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January 13, 2011

Metalheads 101: What IS Metal, Anyway?

Metal History, Metalheads 101

One feature Steff Metal has been sorely lacking is a column dedicated to metal newbies. I’ve been assuming everyone who stumbles upon this site has been a metalhead for hundreds of years already, and would find such a column boring. I was wrong.

Metalheads 101 is the ultimate course on how to become a metalhead. I shall be your lecturer, and after every class, there will be some homework, and a discussion. Throughout the year, I’ll be posting lessons on absolutely everything a beginning metalhead needs to know, from choosing your first collection of albums, to attending your first show, to walking, talking, looking and acting like a metalhead. I may or may not wear a schoolteacher’s outfit. I’ll keep a running list of all the courses on the Metalheads 101 tab on the navigation bar, and at the end of the course I will bundle everything together, correct all the spelling mistakes, and turn it into a book. I may also, along the way, give out some prizes to the best students.

Please, please, please understand that I am NOT the authority on being metal. A lot of you folk who regularly read this blog have been listening to metal for much longer than I have, or have a lot more knowledge then me. I expect there to be loads of debate, especially when we get stuck into discussing seminal metal albums. This is good. I like debate. Debate away. Just make it nice debate. If you come on here and swear at me and act like a pillock, I am going to delete your comments. If you don’t like it, phrase your arguments in a more intelligent way.

I would love it if you wanted to spread the word about Metalheads 101 to your metalhead or wannabe metalhead friends.

For our first lesson, I thought we’d delve into a deeply philosophical question: What IS metal?

A good question. With such an insane variety of sub-genres, it often seems as though there are no definitive characteristics that can pinpoint a piece of music as specifically metal. Also, a lot of beginner metalheads don’t understand the difference between real metal music and bands like Korn.

iron-maiden

Iron Maiden - Yes, they are metal

How do you tell if a band is “metal” or not?

Drums: You may think it odd that I’ve placed drums at the top of this list, but what many people don’t realize it that drums drive metal music. Yes, the guitar is what most people listen to, but the drums are truly (and yeah, I probably only say this because I’ve been brainwashed by my cantankerous drummer husband). Metal drumming is intricate, complicated and precise – it can take years to master the skill and endurance to play a full set of metal songs.

Firstly, practically all metal bands use double kick. Double kick is a drumkit uing two bass drums instead of the usual one. This allows the drummer to use both feet to power a fast, crushing wall of bass drum that sounds like a machine gun going off. It gives a song a dense, pummeling kind of sensation which makes you feel as though the music is rolling over you. Two feet equals twice as fast, and some of the best double bass drummers can exceed 250bpm. The double-sized kits also create a stunning visual and uniquely metal look on stage. Double-bass plays an integral part in most (not all, but most) metal music.

There are a few other specific drumming techniques used frequently in metal. Foremost among these is the blastbeat – repeated sixteenth-notes played super fast, alternating between the kick drum/snare and ride, hi hat or crash cymbal. You’ll hear the blast beat almost exclusively in extreme metal.

Metal drummers also love the cymbal choke, where the drummer strikes the cymbal then grabs it with their hand to mute it, to give a sudden clash of sound.

drum-kit-scott-rockenfield-queensryche

The double-bass kit of scott-rockenfield (Queensryche). This is metal.

Guitars: when you fall in love with metal for the first time, usually you fall in love with the electric guitar. A stunning instrument that can be gentle and beautiful and raw, ferocious and brutal, the guitar in metal will always be a force of power. Metal songs usually comprise of two distinct guitar parts – the riff, and the solo. But are intrinsic to the sound of metal. the riff gives a song it’s catchy, headbanging quality, and the solo lifts you up and slams you down again.

Metal guitarists love the power chord – which is not a chord at all but some kind of wacky interval (yeah, not a musician here) – and the tritone. The tritone is the most metal sound in the world. It’s an interval spanning three whole tones – and was called the diabolus in Musica “Devil’s Music” by medieval monks, who banned it from singing. Of course, with a history like that, the tritone plays a prominent part in metal. Although much of early metal was founded in blues-based music, the most prominent musicians in metal trained extensively in classical music. Although metal is rooted in the popular music tradition, more extreme styles like black and death often reject the popular structure in favor of a more classical composition.

Bass: The bassist provides the low-end of the guitar sound, giving metal it’s characteristic “heaviness”. The bass often plays off the guitar, creating intricate melodies and counter-melodies.

Vocals: I tend to split metal vocals into two distinct categories: clean and harsh. You can argue over whether that’s the best distinction to make, but I think, at this level, it’s the simplest.

  • Clean: Clean doesn’t necessarily mean pretty, but it means whoever’s singing vocals in a metal band probably knows a thing or two about singing. Clean vocals – be they male or female – tend to shine with operatic and melodic qualities, although styles like thrash often employ a clean “shouted” vocal line.
  • Harsh: the death metal growl, the black metal rasp, the screams and shrieks of grindcore and Cradle of Filth all belong to the “harsh” family. Harsh vocals are deliberately performed to sound fierce, frightening, otherworldly, and chaotic. Often, the lyrics will be unintelligible, and this is deliberate, ensuring only the initiated “get it”. Harsh vocals tend to be the biggest off-putter for potential metal fans, which is fine by us, as it keeps most of these bands underground and free from mass media corruption.

What’s “nu metal”? Is it metal?

The short answer: no.

The long answer: not really. Nu metal bands like Korn and System of a Down borrow heavily from other musical styles like hip hop, rap, funk, dance music and punk rock and synthpop. Most bands classified as “no metal” I would class as “hard rock” or “metal-influenced funk/hip hop/dance music” or whatever. It’s not really a genre because there’s no common music style to unite them – you couldn’t call Linkin Park and Godsmack similar, really, now could you? It’s more a term used to describe the teenage nu-metal movement, which was a big part of my life growing up, trying to be a real metalhead in a sea of “Korn rulz!”. Nu metal seems to have run it’s course now, thank goodness.

The main reason metalheads don’t consider these bands metal (we can ENJOY them, just not call them metal) is that they lack the intense drumming and orchestration usually present in metal. There aren’t normally any guitar solos(what? metal without guitar solos? Yeah, not really metal) and the riffs are based on rhythm, not melody. It’s too watered down to be considered metal. The lyrical themes also tend to focus on personal issues without the larger-than-life escapism themes of metal – leading the genre to have a bit of a stigma against it. Nu metal bands often lead people to find real metal, so it’s alright by me.

korn

Korn, however, are not metal.

So that’s the metal sound. On a philosophical level, I believe metal is all about power. It’s the most powerful music in the world. That power can be definied in many ways – many metal bands deal with the theme of power through anger, sex, aggression, violence, and hatred – all of which are extremely powerful emotions. But just as many bands tackle themes like loyalty, friendship, bravery, and standing up for what you believe in.

The larger-than-life, extreme-fantasy lyrics in metal – inspired largely from history, poetry and literature – give the genre that escapist quality that will always find a place with the young and disillusioned. Metal is derided by critics for being a bit banal and silly, and the music for being formulaic, not serious music for serious music fans. Listen to music recommended on this and other sites, and see if you agree.

This theme of power extends into the instrumentation itself – with musicians trying to be the fastest, loudest, highest, lowest and the best. The fact that metal is played through amplified guitars and drumkits twice the size they need to be is a testament to the love of power. The aesthetics of metal also incorporate these “power” themes, through the dramatic depictions of dragons, gory death scenes and war <> on album covers and t-shirts, to the band names and logos themselves: Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Manowar … evocative of dark and powerful forces, war, torture and pain.

eluveitie

Eluveitie - even with a hurdy-gurdy, they're metal

Band members give themselves “grymm” stage names, create dark costumes and attempt to evoke feelings of awe, dread and horror. When a metal musician plays on stage, they inoke the power they sing about seeking. A metal show is the natural progression from shock-rock like Alice Cooper. It’s meant to be larger-than-life. CDH has an interesting theory about the corpsepaint of black metal musicians invoking the “Hunt”, a popular theme in pagan mythology.

miley-devil-horns

And, even though she's throwing the horns, Miley Cyrus is not metal

These themes of power appeal to males in particular, hence a heavy bias on masculine themes, male musicans and males fans in metal.

And that, class, is what I believe metal is. Here endeth the lesson.

Assignment:

What, in your opinion, IS metal?

Which of the following bands are metal? Which are not? Discuss:

  • Slipknot
  • Sun (((O
  • Disturbed
  • Lordi
  • Ramnstein
  • Leaves Eyes
  • System of a Down
  • Avenged Sevenfold
  • Blood Stain Child
  • Metallica

27 Comments on “Metalheads 101: What IS Metal, Anyway?

Kennie
February 26, 2015 at 4:39 pm

To end this debate between whether nu-metal and the “core” genres are metal or not: Think of music as a periodic table. Metal and all its subgenres make up, well, the metals. Everything else makes up the non-metals. The aforementioned subgenres make up the metalloids. They have traits from both sides of the table. Problem solved. The end!

DemonClown
February 27, 2015 at 1:36 am

That’s a very good way to put it my friend… and I think it would actually have some truth to what steff said, that some or most of the bands mentioned above have metal traits but it isn’t what someone would call “true” metal… however, because it has metal traits, you can’t rule them out as not metal… but by this definition, metalcore bands like asking alexandria and bring me the horizon would have to be metal…. sickens me just thinking about these bands but do we really want to admit them as metal? (yuck!)

DemonClown
February 24, 2015 at 10:56 pm

I have been a metalhead since highschool and I am approaching my 30s now and I am in a metal band. One of the first metal bands I listened too was actually Slipknot and they opened this whole new universe to me which is called Metal! So at least we could agree that bands like Slipknot brings non metalheads closer to metal. Their old stuff is definitely nu metal but Subliminal Verse onwards, they changed their material and styles a lot. There are many metal bands with fast vocals like Whitechapel, Lamb of God (certain songs like Forgotten) and etc. Their new albums like subliminal verse, all hope is gone and chapter 5 is VERY metal. Here are a few of your points on what is metal:

1. Drums: Their drum technique has always used double pedals and yes, they use blastbeats as well. If you call Iron Maiden metal, than plenty of Slipknot’s drumming techniques are fast and technical techniques compared to Iron Maiden and Slayer (I am not bashing Iron Maiden, I am a huge Slayer and Maiden fan but I am just saying).

2. I believe you wrote: The riff gives a song it’s catchy, headbanging quality, and the solo lifts you up and slams you down again. I find this in Slipknot also. LISTEN to Vendetta and Sulfur and tell me those riffs and solos aren’t metal. I can bang the snot out of their songs. Ignore the masks (if it’s not your thing) and the gimmicks because they really do write great metal songs.

3. The vocals as you described as metal vocals (Harsh vocals are deliberately performed to sound fierce, frightening, otherworldly, and chaotic. Often, the lyrics will be unintelligible, and this is deliberate, ensuring only the initiated “get it”.), describes the vocals of Corey Taylor, Slipknot’s vocalist. but the part where we would have trouble agreeing is most probably the part where Corey kinds of “rap”. I don’t think it’s really rapping, it’s just fast growling/screaming. his vocal style is very unique but that does not make it “no metal”.

Just because both their guitarist can perform solos and have turntables does not mean they are not metal. I personally ignore the turntables in this band because it does not really stand out like the turntables in Limp Bizkit.

There are like a million metal bands out there that focus on personal issues in this present day, not just nu metal. There are also plenty of metal bands which are influenced by other genres of music like Between the buried and me (influenced by Jazz, country, blues and etc.) and Opeth but nonetheless, they stay metal.

but I do not really agree that metal guitar riffs are based on rhythm, not melody. This is why we have sub genres. What is the difference between Death metal and Melodic death metal? To put it simply, one is more melodic than the other, hence the guitar riffs (or keyboards) are more melodic than the other. Listen to bands like Dream theatre (I know, they are not Death metal, the point is they are very melodic) and Kalmah. They are Melodic. Even most songs from Fleshgod is melodic.

I am a bass
My last point is, Metal is indescribable and Metal is defined by it’s audience. If it is heavy and hard, than it is metal. Which is why it’s called metal in the first place. What is heavy to me, might not be heavy to you. So it’s relative. But if someone says Lady Gaga is metal because it is hard and heavy to him/her, that would be just dumb and that someone needs to listen to more music to open his/her mind. Awesome site Steff.

DemonClown
February 24, 2015 at 11:03 pm

I am a bass player and I do not agree with your description of Bass playing in Metal. The function of a Bass player in metal is:

1. to be a bridge or connection between the guitar and drums.
2. to add girth to the guitars.
not just follow the guitars (or plays off the guitar). Bass should NEVER be treated as a guitar but “lower”. but what you said about “creating intricate melodies and counter-melodies” is something I agree with.

My last point is, Metal is indescribable and Metal is defined by it’s audience. If it is heavy and hard, than it is metal. Which is why it’s called metal in the first place. What is heavy to me, might not be as hard and heavy to you. So it’s relative. But if someone says Lady Gaga is metal because it is hard and heavy to him/her, that would be just dumb and that someone needs to listen to more music to open his/her mind. Awesome site you have Steff. I’ll be visiting your site more in the future because I am really bored in the office. hahaha..

DemonClown
February 24, 2015 at 11:11 pm

To answer your question on what I think:

Slipknot – nu metal on self titled and iowa album but Metal on the following ones.
Sun (((O – never heard of them
Disturbed – Nu metal
Lordi – Who’s this?
Ramnstein – Alternative metal
Leaves Eyes – Who?
System of a Down – hard rock because of the vocals and very generic, dull drumlines
Avenged Sevenfold – Hard rock on the newer materials
Blood Stain Child – ha?
Metallica – one of the grandfathers of metal. So yeah, they are metal. eventhough compared to newer bands we have nowadays, they seem kind of dull.

harga kabel metal
February 14, 2015 at 1:22 am

What’s up, just wanted to mention, I liked this article.
It was helpful. Keep on posting!

Idi 'Big Daddy' Amin
May 23, 2013 at 12:03 am

Been listening to rock since I got Nirvana’s Nevermind at the age of 11 in 1997; my first metal album came three years later, when I bought a CD-R of the Black Album off a guy at school. Grunge was my poison for a long-ass time, but I was pretty nu-metal during the genre’s peak in the first year or so of the new millennium. I still insist Korn’s first four albums have some cracking songs. This was all very well, but I soon found myself hankering after something more extreme. Fear Factory’s “Demanufacture” was and still is a huge album for me, and the still-phenomenal drumming led me to black metal (and death metal, though of the two extremes I prefer black). I also went through a slightly goth phase, black hair dye and all, which led me to discover Type O Negative, who I still swear up and down were one of the most unique and underrated bands of all time.

The only real problem I have with metal kind of goes with its territory as a non-mainstream subculture, and that’s the ridiculous elitist posturing affected by so many metalheads. For example, so many people slate Metallica, but I’ll bet my bollocks to a barn dance that if it weren’t for them, metal wouldn’t be anywhere near the force it is today, and half of these kids who now trash Metallica wouldn’t be into metal. The old saying that “Black Sabbath invented heavy metal, Metallica perfected it” endures for a reason.

I’m also not of the opinion that metal needs to be fast, or that it even needs double kickdrums. Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham used two kickdrums, but I wouldn’t consider them a metal band despite being essential to the genre’s formation. Likewise, Sabbath were at their heaviest, metallest best when they slowed down to a glacial crawl and inadvertently invented doom. This is why I’ll always describe the Black Album as a metal album. Sure, it sold umpteen trillion copies, but so what? It’s still probably the heaviest album to ever hit #1 in most countries around the world (since Pantera only managed #2 in the UK with Far Beyond Driven. Metallica brought the mainstream to them, not the other way around. Look at the subject matter of that particular album, for instance. Nightmares, paranoia, religious hypocrisy, shattered idealism, werewolves, war and space travel. Hardly Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (a cracking record, incidentally). As for “Nothing Else Matters”, so it’s a ballad; who cares? Even the mighty Sabs recorded “Changes”, and “…Matters” knocks that into a cocked hat.

The metal bands that have had the most impact on my tastes as I expanded my tastes over the years are Metallica, Type O Negative, Fear Factory, Slayer, Pantera, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Darkthrone, Burzum, Cathedral and the immortal Motörhead. Although Lemmy insists they’re a rock n’ roll band, and who the fuck am I to argue with Lemmy?

Now for the bands listed.

Slipknot: yes, although some songs—”Spit It Out” leaps instantly to mind—are certainly not. The interplay between guitarists Mick Thompson and Jim Root, even without solos, is at times baffling. Although I must admit I haven’t listened to an album of theirs since Vol. 3, which didn’t crackle with me.
Sunn O))): yes, a very avant garde subgenre of metal. They’ll clear a room in seconds (maybe minutes, considering how long it takes them to get going, if they do at all) and are likely to be dismissed as “weirdo crap” by most people, and only Rob Halford is more metal than that.
Disturbed: fuck no.
Lordi: never really paid much attention to them, but if GWAR is metal, Lordi certainly is.
Rammstein: yes. They’re German. Germans know their metal. Enough said.
Leaves Eyes: never heard of them.
System of a Down: fuck no. They’re just irritating, like wasps at a picnic.
Avenged Sevenfold: fuck no. They inhale record company executive sperm while playing “bitchin'” solos that are so bereft of tone they sound like a fucking Casio keyboard. Terrible.
Blood Stain Child: never heard of them.
Metallica: see the bulk of my post. If you don’t have every note of their first five albums tattooed on your skull, you’re a tone deaf knobhead and a perv. Especially the legendary trifecta of Ride, Puppets and Justice.

Lorand
March 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I kind of agree with what you call metal (it’s really obvious that you are an old school metalhead \m/). But I don’t agree with your statement on System of a Down. Why? Well, they aren’t really nu-metal because they are really atypical for that genre. They might not have lots of solos but lyrically they deal with freedom (most of the time) and they are REALLY hard to play. I could master a Maiden song a lot sooner than a SOAD song (on the bass guitar at least). This is just what I think. Slipknot falls in the same category by my standards even though I will admit that they are closer to the “classic” nu metal sound. They have really intricate songs even if they tend to be more rhythmic. SOAD and SK could as well be rated as a form of progressive metal! If you will compare them to Korn, Godsmack, POD or other nu metalers you will see that they stand out of the bunch. But just because I called them proggy do not compare them to your classic prog metal artists. Conclusion: if it’s hard to play and if it gives you a soul boner, it’s metal. Then again, I could be wrong. SOAD are indeed experimental but in my book they are metal. As for the others…

Sunn O))) – I’m not sure if I could call them metal. I mean, they sound ‘metal’ but they’re just droning around. I really like their songs! I might be a bit subjective here… I think they could be considered a really weird type of sludge metal.

Disturbed – I don’t like ’em because I don’t think that they have a metal attitude. So, in my opinion, not metal.

Lordi – harder rock.

Rammstein – I have a sometimes like/hate relationship with this band but they’re definitely not metal even if they are metal sometimes (catch my drift?).

Leaves Eyes – they make me want to save the princess so yeah, they’re metal!

Avenged Sevenfold – I don’t think they’re metal. Haven’t listened to them much (I think I just listened to one song once) but there wasn’t anything metal about them.

Blood Stain Child – they’re Japanese musicians so we can expect anything from them (NOT in a pejorative context). I would go ahead and call them metal when they are metal. When they aren’t metal you can really tell that they didn’t intend to sound metal.

Metallica – I guess that most people would call them un-metal sellouts but I love them and always will. Metal all the way (by the way, I even consider St. Anger a damn metal album just because it’s so rawness and personal feeling).

J
March 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm
regularstarfish
May 31, 2011 at 2:54 am

I just discovered your site and this post cracked me up. I found you from the Sister Wolf Black Metal post. Have fun in Germany – too bad I can’t go :(

steff
June 1, 2011 at 11:44 am

Awesome – glad to have you around! I love Sister Wolf – she always manages to cut straight through the bullshit. You should come to Germany on day!

jj
May 22, 2011 at 7:00 am

limp bizkit isnt metal but i have found some very very metally songs like dont go off wandering or eat you alive or nobody like you

slayer is my fav real metal band

Bossk
April 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Hi I’m New to this site, my GF showed to me and I’m liking what I’ve read so far, great suff here, Keep up the good work Steff! :)

Now, I’ve been listening to Metal for almost 17 years now, I started when I was 11 – 12 years old (I’m 27 now) back in 1994 when my brother blew my mind by making me listen to Metallica’s Black Album, I was a big fan of NIRVANA at the time ’cause I thought it was “heavy music”, but when I listened to SAD BUT TRUE I realized “WOAH! now THIS is HEAVY”, I felt in love with Metal and it’s been a happy marriage ever since haha :)

I discovered a couple of guys at school that were also into Metal and soon we found ourselves tape trading with Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Pantera, Slayer etc. All the classic Stuff. That encouraged ourselves to make our own band (it seemed so natural trying to emulate our music heroes) so we started rehearsing and played shows ever since (although I’ve been in a lot of bands, both as a drummer and singer, I’m currently in a pretty serious band called HELLIUM: http://hellium.bandcamp.com).

At that time, there was no internet (at least not in Lima – PERU) and it was kinda expensive to buy cds so we just had tape recordings from borrowed cds. It felt kinda weird when one of my friends brought Korn’s 1st cd “KORN” for all to listen, it was something different, there was no “nu-metal” term at the time but it was really obvious for us that THIS WASN’T METAL, so it wasn’t the media, it wasn’t some old school metalhead telling us, but our own love for REAL Metal that showed us the TRUE answer, we enjoyed KORN nevertheless (We even covered “Blind” many times at shows) but we were completely sure that KORN had nothing to do with Maiden and the likes.

So, for me the best (and only) way to know if one band is METAL or not is knowing the basis, if you know how REAL Metal sounds, nobody can tell you the opossite, you’ll feel it in your heart and soul, it’s something I can’t describe with words, but it just make sense (I’m sure you all Metalheads understand what I’m saying). You’ll even be capable enough to tell when a Metal band starts to make something that’s NOT METAL (Example: Metallica’s “LOAD”,”RELOAD”, “ST.ANGER” & “DEATH MAGNETIC”).

Now, in order to get to this stage you’ll have to listen to a lot of old school metal bands from the various genres of Metal that exists for some time and with some knowledge everything will be easier. Nowadays everyone’s into mp3’s and that’s great but I think that it’s easier to make mistakes in your path to knowledge of metalhead if you download entire band discographies instead of focusng on one album at a time.
I also think it’s better if you got some kind of help from an experienced metalhead who can give you guidelines in what to listen first and when to listen to it (to prevent you know about Nargaroth before knowing about Saxon or Accept).

Well, that being said (and I hope I didn’t bore you all) here’s my opinion on the band list you posted:

Slipknot:
NOT Metal, Not even hard rock, not even rock! Hahaha, it’s really difficult to describe Slipknot it has some metal elements (very few), some rock elements, some hip hop elements, some emo elements and a lot of stage theatrics :)

Sun (((O:
NOT Metal, really experimental stuff, some metal elements here and there, but nope, NOT Metal.

Disturbed:
NOT Metal, this band has some good songs, but nope, NOT Metal at all.

Lordi:
NOT Metal, this is plain hard rock.

Ramnstein:
NOT Metal, This is more like Industrial rock with lots of eletrocnica and techno in between.

Leaves Eyes:
METAL, gothic symphonic Metal to be more accurate (which is kinda mellow metal) but deffinitely Metal.

System of a Down:
NOT Metal at all, this band has some good songs, but the majority of them are really lame and I despise their attitude trying to be Metal.

Avenged Sevenfold:
NOT Metal, this is mallcore.

Blood Stain Child:
NOT Metal, MALLCORE as it’s best.

Metallica:
USED TO BE METAL (from “Kill ’em all” to “black Album”), USED TO BE HARD ROCK (“Load & “Reload”), USED TO BE CRAP (“St.Anger”), Currently trying to make Metal with not so good results (“Death Magnetic”)

steff
April 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm

@Bossk – thanks for an awesome comment – thank your girlfriend for me for introducing you to my site! I remember the first time I heard Korn and the weird guitar sound they’ve perfected – thought it was pretty awesome, but the problem with them was always that there was only 2-3 really decent songs on every album – I brought their best of and it’s really the only one you need. They were a band I never thought of as metal either, until everyone else at my school called them metal, and I got a bit confused. The term “no metal” seems a convenient way to label these bands, but not, perhaps, the most descriptive in terms of sound.

hawk_spirit
January 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm

do you consider any of these bands as heavy metal: Deep Purple, AD/DC, Rainbow, Motley Crue, Skid Row?

steff
January 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm

@hawk_spirit – an excellent question! I was talking to my husband about this whole “what is metal?” discussion today and it was interesting how much even we couldn’t agree on some of these. Here’s what I think – please feel free to disagree.
Motley Crue and Skid Row are metal – there’s a VERY fine line between glam metal and glam rock, and they fit on the metal side. I’m NOT a fan of glam myself, and I tend to fall on the side of folks who think it’s not really metal at all, but that’s just me :)
AC/DC – rock/hard rock. Their importance to metal can’t be denied. Their popularity over here and the way they’re advertised on the radio as a rock band is probably a big influence on my opinion.
Deep Purple – rock/prog rock/hard rock, but certain songs are definitely metal. They’re hard to classify I think, because their sound changed and progressed so much. I think of them like Led Zep – they’re SO important to what metal is, but I wouldn’t call Led Zep metal, although I know many would, and you couldn’t say they’re wrong.
Rainbow – classic metal, although, in fairness, I’ve only heard one Rainbow album (a best of) and it sounded pretty classic metal to me, but I’m told their later stuff was pure commercial rock.

steff
January 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm

@Rob – I definitely saw it, and was going to get my post up yesterday and then go to an extreme metal gig, then my folks showed up on my door randomly by accident, so I ended up hanging out with them instead. But here it is:

http://steffmetal.com/is-this-band-metal/

Enjoy \m/

Rob
January 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm

@Steff
I think this kind of blended in at the end of my post, but I was curious if you were going to give your opinion on the bands you listed

Nessbow
January 13, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Brilliant, utterly brilliant. Keep these posts coming!

Rob
January 13, 2011 at 11:25 am

Okay first things first..for any noobie metalheads….you need to add Metal Archives to your favorites page:

http://www.metal-archives.com/index.php

While it is not all encompassing it will be your greatest resource for metal on the web. It will list discography, some distros for purchase (or ebay), and will link to the home, myspace, etc of most bands. Please understand that this page does not consider a lot of nu-metal, metalcore or deathcore to be actual metal. If this is your genre of choice you may be S.O.L.

Second..a quick note on harsh vocals. Dont let anyone try and say that its takes little or no skill to do these. Its a very hard technique to do without jacking up your voice. Also many growlers have very impressive clean vocals, and are able to switch back and forth with ease. (for example Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth)

Onto the list:

Slipknot – not metal, this is definitive mallcore and no real metalhead would be caught listening to them. The use of turntables, simplistic beats, no real guitar solos, and reliance on verse chorus verse (a lot of extreme/underground metal ignores this) remove them from the metal category

Sunn O))) – Drone metal, very odd, not really my thing, but for people who have a interest in noise bands worth checking out

Disturbed – Not metal, gets thrown in with Nu-metal, but I always thought of them as more of a hard rock band

Lordi – Yes, I mean theyre no Gwar, but hey who is

Rammstein – No theyre a Industrial/techno rock band

Leaves Eyes – Yes, Symphonic metal

System of a Down – No, not that easy to label as they use a lot of different influences, but more rock/nu-metal

Avenged Sevenfold – this is pop/rock music, anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves

Blood Stain Child – isnt this that pile of WTF you posted a few weeks back, my head says yes this is metal, my heart says this shouldnt exist in a sane world

Metallica – Was metal until the Black album (which wasnt as bad as people pretend, but not a metal album), everything from the Black album to the present is hard rock

@Steff…are we going to get your opinions on the bands you listed?

PorridgeBear
January 13, 2011 at 11:23 am

I think the larger-than-life/fantastical nature of a whole host of metal bands does not define metal for me personally. Those types of bands like Eluveitie, Lordi, Nightwish, Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica and so on – power metal/fantasy bands are of course metal, but do not define it. In fact Eluveitie I have on now and the last 2 songs have not actually been metal at all, more something out of a Eurovision song contest. Clearly I am on the wrong CD.

For me, it really just comes down to the instrumentation and power – predominantly distorted guitars and the way a song is structured (riffs/solo) and then also the vocals are important.

Every one of the bands on your list is metal in my book for these reasons. As are Korn and nu-metal.

There is a very excellent documentary on what metal is and you would be amazed at the tree of sub-classifications that arises from the blues/rock roots.

I think what you are really talking about is your own personal preference/leaning to a particular sub-class of metal. But that is not the only metal. In my view.

steff
January 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm

@PorridgeBear Yes, everything on this blog IS my opinion, and, as I do say quite regularly, I’m NOT the authority on metal, so I’m always happy when someone pipes up with an intelligent disagreement, like you did.

I make no secret of that fact that many of my favorite bands come from the Europe scene, particularly the genres you mention, but I’d like to think I’m pretty familiar with metal from all over the world. It’s always hard when discussing lyrical themes because lyrics can be interpreted in many different ways and mean different things to different people. Unless a band actually tells you “this is what I wrote this song about”, you might just be guessing.

The “larger-then-life” fantasy themes are certainly more overt in genres like power, folk and symphonic metal, but they’re definitely present in the more underground genres. Death metal often use gratuitious violence and gore – the musical equivalent of a horror film (which is a fantasy). They might use serial killers, historic battles or other real-life events as the basis for a song, but it’s done in such a way as to transport the listener to that battle, or inside the head of that serial killer – again, fantasy. Black metal in particular often deals with mythology and pre-christian religion, or the eternal struggle between good and evil (on evil’s side). Bands like Bathory, Behemoth, Nile, Destroyer 666 and Cannibal Corpse are some that spring immediately to mind. That’s what I mean by fantasy. Metal is not by any means the ONLY genre that uses these themes and concepts, but I do think it’s a distinctive part of what makes metal metal.

Are you talking about “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”? That’s an excellent doco, and I’m looking forward to the series they’re bringing out this year based on the metal family tree.

Ali Luke
January 13, 2011 at 9:32 am

Hurrah! Just the series I wanted!

Like Wei-Wei above, I’m a real metal n00b…. my homework isn’t gonna be graded, right? :-S

Slipknot
– Metal — in fact, my first ever encounter with metal, when I was about 14. The goth girl in our school creative writing group brought along Slipknot CDs — this was before they were really well known — and we wrote terrible poetry after listening to them. Unsurprisingly, I found them rather bemusing and unintelligible…

Sun (((O
– Um, never heard of them either :-( Could we have links to some reasonably representative samples..?

Disturbed
– I think they’re metal, though maybe bordering on nu-metal? They’ve got the energy and riffs and those grunting bits of metal… right?

Lordi
– Metal. Another of my earliest experiences with metal, with Hard Rock Hallelujah, in 2006. Now I listen to it again, I don’t actually remember listening to it first time round. But I do remember an online friend sending me Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, and I remember being pleasantly surprised I liked it.

It took me another two years to bother finding any other Metallica to listen to. I still regret that…

Ramnstein
– Haven’t listened to anything by them. I’m saying “metal” cos they’re German…

Leaves Eyes
– Never heard of ’em

System of a Down
– Not metal. See, I read the lesson! (Also, I’ve played BYOB on Guitar Hero, and it doesn’t “sound” properly metal to me…)

Avenged Sevenfold
– Metal? Not totally sure. I got “Nightmare” from my hubby’s family for Christmas, and this reminds me I need to unpack and listen to it!

Blood Stain Child
– Never heard of them. Their name sounds metal. I’ll say Metal.

Metallica

– METAL!!!!!!!!!! \m/ \m/

*ahem*
When I started freelancing, I was doing some website coding work. I like to listen to music, and poked around on Media Player. Listened to Enter Sandman. It FINALLY occured to me that if I liked Enter Sandman, I might like other stuff by Metallica.

I listened to Master of Puppets, and then, rapidly, everything else of Metallica’s that I could get my graspy little hands on.

For the next year or so, I didn’t consider anything to be “proper metal” unless it sounded like Metallica. I’m trying to get a bit beyond that stage now ;-)

Noctis
January 13, 2011 at 9:27 am

Miley needs to be shot for that photo. ‘Nuff said.

I love your blog! It’s given me a lot of insight about Metal and Life, even.

I discovered Metal in High School (6 years ago)–my boyfriend was a metal drummer and liked Cradle of Filth. That started everything for me. Though it took me until just a few months ago to figure out the drums are my fave instrument. They really start it for me, while everything else about the music comes blasting through, and makes me smile ear to ear. Also, I was at a concert, the drummer played a solo between songs, and it was AMAZING. Enough to tell a non-Metalhead friend that if she was bored by drums, she’s not listening to the right music. Jokingly of course. :)

So, Slipknot: No. I hate them with a passion. I loved them for Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses. Then Psychosocial came out, and it was the most boring thing I’ve heard since Temptation by Cradle of Filth. They are not metal in my book–not anymore.
Sun (((O: Don’t know much about them, but listening to their stuff…. It seems more Gothic.
Disturbed: To me falls more into Hard Rock.
Lordi: I’d classify them in the “Heavy Metal” genre. To me, Heavy metal is (often, not always) older, and slower. It’s the beginning of Metal, paving the way for Black and Death metal as I know it.
Ramnstein: Heavy Metal as well. I do call them metal, because they have all the elements. While their music is slower and a little less technical (therefore grabbing the “heavy” title), overall they still have the “Metal” presence.
Leaves Eyes: Metal. Actually very awesome.
System of a Down: I still like them, they were one of my first “Metal” bands. And while they have elements of pop and other genres, I’d still say they’re mostly metal.
Avenged Sevenfold: Haha, pop. They were hard rock at their best. Now they’ve taken a pop attitude, probably to stay popular, or to pioneer “mainstream metal.” Haha.
Blood Stain Child: Anything from Japan, to me, defies any and all classification.
Metallica: Heavy Metal. I may not like them/their music, but I still respect them as Metal Gods.

Ryder5431
January 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Wow how could avenged sevenfold be pop?
Its like compairing bullet for my valentine to justin beiber! If you listen to avenged sevenfold waking the fallen album your minds will be changed.
Since when do pop singers scream like shadows does???
In there album ‘avenged sevenfold’ it is less metally i guess but not pop, and in nightmare it is purposely played more soft, sad and slow because there best friend and drummer (Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan) died!!

Anyway moving on.

Slipknot: Almost metal
Sun: never heard of
Disturbed: almost metal
Lordi: i think are heavy metal ive only heard one song
Ramstein: no i think there just weird dont even know what genre
Leaves eyes: never heard of
System of a down: kind of like disturbed i think so almost metal
Avenged sevenfold: yes metal
Blood stain child: never heard of
Metallica: yes metal, most people would say heavy metal, bit why is there such thing as heavy metal when metal is already heavy..?

steff
January 9, 2013 at 11:41 pm

@Rhyder – Good list, dude! As I’ve said, I’m no authority on metal, and I make no bones about everything on this site being MY OPINION only. I don’t believe it’s possible to be 100% objective when listening to and evaluating music. You like what you like. I don’t like Avenged Sevenfold. I’ve heard enough of their stuff – although I couldn’t name the songs – to know I don’t care to hear anymore. Possibly I’ve mostly heard that slow album you were talking about, because to me they always sounded really pop/alt more than metal. Although, to be fair, I just listened to their song, “Carry On” on Youtube, and, although I’m still not a fan of the vocals, this isn’t actually too bad, and I’d call that metal for sure.

Trust me, those guys are doing A-OK – they don’t need a measly metal blogger to like them.

Using “heavy metal” is a genre is quite confusing – I think people use it to describe really early bands, or bands who sound like the early stuff. I don’t know why – perhaps in homage to their influence? I’ve heard “traditional metal” used too, which tends to be the one I favour if I’m talking about this kind of thing. But generally I just use “metal” or “heavy metal” for everything and split stuff into thrash, NWOBHM, etc.

Wei-Wei
January 13, 2011 at 9:09 am

Okay I’m going to admit – I’m a complete beginner to metal here. I’m going to start by describing what I listen to at the moment and what I like – and I’d like to emphasise the fact that I do NOT describe myself as a metalhead because I do listen to other music, and metal is just one of the genres I listen to and like to study because it’s incredibly interesting, especially all the subgenres and how different they can sound.

I listen to Rammstein, Fear Factory, Dream Theater, Sonata Arctica, System of a Down, and Keane. I am a big fan of “industrial” music and music driven by a strong beat and bassline (hopefully am getting a bass soon!). I transferred to a new school this year and there’s this group of metalhead kids who I befriended; one of them introduced me to power metal, black metal, blackened death metal, and so much more.

So that’s that. Now…

Slipknot – you know what? Slipknot, when I do listen to them, are good, but I don’t listen to them on a regular basis. I seem to think that I’m coarse, but I simply cannot tell the difference between their songs. My metalhead friends love Slipknot and own their hoodies and everything, but in my opinion they’re a little over commercialised. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve been too lazy to really explore their music, though.
Sun (((O – never heard of them.
Disturbed – heard one song once, and it was on a parody video named “How to be Emo”. It sounded like Nu Metal. I’ll pass.
Lordi – never heard of them.
Rammstein – two Ms! I like them because 1) they’re German, 2) I love their political themes, 3) it just sounds so deep and bassy and badass. I really don’t know if they’d be classified as metal though, but they’re pretty extreme on the theatrics and military getup. I have an obsession with the military, too.
Leaves Eyes – never heard of them. See? I’m clueless… a lot.
System of a Down – I listen to these guys on a regular basis because they’re catchy and make me giggle with ridiculous lyrics. But I know that they’re not metal – they’re experimental rock with metal influences. I don’t pretend that they’re metal.
Avenged Sevenfold – no. Just… no. I listened to them two years ago before my rebellious streak died down and I became a fan of Lady Gaga. I considered them heavy metal then; now I kind of know better. I hope.
Blood Stain Child – nope. Never heard of.
Metallica – thrash metal? Metallica are part of the big four (I believe it’s Iron Maiden, Megadeth, something else, and Metallica.) but the songs that I have listened to (Enter Sandman, Fade to Black, etc) are just so… meh. They’re good, but they sound much more like hard rock to me with the kind of guitar riffs that are used.

SO that’s my naive opinion. SCHOOL ME, STEFF! I’M COUNTING ON YOU!

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