A guide to metal sub-genres
After dominating the early 80s rock scene heavy metal burned up in its own energy and exploded into countless sub-genres – we explore the leather, hair and frightening virtuosity behind the fragments of metal.
When The Kinks used distortion on You Really Got Me they lit the touch paper for a genre that would be characterised by loudness.
In the early 70s Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath took this dirty blues sound and made it even heavier. But it was the new wave of British heavy metal bands – Motorhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and co - who would push metal to its explosive pinnacle in the late 70s.
These darker, faster British bands worked in tandem with their US counterparts – notably Metallica and Anthrax - to turn metal’s guitars up and push the tempo to the upper limits of sanity.
By the early 80s metal was enjoying its heyday on both sides of the Atlantic. But under the mounting pressure to innovate and grab the attention of an increasingly desensitised fanbase, it shattered into countless – often bizarre - sub genres.
From speed metal to Christian metal, we pick up the pieces of the heavy metal explosion.
Faster, tighter and more abrasive than standard heavy metal, speed metal was propelled by the new wave of British heavy metal bands and the likes of Metallica and Anthrax in the US.
Speed metal maintained the volume and distortion from 70s heavy metal but took on the emphatic rhythms of hardcore and punk. Key to the speed metal sound is high-level technical skill, allowing seriously punishing riffage – speed metal guitar riffs regularly clock in at 230bpm but you won’t hear a bum note.
This hugely popular sub-genre rapidly transformed into thrash, which saw a (slight) softening of the rules on tempo and swing, but no such let-up when it came to volume and precision.
Key band: Metallica
Metallica pushed the upper limits of speed and volume but kept technical ability and musicianship at the heart of their complex songs.
Key album: Anthrax: Among The Living
Socially aware, dark and ferociously fast, Among The Living is everything speed metal should be.
Key song: Metallica: Fight fire With Fire
A killer example of precision guitar-work from James Hetfield.
Further reading: Thrash and speed metal blog, here.
Silver Dragon Records, here.