The Complete A-Z of Heavy Metal Subgenres
Over 65 genres of heavy music
So, what is Heavy Metal music?
Metal is frequently acknowledged as a stronghold of sonic rebellion and artistic expression, representing a genre that flourishes due to its abundant diversity. From the relentless aggression of death metal to the grandeur of symphonic metal, metal's myriad of subgenres offer listeners a gauntlet of sounds, emotions, and themes. In this exploration, we delve deep into the labyrinthine world of metal music, shedding light on the different types that have emerged over the decades.
At its core, metal music is characterized by its amplified intensity, detailed instrumentation, and often profound lyrical themes. This genre, which first arose in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has evolved into a tapestry of subgenres, each with its own distinct characteristics and artistic visions. From its humble beginnings with bands like Black Sabbath to the creativity of modern metal, the genre's evolution has been relentless.
Types of Metal Music: A Sonic Spectrum
The panorama of metal music types is vast and varied, with subgenres as diverse as the human experience itself. From the ethereal soundscapes of atmospheric black metal to the unapologetic aggression of deathcore, metal's subgenres cater to a wide range of tastes and preferences. Let's embark on a journey through this sonic mosaic, exploring a multitude of genres, from alternative metal to viking metal, each with its unique flavors and influences.
Keep in mind that subgenres are subjective, and thus, many bands will cross over from genre-to genre, and some of these may overlap, and vary from region to region around the country, and the world. While this is the ultimate list, it can never be a definitive list, as new genres come and go, bubble up and fadeaway. This list attempts to cover the biggest metal subgenres you may, or may not have heard of that we think matter in the world of heavy music that we cover.
Alternative metal merges the energy of alternative rock with the heaviness of metal. Bands like System of a Down (pictured below) and Deftones embody this fusion, offering a balance between melody and heaviness. The subgenre incorporates diverse vocal styles, ranging from melodic singing to aggressive growls, and explores a wide spectrum of emotions and themes, often touching on personal struggles, social commentary, and introspection.
Atmospheric Black Metal
Atmospheric black metal aims to create immersive soundscapes within the framework of black metal. Bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch (pictured below) use captivating melodies, intricate guitar work, and dynamic shifts in mood to evoke a sense of atmosphere and depth. This subgenre often incorporates elements of nature and mysticism, transporting listeners to vast and evocative landscapes through their music.
Avantgarde Death Metal
Avant-garde death metal pushes the boundaries of the genre by introducing unconventional instrumentation and song structures. Portal and Gorguts (pictured below) are exemplars of this subgenre, challenging listeners with their experimental approach. Avant-garde death metal often features dissonant and complex compositions, unexpected shifts in mood, and an emphasis on creating a disorienting and thought-provoking sonic experience.
Avantgarde Metal is an experimental genre that pushes the boundaries of traditional metal. It incorporates elements of other genres, such as jazz, classical, and electronic music. Bands like Arcturus and Sigh (pictured below) are known for their unconventional song structures, unusual instrumentation, and eclectic soundscapes.
Beatdown Hardcore is a genre that incorporates elements of hardcore punk and metal. Known for its heavy and aggressive sound, bands like Bulldoze (pictured below) and Shattered Realm deliver bone-crushing breakdowns, groove-laden riffs, and lyrics addressing personal struggles and societal issues.
Blackgaze blends the intensity of black metal with the dreamy ambiance of shoegaze. Artists like Alcest and Deafheaven (pictured below) craft a unique sonic experience that's both ethereal and heavy. This fusion often incorporates tremolo-picked guitar melodies, atmospheric layers of sound, and emotionally charged vocals. Blackgaze explores themes of introspection, nature, and emotional catharsis, creating a juxtaposition of harshness and beauty.
Known for its raw and harsh sound, Black Metal emerged in the 1980s. The genre encompasses various subgenres, each with its own unique characteristics. From the ferocity of the first wave of Black Metal to the lofty symphonic elements of symphonic Black Metal, artists like Mayhem (pictured below) and Emperor have left an indelible mark on the genre.
Brutal Death Metal
Brutal Death Metal takes the extremity of Death Metal to another level with its focus on intense brutality. Bands like Cannibal Corpse (pictured below) and Suffocation are known for their crushing riffs, guttural vocals, and relentless blast beats. Lyrics often delve into themes of gore, violence, and the macabre.
Celtic metal, or Gaelic Metal, integrates traditional Celtic folk elements with metal sounds. Bands like Cruachan and Eluveitie (pictured below) incorporate folk instruments such as flutes, bagpipes, and fiddles, along with melodies inspired by Celtic music. This fusion creates a distinctive musical style that often explores historical and mythological themes, resulting in a lively and energetic sound that's deeply rooted in cultural heritage.
Cybergrind is a niche subgenre that combines elements of grindcore with electronic and industrial music. It is characterized by its fast-paced and aggressive sound, heavy use of electronic effects and samples, and distorted vocals. Pioneering bands like Agoraphobic Nosebleed (pictured below) and more modern ones like Thotcrime, experiment with electronic manipulation, creating a chaotic and futuristic aesthetic.
Cyber Metal infuses metal with electronic and industrial elements, often accompanied by futuristic and dystopian themes. Bands like Fear Factory (pictured below) and Strapping Young Lad incorporate electronic samples, distorted vocals, and mechanized sounds, creating a high-energy and mechanized sonic experience.
Crossover Thrash blends the energy and aggression of punk with the riff-driven nature of thrash metal. Bands like Municipal Waste (pictured below) and D.R.I. incorporate fast tempos, punk-style vocals, and catchy guitar hooks, resulting in music that's both frenetic and anthemic.
Crust Punk is a subgenre of punk rock that emerged in the 1980s. Characterized by its raw and abrasive sound, bands like Discharge and Amebix fuse elements of punk rock and heavy metal, creating a chaotic and politically charged musical style with lyrics focusing on social and environmental issues.
D Beat (Discharge Beat) originated from the band Discharge (pictured below) in the late 1970s. It is characterized by its aggressive and fast-paced drumming style, driving guitar riffs, and intense vocals. Bands like Discharge and Anti-Cimex helped pioneer D Beat, creating a raw and powerful sound that continues to influence punk and crust punk bands today.
Deathcore combines death metal with elements of metalcore and hardcore. Bands like Whitechapel (pictured below) and Suicide Silence deliver the extreme heaviness of death metal with breakdowns, fast-paced drumming, and guttural vocals, resulting in a brutal and aggressive sonic assault.
Death Metal takes metal to darker places with aggressive guitar riffs, guttural growls, and complex song arrangements. Pioneered by bands like Death (pictured below) and Cannibal Corpse, this extreme genre explores brutal and often controversial themes, pushing the boundaries of musical expression.
Djent is a subgenre characterized by heavily palm-muted, low-tuned, and rhythmically complex guitar riffs. Meshuggah pioneered this sound, which has since influenced bands like Periphery (pictured below) and TesseracT. Djent often features polyrhythms, syncopation, and a technical approach to songwriting.
Drone Metal is a subgenre that focuses on long, sustained, and repetitive sounds. Bands like Sunn O))) (pictured below) and Earth create a dense and atmospheric sonic landscape, relying on low frequencies, slow tempos, and a minimalist approach to composition, resulting in a hypnotic and meditative experience.
With its slow and heavy sound, Doom Metal invokes a feeling of gloom and despair. Funeral Doom Metal and Stoner Doom Metal offer different variations, from mournful and atmospheric dirges to a more psychedelic and groove-oriented approach respectively. Bands like My Dying Bride and Candlemass (pictured below) exemplify the genre's versatility.
Epic metal focuses on heroic and fantasy themes, often incorporating epic narratives and grandiose imagery. Bands like Manowar (pictured below) and Battlelore create powerful soundscapes through their use of anthemic vocals, majestic guitar solos, and dynamic song arrangements. The subgenre's music often transports listeners to realms of myth and legend, inviting them to embrace a sense of adventure and triumph.
Experimental metal pushes the boundaries of the genre by incorporating diverse and unconventional sounds. Notable bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Mr. Bungle blend genres, experiment with song structures, and utilize unconventional instruments to create a truly unique musical experience. The result is music tbhat challenges traditional norms, encourages sonic exploration, and offers listeners an unpredictable and engaging journey.
Folk Metal merges traditional folk music with heavy metal. Incorporating folk instruments such as fiddles, flutes, and bagpipes with electric guitars, bands like Eluveitie and Finntroll (pictured below) create a lively and energetic sound. Folk Metal embraces a variety of subgenres, showcasing cultural influences from around the world, and often featuring storytelling lyrics rooted in folklore and mythology.
Glam Metal, also known as Hair Metal, emerged in the late 1970s and gained immense popularity in the 1980s. This subgenre of metal is characterized by its blend of hard rock and heavy metal elements with a flamboyant and theatrical aesthetic. Bands in this genre, such as Mötley Crüe and Poison, are known for their flashy clothing, big hair, and excessive use of makeup, embodying an image that's as bold and over-the-top as their music.
Gothic metal combines dark, gothic aesthetics with the intensity of metal. Bands like Type O Negative (pictured below) and Lacuna Coil incorporate haunting atmospheres, lush keyboard arrangements, and introspective themes into their heavy compositions. This subgenre often explores themes of romance, melancholy, and inner turmoil, creating a sonic experience that's both emotionally evocative and musically rich.
Grindcore is an extreme genre that emerged in the 1980s. It is characterized by its short song lengths, high-speed aggression, and intense blast beats. Bands like Napalm Death (pictured below) and Brutal Truth helped pioneer the genre, featuring blistering guitar riffs, guttural vocals, and socio-political lyrics.
Groove metal focuses on rhythm-driven guitar riffs, delivering a catchy and accessible sound that's rooted in heavy metal. Renowned bands like Pantera and Lamb of God (pictured below) masterfully infuse groove into their compositions, creating music that's both headbang-inducing and rhythmically infectious. Groove metal often features powerful vocal delivery, anthemic choruses, and a balance between aggression and catchy melodies.
Hardcore, a beastly offshoot of punk rock, is like the rebellious younger sibling, with bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat (pictured below) leading the charge. It's characterized by its intense speed, aggressive vocals, and unapologetic rawness. Hardcore isn't about musical finesse; it's a full-throttle, confrontational sound, dealing with everything from personal battles to societal issues. Over time, it's branched into various subgenres, each carrying the original's ferocious spirit and DIY ethos, making it more than just music—it's a form of cathartic expression and a tight-knit community.
Powerful and iconic, Heavy Metal boasts memorable guitar riffs, soaring vocals, and epic lyrical themes. Originating in the late 1960s, bands like Black Sabbath (pictured below) and Judas Priest shaped the genre's foundation, making it a foundational genre on metal going forward.
Industrial Black Metal
Industrial black metal fuses black metal's aggression with industrial and electronic elements. Bands like Aborym (pictured below) and Anaal Nathrakh experiment with this unique combination, producing a harsh and futuristic sonic landscape. This subgenre often features distorted vocals, electronic samples, and a blend of traditional black metal atmospheres with mechanical and atmospheric industrial elements.
Industrial metal blends heavy metal with industrial music, incorporating electronic and industrial sounds, samples, and aggressive guitar riffs. Bands like Rammstein and Ministry (pictured below) combine crushing metal instrumentation with mechanical and atmospheric industrial elements to create a dark and futuristic sound.
Kawaii Metal, also known as "Cute Metal," combines elements of J-pop and heavy metal. Bands like Babymetal (pictured below) and Ladybaby blend catchy pop melodies and idol-style singing with heavy guitar riffs and aggressive instrumentation, creating a unique and infectious fusion of cuteness and metal intensity.
Krishnacore is a subgenre of punk and hardcore that incorporates Krishna Consciousness or Hare Krishna spiritual themes within the lyrics and ideologies of the bands. Bands like Shelter and 108 infuse their music with Krishna-inspired philosophies, delivering messages of compassion, spirituality, and personal transformation.
Math Metal is a complex and technical subgenre that incorporates odd time signatures, intricate guitar riffs, and unconventional song structures. Bands like Meshuggah are known for their chaotic and intense sound, pushing the limits of technique and aggression.
Mathcore, a subgenre of metalcore and math metal, takes technicality to the extreme. Bands like The Number Twelve Looks Like You and The Dillinger Escape Plan embrace complex time signatures, dissonant guitar riffing, and unpredictable song structures, creating a chaotic and challenging listening experience.
Melodic Death Metal
Unifying brutality with melodic sensibilities, Melodic Death Metal offers intense guitar harmonies, catchy melodies, and a balance between aggression and beauty. In Flames and At The Gates (pictured below) are notable representatives of this genre, captivating fans with their harmonious yet cathartic sound.
Melodic Hardcore combines the aggression and energy of hardcore punk with melodic elements. Bands like Comeback Kid (pictured below) and Defeater merge fast-paced drumming, heavy guitar riffs, and heartfelt lyrics, balancing intensity and catchy melodies to create a powerful and emotional sound.
Metalcore blends elements of heavy metal with hardcore punk. Bands like Killswitch Engage (pictured below) and August Burns Red combine aggressive breakdowns, melodic guitar riffs, and a balance of clean and screamed vocals, creating a dynamic and intense sound.
Metallic Hardcore blends elements of hardcore punk with thrash metal. Bands like Poison The Well (pictured below) and Shai Hulud fuse the intensity and aggression of hardcore punk with the heavy guitar riffs and speed of thrash metal, resulting in a relentless and ferocious sound. Metallic Hardcore features aggressive vocals, fast and pounding drumming, and lyrics often addressing social and personal issues. It is characterized by its heavy sound, mosh-inducing energy, and a crossover appeal to fans of both punk and metal genres.
Neue Deutsche Härte
Neue Deutsche Härte, meaning "New German Hardness," is a subgenre that originated in Germany in the 1990s. Bands like Rammstein (pictured below) and Oomph! blend heavy metal with industrial elements, delivering powerful and provocative music with German lyrics and a distinctive industrial metal sound.
Nu Metal emerged in the late 1990s and combines elements of alternative metal, groove metal, and rap rock. Bands like Korn (pictured below) and Slipknot introduced a fusion of heavy guitar riffs, aggressive vocals, and hip-hop influenced rhythms, capturing the angst and frustration of the era.
Nintendocore merges the intensity of metalcore with the nostalgic chiptune sounds from video games. Artists like Horse the Band (pictured below) and Powerglove creatively blend aggressive metal riffs and energetic drumming with electronic blips and bloops reminiscent of classic video game soundtracks. This playful and energetic style often evokes a sense of nostalgia while delivering a high-energy and engaging musical experience.
Occult Metal delves into esoteric and mystical themes, often exploring occult philosophies and spiritual mysticism. Bands like Ghost (pictured below) and Blood Ceremony use lyrics and imagery to evoke a sense of ritual and otherworldly mystique, creating an enigmatic and captivating musical experience.
Old School Death Metal
Rooted in the early days of death metal, this subgenre hearkens back to the raw and primal sound that defined the genre's inception. Bands like Obituary (pictured below) and Entombed capture the essence of the early '90s death metal scene, with a focus on heaviness and aggression.
Pagan Metal draws inspiration from pagan beliefs, nature, and ancient traditions. With bands like Moonsorrow (pictured below) and Primordial leading the way, this genre blends elements of black metal, folk metal, and traditional instrumentation to create a mystical and earthy atmosphere, invoking a strong connection to nature and spiritual heritage.
Pirate Metal is a genre that encompasses bands with lyrics and imagery inspired by piracy and maritime folklore. Bands like Alestorm (pictured below) and Swashbuckle infuse their music with folk and power metal elements, creating a lively and energetic sound that conjures images of high seas adventures.
Post Hardcore is a subgenre that emerged from the punk and hardcore scenes in the 1980s. Bands like Fugazi and At the Drive-In (pictured below) incorporate elements of alternative rock and experimental sounds, blending aggression and intensity with more melodic and atmospheric elements.
Post-metal is a genre that emerged in the late 1990s and 2000s and blends elements of heavy metal with ambient and experimental sounds. It is characterized by its atmospheric and immersive qualities, utilizing slow and progressive song structures to create a sense of tension and release. Bands like Neurosis (pictured below), Isis, and Cult of Luna are known for their dense and layered guitar textures, extended instrumental passages, and introspective lyrical themes.
Power Metal, characterized by its grand and epic sound, combines soaring vocals, intricate guitar melodies, and fantasy-oriented lyrics. Bands such as Helloween and Blind Guardian (pictured below) masterfully blend speed and melody, creating uplifting and anthemic experiences for listeners.
Powerviolence takes the aggression of hardcore punk and combines it with the intensity of grindcore. Bands like Infest (pictured below) and Spazz create short and furious bursts of energy, characterized by fast-paced drumming, heavy guitar riffs, and aggressive vocals.
Progressive Death Metal
Progressive Metal combines the complex instrumentation and song structures of progressive rock with the heaviness and aggressive elements of metal. Bands like Dream Theater (pictured below) and Tool are known for their technical proficiency, intricate compositions, and experimentation within the genre. Progressive Metal often features complex time signatures, extended instrumental sections, and thought-provoking lyrics that delve into introspective themes and philosophical concepts. It offers a dynamic and immersive listening experience that bridges the gap between the worlds of metal and progressive rock.
Punk rock, originating in the mid-1970s, embodies a raw and rebellious ethos, characterized by short, fast-paced songs, stripped-down instrumentation, and confrontational lyrics. Bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols epitomize the genre's high-energy and anti-establishment spirit. Punk rock embraces simplicity and directness, often addressing social and political issues with unapologetic fervor. This genre's influence reverberates through generations of musicians, inspiring countless subcultures and musical movements worldwide.
Punk Metal blends the rebellious spirit of punk with the heaviness of metal. Bands like Motörhead (pictured below) and Venom pioneered this fusion, delivering straightforward and energetic music with a raw and gritty edge, appealing to fans of both punk and metal scenes.
Rapcore, also known as rap metal or rap rock, combines elements of hip-hop and heavy metal. Bands like Rage Against the Machine (pictured below) and Limp Bizkit blend rap-style vocals, heavy guitar riffs, and catchy hooks, creating an energetic and aggressive fusion of genres.
Screamo, also referred to as emo violence, is a subgenre of punk rock that emerged in the 1990s. Bands like Saetia and Orchid combine intense screamed vocals, emotional lyrics, and intricate guitar work, often incorporating elements of post-rock and hardcore punk to create a highly emotive and cathartic musical experience.
Slam Death Metal
Sludge Metal combines elements of doom metal and hardcore punk, resulting in a slow, heavy, and aggressive sound. Bands like Eyehategod (pictured below) and Crowbar deliver gritty and downtuned guitar riffs, thick distortion, and harsh vocals, creating a sludgy and oppressive atmosphere.
With its intense tempo, aggressive guitar solos, and energetic rhythm sections, Speed Metal gained prominence in the 1980s. Acts such as Metallica and Slayer (pictured below) pushed the boundaries of speed and precision, delivering an adrenaline-pumping experience that resonated notably with fans.
Often associated with stoner rock, has a groovy and retro sound influenced by bands like Black Sabbath and Kyuss. It incorporates elements of doom metal and psychedelic rock, with heavy, fuzz-laden guitar riffs, bluesy melodies, and lyrics typically centered around themes of drugs, escapism, and counterculture. Bands like Electric Wizard (pictured below) and High On Fire embody this sound to its fullest.
Symphonic Black Metal
Symphonic metal combines elements of heavy metal with orchestral arrangements and symphonic instrumentation. Bands like Nightwish (pictured below) and Epica incorporate operatic vocals, grandiose arrangements, and a blend of heavy guitar riffs with sweeping orchestral melodies.
Technical Death Metal
For those craving relentless technicality, Tech Death is the genre for you. Bands like Necrophagist and Obscura (pictured below) showcase dazzling solos and unpredictable time signatures, challenging the barriers of complexity and leaving listeners stunned by the level of musicianship.
Technical Thrash Metal
Technical Thrash Metal combines the technical complexity of progressive metal with the aggressive speed of thrash metal. Bands like Coroner and Voivod (pictured below) deliver intricate guitar solos, complex song structures, and thought-provoking lyrics, pushing the boundaries of musical proficiency.
Thrash Metal, born in the early 1980s, brought forth rebellion and fury. Distinctive by rapid guitar riffing, complex song structures, and politically charged lyrics, bands like Megadeth and Anthrax (pictured below) invoked raw power and aggression, continuing to influence the metal scene to this day.
Viking Metal is inspired by Norse mythology, folklore, and Viking history. Known for its epic and majestic sound, bands like Amon Amarth (pictured below) and Ensiferum incorporate melodic guitar lines, powerful vocals, and lyrical themes centered around battles, mythology, and Viking culture, taking listeners on a sonic journey through ancient times.