Short Guide to Understanding Heavy Metal Music

September 24, 2016

Musical Short

What is Heavy Metal?

The definition of Heavy Metal can be both huge and ambiguous. There are so many different bands labeled in different metal sub-genera that are virtually impossible to follow them all. So, we can get to a point where we could ask: what heavy metal is. Is it loud guitars with distortion (just like rock n roll)?, pounding bass and drums (like dance music)?, a certain rhythm (different rhythms are used in different sub genera)?, an attitude?(we could argue that Madonna has the metal attitude). In general terms, Heavy Metal is a combination of everything we mentioned and more; therefore definitions should be left out of the equation. The word that best describes Heavy Metal is “lifestyle”. A metal fan lives metal, and basically stays as a metal head for ever. The reason for this has been researched by science (just type heavy metal articles and you’ll see), but for the metal fan definitions are not important (although we categorized bands by sub genera).

How to learn about the genera?

The best way to understand what Heavy Metal is, should be to listen to good references. If you don’t know anything about it and wish to start, read reviews (there are several web pages that can help you in this task). If you do know something about it, share it with other people and let them know what good examples of records and bands are available.

I suggest to start with late 60’s, early 70’s hard edgier music like the Doors and Hendrix, then work your way up in time with Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Rush, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. For the late 70’s and early 80’s the references are Punk rock bands like The Clash, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, along with AC/DC and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon, Deff Leppard; etc.). In the Late 80’s you should look for the Glam Metal movement (Mötley Crüe, Poison, Ratt, Bon Jovi , Guns n Roses and Dokken), and the Trash Metal scene with Slayer, Megadeth, Testament, Anthrax and Metallica music. The early 90’s saw the Grunge movement surface with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and Alice in Chains. Additionally the Alternative Hard Rock Music became mainstream in the early 90’s with bands like Faith No More and Tool and underground the Power, Death and Black Metal scenes grew strong (specially in Europe) with bands like Helloween, Gamma Ray for Power Metal; Death, Cannibal Corpse for Death Metal; and Dimmu Borgir and Emperor for Black Metal.

The late 90’s and 2000’s has seen a mixture of many influences for the mainstreams movements like Nu Metal (Limp Bizkit, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park, Disturbed), and Metal Core (Trivium, Mudvayne, Bullet for My Valentine).

As you can see there are many bands and many sub genera and is virtually impossible to mention everyone, therefore there are many opinions where each band should be categorized. The best advise if you wish to learn is to listen to the bands and make your own opinion about what is really Heavy Metal.

How to approach Heavy Metal?

Metal music is free, so should be you. An open mind is fundamental to start listening to it. You should not be analytic at first, just try to find what are your preferences (remember, there are a lot of sub genera). A very important fact is that you are not going to be able to listen to every band there is, try to get the better ones from many sub genera and start from there.

Where can I learn about the bands, genera, albums, etc.?

There are many web pages and documentaries about the subject. You just search for Heavy Metal music on the Internet and you should get all the information you need. There are also many magazines specialized in general music and/or metal music that you can look for.

Omar Rodriguez has a Ph.D. in Marine Biology and has been collecting rock music for 27 years. If you want more information or comments you can visit:

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