Metal Sub-Genres 101

Metal has exploded in so many stylistic directions at once that it’s tough to keep track of what’s what. Enter the “sub-genre,” a shorthand term for a specific type of metal. Opinions on this topic differ; we consulted two diehard metalheads—Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster and Dethklok/Strapping Young Lad/Death/Fear Factory drummer Gene Hoglan—to offer some informed sub-genre guidelines.
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Metal has exploded in so many stylistic directions at once that it’s tough to keep track of what’s what. Enter the “sub-genre,” a shorthand term for a specific type of metal. Opinions on this topic differ; we consulted two diehard metalheads—Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster and Dethklok/Strapping Young Lad/Death/Fear Factory drummer Gene Hoglan—to offer some informed sub-genre guidelines.

Thrash Metal The “grandfather” style of most relevant metal today. Fast tempos, tightly muted unison riffing, standard tuning, vocals either sung or shouted. Origin examples: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer (a key bridge band between thrash and what became early death metal).

Death Metal A stronger, faster, darker version of thrash metal. Lower tunings, guttural growled vocals, blast beats, lyrics about gory subjects. Tremolo guitar picking, not always tight and muted. A huge swath of today’s metal. Often technical (see below). Origin examples: Cannibal Corpse, Death, Morbid Angel.

Black Metal Similar riffs to death metal, but with more standard tunings and higher-pitched screeching vocals. Lyrics about Satan and Valhalla. Often Norwegian. Sometimes involves wearing corpse paint. Origin examples: Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, Mayhem.

Technical Not a sub-genre, but a modifier that indicates difficult-to-play individual parts. Example: Necrophagist is “technical death metal.” So is Obscura, but they’re also progressive (see below).

Melodic Another key modifier indicating usage of diatonic (usually minor!) progressions and chord structures. Example: Dethklok’s music is melodic death metal. Can also indicate a vocal style (i.e. not growled), or a short passage employing diatonic systems. Example: “Check out the melodic breakdown in this tune.”

Metalcore A morphing, evolving hybrid of thrash and death metal mixed with hardcore punk. Can be technical. Vocals are a growl/shout mix. Often based in New England. Origin examples: Converge, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall.

Progressive Metal Employs longer song forms and more experimental styles. Can sometimes blur with the “technical” modifier, as progressive metal bands often have technical passages. Vocals can be anything. Origin examples: Cynic, Atheist, Watchtower, Symphony X.

Power Metal Features vocals sung (never growled) up high, keyboards, major chords, cyclical progressions, and extended guitar solos. Chord structures are more static than other sub-genres. Origin examples: Helloween, HammerFall, Nevermore.

Doom Metal Much slower tempos, lower tunings, thicker sound. Sounds like “a 45 RPM record played at 33.” Origin examples: Early Black Sabbath, Sleep, Trouble.

Extreme Metal A catch-all modifier that encompasses almost everything above, as well as hard-to-classify acts. Can include other modifiers. Example: Meshuggah can be called “technical extreme metal.”

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