Lesson 2, Part 1: Metal Subgenres
As I implied last time, metal as a genre encompasses a very broad range of music. Due to this amazing diversity, most metal fans and bands have deemed it necessary to create a number of subgenres in an effort to create a sort of taxonomy with which to classify songs and bands that exist in the metal umbrella. In the research I conducted, I was able to discover 56 separate subgenres, from symphonic metal to avant garde metal, to black metal to glam metal. The sheer number of subgenres and the ability to create “fusion” genres from any other two can result in a pedantic overload of definition (“Uum, we actually play melodic progressive avant-gardecore”). Nevertheless, subgenres tend to be a good thing, allowing people to put a name to the sounds they appreciate the most.
I’d feel irresponsible if I were to bore you with all 56 at once. It is for this reason that I’ve decided to split this lesson into three parts: This week I’ll present you with what I consider to be the lighter half of metal – less gore and more Lord of the Rings. Next week I’ll talk about darker metal (the seedy underbelly of the metal scene,) and the following week I will discuss alternative metal (lyrically mainstream, musically different.)
Some of my youtube links died last time, so instead I’ve put together a Grooveshark playlist for the songs listed in this lesson. Every subgenre has two songs on this playlist that exemplify the genre.
Classic Heavy Metal: Classic heavy metal is what heavy metal was before heavy metal needed subgenres. Rarely do newer bands fit in this category, but occasionally hard rock bands or lighter heavy metal bands that don’t fit anywhere else will earn this label. Two examples of classic heavy metal include Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and Kiss’s “Strutter” – both are metal, but neither really fit anywhere else.
NWOBHM: New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM, is a faster, darker, more aggressive version of classic heavy metal. Like its calmer counterpart, NWOBHM tends to be era specific – encompassing a good portion of the 1980’s. Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” and Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” are perfect examples of NWOBHM.
Speed Metal: Evolved from NWOBHM, speed metal is just that – faster, more aggressive metal music. “Gandalf’s Rebirth” by Lucifer’s Heritage and the instrumentals behind DragonForce’s “Through the Fire and the Flames” represent the technical superiority and style of the speed metal subgenre.
Thrash Metal: While speed metal got its technical superiority, Thrash also took the dissonance and slightly darker lyrical focus of NWOBHM, mixed it with early hardcore punk, and created a new subgenre. Megadeath, Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax are the most important names in this sound, granting them the title of the “Big Four” of thrash. Megadeath’s “Symphony of Destruction” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” are great examples of thrash metal
Glam Metal: While most of the above tend to be all black leather and studs, glam metal is lots of animal print and feather boas. Glam metal tends to have more in common with classic heavy metal than NWOBHM or its other predecessors, but with its flamboyant fashion and easily attainable lyrical themes, glam sets itself apart by being one of the most mainstream subgenres. Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” (an older example) and The Darkness’s “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” (a newer example) both exemplify the sound and style of glam metal.
Neo-Classical Metal: The epic feel of metal music is often similar to symphonic classical music. This similarity is highlighted in neo-classical metal, a subgenre devoted to arranging preexisting classical pieces or writing their own. Neo-classical music rarely has lyrics, unless the classical pieces originally did. Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Arpeggios from Hell” and Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Carol of the Bells” are examples of original classical pieces and classical arrangements in the metal style.
Symphonic Metal: Using neo-classical as a basis for musicality, symphonic metal is a combination of classical music and lyrics inspired by literature or poetry. Operatic vocals often accompany and compliment the melodic instruments. Dark Moor’s cover of “Mr. Crowley” and “Amaranth” by Nightwish show this juxtaposition of classical and metal music.
Power Metal: My absolute favorite subgenre, power metal represents a very epic approach to metal music. Using melodic tones and vocals, power metal’s music sounds like something you’d hear in the trailer for an action movie. The lyrics for power metal are often about the world of the fantastic, often drawing on mythology or the works of Tolkien, but this is not a requirement. Sabaton’s “Primo Victoria” and Dio’s “Holy Diver” typify power metal.
Folk Metal: Inspired by traditional folk music and lore, folk metal as a subgenre meshes traditional metal sound with fable-esque lyrics and folksy instruments like the violin or the hurdy gurdy. Folk metal is often region-specific, but traditional folk metal usually refers to folk metal from Northern Europe. “Pellonpekko” by Korpiklaani and “Trollhammaren” by Fintroll both show this mixture of Northern European folk and metal.
Celtic Metal: A regional variant of folk metal, Celtic metal highlights the stories and instruments of Ireland and other Western European areas. Celtic metal tends to eschew weirder string instruments and combines violin with Irish flutework. “Some Say the Devil is Dead” by Cruachan and “Heathen Tribes” by Primordial are the two Celtic metal songs I picked to represent this sound.
Medieval Metal: While “medieval” tends to refer to a specific era, medieval metal refers more specifically to Germanic folk metal. While it doesn’t seem all that “brutal” or “kvlt,” medieval metal does occasionally use bagpipes with their other metal and folk instruments. Medieval metal is typically more melodic than the other types of folk metal, as seen (heard?) in “Kleid aus Rosen” by Subway to Sally and “Traumtänzer” by Schandmaul.
Prehispanic Metal: The final variant of folk metal, prehispanic metal draws from pre-European Latin American cultures for its influence. No European strings in this music – instead, prehispanic metal utilizes flutes to the highest extent, supporting the Latin American vibe. “New Eldorado” by Tierramystica and “Dinastia Entre las Nubes” by Aztra help to show off this combination of flute and guitar work (Jethro Tull would be so proud).
Progressive Metal: Like progressive rock, the progressive metal sound changes over time (to some extent). The general idea of technical superiority, however, is common throughout. While often fast and dissonant, progressive metal sets itself apart from avant garde metal (we’ll talk about this later) by still having some sort of flow or structure, no matter how complex it may be. Lyrically, similar to its rock predecessor, progressive metal often explores philosophy more so than anything else. “On the Backs of Angels” by Dream Theater and “Juular” by the Devin Townsend Project are two very different songs that could both be considered progressive metal.
Christian Metal: The only thing that separates Christian metal and any other type of metal is lyrical influence. Just like Christian rock, Christian metal – while musically similar – is separated from its other related subgenres due to its religious influence. While both of my examples are considered Christian metal, “To Hell with the Devil” by Stryper is also glam metal, whereas “Psalm 9” by Trouble is doom metal.
Unblack Metal: Unblack metal is the Christian version of black metal. The funny thing about this lyric and genre pairing is that black metal tends to be one of the most antagonistic genres – promoting anti-Semitism, anti-theism, and the less constructive ideals behind paganism. While polar opposites lyrically, both black and unblack metal have the aggressive music and screamed vocals. If you want to hear unblack metal, check out “Invert the Inverted Cross” by Horde and “Fall of Man” by Vaakevandring.
Pick one subgenre from above, find a song by a band not on the playlist, and post it below!