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Listed below are the five major genres to have developed.


(For information on the many other sub-genres, please click here)




Thrash metal emerged in the early 1980's under the influence of hardcore punk and the NWOBHM, particularly songs in the revved up style known as speed metal. The movement began in the United States, with Bay Area thrash metal being the leading scene. The sound developed by thrash groups was faster and more aggressive  than that of the original metal bands and their glam metal successors. Low register guitar riffs are typically overlaid with shredding leads. Lyrics often express nihilistic views or deal with social issues using visceral, gory language. Thrash has been described as a form of "urban blight music" and "a palefaced cousin of rap".

This genre was popularised by the "Big Four Of Thrash", Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer. Three German bands, Kreator, Sodom and Destruction, played a central role in bringing the style to Europe. Others, including San Francisco Bay Area's Testament and Exodus, New Jersey's Overkill and Brazil's Sepultura, also had a significant impact. While thrash began as an underground scene, and remained largely that for almost a decade, the leading bands in the movement began to reach a wider audience. Metallica brought the sound into the top 40 of the Billboard album chart in 1986 with Master of Puppets, and two years later, the band's ...And Justice For All hit number 6, while Megadeth and Anthrax also had top 40 records.

Though less commercially successful than the rest of the Big Four, Slayer released on of the genre's definitive records, Reign In Blood (1986). It was described by Kerrang! as the "heaviest album of all time". Two decades later, Metal Hammer named it the best album of the preceding twenty years. Slayer attracted a following among far-right skinheads, and accusations of promoting violence and Nazi themes have dogged the band. In the early 1990's, thrash achieved breakout success, challenging and redefining the metal mainstream. Metallica's self-titled 1991 album topped the Billboard chart, Megadeth's Countdown To Extinction (1992) hit number 2. Anthrax and Slayer cracked the top 10, and albums by regional bands such as Testament and Sepultura entered the top 100.

  Thrash soon began to evolve and split into more extreme metal genres. "Slayer's music was directly responsible for the rise of death metal" according to MTV News. The NWOBHM band Venom was also an important progenitor. The death metal movement in both North America and Europe adopted and emphasised the elements of blasphemy and diabolism employed by such acts. Florida's Death and the Bay Area's Possessed are recognised as seminal bands in the style. Both groups have been credited with inspiring the genre's name, the latter via its 1984 demo Death Metal and the song "Death Metal", from its 1985 debut album Seven Churches.

Death metal utilises the speed and aggression of both thrash and hardcore, fused with lyrics preoccupied with Z-grade slasher movie violence and Satanism. Death metal vocals are typically bleak, involving guttural "death growls", high pitched screaming, the "death rasp", and other uncommon techniques. Completing the deep, aggressive vocal style are down-tuned, highly distorted guitars and extremely fast percussion, often with rapid double bass drumming and "wall of sound" style blast beats. Frequent tempo and time signature changes and syncopation are also typical.

Death metal, like thrash metal, generally rejects the theatrics of earlier metal styles, opting instead for and everyday look of ripped jeans and plain leather jackets. One major exception to this rule was Deicide's Glen Benton, who branded an inverted cross on his forehead and wore armour on stage. Morbid Angel adopted neo-fascist imagery. These two bands, along with Death and Obituary, were leaders of the major death metal scene that emerged in Florida in the mid-1980's. In the UK,  the related style of grindcore, led by such bands as Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror, emerged out of the anarcho-pink movement.

  The first wave of black metal emerged in Europe in the early and mid-1980's, led by Britain's Venom, Denmark's Mercyful Fate, Switzerland's Hellhammer and Celtic Frost and Sweden's Bathory. By the late 1980's, Norwegian bands such as Mayhem and Burzum were heading a second wave. Black metal varies considerably in style and production quality, although most bands emphasise shrieked and growled vocals, highly distorted guitars frequently played with rapid tremolo picking, a "dark" atmosphere and intentionally lo-fi production, with ambient noise and background hiss. Satanic themes are common in black metal, though many bands take inspiration from ancient paganism, promoting a return to pre-Christian values. Numerous black metal bands also "experiment with sounds from all possible forms of metal, folk, classical music, electronica and avant-garde". Darkthrone drummer Fenriz explains, "it had something to do with production, lyrics, the way they dressed and a commitment to making ugly, raw, grim stuff. There wasn't a generic sound".

By 1990, Mayhem was regularly wearing corpsepaint, with many other black metal acts also adopting the look. Bathory inspired the Viking metal and folk metal movements and Immortal brought blast beats to the fore. Some bands in the Scandinavian black metal scene became associated with considerable violence in the early 1990's, with Mayhem and Burzum linked to church burnings. Growing commercial hype around death metal generated a backlash, beginning in Norway. Much of the Scandinavian metal underground shifted to support a black metal scene that resisted being co-opted by the commercial metal industry. According to former Gorgoroth vocalist Gaahl, "black metal was never meant to reach an audience. We had a common enemy which was, of course, Christianity, socialism and everything that democracy stands for".

By 1992, black metal scenes had begun to emerge in areas outside Scandinavia, including Germany, France and Poland. The 1993 murder of Mayhem's Euronymous by Burzum's  Varg Vikernes provoked intensive media coverage. Around 1996, when many in the scene felt the genre was stagnating, several key bands, including Burzum and Finland's Beherit, moved toward an ambient style, while symphonic black metal was explored by Sweden's Tiamat and Switzerland's Samael. In the late 1990's and early 2000's, Norway's Dimmu Borgir brought black metal closer to the mainstream, as did Cradle Of Filth, which Metal Hammer calls England's most successful metal band since Iron Maiden.

  During the late 1980's, the power metal scene came together largely in reaction to the harshness of death and black metal. Though a relatively underground style in North America, it enjoys wide popularity in Europe, Japan and South America. Power metal focuses on upbeat, epic melodies and themes that "appeal to the listener's sense of valour and loveliness". The prototype for the sound was established in the mid-to-late 1980's by Germany's Helloween, which combined the power riffs, melodic approach and high-pitched "clean" singing style of bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with thrash's speed and energy, "crystallising the sonic ingredients of what is now known as power metal".

Traditional power metal bands like Sweden's Hammerfall, England's Dragonforce and Florida's Iced Earth have a sound clearly indebted to the classic NWOBHM style. Many power metal bands such as Florida's Kamelot, Finland's Nightwish, Italy's Rhapsody Of Fire and Russia's Catharsis feature a keyboard-based "symphonic" sound, sometimes employing orchestras and opera singers. Power metal has built a strong fanbase in Japan and South America, where bands like Brazil's Angra and Argentina's Rata Blanca are popular.

Closely related to power metal is progressive metal, which adopts the complex compositional approach of bands like Rush and King Crimson. This style emerged in the United States in the early and mid-1980's, with innovators such as Queensryche, Fates Warning and Dream Theater. The mix of the progressive and power metal sounds is typified by New Jersey's Symphony X, whose guitarist Michael Romeo is among the most recognised of latter-day shredders.

  Emerging in the mid-1980's with such bands as California's Saint Vitus, Maryland's The Obsessed, Chicago's Trouble and Sweden's Candlemass, the doom metal movement rejected other metal styles' emphasis on speed, slowing its music to a crawl. Doom metal traces its roots to the lyrical themes and musical approach of early Black Sabbath. The Melvins have also been a significant influence on doom metal and a number of its sub-genres. Doom emphasises melody, melancholy tempos and a sepulchral mood relative to many other varieties of metal.

The 1991 release of Forest Of Equilibrium, the debut album by UK band Cathedral, helped spark a new wave of doom metal. During the same period, the doom-death fusion style of British bands Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema gave rise to European gothic metal, with its signature dual-vocalist arrangements, exemplified by Norway's Theatre Of Tragedy and Tristania. New York's Type O Negative introduced an American take on the style.

In the United States, sludge metal, mixing doom and hardcore, emerged in the late 1980's, Eyehategod and Crowbar were leaders in a major Louisiana sludge scene. Early in the next decade, California's Kyuss and Sleep, inspired by the earlier doom metal bands, spearheaded the rise of stoner metal, while Seattle's Earth helped develop the drone metal sub-genre. The late 1990's saw new bands form, such as the Los Angeles based Goatsnake, with a classic stoner/doom sound, and Sunn O))), which crosses lines between doom, drone and dark ambient metal. The New York Times has compared their sound to an "Indian raga in the middle of an earthquake".