What Is Metal Music?

by Mark Cridland 2 years ago in metal

What exactly is Metal?

What Is Metal Music?

Well, "loud," "fast," "a load of screaming & shouting," "the devil's music," and simply "noise" are some of the most common answers you will get when you ask the public what they think metal music is.This, of course, is all just personal opinion and far from the truth. Any real metal fan will go into detail and show their passion for the genre. Before we go any further, I must put the story straight on fashion. I see so many people (usually teens and early twenty-somethings), wearing band apparel with no clue on who the band are, let alone be fans. Metal is not fashionable, it is all about the music.

To be able to answer the question "What Is Metal Music?" we need to explore the origins of metal.

Metal is a type of rock music that first appeared and became popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the UK (we Brits claim responsibility for all the good stuff). Taking its origins from the blues rock & psychedelic rock, the first bands to trial it used highly amplified guitar distortion, extended guitar solos, heavy drum beats, aggressive vocals, and they turned the volume up to eleven!

The first bands that made metal popular were: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple back in 1968. These first bands were attacked in a big way by the music critics of the time due to the fact that they were "ruining the music scene" and "bastardising blues rock." If you were to ask anyone on the street, they would have heard of every single one of those bands, proving that their legacy continues to this day. Was the original fame down to the musicianship or the rebellious nature of those purchasing their music, we shall never know.

During the 1970s, Judas Priest came along and stripped out the blues influence of metal to change the sound. Then came Motorhead who brought a punk element to metal, making it fast and loud, which Iron Maiden and Saxon also adopted into their sound. It was during the seventies that the terms 'Metalheads' and 'Headbangers' were first used to describe the fans of metal music.

Then we had the eighties which born into the world the 'glam' style music which bands such as Poison and Def Leppard used in their music to create the interesting concept of glam metal. Thankfully, underground scenes were raising in popularity, bringing us more aggressive styles of metal and a number of sub-genres with it. These included thrash, and death & black metal. The popular bands that were rising from these underground scenes were the likes of Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Death, Immortal, and Mayhem.

Moving on towards the nineties, other sub-genres were being invented. Groove metal is one of great significance as it is played at a slower rate than the usual run of the mill metal. Notable bands of groove metal are Pantera, Sepultura, and Lamb Of God. The late nineties and the turn of the millennium gave birth to a very popular sub-genre of metal, still extremely popular now, called Nu-Metal. Played by bands such as Korn, Slipknot, Linkin Park, P.O.D., and Papa Roach.

Many people are claiming that the inventor and Godfather of heavy metal music is the former guitarist of Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi. Whether this is true or not, I simply do not know.

I asked on Facebook for opinions on what people think metal music is and I was surprised to see what their views were....

"Rock music with the gain turned up?"

"Metal has a faster bpm than rock, but not as fast as thrash"

"To me, metal is just another name for heavy rock."

"A loud racket!"

"When rock music makes your head go back and forth more than the rest of you"

"To me, heavy metal music is music mostly based on guitars with a heavy tone, aggressive but melodic as well in some cases. I'd say if a song that mostly features guitars with a hard beat could be considered as heavy metal"

This is just a small section of people that I asked the question of and I still got a variety of answers. Some other interesting comments came from suggesting that be Metal you have to look Metal; meaning that band members have to dress in a particular fashion, have as many tattoos and piercings as possible and look mean just to be accepted as Metal...

"To be honest so much of what is 'metal' now has little to do with musical style as much what clothes you wear, how many tattoos you have and, super importantly, which demographic you are being marketed at."

I totally get where this person is coming from as record labels and band management are being forced to select the bands they represent, not simply by their music, but also how the band look and whether their image will be accepted into the scene or not. Does the lead singer look mean enough? Does he/she have enough visible tattoos and piercings? Is the visible image of a band really as important as their sound in modern times? Well, I am going to leave the image 'needed' in music for another article.

These recent sub-genres of metal are numerous, but I will discuss a few of them.

Thrash metal is very fast with high-intensity drumming and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead guitars. Featuring lyrics written about current social issues in the anti-establishmentarian style of hardcore punk music. Slayer and Anthrax come under this banner.

Death metal usually involves heavily distorted and low-tuned guitars played with techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking, deep growling vocals and aggressive, powerful drumming featuring double kick and blast beat techniques. The vocals are usually violent, often depicting gory procedures and acts. This is the subgenre of metal that some people called demonic and scary. Bands such as Napalm Death, In Flames & Canible Corpse are classed as Death Metal.

Djent metal is defined by it's distinctive high-gain, distorted, palm-muted, low-pitch guitar. Originally conceived by the guitarist of Swedish Metal band Meshuggah, Fredrik Thordendal. Other notable bands in this subgenre are SixTh & TesseracT.

There are also variations of metal such as metalcore which is a mix of hardcore rock, rap, and metal; screamcore which is an emo-,etal mix with screaming lyrics involved and even a genre called mathcore which sounds like it should be at school but actually has very complex dissonant riffs and a lot of tempo changes, utilising the speed and aggression of hardcore punk.

The general consensus from the general public is that metal is rock but with a faster BPM (Beats Per Minute) and much louder.

So, with all of this history in Metal, what really is Metal music now in 2018? We have seen the rise of sub-genres and even sub-sub-genres, which basically means that almost anything can be called Metal as long as it's fast, aggressive, and loud.

As someone said to me recently at a gig, "Metal is Life!" \m/

metal
Mark Cridland
Mark Cridland
Read next: Jay Z: From Worst to Best
Mark Cridland

Music Industry Journalist & Radio Presenter

See all posts by Mark Cridland