The Metal Dictionary


alternative metal
Alternative metal is a style which combines alternative rock and/or grunge with metal. The style arose in the 1990's, and is closely associated with both groove metal and nu metal.

See alternative metal.

ambient black metal
Ambient black metal is music which borrows largely from the sonic and atmospheric qualities of black metal, but is typically more minimalist in approach.

avant-garde metal
Avant-garde metal is a subgenre characterized by its experimental sound. It may include strange song structures, non-standard instrumentation, odd sounds, or other unusual elements.


Bay area thrash metal
The San Francisco Bay area scene is credited as the origin and one of the most important scenes in early thrash metal.

black metal
Black metal is a style which initially developed from thrash metal. Originally it was always fast, with blast beat drumming and tremolo picking. Vocals are generally shrieks or rasps. Over time it has evolved immensely, such that many observers have noted the term is no longer sufficient to describe the variety of styles the term represents. Black metal is often associated with Satanism, anti-religion, anti-conformity, and misanthropy, although this has been de-emphasized recently and there are also Christian groups in the genre. (See unblack metal.)

The adjective blackened is often used in conjunction with another genre description to indicate that it also includes black metal characteristics. For example, blackened death metal is death metal which incorporates black metal elements. The other common variety is blackened thrash metal.

See blast beat.

blast beat
A blast beat is a drum technique which involves hitting multiple drums, in a pattern, at very high speeds. According to Napalm Death's Barney Greenway, they are "maniacal percussive explosions, less about rhythm per se than sheer sonic violence". The technique is particularly associated with grindcore, black metal, and death metal.

A breakdown is a slow, simple, and usually heavy section in a song, intended to be conducive to moshing. It can be used to avoid conventional verse-chorus-verse songwriting, often as a replacement for a chorus. It is an important element of metalcore and deathcore, but may appear in other genres as well.

brutal death metal
Brutal death metal is a subset of death metal which takes the sonic violence (and, often, lyrical violence) of death metal to its extreme.


Christian metal
Christian metal is not a distinct style, but instead refers to any metal written with Christian lyrics. Given the largely anti-Christian stance of metal in general, it takes very little for a metal band to be labeled as a Christian band, and many of the bands so labeled will attempt to distance themselves from it. There are Christian bands in every major subgenre of metal, and Christian bands were influential in early doom metal and metalcore.

Cookie Monster
See death growl.

corpse paint
Corpse paint is stage make-up designed to make the wearer appear ghastly. Usually it is black and white, and may be in a variety of different patterns. It is most commonly worn by black metal musicians. It is thought to be influenced by Alice Cooper, Kiss, and King Diamond.

See crossover thrash.

crossover thrash
Crossover thrash is a style which blurs the lines between thrash metal and hardcore punk. It is sometimes simply called "crossover".

See crust punk.

crust punk
Crust punk combines the heaviness of certain branches of extreme metal with the dirty and sloppy feel of certain varieties of hardcore punk and grindcore. The style is closely associated with D-beat.


D-beat is a style of hardcore punk which is strongly influenced by metal. It is characterized by a particular kind of drum-beat known as the D-beat, which, with certain variations, can generally be described as kick-snare-kick-kick-snare. The style is closely associated with crust punk.

Deathcore is a subgenre of metalcore which incorporates elments of death metal, such as a heavier sound and death growls. Though some important death metal bands of the 1990's used breakdowns in their music, they are not considered deathcore because they do not follow other conventions of the genre.

Deathgrind is a hybrid style which combines the speed and spastic nature of grindcore with the heaviness of death metal.

death growl
A death growl is a deep, guttural growl typically employed as a vocal style in death metal, but also used in other genres (particularly doom metal and deathcore). Generally it is viewed as a percussive technique, rather than melodic.

death grunt
See death growl.

death metal
Death metal is a genre of extreme metal which emerged from thrash metal in the late 1980's in Florida. Guitars are normally de-tuned, drums are often fast and employ blast beats. Vocals are typically in a deep growl. (See death growl.) It has evolved into a number of subgenres including melodic death metal and technical death metal.

Death/doom is a subgenre which combines elements of death metal and doom metal. Typically, it involves the slow tempos and songwriting features of doom metal with the harsh sound of death metal.

Djent is a subgenre of metal which developed in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, mainly in online forums. Its defining characteristics are technical proficiency and the "djent" sound created by a particular riffing style pioneered by Meshuggah. Although not a djent band, Meshuggah is commonly cited as an influence. Click here to read more.

See death/doom.

doom metal
Doom metal is a slow and usually very heavy form of metal, inspired by such Black Sabbath songs as "Black Sabbath" and "War Pigs".

drone doom
See drone metal.

drone metal
Drone metal is a style of metal played with notes sustained for extremely long durations to create an ambient, atmospheric sound. The sound of the genre is typically very heavy and feedback-laden.


epic doom metal
Epic doom metal is a subset of doom metal with a generally over-the-top dramatic sense. It was originated by Candlemass.

experimental metal
See avant-garde metal.

extreme metal
Extreme metal includes a variety of the harshest and least accessible styles of metal. Primarily it includes death metal and black metal, but may also include doom metal or thrash metal. A few groups qualify as extreme metal without fitting any of the more specific genre descriptions.


First Wave of Black Metal
The First Wave of Black Metal occurred in the 1980's and early 1990's. When many people use the term, they also include proto-black metal bands such as Venom and Celtic Frost. Click here for further reading.

folk metal
Folk metal combines metal music with elements of folk music. It is most generally associated with Finland and, to a lesser extent, Germanic/Scandinavian countries and former Communist countries in eastern Europe. It can refer to bands which merely use folk compositions, but more often is used to refer to bands which also use folk instruments. Folk has been combined with nearly every metal subgenre, including death metal and industrial metal. (See also pagan metal.)

funeral doom
Funeral doom is a subgenre of doom metal which is especially slow. If doom metal moves at a snail's pace, funeral doom moves at a geological pace. It tends to be especially heavy, and relies on atmospherics. Click here to read more.


glam metal
Glam metal emerged in the 1980's and, for a brief period circa 1986, was the most popular style of music in the world. Typically, the songs are pop songs (songs with catchy hooks and lyrics of mass appeal) played in a heavy metal style. Bands in the genre tended to have big hair and often wore gender-bending fashion.

gothic metal
Gothic metal combines metal with some features of gothic rock. It tends to be melodromatic and depressive in mood, and melodic in composition.

Grindcore is a distinct genre which combines elements of hardcore, metal, and industrial music. It is especially closely associated with death metal, from a historical perspective. The music is extremely fast and spastic, changing often, and the songs tend to be very short.

groove metal
Groove metal emerged in the early 1990's as an offshoot of thrash metal. It tends to be mid-paced (as opposed to thrash's high speed) and focuses on rhythm. It is generally associated only with the USA, although some bands from other countries have played the style.


hair metal
See glam metal.

Hardcore is a subgenre of punk music that's usually heavier than other punk. It has had an enormous influence on metal.

Heaviness is a characteristic of some music which cannot be clearly, scientifically defined. However, some basic principles can be established.

heavy metal
1. Heavy metal is the original metal genre, exemplified by bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Mercyful Fate.
2. Sometimes, heavy metal can refer to all metal music, regardless of subgenre. Non-metalheads especially use the term in this way.


industrial metal
Industrial metal is metal music which incorporates elements of industrial or electronic music, such as electronic sounds, distorted vocals, and samples.





Mathcore is a subset of hardcore, with emphasis on instrumental technicality and often chaotic music. It is similar to grindcore.

melodic death metal
Melodic death metal is (along with technical death metal) one of two major subgenres of death metal. Arising from Gothenburg, Sweden, in the early- to mid-1990's, it adds emphasis on melody to the ordinary death metal elements. As such, it is considered more accessible, and has had enormous influence on mainstream metal in the 2000's.

Metal is a genre of rock music distinct from hard rock. It was originated by Black Sabbath in 1970, and has since grown into a number of various subgenres such as black metal, death metal, doom metal, power metal, sludge metal, and thrash metal. It is difficult to explicitly define the boundaries of metal music, though I have attempted to do so in this article.

Metalcore is a style which combines elements of hardcore punk and metal (originally thrash metal) and uses breakdowns in nearly every song. As it grew out of hardcore punk, political ideology (including straight-edge) was often seen as an important element of the genre in its early days. Perhaps because of the increased ideological focus, Christian bands have gained more notoriety within the style than in any other metal subgenre. Since the early 2000's, metalcore became the dominant mainstream metal genre, usually abandoning its ideological focus.


National Socialist black metal
Often abbreviated NSBM, National Socailist black metal is black metal which espouses Nazi ideology. Because most modern society holds an especial hatred for Nazi ideals over its hatred for any other (even arguably worse) ideologies, these bands tend to remain extremely obscure.

New Wave of British Heavy Metal
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (or NWOBHM) was a group of heavy metal bands emerging out of the UK in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The style mostly eliminated the blues sound of Black Sabbath and adopted a tougher, punk-influenced approach.

New York death metal
The death metal scene surrounding New York city in the early 1990's is one of the most important scenes in that genre. The music of the scene was even heavier and darker than other death metal scenes, and the riffs seem to have a characteristic swirling quality. It included both very atmospheric as well as very technical bands. Click here to read more.

See mathcore.

Norwegian black metal
1. See Second Wave of Black Metal.
2. The term may sometimes refer to any black metal music, from any geographic source, which sounds like typical Second Wave black metal.

See National Socialist black metal.

nu metal
Nu metal is a musical style which appeared in the mid-1990s. It uses many of the sonic elements of metal, but compositionally bears many similarities to other styles, especially hip hop and rap, but also alternative rock or grunge. It may also incorporate rapped vocals or industrial sounds. Many people do not consider it as metal music, but instead as an entirely distinct genre. The lines between nu metal and alternative metal are not well-defined, although hip hop influence and industrial elements are more clearly considered to be nu metal.

See New Wave of British Heavy Metal.


Orthodox black metal
Orthodox black metal is any music which adheres to the sound of the Second Wave of Black Metal.


pagan metal
1. Pagan metal grew out of a combination of folk metal and black metal. Some pagan metal could be categorized as folk black metal, although the style has grown to take on an identity of its own.
2. Some people inappropriately use the term pagan metal to refer to any metal band which uses pre-Christianized European religious themes, regardless of the style of music.

palm muting
Palm muting is a guitar (and bass) playing technique used almost universally by metal artists. The technique involves stopping the vibration of the strings with the hand to create a less sustained, more muted sound, and is responsible (along with power chords and distortion) for the characteristic guitar sound of metal music.

pinch harmonic
A pinch harmonic is a guitar playing technique by which the guitarist modifies the pitch and tone of a note. It is commonly used in heavy metal and power metal to produce a high-pitched squeal.

1. Post-metal is a metal style which incorporates elements of shoegaze/post-rock. The songs are generally long, using atmosphere and dynamics (especially loud-quiet-loud) to drive a gradually developing composition. The style often has little or no vocals. Post-metal elements have been combined with a number of metal genres, including especially sludge metal and black metal.
2. The original post-metal bands combined it with sludge metal, so the term post-metal can be synonymous with post-sludge.

power chord
The power chord is the basic, fundamental building block of metal music. According to Wikipedia, it "is a chord consisting of only the root note of the chord and the fifth interval, usually played on electric guitar, and typically through an amplification process that imparts distortion." The end result is a powerful sound, which, along with palm muting, is responsible for the characteristic guitar sound of metal.

power metal
Power metal is a genre which takes the sound of Iron Maiden and emphasizes the dramatic elements. Vocals are generally clean and over-the-top. The music is generally fast and highly melodic, and the guitar solos are complex and technically demanding. The style has two distinct subsets: American and European. The American style (which is far less common) is thrashier and heavier, while the European style is even more bombastic and, usually, cheesy. The genre bounds obviously do not follow strictly geographical lines.

Progressive is an adjective added to another genre descriptor (such as "progressive death metal") to indicate the music incorporates progressive metal elements. See progressive metal. Compare to technical.

progressive metal
Progressive metal is a style of metal with emphasis on complex songs which follow an unusual song progression, as distinct from a verse-chorus-verse song structure. Compositions tend to be long, going through many distinct movements. The term can also imply an emphasis on impressive musicianship. Practically every style of metal has been combined with progressive metal.

The prefix proto- may be added to a genre descriptor to describe music which is not actually of that genre, but displays many of the characteristics of the genre. It is used to describe bands that influenced later scenes, such as the proto-thrash of Motörhead or the proto-black metal of Venom.

Punk rock is a musical style which began in the mid-1970's. Traditionally the music is very simple and hard-edged, and rebellious lyrics were considered essential. Depending on whom you ask, the style either died out in the late 70's or it expanded into a wide variety of subgenres. Punk and metal historically have been rivals, but they have influenced each other immensely over the years.



Any band which apes the sound (and often the image) of a prior period can be called retro. The term usually describes bands which ape both the sound and image of 1980's heavy metal. See also traditional heavy metal.


Second Wave of Black Metal
The Second Wave of Black Metal arose in the early 1990's in Norway, and is the scene out of which the commonly accepted "true" black metal sound originated. Click here for further reading.

slam death
Per Metallattorney: "Slam is a narrow subgenre of brutal death that takes the early Suffocation sound and simplifies it a little more, focusing on beefing up the breakdown parts, which are the slams. The most well-known slam bands are Internal Bleeding, Devourment, and Dying Fetus."

sludge metal
Sludge metal grew out of a combination of doom metal, southern rock, hardcore, and grunge in the U.S. state of Louisiana. It's ordinarily very heavy, with a raw sound, and often inflected with southern rock melodies. Originally it was slow-tempo, but many groups use faster tempos today.

speed metal
Speed metal is an ill-defined metal subgenre which emerged in the late 1970's as part of the NWOBHM. It is faster and more abrasive than its traditional heavy metal predecessor, although it adheres to traditional heavy metal musicality. Rather than a distinct style of its own, it may also be viewed as proto-thrash.

stoner doom
Stoner doom is a subset of doom metal with a very bass-heavy and fuzzy sound, sometimes also including elements of psychedelia. Lyrics, images, and band names often make overt drug references. Although it could be viewed as a combination of stoner metal and doom metal, stoner doom arguably began at the same time as stoner metal, or earlier.

stoner metal
Stoner metal tends to have an extremely fuzzy and bass-heavy sound and incorporates psychedelic elements. Drugs may be overtly referenced in lyrics or art. In contrast to stoner doom, stoner metal is not necessarily slow-paced.

See Swedish death metal.

Swedish death metal
The Swedish scene is one of the most important scenes in death metal.
1. The term Swedish death metal may refer to any death metal from Sweden.
2. The term may also refer to death metal from anywhere, geographically, as long as it sounds like the early Swedish death metal bands. Its most important characteristic is a "buzzsaw" guitar sound.

symphonic black metal
Symphonic black metal is one of the earliest stylistic divisions in black metal. Initially, it referred to black metal bands which incorporated synthesizers to create an orchestral sound, but the term has since expanded to include black metal bands which use actual orchestral music.

symphonic metal
Symphonic metal may include any metal music that incorporates the instrumentation of classical music.


Technical is an adjective added to another genre descriptor (e.g. "technical thrash metal") to indicate an increased emphasis on instrumental skill. It is similar to progressive, and the two are sometimes confused. Technical does not imply there are extended songs or multiple movements within songs.

technical death metal
Technical death metal is (along with melodic death metal) one of two major subgenres of death metal. It emphasizes complex songwriting and, often, the brutality of death metal.

Teutonic thrash metal
Teutonic thrash metal is the German scene which began in the 1980's and which bore more extreme, black metal-like characteristics. Click here to read more.

thrash metal
Thrash metal is a genre which emerged in the early 1980's in southern California from a combination of speed metal and hardcore punk. It is characterized by fast riffs and shredding guitars, usually with yelled or growled vocals. Important scenes include the San Francisco Bay area and the Teutonic thrash of Germany.

See traditional heavy metal.

traditional heavy metal
Traditional heavy metal is music which sounds like pure heavy metal from the late 1970's or the early 1980's, including but not limited to NWOBHM or glam metal. The term is especially used to describe contemporary bands which copy the sound (and often the image) of the period.

tremolo picking
Tremolo picking is a guitar playing technique which involves playing the same note repeatedly and rapidly. The technique is partly responsible for the characteristic sound of black metal.


unblack metal
The term unblack metal has sometimes been used to describe bands which play black metal but have a Christian outlook. It arose because some black metal purists believe that an anti-Christian ideology is necessary to black metal. More loosely, the term can refer to any Christian metal band.


Viking metal
Viking metal is a genre which developed out of black metal with folk influences, but has grown to be less aggressive and more melodic, usually including keyboards. The songs tend to be anthemic, and lyrical focus is on Viking myths. The term has often been incorrectly used to describe any band which uses Viking lyrical themes, regardless of style.


war metal
War metal is more of a musical scene and approach than a distinct genre. War metal bands generally play some combination of black, death, and/or thrash metal, in a simple, raw, and highly aggressive style. Lyrical and image content tends to be ultra-blasphemous and ultra-violent, with just a hint that they are intended as tongue-in-cheek. The scene is typically associated with Australia.

white metal
See Christian metal.