Identifying as a metalhead is part of a very complex equation. What type of metalhead are you? Let’s look at some heavy metal subgenres to see if any of these resonate…
The most basic of heavy metal subgenres. You don’t want any Fancy Dan sauce on your food, you like things just the way they are.
When Black Sabbath are that perfect, why deviate too much? They say you can only trust yourself and the first six Black Sabbath albums with good reason, you know…
You recognise our Lord and saviour Ronnie James Dio and his impenetrable works with Dio and Rainbow. As the inventor of the devil-horns hand gesture, he’s responsible for giving more of us the horn than we are willing to admit.
The only acceptable blasphemy in the face of traditional heavy metal is the worship of – ahem – JUDAS PRIEEEEEEEEEST! Do not try this screeching at home. It can lead to dizzyness, light-headed spells and the purchase of more leather and studs than Lady Gaga at a Harley Davidson Appreciation Night.
Drugs are bad, everyone. Unless marijuana is legal in your part of the world, in which case: congrats! Stick a Kyuss album on and enjoy a warm welcome to the deepest and warmest of heavy metal subgenres: the sounds of stoner rock, maaaaaaan…
Go deep into the realms of stoner rock to find elongated passages of hypnotic grooves and all of the viiiibes as you get lost in the likes of Sleep, Earth and Sunn O))). But don’t be fooled. This particular strain of rock comes in many guises…
Combining a unique desert vibe with a penchant for popping a little junk in that trunk, Queens Of The Stone Age have covered more experimental ground than most bands to ever plug into amps.
From mood pieces and wizard levels of groove manipulation through surf rock, funk, punk and whatever else is at hand, Queens are one of the world’s most beloved acts for good reason.
Hey! Look! More genius from Josh Homme. Oh, you want to use the comments section to argue with us? Go ahead but it’s you versus “No One Knows.”
If you like QOTSA, go searching for some Clutch, a little Monster Magnet, maybe you could get Down with… er… Down. (Sorry.) Or tap into to new albums from Black Moth (Anatomical Venus) or contemporary stoner heavyweights The Sword (Used Future), and follow the smoke signals towards stoner rock’s future.
SLAYEAAAAAARGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! (Come on, like there was any other way to start this.) Faster than being smashed in the face continuously by Bambi’s rabbit pal; more out of control than your psychopathic, alcoholic uncle after he’s been in the toilet too long; and one of the most adrenalised moments in the history of rock music, thrash metal – and, specifically, the Big Four – blazed a trail so white hot that, three and a half decades later, metal is still in shock from it.
Slayer best personify what this most brutal of heavy metal subgenres is about. Heavy as an anvil dropping on your head, rarely firing on anything less than 180mph, Satan and death looming all over their work – and even the time they spend in the “real world” – their outlook is on the destruction of mankind on every conceivable, catastrophic level. Zero compromise, hail Satan. That they are going to make serial killers cry when they play their final shows in the near future tells you everything you need to know about the legacy of brutality they leave in their wake. Do not miss those shows.
Anthrax brought something entirely unique to the party. The word “fun” is frowned upon in metal, but blasting out liquid-hot metal in Technicolor, rocking board shorts and screaming about the policing problems in Mega City One, Anthrax brought that party better than anyone ever did. That they also toughened up, got gritty and roared into the 21st Century, powered by John Bush’s world-class vocals on We Have Come For You All, it all adds up to Anthrax being one of, if not the single most underrated metal band of all time.
We don’t like start arguments on That’s Not Metal (we totally do), but here is one for you: Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine is the most important person in the history of thrash metal. He was part of the formation and nucleus of the band we are going to discuss next. His technicality is the benchmark for anyone who dares to enter this genre and call themselves a shredder, meaning that Megadeth couldn’t just play as fast as anyone in the game, they could do it with a mind-bending, time-signature-humping pizzazz that was beyond anyone. Kerry King nearly ended up in his band. For the purity of the genre, he’s the patron saint of thrash metal. Anyone wanna argue? Can you put a price on peace?!
We left them till last because they’re the best. Sorry, everyone. If Black Sabbath invented heavy metal, Metallica perfected it. They’re not only the best thrash band of all time, they’re the best heavy metal band of all time, which makes them the best group of people to ever plug into amps and sit behind a drum kit as a unit to record sound together ever, ever, ever; and this writer loves them more than you love anything. Birth, school, Metallica, death.
Faith No More are as famous for covering Commodores as they are for defecating on heavy metal’s rulebook.
A metal band with cheerleader chants about oral sex, or lounge songs, or Bee Gees covers or… Ah, forget it. This is the real alternative in metal. Rules? What rules?
Of all the heavy metal subgenres, alternative metal is a playground where the freaks run wild and the oddball leanings of Melvins can slappa dat bass with Primus against all manner of other weird and wonderful rock chameleons to shift more albums before or since.
Arguably the biggest alternative metal story comes in the shape of an eight-legged, Armenian-American wrecking machine with a political rage against propaganda and sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates. Their mix of nu metal zeitgeist, the eastern flair of their homeland put through a filter of Dead Kennedys, KISS, Mr Bungle and all sorts of weirdness can only be described as System Of A Down. Platinum against all convention, that is an alternative to the bulls__t you’re served.
Following in the footsteps of the mighty Black Sabbath, doom metal is an ode to their thrilling, chilling brand of low-end, gut-rumbling pace. If thrash metal feels like being run over by a heard of rhinos, doom is like being run over by a steamroller… really… really… slowly…
A bedfellow of stoner rock, doom metal strived for that same state of hypnosis but will use heavier sounds; bigger, more lumbering riffs; anvil-heavy playing that’s never too abrasive. It’s weird. Listen to the 21st-century output of Candlemass. It’s a trip.
It’s also a 70s-friendly sound that’s unique among heavy metal subgenres for having always been female-friendly in an overly male-dominated landscape. Be it Coven’s wailing and bell-bottom swinging vibes, Jex Thoth’s sludgy brand of Jefferson Airplane radness, or modern-day warriors such as King Woman or the slightly more Technicolor approach of Purson, there’s an awful lot of kick-ass metal with a feminine edge to celebrate here.
To throw this a little out of left field: Glenn Danzig’s satanic flair is pivotal in people’s first steps towards the likes of Type O Negative and so on. Danzig’s low end, sexual grooves mixed with hellacious imagery, and an almost mystical grasp for macabre lyrical storytelling mean their first two albums are a sensational introductory point for testing if doom metal’s dexterity and sense-tickling groove is a rabbit hole you would like to burrow down.
One of the few heavy metal subgenres willing to embrace the chin-stroking, time-signature-bending world of prog rock and give it a wilder side. For fans of: putting a track on, doing the washing up and then having 20 mins left on Side One, Track One.
The musicianship is unparalleled as Tool take you on a wondrous journey of self-discovery through huge hooks and mind-bending virtuosity; Opeth can blend the savagery of death metal with the Hammond-organ-massacring vibes of the 70s; and Dream Theater can create songs longer than TV shows. Their longest track is 42 mins long. It ain’t Napalm Death, basically.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to consider with prog is how it’s translating to a mass youth audience without it being obvious. Avenged Sevenfold have always had ties to prog metal, from employing former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy to the elongated running times of some of their tracks. But on their latest album, The Stage, the band took their sound into deeper progressive terrains than ever before. Concepts about space and the endless possibilities of AI, both exhilarating and T-1000-shaped terrifying, bend against the most complex and musically ambitious compositions of the band’s already gothic chameleon back catalogue.
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