I’ve been asked quite a few questions regarding my musical tastes over on my ask.fm so I’ve taken the time to write this little piece to help those of you who are curious to understand the musical genre that fascinates me like no other: Heavy Metal.
I love Heavy Metal.
It’s a genre of music that takes rock’s love for rebellion, the misery & anger of the blues, the virtuosity of classical composers, and puts them all in a blender, adding a good measure of edginess with a light touch of jazz’s experimental side. It’s a kind of music that ranges from the light ballads of the ‘80s Glam Metal scene to the dark growls of Black Metal.
If you’ve never really listened to any metal, diving in at random is probably not an option for you because you wouldn’t know whether to start with Power Metal or Death Metal and what the difference between the two are.
(This family tree shows a few metal bands but also lacks the inclusion of newer metal styles like nu metal, djent, metalcore, grindcore, deathcore, Japanese Technical Metal, etc.)
Luckily for you, I am here to help you discover the widely different sounds of metal and to show you a kind of brutal beauty that is rarely found in the safe world of pop. And if you’re curious about what are some of my favorite Metal (and a few non-Metal) songs of all time, here’s a link to my Spotify playlist that I will be updating as time goes on.
Amaranth – Nightwish
Among the most palatable subgenres of metal are Glam Metal and the more obscure to the outside world, Power Metal. Both genres come directly from hard rock and are mostly distinguishable by lyric content and aesthetic. Where Glam is about partying and men looking like femmes, Power metal is focused on fantasy and uplifting music.
Power metal singers are among the most operatic of metal, and Amaranth is a perfect demonstration of this. The most famous of Power Metal songs is Through the Fire and Flames by Dragonforce which was included in Guitar Hero 3. Another important thing to note with the genre is that it has a lot of female vocalists, giving it a much softer sound than most other metal.
Bonus Power Metal with the stereotypical opening “AAAAAAAAA”:
Diary of Jane – Breaking Benjamin
We’re moving on to Hard Rock, a genre that, despite not having the metal suffix, is metal (at least in my book, the only one which counts). Think of hard rock as the stepping stone between metal and rock, a genre that has one foot in both styles. This genre was extraordinarily popular with the emo kids of the 2000s (I was one of those cringy kids) who wanted something with more bite than My Chemical Romance but not at the level of a Slayer.
This song features a pretty tame version of a growl right before the chorus, a kind of vocal that is extremely popular in heavy metal and is the biggest barrier to entry for most people when listening to it. Hard Rock sometimes features a mix of clean vocals (regular singing) and growls (when it sounds like the cookie monster from Sesame Street) or screams (it’s literally screaming), though clean vocals will always be more prevalent.
Bonus Hard Rock that borders on Metalcore:
Pisces (Live Session) – Jinjer
This next song is really hard to define musically, so it gets the same label that any music that is hard to categorize receives: progressive. Progressive music is characterized by longer compositions, frequent changes in tempo and rhythm as well as being extremely experimental. It’s extremely common for someone listening to any kind of progressive music and to realize that they’ve been listening to the same song for the last ten minutes. Any kind of music can be progressive, from prog rock to progressive house.
Pisces is the first song I will show you that uses growls to their full extent. It is also a song that demonstrates one of the greatest vocal ranges I’ve ever heard. Not only can the singer for Jinjer hit the high notes every modern musical act can hit but she can also hit the low growls that Heavy Metal is known for. This song also features great use of contrast between the down-tempo, calm grooves and the high-energy power of anger.
Bonus completely different style of Progressive Metal:
The Machine – Born of Osiris
Moving away from the sweet melodies and the artistry that is the progressive metal of Jinjer, we enter the most popular genre of modern metal: djent. Djent is defined by heavy use of staccato, which means that instead of notes fading into one another, each individual note is separated from the others by a short pause. Another cool thing about djent is the use of uncommon guitar/bass variants. A normal guitar has 6 strings, a djent guitar needs at least 7 (normal basses use 4 strings, djent basses use 5). These extra strings are used to create really deep-sounding guitar parts and bass parts that make the djent sound.
If you’re still not sure what I’m referring to with by “the djent sound”, wait until the guitars start and listen to the rhythm guitar (at 00:24 in the video). The guitar is used to play a burst of notes before quieting down again. Another interesting thing about djent is the use of electronic elements. Djent bands are not afraid to combine metal with electronica, creating something new and exciting in the process.
BonusDjent song featuring one of the hardest drum songs to play live:
The Smoke of Many Fires – Be’Lakor
Now we move on to one of my personal favorite genres of heavy metal, one that combines the beauty of classical composition with the brutal sound of metal: Progressive Death Metal (sometimes called Symphonic Death Metal). Death metal started as an attempt to make the already brutal sound of Thrash Metal and take it up a notch. Death Metal gets its name from the band Death, who were the pioneers of the genre. The progressive aspect, which I mentioned already, takes this brutal beast and tames it with musical virtuosity. Death Metal has no clean vocals, only growls and screams.
The Smoke of Many Fires is incredible. It shows my favorite part of metal, which is the beauty that can be found in brutality, the birth of something beautiful in the midsts of ugliness. Despite being dark and featuring rough growls, it is still a song you can listen to and feel powerful, like a mighty warrior about to face off against an opponent on the field of combat. The song also tells a story, which is an ancient tradition in songwriting that is severely underused in today’s songs.
Bonus Symphonic Death Metal/Viking Metal:
Kult Ov Azazel – Anguish Brought To Heaven
Where Death metal at least tries to be musical, Black Metal doesn’t give a fuck. Black Metal is the punk of metal: it rejects general good taste, quality recordings, aesthetic ideals of any kind to instead focus on being as edgy as possible. Black Metal bands are the ones who will wear face paint, worship satan and burn churches down. They are the kid who tries way too hard and as a result, I just can’t take them seriously. If you can make it through this last track without suffering too much, you can listen to most metal without any problems.
This track is well-produced and very clean sounding for black metal and is amongst the most approachable black metal songs I’ve heard. If you really want to experience the “Tru Kult” sound, youtube black metal garage bands and the fewer views the “more tru kult” the band.