One thing people often mistake about heavy metal is that the sound is always the same. Sure, just like any other genre, some artists copy others or lack creativity, so they land with a generic sound. In reality, metal comes in all sorts of different sounds with plenty of sharp turns that make some genres standout from others. While I won’t list every style of the darkest and heaviest form of music, I will list off as many as possible with descriptions so you can expand your horizons on all things evil.
For outsiders of the bizarre and dark world of heavy metal, this may get confusing because of the extreme amount of cross over between genres and bands, but this guide will hopefully ease you through this confusing labyrinth.
#39: Heavy Metal
Let’s start off with the basic. Heavy metal involves distortion, intensity, and often times some speed. The early days were not nearly as fast as the bands that come in the 80s to today, but for the time these groups went beyond what was capable of raw heaviness, even if it may seem weak for today’s standards.
Examples: Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden
#38: Thrash Metal
Like any genre, metal started to branch out and evolve. In the 80s, bands started shredding guitars, playing with more speed and aggression unlike the founders of metal.
Examples: Slayer and Metallica
#37: Power Metal
Take thrash metal with a lighter tone and symphonic elements then you pretty much have power metal. This is a much cleaner sound along with high pitched vocals, which says a lot since a lot of metal at this point has plenty of higher pitched singers.
Examples: DragonForce and Helloween
#36: Symphonic Metal
Blend heavy metal with classical music then you end up with symphonic metal. Taking the intensity of metal to combine with the strings and pianos found in symphonic music. This allows for some beautiful sounds to tie together with some that may scare off your grandparents.
Examples: Nightwish and Haggard
#35: Glam Metal
Incorporating some of the theatrics from people like David Bowe and combining the early metal sounds from Black Sabbath then glam metal was born. It has a classic feel to it while having a physical component to the music.
Examples: Alice Cooper and Motley Crue
#34: Black Metal
While the first wave of this new form of extreme metal was necessary, the second wave defined it during a time metal started to evolve rapidly into many different styles. Shrieking vocals, distorted instrumentation, and a focus on atmosphere from classic instruments. Its theatrical aesthetic with corpse paint and lyrical themes that oppose religion and worship Satan set a new movement in the heavy metal world.
Examples: Abbath and Dimmu Borgir
#33: Death Metal
Some would argue bands like Slayer or Deceased are death metal, but we are focusing on the genre-defining groups that shaped the most brutal genre on the planet.
Screaming with incredibly low vocals mixed with high screams get accompanied by distorted guitars and intense drumming. The speed can go to unspeakable levels, it can remain astonishingly slow while keeping up with the heaviness. The lyrical content is what most people think of since most death metal bands focus on writing the most grotesque and gruesome lyrics imaginable.
Examples: Cannibal Corpse and Carcass
#32: Industrial Metal
Take what we have learned so far about distortion and dark lyrical contents to connect a synth sound for something more electric.
Examples: Rammstein and Ministry
#31: Stoner Metal
One of the more obscure styles so far is stoner metal. A psychedelic, blues-influenced genre that is perfect to jam to while smoking that herb. Many bands learn towards rock while still having the elements from heavy metal.
Examples: Queens of a Stone Age and Mastodon
#30: Doom Metal
Linked initially to Black Sabbath and later altered into what it is today, doom metal might be the slowest on the list. A slow tempo with low tuning makes for a dreadful experience, in the best way possible.
Examples: Candlemass and Black Sabbath
#29: Gothic Metal
Continuing the dark look that metal has adopted, gothic metal takes the tone of doom metal and elements from gothic rock to form this atmospheric genre.
Examples: Lacuna Coil and Paradise Lost
#28: Sludge Metal
Adjusting the speed to something faster while still having qualities of doom metal, sludge moves and sounds heavier, faster, and louder while still having the same tone. Compared to other genres, this is still significantly slower than most styles of metal.
Examples: Eyehategod and Crowbar
While punk and metal had its differences, hardcore punk and metal started a relationship that grew into something huge that dominates most of the scene today. Metalcore is one of the biggest genres, that takes hardcore’s riffs while incorporating low tuned guitars and breakdowns as the instrumental foundation. Accompanied by screaming and as bands in the early to mid-2000s come into the game, they start blending clean vocals with the screaming.
Examples: Parkway Drive and Fit for a King
#26: Folk Metal
This is simple, take traditional folk and metal to create this oddly awesome genre. The singing and instrumentation lean heavily into folk music while the lyrics deal with mythology or history.
Examples: Korpiklaani and Ensiferum
#25: Kawaii Metal
“Cute metal” is what this translates to, and this has blown up due to Babymetal. Take the energy and qualities from power metal and the style of J-pop into this fast-paced genre.
Examples: Babymetal and Bridear
#24: Alternative Metal
An experimental genre that fuses alternative rock and heavy metal. Similar to genres like power metal, this takes on a lighter side of metal while distinguishing itself from bands like DragonForce.
Examples: Tool and System of a Down
#23: Funk Metal
Alternative metal knocked up funk to make this jazzy metal genre.
Examples: Faith No More and Rage Against the Machine
Any band from the mid-90s or early 2000s got lumped into this genre despite lacking any characteristics. What makes this is the styled rap vocals and often the use of a turntable. Most likely if you think of a band that might fit this style, they are most likely a rock band rather than metal.
Examples: Linkin Park and (early) Slipknot
#21: Viking Metal
A mix of fascination with history, black metal, folk metal, and death metal, Viking metal came to be to infuse the darkest corners of heavy metal to scream about Vikings and Norse mythology. Nothing is more metal than the Viking lifestyle and mythology.
Examples: Amon Amarth and Enslaved
#20: Progressive Metal
Bands on this side of metal experiment by expanding the structure and sound of their music beyond what the average fan can hear. Technical playing and songwriting drive this genre forward with plenty of twists that will not be heard elsewhere.
Examples: Periphery and Meshuggah
The breakdowns of metalcore go in a much heavier direction as it meets the brutality of death metal. The harsh vocals and instrumental styles go together to make for a heavier edition of metalcore for fans looking for that aggression with some different flavors that stray away from Cannibal Corpse or Parkway Drive.
Examples: Whitechapel and Carnifex
How did genres like death metal and other extreme styles come to the world? Grindcore is how. A fusion between heavy metal and hardcore punk, this is one of the fastest paced genres. Bands that founded the new form of music wanted one thing, and that was to be the fastest group in the scene.
Examples: Napalm Death and Terrorizer
#17: Groove Metal
Thrash metal evolved into something slower with more of a mid-tempo which eventually turned itself into groove metal. One of the best-known genres that many metal fans struggle to define since it formed in a weird time alongside the equally odd Nu-metal movement.
Example: Lamb of God
Primarily just progressive metal, but has a distinct sound and style, mainly in the guitar playing.
The term gets debated all the time whether it is just progressive with a different name or it is distinctive enough from other styles. This one will be left up to the metalheads reading.
Examples: Periphery and Meshuggah
#15: Speed Metal
A genre that formed back in the 70s and transformed in the 80s after the introduction of thrash metal, this style takes many forms. The most crucial aspect here is the speed and its abrasive sound, which makes it one of the most confusing genres for people to identify.
#14: Space Metal
Some of these are shocking to exist, yet space metal is a thing. Taking inspiration from space rock and progressive metal, this genre with a cosmic theme.
Examples: Vektor and Voivod
Similar to post-rock with the addition of heavier distortion and an emphasis on evolving the song structure as a track plays through. Also, the instrumentation is the most critical part, while the vocals take the back seat to play a minimal role.
Examples: Russian Circles and Cult of Luna
#12: Neoclassical Metal
The composition from classical music meets heavy metal for a shredding focused genre. Like symphonic metal, this takes instruments from classical music to combine it with traditional instruments found in a metal band.
Example: Yngwie Malmsteen
#11: Latin Metal
Artists in this category can fall under different subgenres of metal, but what makes them still have a foot in Latin metal comes from the Spanish influence. This can stem from vocal styles to the instruments used.
Examples: Nonpoint and III Niño
Brutal death metal meeting with grindcore for a gruesome combination of instrumental and vocal styles.
Example: Cattle Decapitation
#9: Pirate Metal
Thrash metal and sometimes speed metal, but the main distinction comes from the pirate theme and the use of sea shanties.
#8: Melodic Death Metal
Another easy one because this makes death metal’s instrumentation more melodic heavy than the crushing styles from classic death metal.
Examples: The Black Dahlia Murder and Arch Enemy
#7: Technical Death Metal
Going for the most complex structure and styles, technical death metal challenges the artist more than regular death metal.
Examples: Necrophagist and Obscura
#6: Blackened Death Metal
The themes and aesthetics from black metal meet the brutality of death metal. The vocals and the guitar’s tuning match that of death metal while holding the same musical elements from black metal.
Examples: Behemoth and Goatwhore
#5: Progressive Metalcore
The breakdowns of metalcore and vocal styles collide together with the experimental mindset that follows the progressive genre.
Examples: Erra and Periphery
#4: Melodic Metalcore
While the breakdowns are persistent, this branch of metalcore takes a riff-heavy approach to add more melody to the music. Rather than having clean vocals add this melody, the instrumentation has a stronger role.
Examples: Bullet for My Valentine and Killswitch Engage
#3: Christian Black Metal
Christian genres of metal tend to focus on the lyrical aspects rather than genre-defining instrumentation or vocal styles. This one, in particular, takes the instrumentation and theatrics of black metal, except turn towards worship and taking an opposition against Satan. It is inherently black metal upside down.
The genre is also named unblack metal and is controversial in the black metal fan base.
Examples: Horde and Antestor
#2: Christian Metalcore
Throwing a name in front of the genre just for thematic purposes adds to an abundant population of heavy metal styles, so this will be the last Christian genre of metal. I bring this one up due to the popularity it has within metalcore.
It is this simple; metalcore with Christian themes.
Examples: The Devil Wears Prada and For Today
#1: War Metal
A hybrid between black and death metal, this focuses on aggressive playstyles and themes about war.
Example: Bestial Warlust
As you can see, metal can get complicated quickly. I am sure metalheads will have some issues with my definitions or examples, which I will gladly read up any discussions in the comments.
Image via Fine Chart Labs