Definitions of Metal Genres and Related Musical Terms

This glossary is meant to provide insight into the genre names and related terms I use in my writings and therefore clarify my meaning. These definitions are relatively brief, though more elaborate explanations of the boundaries between musical styles will come in long-form posts. It is important to note the distinction between genre and subgenre. Genre is a large style of music, and subgenre is a smaller style within a genre.

alchemy

An innovative and metamorphic style of music that evolved directly from progressive metal. It no longer holds any clear connections to hard rock or heavy metal, and is therefore not a form of metal music. Examples of alchemy include albums from Ayreon, Symphony X albums beginning with Paradise Lost, and releases from Dream Theater beginning with Falling Into Infinity.

alternative metal

A misnomer for a hybrid musical style. See magma.

American power metal

Originated in the United States, though the term now refers to a style of music and not a band’s country of origin. American power metal is an outgrowth and subtle evolution of heavy metal. It features a more “powerful” sound that incorporates elaborate drumming, including use of double bass, emphasis on advanced picking techniques, and generally more speed and detail than heavy metal. Examples include ‘80s releases from Sanctuary, Chastain, and Vicious Rumors.

Doom metal

A metal subgenre. Along with heavy metal, it is one of the first two forms of metal music. It is typified by ponderous, downtempo song compositions and a pervasive sense of unease, despair, or sadness. Black Sabbath’s first four albums feature songs that are precursors to doom metal, though the style did not emerge in full until the mid ‘80s with albums from bands like Pentagram and Candlemass. Doom metal frequently overlaps with heavy metal and death metal.

European power metal

Originated in Europe, though the term now refers to a style of music and not a band’s country of origin. Also called melodic power metal. It is the direct evolution of heavy metal from hard rock, and it retains many of its progenitors’ characteristics. Characterized by high speed, technical precision, and clean, soaring vocals. It shares a large overlap with speed metal, but differs in its use of highly melodic and anthemic chorus hooks as well as its inclusion of ballads. Examples include releases in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s from Blind Guardian, Scanner, and Helloween.

genre

A broad category of music. Examples of genres include blues, jazz, new wave, and metal. Subgenres are smaller groups that comprise a genre. See also subgenre.

glam metal

A misnomer for a style of hard rock music. See glam rock.

glam rock

A form of melodic hard rock that rose to prominence in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It is associated with the hair bands of the ‘80s. Glam rock is often mistakenly classified as “glam metal” or “hair metal,” but despite its similar origins and playing style, it is not a form of metal music. Examples of glam rock bands include Queen, Kiss, and Poison. See also hair rock.

hard rock

A subgenre of rock music. Of all styles of rock music, it is the nearest musical neighbor to the metal genre, and overlaps in places with heavy metal. This style flourished in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Like all rock music, it is a direct descendant of the blues, and frequently exhibits its characteristics. Examples of hard rock include ‘70s-era releases from Rainbow, AC/DC, and Scorpions.

hair metal

A misnomer for a style of hard rock music. See hair rock.

hair rock

A form of highly melodic hard rock music that reached mainstream popularity in the ‘80s. Closely related to glam rock. It is often mistakenly classified as “hair metal,” or “glam metal,” but despite similar origins and playing style, it is not a form of metal music. Hair rock refers to a band’s playing style and not necessarily their appearance. Examples of hair rock bands include Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, and Warrant. See also glam rock.

heavy

An imprecise adjective to describe the relative density and weight of a metal band’s sound. Death metal is generally the heaviest form of metal music, followed by thrash and black metal. By the nature of metal evolution, heavy metal is the least heavy form of metal music.

heavy rock

Music that occupies the space between heavy metal and hard rock. Not a full genre on its own, but a useful descriptor for bands and albums that play a nebulous style on the boundaries between the two styles of music. Album examples of heavy rock include Y&T’s Black Tiger, Scorpions’ Blackout, Saxon’s Strong Arm of the Law, and Pretty Maids’ Red, Hot, and Heavy.

heavy metal

A specific subgenre of metal. Along with doom metal, it is one of the first two forms of metal music. Examples of heavy metal include ‘80s releases from Armored Saint, Dio, and Iron Maiden. The subgenre is distinct from closely related styles like thrash metal and European power metal. However, speed metal and American power metal display relatively small evolutions of the heavy metal sound, and are therefore frequently considered under its umbrella.

magma

A musical genre. It is an avant-garde style that proliferated through the mid and late ‘90s in the fallout of the demise of traditional metal, especially in North America. It fuses aspects of rock and metal with non-traditional elements such as turntablism, industrial noise, Latin drums and rhythms, and hip-hop. This music is often mistakenly classified as metal and rock music, usually as “nu metal” or “alternative metal.” However, its high level of experimentation has severed its connection to traditional metal styles, and it therefore deserves its own genre. Examples of magma bands include Korn, Slipknot, and Rammstein.

melodic power metal

See European power metal.

metal

A musical genre. Broadly speaking, metal is a category similar in size and scope to rock, jazz, blues, and new wave. It is not to be confused with heavy metal, which is its own subgenre of metal music. Metal includes subgenres like doom, heavy, power, thrash, death, and black. See also traditional metal.

metamorphic

An adjective to describe experimental styles of music that have evolved beyond the metal genre, such as alchemy and magma.

molten

An adjective to describe experimental styles of music that have evolved beyond the metal genre, such as alchemy and magma.

nu metal

A misnomer for a hybrid musical style. See magma.

NWOBHM

New Wave of British Heavy Metal. A catch-all name for British bands in the early ‘80s playing the first forms of true heavy metal. Because bands in this group played notably different styles of heavy metal from one another, the term refers to a band’s era and native country and not their playing style. It is therefore not a metal subgenre. NWOBHM bands include Iron Maiden, Battleaxe, and Judas Priest.

NWOTHM

New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal. A catch-all name for bands playing ‘80s-style heavy metal, speed metal, and American power metal. This era began in the late ‘00s and continues into the present. NWOTHM bands play a large variety of music, and the name therefore indicates a band’s era and general style of music. Like NWOBHM, it is not a metal subgenre.

power metal

A direct evolution of heavy metal that retains many of the earlier subgenre’s characteristics. As the name implies, it is a more aggressive, elaborate, and powerful style of heavy metal. Power metal shares a significant overlap with heavy metal, speed metal, and thrash metal. A high number of power metal releases from the ‘80s can be classified within the scope of heavy metal, while releases in the European style throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s have their own distinct identity. Many NWOTHM bands play a style of old school power metal. Examples of power metal albums include Chastain’s Ruler of the Wasteland, Amulance’s Feel the Pain, Portrait’s Burn the World, and Air Raid’s Across the Line. See also American power metal and European power metal.

progressive metal

A subgenre of metal that is closely related to heavy metal. It emphasizes technical skill and elaborate song structures. Classic album examples of progressive metal include Queensryche’s Rage for Order, Fates Warning’s Perfect Symmetry, and Dream Theater’s When Dream and Day Unite. A modern example is Trial’s Motherless album. However, very few progressive metal albums exist beyond the mid ‘90s. The term is frequently mistakenly used for alchemy, a highly metamorphic style that is not a form of metal music. See also alchemy.

rock

A musical genre. Rock music is one of the largest and most diverse genres of music with dozens of subgenres, including hard rock. It is closely related to the blues.

speed metal

A subtle and direct evolution of heavy metal that is fundamentally faster in its delivery. More traditional forms, such as those played by Liege Lord and early Running Wild, can be called heavy metal, while others, like early Blind Guardian and Scanner, constitute European power metal. Speed metal’s boundaries are far less distinct than those of other metal subgenres. It occupies the immediate musical space between heavy metal and European power metal, and more peripherally, from heavy metal to American power metal and thrash metal.

subgenre

A narrow style of music that exists within a genre. Examples of subgenres include darksynth, heavy metal, death metal, synthpop, italo disco, and dark electro. See also genre.

thrash metal

A large metal subgenre. It is an outgrowth of heavy metal and speed metal and is characterized by dense, technical riffing and drumming along with frequently coarse or harsh vocals. Thrash metal developed concurrently with death metal, and there is a significant overlap between the two styles. Examples of thrash metal include early releases from Tankard, Overkill, and Kreator.

traditional heavy metal

An emphatic way of referring to heavy metal that distinguishes it from other metal subgenres. See heavy metal.

traditional metal

A catch-all term that refers to forms of metal music developed during the ‘80s and early ‘90s. These include heavy, doom, power, progressive, thrash, death, and black, as well as related forms of those subgenres, such as melodic death metal and European power metal. All forms of traditional metal have clearly perceptible roots in Black Sabbath’s pre-doom metal of the ‘70s or the heavy metal of the early ‘80s. See also metal.

true heavy metal

An emphatic way of referring to heavy metal that distinguishes it from other metal subgenres. See heavy metal.

true metal

An emphatic way of referring to all metal genres that distinguishes them from non-metal genres like magma and alchemy. See traditional metal.