20 Types of Metal Music (Metal Sub-Genres)
Whether you’re a certified Metalhead or you’re just curious about the genre, here is a breakdown of some of the most popular metal subgenres. I’ll also include some info about how they emerged and how they are radically different from one another.
Metal is perhaps one of the most misunderstood genres of music. Many associate it with aggression and desensitization to violence. Thankfully, studies such as this one successfully debunk these myths.
- 1. Thrash Metal
- 2. Power Metal
- 3. Black Metal
- 4. Death Metal
- 5. Doom Metal
- 6. Gothic/Goth Metal
- 7. Avant-Garde Metal
- 8. Nu/Alternative Metal
- 9. Metalcore
- 10. (Heavy) Metal
- 11. Symphonic Metal
- 12. Glam Metal
- 13. Industrial Metal
- 14. Sludge Metal
- 15. Post Metal
- 16. New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)
- 17. Stoner Metal
- 18. Prog Metal
- 19. Folk Metal
- 20. Kawaii Metal
1. Thrash Metal
Thrash Metal is known for its fast tempo and aggressive nature. It originated in the early 1980s and the genre uses a lot of shred guitar, riffs played on low registers, and high-tempo drums. In terms of vocals, Thrash can range from melodic singing to more shouted vocals.
Thrash was born when the aggression and speed of hardcore punk met the style of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a genre we will cover later.
Interestingly ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ by Queen and Black Sabbath’s ‘Symptom Of The Universe’ are often credited for inspiring the genre of Thrash Metal.
While various bands have played Thrash Metal at some point in their career; Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer are dubbed as ‘The Big Four Of Thrash’ since they were responsible for popularising the genre. Thrash Metal also influenced genres such as Black Metal and Death Metal.
Thrash Metal Music To Listen To:
Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Metallica, and ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ by Testament.
2. Power Metal
Power Metal combines elements of Heavy Metal with Speed Metal. The songs predominantly have a fantasy-based approach which makes them theatrical and anthemic.
One of the dominant features of Power Metal is clean vocals inspired by the likes of Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, and Geoff Tate, where the melodies are generally sung in higher registers and require a wide vocal range.
In the United States, Power Metal emerged in the 1980s and some of its early takers were Manowar, Virgin Steele, Riot, and Vicious Rumors.
In Europe, Power Metal originated in the 1980s as well in Germany and where it differed from its American counterpart was the heavy use of keyboards. By the mid-90s, European Power Metal became more widespread, and american bands such as Forgotten Tales, Theocracy, and Kamelot adopted this style.
Power Metal Music To Listen To:
Early works of Stratovarius, Nightwish, and Keeper Of The Seven Keys: Part I and Part II by Helloween.
3. Black Metal
Occult and Satanic themes in Metal music were found in the music of bands such as Black Sabbath and Coven in the 60s and 70s. But in the 80s, some Trash Metal and Death Metal bands formed the prototype for Black Metal, as we know it today.
While the first wave of Black Metal (bands such as Venom, Hellhammer, and Celtic Frost) incorporated shrieking vocals, and heavily distorted guitars with unconventional songwriting structures, the second wave saw the rise of predominantly Norwegian bands (Burzum, Immortal, Gorgoroth, etc) who were responsible for popularising the genre.
Black Metal is generally associated with ideals of anti-Religion.
Aaron Weaver (Wolves In The Throne Room) characterized the genre as, “an artistic movement that is critiquing modernity on a fundamental level saying that the modern worldview is missing something.”
Black Metal Music To Listen To:
Dissection, Satyricon, Behemoth, and Darkthrone’s ‘Transilvian Hunger’ for its distinct lo-fi approach to the sound.
4. Death Metal
Tuned-down guitars playing minor keys or atonal notes in palm-muted styles with blast beats with a double kick drum are some of the characteristics of a distinctly Death Metal sound. While there are chromatic chord progressions, the genre also features abrupt changes in key, tempo, and time signatures.
Death Metal emerged in the 1980s and bands such as Death, Morbid Angel, Possessed, and Obituary are considered some of the pioneers of the genre.
In the current context, Death Metal has spawned many genres such as Melodic Death Metal, Death-Doom, Technical Death Metal, Deathcore, etc.
Death Metal reached its peak in terms of popularity in 1992-1993 when bands such as Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel enjoyed a fair amount of commercial success. The genre continues to thrive even today but as a more underground movement.
Death Metal Music To Listen To:
Death, Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, and Possessed’s 1984 demo ‘Death Metal’ since they sparked the movement.
5. Doom Metal
Inspired by Black Sabbath, bands in the USA and England developed Doom Metal in the mid-80s. The genre often uses the same scales as Blues music but is played on heavily tuned-down guitars and basses with distortion.
The lyrics in Doom Metal music define the genre and incorporate themes such as depression, fear, anxiety, and suffering. Many are influenced by blues musicians such as Robert Johnson and Son House.
While Finland saw the rise of many Doom Metal bands such as Rigor Mortis, Reverend Bizarre, and Dolorian, Doom Metal saw variations in different places in the USA. While Louisiana Doom Metal gave birth to Sludge Metal, the Pacific North West was also influenced by grunge music that stemmed from the area.
Since its birth, Doom Metal has branched out into subgenres such as Sludge, Stoner, Epic Doom, Drone, Gothic Doom, etc.
Doom Metal Music To Listen To:
Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Cirith Ungol, and the Swedish band Candlemass since they distinctly defined the genre.
6. Gothic/Goth Metal
Fusing the dark atmospheric aspect of gothic rock with the aggression of heavy metal, Gothic Metal emerged in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s.
AllMusic defines Gothic Metal as, “the bleak, icy atmospherics of goth rock with the loud guitars and aggression of heavy metal…true goth metal is always directly influenced by goth rock-ethereal synths and spooky textures are just as important as guitar riffs, if not more so.”
While bands such as Anathema and My Dying Bride have a Doom Metal influence in their music, others such as Cradle Of Filth have a more Black Metal approach.
Gothic/Goth Metal Music To Listen To:
Lacuna Coil, HIM, Charon, and Within Temptation.
7. Avant-Garde Metal
Avant-Garde Metal, also known as Experimental Metal, blends elements of Death Metal with Progressive Rock. The genre deviates from conventional structures and instrumentation. It incorporates unusual sound elements and technical complexity.
King Crimson’s ‘Red’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Presence’ influenced early pioneers of the genre such as Celtic Frost, Voivod, and Boris.
Record labels in the 90s such as Misanthropy Records and The End Records were responsible for promoting and spreading the genre and this resulted in the emergence of more localized Avant-Garde Metal scenes in Tokyo, LA, Boston, Oslo, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Avant-Garde Metal Music To Listen To:
Isis, Kayo Dot, Giant Squid, and Neurosis.
8. Nu/Alternative Metal
Nu Metal emerged in the 90s in the USA and the genre combines Heavy Metal music with Hip Hop, Alternative Rock, Funk, Industrial, and Grunge. The music consists of heavily syncopated guitars with an emphasis on rhythm more than complexity or mood.
The band Korn is often credited for being the first one to bring the spotlight to the genre in the early 1990s. While many Heavy Metal listeners do not consider Nu Metal as a true subgenre, Nu Metal reached peak popularity in the early 2000s, and bands such as Papa Roach, P.O.D, and Staind all sold multi-platinum albums.
Nu Metal can be credited for inspiring modern genres such as Hyperpop (Rina Sawayama, Grimes, Poppy).
Nu/Alternative Metal Music To Listen To:
Linkin Park’s ‘Meteora’ and ‘Hybrid Theory’, Limp Bizkit, Korn, and ‘Fallen’ by Evanescence.
A crossover between Extreme Metal and Hardcore Punk gave rise to Metalcore in the 1990s. The genre uses breakdowns and stop-start guitar playing to contrast the use of blast beats and heavy riffs.
In the 1980s bands such as Agnostic Front and Killing Time lay the foundation for Metalcore by combining Heavy Metal with Hardcore Punk. This was adopted in the 90s by bands such as Hatebreed and Shai Hulud.
By the mid-2000s, Metalcore was propelled into mainstream commercial success by bands such as Bullet For My Valentine and As I Lay Dying.
Metalcore has subgenres such as Mathcore, Melodic Metalcore, Nu Metalcore, and Progressive Metalcore.
Metalcore Music To Listen To:
Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Atreyu, and ‘Gomorrah’s Season Ends’ by Earth Crisis as one of the earliest examples of Metalcore.
10. (Heavy) Metal
Metal music emerged in the late 1960s and early 70s in the USA and the United Kingdom.
The bands Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple are often considered the inspiration for Metal because their music was a combination of Blues, Psychedelic, and Acid rock with distorted guitars that played extended solos, a heavy beat, and a general feeling of aggression.
In the 70s, bands such as Judas Priest and Motorhead discarded the blues influence for a more punk rock sensibility characterized by faster tempos. Heavy Metal sparked many new movements and genres in the 80s and 90s.
The Metal subculture has also given rise to popular phenomena such as mosh pits, headbanging, and sporting long hair.
While it is often dubbed as “a subculture of alienation” and has been linked to an increase in violence by concerned parents, these myths have since been debunked by psychologists and researchers.
(Heavy) Metal Music To Listen To:
Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister, Saxon, and Motley Crew.
11. Symphonic Metal
Apart from heavy drums and guitars, Symphonic Metal can be identified by its use of different elements of orchestral music. While some songs may include a choir, a full orchestra, or even symphonic instruments, others use programmed orchestra elements using keyboards or DAWs.
In the 1990s, the American Thrash Metal band Believer is credited for pioneering the genre with their song ‘Dies Irae’ from their album ‘Sanity Obscure’. This operatic approach was later used by bands such as Nightwish and Therion.
The words “symphonic metal” have often been used to describe individual albums or songs by artists who belong primarily to the basic, non-symphonic style of the subgenre.
Sometimes the term is also used to describe the stylistic elements present in the growing list of different Metal subgenres.
Symphonic Metal Music To Listen To:
Nightwish, Epica, Rhapsody Of Fire, Xandria.
12. Glam Metal
Also known as ‘Hair Metal’, this genre was an evolution of the Glam Rock culture of the 1970s. It borrows from the visual elements of artists such as David Bowie, the New York Dolls, and T. Rex. and the heavier-leaning music of theatrical acts such as Kiss and Alice Cooper.
From 1983 to 1992 Glam Metal experienced immense popularity with bands such as Skid Row, Poison, Warrant, and Cinderella achieving commercial success. But the popularity declined when Grunge and Alternative music emerged.
Sonically, Glam Metal fuses a traditional Heavy Metal sound with pop elements such as catchy riffs and guitar hooks. There is also extensive use of harmonies in the form of power ballads.
Glam Metal Music To Listen To:
Poison, Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’, and ‘Out Of The Cellar’ by Bon Jovi.
13. Industrial Metal
While there is no clear demarcation between Industrial Metal and Industrial Rock, the former is a fusion of Heavy Metal with Industrial music. It developed in the 1980s and by the 90s, it had achieved widespread recognition in the USA.
Industrial Metal has many subgenres. This includes Cyber Metal, New German Hardness, Industrial Thrash and Death Metal, Industrial Black Metal, and Progressive Industrial Metal.
Cyber Metal is influenced by Aggrotech and EBM (Electronic Body Music) and uses atmospheric elements alongside harsh vocals. Bands such as Fear Factory, Static-X, and Sybreed are notable bands of the genre.
New German Hardness combines Groove Metal and Thrash Metal with heavy dance beats. Rammstein is considered an example of this sound.
Industrial Metal Music To Listen To:
Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Godflesh, Rammstein, and Fear Factory.
14. Sludge Metal
The combination of Doom Metal and Hardcore Punk is known as Sludge Metal. It developed in Seattle in the 1980s and The Melvins with their slowed-down punk rock, are often credited for inspiring the genre. Their album ‘Six Songs’ is one of the earliest examples of Sludge Metal.
In places such as New Orleans, Sludge Metal morphed into Sludgecore, with bands such as Eyehategod gaining prominence. This was characterized by screaming vocals, low-tuned guitars, and slow tempos with a lethargic feel.
Although primarily a Heavy Metal band, Mastodon’s ‘Remission’ is considered a Sludge Metal album, as is ‘The Art Of Self Defense’ by High On Fire.
Sludge Metal Music To Listen To:
Crowbar, Acid Bath, Grief, and Corrupted.
15. Post Metal
Post Metal refers to music that is heavy and aggressive but defies the conventions of Metal by incorporating elements of post-rock and post-hardcore. The music is thus emotive, abstract, layered, and even hypnotic.
Godflesh’s ‘Pure’ and Neurosis’ ‘Souls At Zero’ are considered some of the first Post-Metal albums. They were released in the early 1990s.
Post-Metal bands today find their inspiration in Doom Metal, Black Metal, Progressive Rock, Folk, shoegaze, and even Classical music.
Post Metal Music To Listen To:
Pelican, Isis’ album ‘Oceanic’, Russian Circles.
16. New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)
In the mid-1970s, an underground movement emerged in the United Kingdom helmed by bands such as Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Raven, Venom, Motorhead, and Saxon.
The social unrest and widespread poverty caused a violent rebellion against the establishment. This was reflected not just in the punk movement but also in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal that reached peak popularity in the early 1980s.
The DIY approach to the genre and subculture resulted in the emergence of many indie record labels that prevented corporate machinery from taking over the genre. Since major music magazines covered mostly the Punk movement, it was the circulation of fanzines and DJs that helped the music reach a bigger audience.
NWOBHM is credited for inspiring many new genres of Metal, as we know it today.
NWOBHM Music To Listen To:
Dedringer, Witchfinder General, and Praying Mantis for a more melodic NWOBHM approach.
17. Stoner Metal
Stoner Metal is a mix of Doom Metal with Psychedelic and Acid Rock. Like Sludge Metal, the tempo is generally slower with heavily distorted guitars and songs that have the bass in the forefront.
The bands Kyuss and Sleep are credited for developing the genre in the 1990s. Stoner Metal is also referred to as ‘Stoner Rock’ due to the melodic vocals and often ‘retro’ production used to create the music.
Some Desert Rock bands such as Queens Of The Stone Age can also be considered Stoner Metal. However, not all Stoner Metal music is Desert Rock.
Stoner Metal Music To Listen To:
The Hidden Hand, Cathedrals ‘The Ethereal Mirror’, Monster Magnet’s ‘Spine Of God’, and Sons Of Otis.
18. Prog Metal
Progressive (Prog) Metal is identifiable by its nonlinear song structures and elements of Heavy Metal combined with Progressive Rock.
The music showcases technical complexity in not just instrumentation but also the compositional aspect. The genre draws inspiration from jazz, classical, and even Middle Eastern music.
In the 1980s, bands from the American Heavy Metal scene such as Queensryche and Fates Warning are some of the early pioneers of the genre. Prog Metal in the 1990s was popularized by bands such as Dream Theater, Pain Of Salvation, Ayreon, and Fates Warning.
In the late 2000s, a new genre called ‘Djent’ emerged from Prog Metal. Bands such as Tesseract, Periphery, Animals As Leaders, and Vildhjarta immersed themselves in this sound, originally spearheaded by Meshuggah.
Prog Metal Music To Listen To:
Tool, Devin Townsend, Symphony X, and Liquid Tension Experiment.
19. Folk Metal
Folk Metal developed in Europe in the 1990s. It is a combination of Heavy Metal with traditional folk music. This can be in the form of folk instruments or even traditional singing styles.
Skyclad from England included a fiddler on their permanent lineup. This led to an innovative new sound that became the basis of this genre.
In 1994 and 1995, there were many different regional variations in Folk Metal. ‘Medieval Metal’ uses instruments such as hurdy-gurdy, lute, mandolin, sham, etc and the melodies are often reminiscent of the medieval period.
‘Celtic Metal’ fuses Black Metal with traditional Irish folk music. ‘Oriental Metal’ is inspired by Jewish and Arabic folk music in Middle-Eastern styles.
Folk Metal Music To Listen To:
Finntroll (Finland), Skalmold (Iceland), Distorted (Israel), and Melechesh (Jerusalem).
20. Kawaii Metal
In the early 2010s, an interesting new genre emerged from Japan. This was a fusion of Heavy Metal music with J-Pop. To appeal to both Eastern and Western cultures, Kawaii Metal has Heavy Metal instrumentation of tracks over “kawaii” (childlike and loveable) themes.
Babymetal is credited for creating this genre. Kobametal, the producer, explains this interesting sound as “trying to do something no one had done before.” Their music can be described as a mix of pop, rock, EDM, Industrial, and Symphonic Death Metal.
What makes this genre unique is that it offers a perspective different from the traditional hyper-masculine, aggressive, and sometimes violent lyrics that are usually associated with Metal.
Since Kawaii Metal gained international popularity in 2014, many new bands have come into the limelight.
Kawaii Metal Music To Listen To:
Babymetal, Deadlift Lolita, Ladybaby, and Necronomidol.
Metal is an incredibly diverse genre of music. There are so many different sub-genres of it that we’re only scratching the surface of it in this article. Since the 1980s, as with other major genres of music, many new subgenres have emerged and the evolution is continual. Regardless of the evolution, metal fans have a lot to choose from.