Metallurgy 101
September 11, 2014 6:14 AM   Subscribe

I have agreed to a "drop the needle" style exam testing my ability to identify different kinds of heavy metal. Now I have to cram!

I want to create a flowchart that lets me ask questions about the musical details to lead me to the right kind of metal.

What's the best way to hear the differences between stoner metal, doom metal and sludge metal? What about between black metal and death metal? Between djent and traditional progressive metal?
posted by umbú to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For black metal/death metal: if it at any point sounds like the music is trying to impress you with traditional displays of musicianship -- technical solos, fancy drumwork beyond blast beats and double bass -- its probably death metal. If it sounds like one of the recorded tracks is a commercial-grade blender, its probably black metal.
posted by griphus at 6:35 AM on September 11, 2014

Best answer: Stoner metal should have groove, doom will sound funereal and generally be slower, and sludge will be more rocking than doom but less groovy than stoner.

Black metal and death metal sound nothing alike: black is mostly super fast blast beats with shrieking while death will sound like cookie monster with more crunch and groove.

Djent sounds like "djent djent djent" with more stop-on-a-dime lines, while trad prog will be noodlier and more free-flowing.

These are, of course, ridiculous simplifications, and lines blur between all of these genres (for example: the most recent Gorguts album really veers between death and black with some proggy influences). Good luck.
posted by The Michael The at 6:36 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So, there is plenty of super fast death metal with blast beats and little groove — that's where black metal got it from. Think Deicide, Krisiun, deathgrind.

I think more reliable indicators are:

- Low vs. high: Death metal favors bassy riffs, black metal likes trebly ones. Death metal vocals are low and guttural, black metal ones screechy. (Gothenburg-type melodic death metal can trip you up here, though — it's considered death metal but often has the screechy vocals. Still, reliable for ~80% of cases.)

- Defined vs. atmospheric: Black metal, especially, early '90s second wave black metal, is not overly concerned with playing the sixteenth note at the exact subdivision of the beat it "should" fall on. They'll often tremolo pick without caring too much about precision with the goal of creating a hypnotic washover. Death metal is more lockstep and pulse-driven. They carry over a legacy of tightness from thrash bands you may be familiar with like Slayer and Metallica.

- Tonality: This is less reliable than the above indicators, but hand-in-hand with the favoring of atmosphere, black metal tends to stay diatonic. Melodic death metal throws this indicator off, of course, but if a riff is trying to shake you out of a proverbial tree with tritones and crazy chromatic runs (think of the break from the thrash classic Angel of Death), it's far more likely to be death metal.
posted by ignignokt at 7:04 AM on September 11, 2014

Songza - Metal Playlists

It has a lot of playlists for different types of metal. Can't vouch for how accurate they are though.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:05 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think that maybe another handy at-a-glance heuristic is: Is this music trying to sound insane or trying to sound evil? Black metal more often tries harder to sound evil and almost never tries to sound insane.
posted by ignignokt at 7:24 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can often tell stoner from "pure" doom or sludge music by its use of totally awesome blues scales, in the manner of Black Sabbath - check out the introduction to this song by Sleep, the archetypal stoner metal band.
posted by Ted Maul at 7:35 AM on September 11, 2014

If you have Spotify, playing around with this thing can be illuminating.
posted by effbot at 7:46 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll admit I am not well-versed in the subtleties of metal music, so this may not be very helpful to a seasoned listener, but it gave me a great overview of all the sub-genres of Metal. It includes both songs as examples, as well as written descriptions of the classifications.

Map of Metal

(You can drag yourself around the map by the mouse cursor, and then click on the different skulls next to each sub-genre title)
posted by zyxwvut at 8:14 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

First of all, such a flow chart already exists. In fact, since the time I first saw one ages ago, it appears that more have been created:

Some of those are silly, but some are really helpful with the different characteristics of the subgenres.

As to cramming, I can only recommend listening to the top few bands of each major subgenre. If you go to, it'll bring up the top bands for each subgenre. I can give you a quick list of "mandatory" bands or albums for some of the subgenres if you like?

I gotta say though, if you're not passionate about metal, I imagine forcing yourself to memorize the nuances of the different styles sounds like really hard work. Especially since metal is one of those types of music where "everything sounds the same" to a lot of people who don't partake. Music should be experienced and enjoyed, not forced :)
posted by atinna at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2014

Response by poster: Yeah, atinna, it would be a slog if I was passionless. I'm not. I'm just new to it, after a childhood of Zeppelin and a little Black Sabbath and lots of loud indie rock (sonic youth/hüsker dü/pixies/slint/dino jr etc). I've just found that the more I listen to now, the more into it I'm getting, so it doesn't feel forced. I asked my friend to give me this exam partly as a joke, and partly as a challenge, to get me up to speed.

Ignignokt's guideline that is 80% true makes me think to ask this follow up question for everyone: What are some of the main other border cases that blur the boundaries? I think I should listen to those, to counter the idea that the differences between categories is too clear cut.
posted by umbú at 6:39 PM on September 11, 2014

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