Most people know the terms “heavy metal” and “death metal,” even if they can’t tell what the actual difference is between the two. Some people have a working knowledge of other more well-known but still under-the-radar metal subgenres, like thrash and black metal. Then there are metal subgenres that are almost exclusively known by learned metalheads. These are those subgenres.
Bands to Know: Swashbuckle, Running Wild
Okay, picture Patchy the Pirate from Spongebob Squarepants doing vocals for a metal band and that is pretty much pirate metal in a nutshell. As with Viking Metal, Pirate Metal relies heavily on thematic concepts. Get nautical with bands such as Swashbuckle who love nothing more than drinking rum and yo-ho-ho’ing with their keytars and salty wenches.
Three Bands to Know: Gut, Cock and Ball Torture, Rompeprop
This is where the oversized chalkboard with the metal family tree gets rolled out into the classroom and Jack Black feverishly tries to explain subgenres of subgenres of metal. First came Grindcore, then came Gore Grind, then came Porno Grind. Porno Grind was fathered by the German metal band Gut in 1991. The name pretty much nails the description (pun very much intended), as Porno Grind is a type of metal that features ridiculously sexual band names and song titles such as Gut’s “Let Me Be Your Sperm Factory” from The Cumback 2006. The subject matter and imagery are pornographic, but good luck understanding the low, garbling vocals.
Three Bands to Know: Skepticism, Evoken, Ahab
As if Doom Metal weren’t dreary enough, there is a subgenre called Funeral Doom Metal. Funeral Doom combines the slow, sludgy nature of doom with the tones of a funeral dirge. The key element in a true Funeral Doom song is either the use of an organ or a keyboard that imitates the sound of an organ. To make things all the more theatrical, the Funeral Doom band Skepticism love to wear formal suits and coattails when they play live.
Three Bands to Know: Bathory, Amon Amarth, Tyr
Let’s start off easy. While Viking Metal is known by all metal aficionados, it still isn’t common vernacular for the masses. 1988 saw the release of Bathory’s influential Blood Fire Death, which came from a black metal background. Viking Metal sprouted out of a more death metal-oriented sound in 1991 thanks to the band Unleashed. What separates Viking Metal from other types of Death Metal is mainly the subgenre’s lyrical and visual concepts. Viking Metal bands like Amon Amarth are heavily inspired by Norse mythology and Viking lore. There is no better example than their record Twilight of the Thunder God, whose cover artwork is an almost apocalyptic image of Thor wielding his legendary hammer.
Suicidal Black Metal
Three Bands to Know: Xasthur, Silencer, Lifelover
Black Metal is generally not a happy breed of music to begin with, but Depressive or Suicidal Black Metal is particularly focused on negative emotions such as despair and hatred. The excessively bloody self-mutilation on the cover of Shining’s record Through Years of Oppression is a terrific visual example of what Suicidal Black Metal is all about. Musically, most of the bands of this genre combine droning doom metal with snippets of complex instrumentation, and vocals are typically screeching and wailing (of which Lifelover is a brilliant example). The overall mood is set to lull the listener into a kind of hypnotic, depressive state.
Black ‘n’ Roll
Three Bands to Know: Satyricon (later era), Kvelertak, Vreid
As the name suggests, this metal subgenre involves the combination of Black Metal and Rock ’n’ Roll. Thinking of it abstractly, this doesn’t seem like a very good match. In fact, if you’ve never heard Black ’n’ Roll before it’s probably not a sound you can even imagine. However, the two genres blended together work surprisingly well. Kvelertak is a band that is extremely adept at seamlessly intertwining the two sounds. Also in the same sphere is Death ’n’ Roll, of which Entombed’s Wolverine Blues is the first true example. They would be followed by bands such as Six Feet Under and Carcass.
Three Bands to Know: Korpiklaani, Eluveitie, Finntroll
Folk Metal combines the usage of traditional folk instruments such as the flute, bagpipes and even a hurdy-gurdy with the rough vocals and guitar riffs expected of a Heavy Metal band. Eluveitie is a quintessential Folk Metal band that not only makes use of these folk instruments (mandolin, hurdy-gurdy, harp, Uilleann pipes, gaita, bodhran, etc), but also employs traditional folk rhythms. They also often include forest or woodland imagery in their lyrics.
Death Doom Metal
Three Bands to Know: Paradise Lost, Swallow the Sun, My Dying Bride
Death Doom Metal is basically a subgenre within a subgenre. Doom Metal is already a subgenre of metal that is recognized by its long, drawn out chords and its otherworldly, deep vocals. Death Doom Metal takes regular doom and injects it with a little bit more energy and intricacy, like the bands Swallow the Sun and Paradise Lost.
Three Bands to Know: Neurosis, Russian Circles, Isis
Like other “post-” genres, Post-Metal takes its time expanding upon the fundamental characteristics of the metal genre. Post-Metal bands like ISIS tend to focus more on letting the instrumentals tread winding pathways than attacking with straightforward riffs and vocals. The band Neurosis were great pioneers of the metal subgenre, beginning with their third record, Souls at Zero.
Three Bands to Know: Sabaton, Manowar, Turisas
After learning what Viking Metal and Pirate Metal are, odds are you can guess what Battle Metal is all about. The bands are lyrically, sonically and visually centered around the concept of war. Bands such as Sabaton establish the same kind of rhythm one would hear when listening to the drums of war.