Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” as another cult album. I guess this is also a good place to mention that only the first four of Metallica’s albums (“Kill ‘Em All”, “Ride the Lightning”, “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice for All”) are taken to be thrash meta canon while their later works have been influenced by other metal genres (and disappointing for the vast majority of people). Thrash metal is faster and more raw than heavy metal, the vocals are closer to growling or screaming than to any variety of melodic, clean singing and the lyrical themes are less poetic. A lot of thrash metal today is kind of formulaic and not very exciting anymore but occasionally there are gems that disprove this kind of preconceived notion. My recent favorite is Vektor.
I think at this point it kind of becomes hard to present the development of different genres in some sort of linear, sequential order so I’m just going to briefly mention a couple of others with some representative bands. I am far from being an expert on most of these so take my judgement with a grain of salt.
Death metal emerged in the late 1980s through the work of bands such as Death, Morbid Angle and Deicide. It’s marked by harsh growl vocals, blast beat drumming and a fair dose of atonality. While the previously listed bands are all American, death metal really flourished in Sweden with bands such as Entombed and Unleashed and in the early 1990s it spawned the Gothenburg school or melodic death metal pioneered by Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates and In Flames (as with Metallica, this goes for the early albums, pretty much anything after “Clayman” is iffy at best). Melodic death metal sound as the name suggest - it keeps the growling vocals of death metal and its sense of assault and power but it sometimes employs keyboards, more melodic riffs and occasionally clean singing. I guess another band to be mentioned as in between these genres (with some black metal influences) is Children of Bodom. Also, Arch Enemy which has a female vocalist with a most excellent growl.
Black metal was conceived in Norway in the early 1990s by bands such as Burzum, Emperor, Darkthrone, Mayhem and Immortal. Black metal is generally less complex and more lo-hi than death metal even though the overall style and the singing are roughly similar. The themes in black metal are often pagan, Satanic, anti-Christian and misanthropic. Legally, some black metal pioneers have been charged with arson of churches. The scene used to also be distinguished by the typical “corpse paint” make-up. My exposure to black metal has really been minimal and its not a sub genre that appeals to me much but I guess Emperor’s “Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise” is a pretty awesome album and I also happen to have a soft spot for Wolves in the Throne Room which is a more nature oriented, atmospheric black metal band from Washington state.
Groove metal was in some sense another response to glam metal (Pantera pretty much started out as a glam metal band) and it was spearheaded by Pantera and is now used as a term describing Pantera, Sepultura and occasionally Lamb of God. It is a fine mix of thrash and death metal with some variety of hardcore music in the sense that the solos are less complex and the breakdowns somewhat more slow and once can probably get the best grasp on it by listening to Pantera’s “Cowboy’s from Hell” or “Vulgar Display of Power”. Pantera and its Dimebag Darell have a cult status with respect to inviting and championing groove metal. Phil Anselmo now sings for Down which is much closer to sludge metal and stoner rock and Vinnie Paul plays drums for Hellyeah which is some attempt at groove metal but mostly boring.
Progressive metal is really an umbrella term for the newer varieties of metal that mix the traditional sound whatever given metal sub genre with jazz or pseudo-classical, or electronic styles. The one big example that always gets brought up is Tool with important albums being “Aenema” and “Lateralus”. As for other progressive bands on the more death metal inspire side there is some of Opeth’s work, some things Devin Townsend has done, and bands such as Meshuggah (which has exploded in the past couple of years and is now generally described as “djent” or technical or math metal) or Gojira (again, they are often classified as technical or math metal but I am using a very, very broad definition or what progressive refers to here). I guess intimately related in the sense of breaking away from traditional structures of metal music is post-metal with notable bands being ISIS (try “Oceanic” or “Celestial”), Godflesh, Neurosis, and Cult of Luna (“Vertikal” and “Eternal Kingdom” are pretty amazing).
I think that leaves drone, doom and sludge metal which are two more genres on which I don’t have a perfectly good grasp but which are definitely aptly described by their names. Drone metal is slow and incorporates lots of well, drone sounds, and guitar feedback. Boris’s “Feedbacker” or “Flood” are great examples. Other important drone metal bands are Sun 0))), Earth and Jesu. Sludge metal incorporates similar influences with additions of grunge and noise rock instead of the more machine-like drone sounds and is typically more harsh and abrasive. Melvins and Eyehategod are probably the most representative examples. Finally, doom metal is marked by slower tempos and a “thick” sound. The name was in some sense created with Black Sabbath in mind since the prototype for this sound was found in songs such as “Black Sabbath” and “Electric Funeral”. There’s a variety of cross-overs between doom metal and other genres so I’m just going to mention classic bands such as Saint Vitus and Candlemass. Two of the bands that I like that are somewhere in between sludge and doom metal are Kylesa and Royal Thunder.
I guess this is probably a more extensive overview than necessary so I’m just going to, again, emphasize that some of these classifications are necessarily subjective so that I shouldn’t be taken as an unquestionable authority of sub genres of metal. I think the best way to get to know more about the genre is really to Google around the bands that you enjoy and pick up on similar artists as well as the cultural and historical context. Having a Last.fm account might help too.
Here’s my Last.fm http://www.last.fm/user/Ironmely so feel free to add me.
(I’m sorry if this is way too long - I kind of can’t stop talking when it comes to music)
i am in love with two people. one is you. the other one is also you, but from an alternate timeline with dragons.
To the anon that asked about metal…I will answer sometime today I promise, I just need to get through some studying first
the best thing about taking exams in college is that once you’re done you can leave right away to go cry