Defining Heavy Metal Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


When it comes to metal music, there are a lot of different subgenres and styles. But what exactly is heavy metal music? In this blog post, we’ll attempt to define heavy metal music and explore its various subgenres.

What is heavy metal music?

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States. With roots in blues rock and psychedelic rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. The genre’s lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.

In 1968, three years after the genre’s inception, several British rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were commercially successful, selling millions of records and touring constantly to packed arenas worldwide. By the early 1970s, heavy metal had been adopted by mainstream North American audiences. Glam rock bands such as Alice Cooper and Kiss rose to prominence during this period.

The history of heavy metal music

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has its roots in blues-rock and psychedelic rock, and is often characterized by a dense, loud sound, large sonic vocabulary, and highly distorted guitars. Heavy metal lyrics often deal with topics such as death, violence, betrayal, and other dark themes.

Early metal bands

Early metal bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were influenced by blues music and psychedelic rock. Their heavier sound was a reaction to the lighter, more pop-oriented sound of the time. These bands helped to establish heavy metal as its own genre, with its own set of characteristics.

Heavy metal is typically characterized by distorted guitars, emphatic rhythms, and aggressive lyrics. The genre is often associated with Satanism and other dark themes. Metal bands often dress in black and use onstage theatrics to create a sense of menace.

While early metal bands were mostly British, the genre quickly gained popularity in the United States and elsewhere. American bands like Metallica and Megadeth became some of the most successful metal bands of all time. In the 1990s, a new subgenre known as nu-metal emerged, blending metal with elements of hip-hop and other genres.

Today, heavy metal remains one of the most popular genres of music in the world. It has spawned dozens of subgenres and inspired countless musicians.

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) is a term used to describe a period of English heavy metal music that started in the late 1970s and reached its peak in the early to mid-1980s. It was a direct reaction to the excesses of the glam metal scene that had arisen in America and Great Britain earlier in the decade.

NWOBHM bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Diamond Head, and Saxon were influenced by the energy and attitude of punk rock, but they also took inspiration from classic metal acts such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin. These bands injected new life into heavy metal with their powerful riffs, high-pitched vocals, and tight song structures.

The NWOBHM quickly gained popularity in England thanks to heavy rotation on radio stations like BBC Radio 1 and passionate support from the music press. The scene reached its commercial height in 1980 with the release of Iron Maiden’s debut album, which entered the UK charts at number 4. The movement began to fade in the late 1980s as grunge and alternative rock eclipsed heavy metal’s popularity, but many NWOBHM bands have continued to enjoy success well into the 21st century.

The American metal scene

All of these bands paved the way for the next generation of American metal, which would be defined by two bands: Metallica and Megadeth. These bands would take the speed and aggression of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and mix it with the technical precision and musicianship of progressive rock. The result was a new sound that would come to be known as thrash metal.

The elements of heavy metal music

The sound of heavy metal

The electric guitar is the defining instrument of metal. It is frequently heavily distorted and amplified to the point where it produces a range of harsh, unpleasant sounds. This sound is often achieved by using a distortion pedal. The heavy metal guitar sound is sometimes achieved by down-tuning the strings to create a heavier, thicker sound.

The electric bass provides the low-end sound in metal. It is often amplified to produce a range of harsh, unpleasant sounds. This sound is sometimes achieved by using a distortion pedal. The heavy metal bass sound is sometimes achieved by down-tuning the strings to create a heavier, thicker sound.

The drums are often played with very high levels of volume and distortion. The drummer may use a double bass drum set-up to create a particularly heavy sound. Drummers may also use cymbals that produce a range of unpleasant, screeching sounds.

The vocals in metal are often aggressive and screamed or shouted rather than sung. They may be further distorted using effects pedals.

The look of heavy metal

Heavy metal fashion often includes tight-fitting jeans, leather jackets, band shirts, and spiked or Studded belts. Common styles of hair include long and curly, short and dyed, or shaved heads with long beards. Fans of heavy metal music often dress in a way that identifies them as part of the subculture.

The look of heavy metal is often aggressive and intimidating, but it can also be outrageous and ridiculous. Many fans of the genre enjoy the shock value of extreme styles.

The culture of heavy metal music

Heavy metal music is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has its roots in blues rock and psychedelic rock, and is characterized by distorted guitars, bass guitar, drums, and vocals. Heavy metal music has been described as “a renegade form of rock music” that is “dangerous to the establishment”.

The fans of heavy metal

Heavy metal music has been around for over six decades, and in that time, it has amassed a massive global following. Fans of heavy metal music are typically passionate and dedicated, often attending concerts and festivals and collecting memorabilia.

Many fans of heavy metal music are also active members of the online community, sharing their love of the genre on forums and social media. This online community can be a great place to discover new bands and make new friends who share your passion for heavy metal.

The music festivals

Heavy metal music festivals are iconic within the metal community. They provide a place for like-minded fans to come together and share their love of music. Festivals also give bands a chance to connect with their fans and build a following.

Most festivals take place during the summer months, when the weather is warm and conducive to outdoor camping and concerts. Many festivals have multiple stages, with bands playing throughout the day and into the night. Some of the more popular festivals include Wacken Open Air in Germany, Download Festival in the UK, and Hellfest in France.

At these festivals, you can expect to see a wide variety of heavy metal subgenres represented. From black metal to death metal, there is something for everyone at a heavy metal music festival. If you’re a fan of heavy metal, attending one of these festivals is an experience you’ll never forget.

The heavy metal lifestyle

The heavy metal lifestyle is often associated with certain stereotypes, including long hair, black clothing, and a love of all things dark and demonic. But there is much more to the heavy metal lifestyle than these stereotypes would suggest.

For many fans of heavy metal music, the lifestyle is about more than just the music. It’s about a shared love of all things “heavy,” whether that’s hard-hitting drums, huge guitars, or guttural vocals. It’s also about a shared passion for the dark and occult side of life, something that is reflected in many heavy metal lyrics and images.

But beyond all of this, the heavy metal lifestyle is also about community. For many fans, being part of the heavy metal scene is about belonging to a group of like-minded people who share their love of all things heavy. This sense of community can be seen at metal shows, where fans often dress in similar fashion and can be seen sharing drinks and stories between bands.

So if you’re curious about the heavy metal lifestyle, don’t be afraid to dive in headfirst. There’s much more to it than you might think.

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