How To Get Into Heavy Metal

A Guide For People Afraid Of The Beast

Before getting into heavy metal I was (and remain) a big fan of hard rock. My exposure to metal was the Guilty Gear X2 soundtrack, some Megadeth, some Metallica, and the Vice City V-Rock radio station. Most of my exposure of the metal I liked came from video games, but I never really bothered to dig into the genre in earnest, fearful that it was mostly screaming and really fast drum beats without melody or structure. Metal is a vast web of genres and is quite simply about as intimidating as a musical genre as any, not only due to the endless number of subgenres within it but also its image and various stereotypes said about it.

It didn’t help that a lot of metalheads for some reason or another thought it best to always and only talk about the most extreme forms of metal and treat it as synonymous with heavy metal. This gives off the idea that extreme metal — death metal, black metal — are typical heavy metal. The kicker is that they’re called extreme metal for a reason. This creates a massive wall for those trying to get into the genre that naturally creates presumptions: that it’s limited in subject matter, vocalizing, and instrumentation.

But boy, was I wrong about metal. Very wrong. For the past three or so months I’ve listened to basically almost nothing but metal. I had tried on multiple occasions in the past to get into the genre and this time came out succeeding. Not only did I find that I like metal, but I fell head over heels writing-a-love-letter-in-the-middle-of-class in love with it. I want to share that love for it with others.

For starters, a few tips:

  1. Yes, there’s singing in metal. The overwhelming majority of bands sing and don’t scream. In fact, some of the best singers ever are involved in metal. Ozzy can sing very well, on some songs he might even get you to cry. Dio will make you amped. Bruce Dickinson is at least on the same tier as Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson.
  2. There is a self awareness to metal. It’s 3 quarters serious, 1 quarter cheesy. Metal is very much in on the joke. There is appeal in that. Iron Maiden has serious artistic songs while donning its own mascot called Eddie that depicts their album artwork and even appears up at shows. Metal isn’t always serious. It’s also a lot fucking fun. Enjoy the ride.
  3. Death metal is *not* representative of metal. Using death metal and other extreme metal as an argument *against* metal is foolish. It’s like saying all rap is gangster rap. Not all hip hop is brutal and evokes harsh atmosphere. Some of it is positive. It’s like saying Mobb Deep, who made a song about fake gangsters unwilling to kill people called Shooked Ones, is representative of all hip hop. So don’t use Burzum or Cannibal Corpse for an argument against metal. That said, black metal as a subgenre *is* problematic and has many white nationalist ties due to being invaded, legitimate satanism, and actual bands killing each other. But they’re the most extreme form of metal, are not the norm, and are easily avoidable. I do not listen to black metal because it’s hard to keep up with which bands that aren’t problematic. Don’t let anyone try to guilt you into listening to what you don’t want to either.
  4. Continuing with this theme, a lot of metal bands are using an image. They aren’t satanists and they aren’t occultists just like how most rappers aren’t gangsters. Some are, but it’s a very small minority. 2Pac went to dance and theater school and learned ballet. It’s an image to draw you in. It’s theater and there’s an appeal in highly masculine pageantry.
  5. If you don’t like a subgenre either it’s not for you or maybe you’re just not ready for it yet. I used to hate death metal, but after listening to thrash for three or so weeks, it helped bridge a gateway to the point where I can understand and like death metal. Even love it. Give it time. You don’t have to jump in all at once. Metal is like hot sauce. Some times you just need start with tobasco to get to the point where you can handle sriracha and eventually ghost pepper salsa. Many need to build up a tolerance before diving into deep waters.
  6. Extrapolating from this, sometimes subgenres just aren’t for you and that’s okay! Maybe you just like good ol’ fashioned heavy metal! There are modern traditional heavy metal bands out there! I don’t like Progressive Metal much despite loving Prog Rock. I like some Prog Metal bands but for the most part it’s not for me! And that’s fine. Another suggestion is to go to Youtube and watch a band’s live performance. I didn’t get nor understand the appeal of Motorhead until I went to Youtube and watched them play music live. Then it clicked. Metal is a live music genre, so watching bands play live adds to it and can hopefully help you get them.
  7. Some bands are hard to understand. Look up the lyrics! Read along to the music! It’s quite an organic experience and leads to a nice musical tradition.
  8. Finally, it’s okay to not like metal! But at least give it an honest chance. Listen to it, and I mean really listen to it and don’t have it in the background. Notice the musicianship, singing, lyricism, and song writing. At least try to appreciate it if you don’t like it.

So starting in around May or so, to challenge myself and because the music I was listening to started to get stale, I decided to finally get into heavy metal. Loving hard rock it felt like I had listened to all the classics and there was nothing new to find that featured rough and raw guitar work. Metal’s Sirens came calling. I had tried before to get into metal, but honestly it’s is such a vast genre that it’s hard to know where to start and easy to just shrug and give up. This time, I decided to listen from the beginning and see how the genre evolved. Having a history with and love for hard rock really helped.

HARD ROCK

Hard Rock is the prototype for Heavy Metal and any fan of it should be able to find some appeal in metal.

A good suggestion with metal is to start with hard rock that was a precursor to metal, because that music influenced metal even if it’s not considered metal. Remember, when Tommy Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, and Ozzy Osbourne made Black Sabbath, they weren’t trying to be heavy metal. They just wanted to make a harder version of the rock they were already listening to. If you have a history of hard rock you might want to just jump into metal. If you’re unfamiliar with harder music then start here.

Try Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Heart, Santana, Deep Purple, Queen, Buckethead, Blue Oyster Cult. Getting acquainted with these artists will help you have a foundation in hard rock. The foundation of hard rock was taking blues and basically making it more raw, more distorted, harder, faster.

Example of hard rock:

Notice in this song it starts with a standard blues sound but eventually transitions to get harder, more aggressive, faster as the song progresses. Listen to it a few times. On repeat listens close your eyes and envision the story being told. That’s the crux of the bluesman musician — story telling through music and crafting a dark mood. Hard rock artists idolized the work of Muddy Waters and BB King and this dark tone of blues — acknowledging the cruelties and harshness of life — helped paved the way for heavy metal’s themes. I think that if you can like hard rock, you can like heavy metal.

Listen to entire albums rather than just songs. Albums help tell a story and lend to the creators creative methodology. Rock was the originator of the modern album as we know it today and you are missing out a sizable amount of the artists’ intentions by listening to individual songs over albums. Artists like Led Zeppelin were album artists and set out with the goal to not make singles.

Some Hard Rock albums to get started with:

  • Jimi Hendrix ExperienceAre You Experienced, Electric Ladyland
  • Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin, II, IV, Physical Graffiti
  • Deep PurpleDeep Purple In Rock, Burn, Machine Head
  • Santana Santana, Abraxas, Santana III

With this in mind, we branch into actual heavy metal.

BLACK SABBATH

When I decided to get into metal in earnest, as I said, I figured to start from the beginning. Reading the Wikipedia page for Heavy Metal reveals that Black Sabbath is widely considered the first heavy metal band that had the full sum of every element that is considered a heavy metal band. While other bands like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, or Deep Purple had pieces of the puzzle they didn’t have what would be considered entirely heavy metal. To reiterate, when they originally set out to make the band, Sabbath had the implicit goal of just being a heavier rock and labeled their music Heavy Rock — a form of rock harder than hard rock.

Listen to the first few albums of Black Sabbath. At the very least, their trilogy of albums — Black Sabbath, Paranoid, and Master of Reality. Listen to them multiple times.

Here’s an example of Black Sabbath. It’s the first song to their self titled LP, also named Black Sabbath. It contains every ingredient of what makes metal Metal.

You’ll immediately notice it takes the hard rock to an extreme with blistering thunder and rain dropping in the background of the intro. It presents a specific mood and tone. This is heavy ass atmospheric music with deep lyrics. Black Sabbath achieved their goal of creating horror music.

To help contextualize the song and band, in post-WWII much of Europe was flirting with occultism, Satanism, and other forms of dark religion probably as a rejection of Christianity as a religion and force. It’d be hard to believe in traditional religion post-WWII Europe that’s for sure. Black Sabbath, who were Christians, knew many people who flirted with these dark magic religions. The song acts as a warning to those playing with dark forces. Combined with the poverty of post-WWII Britain, with its dark, metallic, rusted reconstruction and you have Black Sabbath. The result is a haunting, chilling record.

This stands as a fundamental tenant in heavy metal: the acknowledgement of The Beast. The Beast can be any number of things. It’s often meant to represent Satan. But it can also be greed, war, and authority of any kind. The Beast is evil. The Beast is within us. The Beast is ourselves. Metal acknowledges that this evil is out there and exists, and can easily draw you in. Be wary. Like Ozzy said in Black Sabbath,”Oh noooooo! God please help me!”

Listen to their records and multiple times. Hopefully you’ll be drawn into the music that accepts there’s darkness in our lives, our world, and worryingly within each of us.

HEAVY METAL \m/

Continuing from Sabbath we get into New Wave of British of Heavy Metal.

The Wikipedia page for heavy metal goes in sequential order and is a fantastic listening guide to help form an overall “story” for the music. The new wave basically takes Black Sabbath and makes it harder and MUCH faster, inspired by the recent punk music at the time.

Bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, early Def Leppard, Motorhead, Diamond Head, Venom, Saxon. It was during this time that heavy metal went from having a specific sound to a specific image and heavy metal culture blossomed.

This heavy metal took inspiration from many 70’s rock like prog rock and started making 10 minute metal ballads with deep storytelling. Or just music so fast and aggressive it smelled like booze and cigarettes. This helped solidify what heavy metal was and how it sounds. Other acts that weren’t British such as Dio, Quiet Riot, King Diamond, also influenced other metal bands going forward. All of these bands helped metal split into different directions and create new subgenres.

Dio helped launch power metal, a type of metal that went from acknowledging the beast to slaying the beast. Power metal is all about powerful operatic vocals, fantasy lyrics, and making the listener feel powerful beyond words. Venom helped inspire thrash, death, AND black metal. They made their music dripping wet with dark ooze to articulate how evil The Beast truly is. Motorhead innovated speed metal. Basically depending on what bands you like from this era can help predict where you’ll land on future metal subgenres, which is why it’s very helpful to pay attention to this period of metal because it’s pure fundamentals

All of these bands, along with Sabbath, no matter country, help gel into what we define to be Heavy metal, or Traditional Heavy Metal, otherwise known as Trad Metal or simply, Heavy Metal.

Best metal song of all time?

Note the lyrics and incredible singing. The atmosphere. This song is perfection and the pure embodiment of metal. It takes a morbid subject — being executed the next morning — and makes it hopeful. The man learns to defeat his fear of death. He accepts himself and his destination. Such is metal. \m/

Another example of traditional metal to show its emphasis on speed and how powerful it can potentially make you feel.

Thrash

Everyone knows Metallica.

If you’re interested in why people like heavy genres like death metal, I highly suggest listening to thrash after traditional heavy metal. Bands like Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Sepultura, and Annihilator helped lead to a heavier music. It’s widely considered a bridge between traditional metal and extreme metal genres like death metal. If you’re someone who just doesn’t get death metal, listen to some thrash and maybe you’ll start to “get” it. If traditional metal is about acknowledging the beast, power is about slaying the beast, then thrash — which embodies anger — is about killing that beast to death a billion times with a rusty dagger.

Thrash is just pure aggression and a very youthful music.

WHERE TO AFTER THIS ?

The sky is the limit.

Like the slow heaviness of Sabbath? Try Doom metal like Sleep and Uncle Acid.

Like the heaviness of thrash and want to go beyond that? Try Death Metal.

Not big on traditional death metal but like the idea and want more melody? Try Melodic Death Metal.

Like feeling powerful and slaying monsters? Want to go on power trips? Try Power Metal.

Or maybe you want a folk influence? Look into Folk Metal. Orchestrated metal with classical or opera influence? Progressive Metal. There’s so many unlimited genres. I’m three months in and I’ve only recently gone deep into death metal but I’ve sampled a little of every subgenre so far. Read the heavy metal Wikipedia page. See what you like. Go down every subgenres wikipedia page and sample some but do so with patience.

Any questions, feel free to mention them.

Happy head banging. \m/

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