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What Is Heavy Metal?

History Of Heavy Metal


Heavy Metal

To the uninitiated, any loud music is called heavy metal. In reality there are a multitude of heavy metal styles and subgenres. Heavy metal is a wide umbrella characterizing a style of music that is generally loud and aggressive. There are genres that are very melodic and mainstream, and other genres that are extreme and underground. Here's a brief overview of heavy metal and its many styles.


The term "heavy metal" was first used in a musical sense in the '60s song "Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf when they referred to "heavy metal thunder." Although there are debates among experts, most consider groups like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple to be the first heavy metal bands. From there the style evolved and branched into many different genres and subgenres. Heavy metal remains a vital force in music today, with sellout concert tours and CDs selling impressive numbers of copies without any radio airplay or MTV exposure.

Musical and Vocal Styles

The backbone of heavy metal is the electric guitar. You can't have metal without at least one guitarist, and many bands have two or more. Certain genres have some quiet and mellow parts, but most metal is loud, intense, fast and aggressive. The vocal styles in heavy metal range from melodic singing to aggressive singing to unintelligible screaming, depending on the genre.


At the beginning there was just traditional heavy metal. Shortly after it evolved and splintered into many different styles and subgenres. This site has a series of articles on many of the genres that will give you a more in-depth look at that particular type of metal. As time has gone on, there are literally hundreds of subgenres, but these are some of the main genres of heavy metal:

Avant Garde Metal
Also called experimental metal, it's characterized by unusual and nontraditional instruments and song structures.
Examples: Arcturus, Dog Fashion Disco, Mr. Bungle, Peccatum, Vintersorg

Black Metal
Characterized by high-pitched raspy vocals and pagan/satanic lyrical imagery. Symphonic black metal is a subgenre that uses keyboards and is more melodic.
Examples: Bathory, Burzum, Emperor, Mayhem, Venom

Celtic Metal
A combination of heavy metal and Celtic music with lyrics focusing on Celtic mythology.
Examples: Cruachan, Geasa, Waylander

Death Metal
An extreme form of the genre that uses distorted guitars and a growling vocal style sometimes described as "cookie monster" vocals.
Examples: Cannibal Corpse, Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel

Doom Metal
A genre that uses slower tempos and emphasizes gloomy, melancholy and atmospheric music. There are numerous subgenres of doom, including drone, epic, industrial, sludge and stoner.
Examples: Candlemass, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Solstice

Gothic Metal
A combination of the darkness and melancholy of goth rock with heavy metal. The lyrics tend to be epic and melodramatic. This is a genre that uses a lot of male/female vocal combinations with the male vocalist generally using more aggressive vocals and the female singing in an ethereal soprano.
Examples: Lacuna Coil, Leaves Eyes, Theatre Of Tragedy, Tristania.

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