Listen to Heavy Metal

Are you interested in expanding your musical horizons to include heavier and faster music? Do you like the heaviness and speed of punk, hardcore, or metalcore but want something more complex and technical? Do you enjoy hair metal but want something less poppy? Do you already enjoy a bit heavy metal but want to go deeper into the music? This guide will help you introduce yourself to the heavy metal genre.

Before we begin, it should be noted that the genres of heavy metal and the lines between them are heavily debated within the metal community; it is not an exact science. The classifications below are commonly accepted, but debatable. It should also be noted that many genres and bands considered "metal" by many are not considered part of the genre by those who listen to heavy metal. These genres include nu-metal, alternative metal, metalcore, screamo, classic hard rock, hair metal (glam metal), and industrial, and they won't be a part of this article.

The best available resource for information on heavy metal is the Encyclopedia Metallum, which has a comprehensive listing of virtually all heavy metal bands and albums, along with reviews, lyrics, and histories. If you are interested in a general overview of the history and classification of heavy metal Ian Christe's Sound of the Beast is a good introduction, while Deena Weinstein's Heavy Metal: The Music And Its Culture is one of the few academic works on the subculture.

Metal is known for its more extreme sub-genres like thrash, death, and black metal, but at first you may want to avoid them as they are acquired tastes and can be very off-putting to those new to heavier music. In general, you will likely want to stick to classic metal, power metal, and American thrash metal at first. On the other hand, if you are used to other extreme genres like hardcore or metalcore and are looking for to further explore extreme music you may want to skip to the sections on death, black, and thrash metal.

  1. A good place to start listening is the classics, particularly Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. These two bands are admired by virtually all metalheads and set the tone for almost all metal that followed after them. In addition, they are relatively accessible to those who haven't listened to much metal.
    • Iron Maiden's output is has been consistently solid throughout their career, but their peak was in the mid-to-late-80's. Their 1984 Powerslave is a good start. The songs Aces High and Two Minutes to Midnight are classics showcasing Iron Maiden's signature style, while Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner is a stellar epic. Follow this up with Number of the Beast and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Anything else released by them in the 1980's will also be stellar. 2000's Brave New World is also fairly strong and is the best of their post-80's career.
    • Judas Priest has been less consistent than Iron Maiden, they've released some bombs (*cough*Turbo*cough*), but their highs are generally considered higher than Maiden's. Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith are both excellent starting points. Each has a number of classic songs and both are accessible. Their compilation Metal Works gathers a diverse array of their songs and can also be a good introduction. Following this, listen to 1990's Painkiller, one of their best CD's. It rejuvenated and updated their sound in response to innovations in the metal scene. It's heavier and faster, and not as accessible as their earlier work, but is an amazing introduction to the heavier sounds that started to take over metal in the 1980's.
  2. Next up, try Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath was the first metal band who started the whole genre. They're slower and heavier than either Maiden or Priest, and so less accessible, but they are still fairly successful outside the heavy metal culture. Begin with one of their first two albums, either Black Sabbath or Paranoid. Other albums from the early-70s are also fairly good. In the late-70's Sabbath began to decline, but with the replacement of Ozzy Osbourne by Ronnie Dio in 1979, quality picked up again. Both the 1980 Heaven and Hell and the 1981 Mob Rules are good but different due to Dio's differing voice. Following this Dio left the band and quality dropped. Post-Dio Sabbath's output is fairly spotty. Stick to early-70's and Dio-era Sabbath at first.
    • Following his departure from Black Sabbath, Ronnie Dio formed another band called Dio. Make sure to check out Dio's Holy Diver, it's a heavy metal classic. If you like it try some of his other work.
    • Following his departure from the band, Ozzy Osbourne also had a solo career. Try Blizzard of Ozz, which contains the classic song Crazy Train. If you like it, you may want to pick up more of his solo work.
  3. Following this try Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime. This is a classic and one of the defining concept albums of the genre. It is also very accessible for someone new to metal. Most of the rest of Queensrÿche's discography fails to live up to the promise shown in O:M.
  4. Manowar is a somewhat controversial band in metal circles. Known for their "cheesiness" and their hard line on "true metal", they take stereotypical metal culture and lyrical themes to almost ridiculous lengths. They are popular with a devoted fanbase, but are also often derided. They also provide a good introduction to metal. Try their albums Battle Hymns, Into Glory Ride (yes, the cover is ridiculous), and Kings of Metal.
  5. By this point you should have a general idea of basics sounds of metal and if you enjoy it. So far most of the bands listed have been in the traditional heavy metal
  6. Now that you've explored some of the basics of heavy metal, you can move onto exploring metal in-depth and finding your favourite niche within the genre. There are six major sub-genres of metal to explore:
    • Traditional Metal: This is less a sub-genre and more a catch-all term for metal that does not really fit into the other five categories. It generally refers to metal from the 1980's (or earlier) before metal began splitting into sub-genres or to later metal that has a similar sound. Generally, this metal is straight-forward and of moderate tempo with clean vocals, but it can be faster or slower. The aforementioned bands: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and early-1980's Manowar would all more or less fit in this genre. Grave Digger is an excellent introduction to straightforward traditional metal. Listen to their classic Tunes of War or Heart of Darkness.
    • Thrash Metal: Thrash metal took the metal sound and made it faster, more technical, more violent, faster, and heavier. The vocals are generally clean, but can sometimes veer into yelling or growling. There are generally two main strains of thrash American and Teutonic (German). Teutonic thrash is generally more brutal than American, so you might want to begin with the more accessible American thrash. Start with the Big Four: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax and stick to albums from the 1980's, as these bands generally declined in quality in the 1990's. Start with Metallica's Master of Puppets, Megadeth's Rust in Peace, Slayer's Reign in Blood, and Anthrax's Spreading the Disease. With Teutonic Thrash start with the Big Three: Sodom, Kreator, and Destruction and, again, stick to album from the 1980's. Good starting places are Kreator's Coma of Souls, Sodom's Agent Orange, and Destruction's Release from Agony.
    • Power Metal: Power metal combined the speed and intensity of thrash with the melodic tone and vocals of the NWOBHM. Power metal tends to be "happier" and more uplifting than the other sub-genres of metal. There are two major overlapping strands of power metal: American and European. European power metal is more melodic and often includes symphonic elements and keyboards, while American power metal tends to be more straightforward and faster. Some major players in European power metal include Blind Guardian, Sonata Arctica, and Hammerfall. A couple major bands in American power metal are Manowar and Iced Earth. Start with Hammerfall's Crimson Thunder as an accessible introduction. Then try Blind Guardian's Imaginations from the Other Side, Iced Earth's Dark Saga, Manowar's Kings of Metal, and Sonata Arctica's Reckoning Night for a good introduction to the sub-genre.
    • Death Metal: Death Metal took the aggression and intensity of thrash and made it even more brutal. The music is fast, heavy, and harsh and the vocals are usually harsh growls and roars. Melodeath is a major sub-sub-genre of black metal that is melodic, and you'll want to start with melodeath for it's easier for someone new to death metal to appreciate. Start with Amon's Amarth's Twilight of the Thunder God; it's catchy and relatively easy to get into. Other introductions to melodeath include In Flame's, Whoracle and Dark Tranquility's Skydancer. After listening to some melodeath, you can try some non-melodic death metal. Some good places to start are Obituary's Cause of Death, Death's Spiritual Healings, and Sepultura's Arise, which blurs the line between death and thrash.
    • Black Metal: Probably the most extreme of metal genres, this sub-genre is characterized by greater use of dissonance to create an atmospheric sound, (purposely) lower production value, and vocals consisting primarily of rasps and screams. Black metal is even more insular and underground then the rest of heavy metal. Start with Agalloch's the Mantle and Dimmu Borgir's Enthrone Darkness Triumphant. Some of the more hardcore black metal folks will deride these albums for not being black enough, but black metal is difficult to get into, so you want to ease in. Following this, try Emperor's In The Nightside Eclipse, Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Bathory's Bathory, Burzum's Filosofem, and Immortal's Pure Holocaust.
    • Doom/Gothic Metal: Doom metal eschews the speed of the rest of metal and replaces the speed with a slow, heavy, grinding sound. It also tends to be more atmospheric. Doom metal started with Black Sabbath, so begin with their aforementioned self-titled album. Some good places to go from there are Candlemass' Ancient Dreams, Cathedral's Forest of Equilibrium, and My Dying Bride's Turn Loose the Swans. Gothic metal mixes doom metal with a darker, gothic atmosphere. Unlike most metal sub-genres, gothic metal has a high proportion of female lead singers. Start with Lacuna Coils' Comalies as an accessible introduction, then give Paradise Lost's Gothic and 3rd and the Mortal's Tears Laid in Earth a listen.
  7. Beyond the five basic sub-genres there are almost an uncountable number of other sub-genres of metal, most of which overlap somewhat with the six major sub-genres. Here are a few of the larger ones:
    • Speed Metal: Speed metal has had a few different meanings at different times. At first it was used to distinguish the "faster" metal of the 1980's from the "slower" metal of that time, but this speed metal eventually evolved into thrash. Sometimes the term is used simply refer to any metal that is fast, or to any traditional metal that is fast. It's most common current usage is to refer to a vague genre of metal that is on the heavier/faster end of traditional metal, but is more melodic and does not have the same brutality as thrash. It's not a very well defined genre, making finding specific samples of speed metal difficult. Motörhead would probably the most popular band that would be primarily speed metal. Start with their album Ace of Spades; it's commonly accepted as one of their best, if not their best, and everybody knows of the title track. Aside from that, most of their other albums are solid, so there's no clear second choice, but try Overkill or Orgasmatron.
    • Folk Metal: Folk metal uses a base of other forms of metal, often power or black metal, and adds folk elements. The balance between folk and metal elements in the can vary; usually metal will predominate, but sometimes the folk elements will be more powerful, such as in Eluvietie's Arcane Dominion, where the metal elements are almost entirely absent. Some good albums to start with are Eluveitie's Slania, Finntroll's Nattfödd, Korpiklaani's Tales Along This Road, and Ensiferum's Iron. For folk metal of a non-European tradition, try Orphaned Land's Mabool.
    • Progressive Metal: This sub-genre mixes the sound of heavy metal, usually of the traditional or power sub-genres, with the stylings of progressive rock. It is characterized by elaborate song-writing and advanced musicianship. Aside from strictly progressive metal bands, many other bands of all sub-genres will add progressive elements to their music. The previously mentioned Operation: Mindcrime is an excellent, accessible introduction to progressive metal. Other albums to check out include Dream Theater's Awake and Fates Warning's Awaken the Guardian. Symphony X's Paradise Lost presents a heavier side of sub-genre while Opeth's Ghost Reveries is a good example of extreme progressive metal.
    • Viking Metal: This is a sub-genre of black and folk metal that lyrically focuses on Vikings. Some argue Viking metal is a simply a lyrical category, while others argue it has its own distinct sound. Either way, start with Bathory's Hammerheart, which was the start of the genre. After try out Enslaved's Vikingligr Veldi, Equilibrium's Turis Fratyr, and Mithotyn's Gathered Around the Oaken Table.
    • Symphonic Metal: Almost always overlapping with other sub-genres, particularly power and gothic metal, symphonic metal bands add strong orchestral, operatic, and/or symphonic elements to their music. Unlike most other metal sub-genres, symphonic metal bands often have females as their main vocalists and often make use of the "beauty and the beast"-style vocal counter-play between a soprano female singer and an aggressive male singer. Nightwish is one of the biggest bands in this genre and have gained some mainstream attention. Their album Once is an excellent introduction. Follow-up with Epica's Divine Conspiracy and Within Temptation's Silent Force. Try Therion's Secret of the Ruins for their operatic take on symphonic metal.
    • NWOBHM: This long acronym stands for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It's a sub-genre consisting of some traditional metal bands who reinvigorated the metal scene in the early-1980s. Prominent NWOBHM bands include Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Saxon. Saxon's early releases, Wheels of Steel, Strong Arm of the Law, and Denim and Leather were strong representatives of NWOBHM, but were followed by the band's gradual decline into mediocrity.
  8. At this point you should have a wide sampling of what the heavy metal genre has to offer. You should know which sub-genres have particular appeal to you personally and should explore those further. The previously mentioned Encyclopedia Metallum is good resource for helping you find further heavy metal you may be interested in.

Listen: