Heavy metal is the term used to describe a number of subgenres of a musical style which developed in the 1970s, taking influences from blues and rock music, and being played more aggressively, typically with distorted guitars and heavy drum parts. Heavy metal today, however, doesn’t have all that much in common with the pioneering bands of the genre –Motorhead, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple apart from the fact that the bands which claim the genre are often derided by mainstream pop music reviewers. In turn, most followers of heavy metal are heavily critical of mainstream pop music.

For those who are unfamiliar with the genre, modern heavy metal can seem inaccessible. It often doesn’t fit with what people recognize as music. There is a tendency for vocalists to scream and growl which doesn’t sit well with people who are used to vocalists singing melodiously or rapping. Many songs are driven by a pulsating, detuned bass, which is also uncommon in pop music. Guitar and drum parts seem unnecessarily complicated and menacing. Heavy metal makes heavy use of diminished minor scales and chord progressions which would kill pop songs.

Heavy metal lyrics are often anchored in depression or anger. Lyrics may attempt to motivate listeners to political or social action, or may wander through dark and fantastic imagery. Heavy metal is at heart a rebellious genre, distaining establishments, authority and religion. There are bands which claim to play ‘religious metal’, but most metal fans would characterize them more as pop-rock bands.

For budding musicians, heavy metal can be the most interesting, yet difficult genre to play. There are few songs that a novice would be able to manage on any of the typical instruments. Metal musicians generally progress through learning other styles including folk, pop, rock and different classical genres before they are able to take on heavy metal. Perhaps that is why the genre is more accessible to those who already enjoy jazz and classical music – in fact it is often best compared with the New Complexity subgenre of contemporary classical music, often being dissonant and highly technical, with variant tunings and complex polyrhythms. Those who find leaders of the heavy metal genre such as Meshuggah and Sikth difficult to listen to, will also find classical contemporaries such as Richard Barrett and Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf similarly impenetrable.

There are two natural routes by which people progress to heavy metal music. The first takes people from pop music, through rock music, with songs which retain a simple structure and melodious style, but make use of distorted guitars and ‘heavy’ bass and drums, onto subgenres such as thrash metal and thence onto the heavier and more experimental bands.

The second route is through a desire for technical complexity which is not found in mainstream popular music and is only satiated by jazz, classical, metal and, increasingly, some electronic subgenres. Most who take this route will be musicians themselves and will have a good understanding of what they are listening to and how to describe the styles, techniques and musical elements used.

A third way in which people access heavy metal, which is sometimes found in teenagers is through the appeal of the stereotypical heavy metal image and fashion. Long hair for men and women is probably the most obvious sign of a metal fan, at least in the case of men. Depending on the bands they favor, they may dye their hair black, leave it straight or dye it other colors and have it Oomphed! Shaving the sides and back of the head but leaving the top long is known as an undercut and became popular in the late 1990s. Since then, metal fashion has relied less on the long hair element, although there is still something edgy left to it usually.As for clothing, bright colors are avoided and black is typically favored. Band t-shirts and logos are popular.

Many people dismiss heavy metal out of ignorance and pass this attitude onto others. Yet, for a novice musician to show an interest in heavy metal, is a bold statement of ambition. If you want to get the most out of music, heavy metal will give you much, much more than any mainstream pop ever can.

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Heavy metal is the term used to describe a number of subgenres of a musical style which developed in the 1970s, taking influences from blues and rock music, and being played more aggressively, typically with distorted guitars and heavy drum parts. Heavy metal today, however, doesn’t have all that...