What is Metal?

Christ… I can’t believe I’m tackling this one. Metal is such a subjective term and it’s hard to specifically define it. There are also several sub genres of Metal… some more insane than others.

So let’s think about this for a moment… what is the makeup of a metal band? A self-proclaimed Metal Purist friend of mine says that the basic metal band is 2 guitarists, a singer, a bassist, and a set of drums.

Thus he considers bands like Five Finger Death Punch:

Or Killswitch Engage:

To be the quintessential makeup of Metal bands…

Bullshit. While they definitely fall under the metal category, I don’t believe that this is the basic standard for metal bands.

So what is?

Well it all started in the late 60s and 70s. Deep Purple is considered by many to be the first metal band with Black Sabbath and Led Zepplin following close behind. Those bands are/were made up the following way:

Led Zepplin:
Lead Guitar

Deep Purple:
Lead Guitar

Black Sabbath:

Now are these bands considered Metal? Eh… by people who have been with the genre that long, perhaps. Honestly, given the sound of their early work, I think the term proto-metal is more appropriate.

Proto-Metal had a few more names join in the 1970s, including Iron Butterfly, Steppinwolf (Yeah you heard me right), Blue Cheer, and the Stooges. Notice why I’m careful to label these as proto-metal. Alice Cooper would also be added to this mix, however despite starting in 1963, he really didn’t become part of what’s known as metal for many years and did not gain significant enough attention until the 70s.

It was around this time in the 1970s that punk rock began to explode into popular culture and soon became a huge phenomenon. Motorhead was really the first band to bridge the gap and metal… essentially piggybacked off of Punk Rock’s popularity to pull it into the mainstream. This is when metal was truly born. Bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon became household names with other bands such as the scorpions quickly followed.

Suddenly, Metal was in the mainstream and a new genre known as ‘glam metal’ and ‘hair metal’ came to center stage. This is where bands like Quiet Riot, Motley Crew, Guns n Roses, W.A.S.P. and others joined the mix. Even Van Halen is considered by some to be part of this genre. This was also the era of the British Heavy Metal invasion with bands like Judas Priest entering the fray. Yeah the 80s were a good time to be alive if you were in to that kind of music… but all good things have to end…

The 90s…

Anyone who was caught growing up between the 80s and the 90s knows the massive paradigm shift in music styles. It was swift, vicious… and it was NOT pretty.

Ugh… turn it off… turn it off… I SAID TURN IT THE (CENSORED) OFF!!!


Yeah thus begin the boy band wars of the 90s. It was a time when alternate and… arguably perverse styles of R&B, Dance, and techno got mixed together in what most people generally refer to as ‘Pop Music.’ It wasn’t a new phenomenon per se as it owed its roots to the 1970s, but it wasn’t anywhere near as huge or… intrusive at that point.

This is when metal went nuts. I mean went completely insane!

Suddenly Heavy Metal, Glam Metal, and Hair Metal broke up into SEVERAL subgenres…

Power Metal
Speed Metal
Pop Metal
Nu Metal
Rap Metal (Yes that’s a thing)
Avante Garde Metal
Black Metal
War Metal
Epic Metal
Victory Metal
Pirate Metal
Viking Metal
Rhythmic Metal
Symphonic Metal
Melodic Metal
and perhaps the most recognizable version… at least to people outside of the genre, Death Metal:

So with all of these genres… what does this mean?

Well it means that while this is metal:

So is this…




And yes, even this…

So what about this???

Um… I’ll leave that open to interpretation… Acapella Metal? Who knows…

But Jim, you still haven’t answered the big question, what is the basic metal band?

It’s a subjective term honestly. I do not share my friend’s view… why? Because that’s not the layout of the Heavy Metal bands, nor of the 80s bands and honestly the 70s and 80s are where metal really evolved into what we know and love. So with that in mind, the ideal metal band is as follows:

Lead Guitar
Rhythem Guitar


So then Jim, what is metal? 

Honestly, it’s a convoluted mess!!! Just don’t let anyone tell you that only death metal is true metal and you’ll be fine.

So how do you identify a metal band then???

… … I dunno.


I don’t know! Honestly, does it really matter? Listen to what you like. If you really need to know though, I’d consult the Encyclopedia Metallum. It’s  the best resource I know of…

Let me know what you think in the comments.


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11 thoughts on “What is Metal?

  1. Dominika says:

    No mention of Devin Townsend or Scrapping Young Lad (Extreme Metal)?! Never forget Progressive Metal~~! 😛

    Music genres sometimes remind me of literary genres; the further time goes on, the more subgenres become legitimized due to more people taking their work in various directions and the willingness of audiences to recognize those specific labels.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ToadieOdie says:

    I was kind of excited to find out there was an a capella metal group out there but then was disappointed to see them with a drummer in their videos. It’s not true a capella but I think their sound is good. Would I call them metal? I honestly wouldn’t have questioned it if it had been played and nothing had been said to me about the band. So in my book, sure they have a metal sound so kudos to them but they cheated by having a drummer!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Val McBeath says:

    I think the music we used to call heavy metal in the 70’s and 80’s now sounds very tame compared to the bands we have nowadays. I guess a lot depends how old you are!


  4. There is no simple answer to this question as the genre has changed so much since its beginnings. I loved watching Sam Dunn’s Metal Evolution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal_Evolution). I found that it was a really good history of the genre and some of the amazing interviews that he had a chance to do were incredible. I think of metal as heavy guitar, drums and vocals, one doesn’t overpower the others. It doesn’t need to be loud (although it typically is), it just needs to be powerful.


  5. I believe what you have called “Proto-Metal” (a good descriptor I would say) was called “Hard Rock” by a lot of folks back in the 1970s. Certainly, all the old-time rockers from that time that I know call it Hard Rock, and are generally hesitant even now to classify Black Sabbath or Led Zep as Metal.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Techno says:

    This layout is fantastic. I’ve been a long-time reader and I thoroughly benefit from the posts. I was thinking that I would share this collection of songs that I listen to on Spotify that I think all of us would like. http://spoti.fi/2v7a0MA

    Liked by 1 person

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