A Pocket Guide to Metal Subgenres

By Martin Silbiger
Thursday August 26, 2010

(Some header image made by Amanda here...lost to the ages.)

Metal as a genre has largely faded from the zeitgeist of popular culture since the days when Metallica and Iron Maiden were in heavy rotation on the radio. However, it secretly lives on, branching out into obscure subgenres in a quest to create the heaviest music known to man. Did you miss out on its evolution? Metal ignorance is no longer acceptable — Pitchfork reviews metal, and even the NYTimes likes to ride the doom train.

Whether you’re ready to step into the darkness, or you just need to boost your music cred, here’s a quick run-down of some of the more obscure metal genres, ranked roughly by their resemblance to ‘pop music’ that you’ve heard on the ‘radio’, from least to most intense.

Neo-Thrash Metal — Kind of an under-used term referring to music rooted in metalcore, but with more of the fiery riffage of thrash bands of old. Also clearly influenced by Melodic Death Metal. The difference between metalcore and neo-thrash is more one of fashion; metalcore is more punk/hardcore while neo-thrash bands embrace black T-shirts and long hair. Both follow traditional song structures and care a lot about their MySpace friend count. (Medeia, Dagoba)

pinnastorm-tiny Stoner/Sludge/Doom Metal — Bands that rip off Sabbath, playing long (sometimes lazy) fuzzy riffs with a bit of swagger to them. While half the genres here are based around legitimately talented musicians playing metal concertos to showcase their skills, stoner/sludge/doom bands sound more like a couple friends got together to have a good time and *maybe* enjoy some illicit substances. (Bongripper, Electric Wizard, Floor)

Avant-garde / Jazz Metal — YES, JAZZ METAL EXISTS. Most of the time it’s free-jazz and fusion based, so I’m still holding out for some metal band to cover Kind of Blue in its entirety. (Ephel Duath, Atheist, Between the Buried and Me)

pinnastorm-tiny Green Metal — For those who choose to worship Mother Earth instead of Satan, green metal adds a touch of environmental consciousness to the usual crunching riffage. ‘Green’ is not so much a defined style as another adjective to other genres; you can have Green Melodic Death or Green Black Metal. Still with me? I like to imagine these bands booking gigs at vegan pot-lucks, but I guess the greenest bands are confined to playing acoustic shows in the woods. (Gojira, Wolves in the Throne Room)

Progressive Metal — Currently experiencing a revival, since Mastodon totally blew up and can somehow be simultaneously appreciated by hipsters and those who are TRUE. Prog-metal requires concept albums, songs over 10 minutes long, and complex harmonic/melodic progressions. You can have an excellent metalhead cocktail party conversation by exploring what makes Mastodon so much cooler than Dream Theater. (potential answers: irony, beards, lack of music degrees). (Mastodon, Baroness, American Heritage)

pinnastorm-tiny Post-Metal — A combination of post-rock and metal, “post-metal” is mostly instrumental and uses/abuses the dynamic build-up common to bands like Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky. If you’re looking for beauty hidden beneath noise, here’s where you’ll find it. You know you’re at a post-metal show by the high number of beards per capita. (Isis, Neurosis, This Will Destroy You)

Drone Metal / Dreamsludge — No lie, this stuff is INTENSE. You will actually feel like you are part of a Satanic ritual after listening to 20 minutes of low, bass-driven riffs with hardly any percussion and the occasional haunting moan. The most accessible drone band IMO is Growing, since one of their songs uses the melody from “Norwegian Wood,” slowed down about 800x. Pretty sure the goal of any drone band is to play around with low notes at maximum volume until they discover the legendary brown note. (ex. Earth, Sunn O))), Nadja)

pinnastorm-tiny Electronic Grindcore — You know how electro has ‘totally blown up’ these past couple years? Do you dig that dark, creepy electro vibe of bands like Crystal Castles and HEALTH? Well, guess what. Metal predicted this revolution years ago. Question: how do you take grindcore, already 100% brutal and insanely fast, and make it even faster? Answer: add electronic drums and crank up the BPMs. (Genghis Tron, Shemales from Outtaspace of Death, Noism)

Technical Death / Spaz Metal — This music always sounds like it’s on the border of completely losing control, yet it keeps going. These bands weave in and out of weird time signatures and completely shift dynamics on a dime. It’s easy to get lost in a song, forgetting whether you’re at the beginning or end. Seriously, listening to these bands is a workout; sometimes you need a little stoner metal to take your mind off it all. (ex. Anata, Hunab Ku, The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza)

pinnastorm-tiny Black Metal — A pretty diverse genre unto itself, black metal is characterized mainly by repetitive and frantic drum beats, strummed guitar chords and haunting lyrics about Satan and whatnot. But really, black metal is known for its practitioners who take the fantasy of metal and turn it into reality. Those crazy Norwegians, always burning churches, turning each others’ skulls into necklaces, and having death-threat-writing competitions that escalate in ways that no one could have predicted! Thanks a lot for taking yourselves so seriously, guys. Now my mom won’t let me go to shows by myself :( . Oh, and don’t even get me started on NSBM. (ex. Burzum, Altar of Plagues, Liturgy)

COMMENTS
Andrew McDermott (Reply)
This post just brightened up a bad day at work that I had been coping with by listening to copious amounts of High on Fire.
Brandon (Reply)
I think it’s worth mentioning that two of the most influential doom/stoner bands ever, the Obsessed and Pentagram, were from the D.C. area. Just saying.
Tybalt (Reply)
Being the only band mentioned on here that I kinda sometimes listen to and whatev, I’d say Between The Buried And Me aren’t really jazz metal. Meaning I hear no trace of jazz in their music whatsoever. But I DO think they’re vegans.
Martin (Reply)
@Tybalt: They’re prog-metal for sure, but they delve into jazz territory a whole lot:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19UZd_DKs2Q#t=3m55s
Their latest album is even jazzier.
Lara (Reply)
Wow that is almost exactly the same layout of subgenres of rock I wrote when I was 15. I swear it sounds as if the words were coming out of my brain...


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