The Definitive List of Heavy Metal Subgenres


Rho Stone settles your pathetic subgenre argument forever.

If you listen to metal you’ve probably met with the infamous genre debate. Nerds and industry execs love to label stuff, so it impossible to go around the internet without some doofus making Venn diagrams for whether a band sings about vikings or Cthulhu. There are way too many useless genres, some pinpointing needless information like place of origin and others even implying that because a band member plays an instrument that isn’t guitar they’re a different genre altogether. There’s always some genius telling everyone his band is “blackened ambient death groove” and then asks himself why he doesn’t have friends. However, metal is such an expansive beast that it would be dumb to just lump things like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Sonata Artica together. Therefore I’ve devised a total of EIGHT genres (one is a sub-sub-genre because this is hard) to settle this once and for all.

bullet belt

First we have arguably the most popular of metal subgenres. When the fat mulleted 50-something man at the back of the store sniffing vinyl records says the word “metal” he’s referring to this. Unless you’re chasing Charlie through the jungle, bullet belts are extremely impractical. They’re thick, tacky, and they require a particular level of either insecurity or carelessness to wear. Even though, the 14 year old inside all of us thinks they’re cool. Bullet Belt Metal is the genre that brings us the metal songs about metal, devotion to the scene and general brutality. Good ol’ tongue in cheek macho attitude and thinking of yourself as a philosopher are both permitted, even though the former is much more common than the latter. It’s hard hitting, and hyperbolic as hell. Fans tend to be constantly inebriated or straightedge, depending exclusively on the bands they listen to having solos on their songs or not.

Examples: Metallica until the Black Album, VenomMotörheadJudas PriestPanteraSepulturaObituaryDeath, every band that says they play thrash and hardcore ever.


coal roll

Can also be referred as “B-Dubs Bro Metal”, in honor of The Ballad of the B-Dubs Bros. To put it bluntly, it’s an amalgamation of the music douchebags who coal roll have been prone to blast on their trucks on their way to buy cheap beer through the ages. I was inclined to not include this one at all, but I know some people would get upset over it, so I did the next best thing and made this entry as pejorative as I could. Bands of this genre get to rake in big bucks and be the trendy “alternative” guys of their respective summers, then to fade away every time another set of acts come wearing whatever the rock n’ roll mall store decided to stock this season. Although it aspires to have the over-the-top, badass mythological monster attitude of Bullet Belt Metal, they trade in the Clint Eastwood/Terminator vibe for whatever corporate America sees as raunchy enough to impress prepubescent boys but at the same time tame enough not to spark significant outrages (unless is the 80s and you’re condemned to have sex with Al Gore). The members of these bands go on to star in their own reality shows and have particularly harsh mid-life crises. Every so often some clueless group of nerds will try to bring back a particular epoch of this genre, for which the world will promptly look for the date on the calendar to make sure they didn’t go back in time to a place where they’d need a cyanide pill. Just like coal rolling, it’s horrible for the environment.

Examples: Metallica from Load onwards, KISSMötley CrüeSlipknotKornAvenged SevenfoldWarrantDisturbedLinkin ParkFive Finger Death Punch.


cactus flower

This is the first, the “original” heavy metal and what falls into its vast shadow. If I was in a movie with Bruce Campbell I’d call it “groovy”. As the title suggests, music here is a journey, be it hunting flying whales across an alien desert planet on a dune buggy, a ritualistic travelling to the inside of the mind, or sitting at home drinking beer. Generally at a slow or mid-tempo, heavy or mellow, under the certain conditions its fans feel in communion with time and space. Yes, lots of weed.

Examples: Black SabbathKyussMastodonSleepBaronessSoundgarden*shelsYobPallbearer, Agalloch.



You know how Gaahl lives in a shack in the middle of nowhere sipping wine and thinking about blast beats all day? That’s the spirit behind this genre. Even though this kind of music is the last thing you’ll hear on a forest, it’s the first thing a-coming on that dude that walk in the woods at night’s playlist. It’s sad, brutal and Norway’s biggest cultural export.

Examples: GorgorothAbsuDarkthroneBehemothBelphegorThantifaxathRotting ChristSigh.


dragons and wizards

I guess some bands enjoy playing dungeons and dragons in between practicing and watching cheap B-movies. Since most of them are Europeans and therefore weren’t called huge nerds for doing so, they’re happy enough to produce more upbeat music than their counterparts, which makes this the happiest of subgenres. They show their nerdom by being able to play their instruments like they’re surgically removing the hair roots off their scrotums, and by being able to name every Lord of the Rings character Frodo farted at. Also some bands in this genre will teach you more about history than the fat truckers on the History Channel will ever do.

Examples: Iron MaidenDioBlind GuardianDimmu BorgirTwilight ForceWintersunThe Lord Weird Slough FegNightwishDragonforcePowerglove and all of “nintendocore”.


dragons and wizards2

So I kind of put Abbath on top and Gaahl down here, when their corresponding genres are the other way around. Sorry for that. IWDAWWRAIWSTAM (hey, if NWOBHM is an acceptable way to call a genre why not IWDAWWRAIWSTAM?) is too aggressive to be considered part of wanting to ride on a pink pegasus while hobbits dance on the forest. Now we’re talking Elder Scrolls meets Doom. Some bands just fit better here than in any of the other genres, as they’re not really Bullet Belt or I Walk in the Woods at Night metal.

Examples: ImmortalAmon AmarthCruachanEmperorBolt ThrowerEnslavedIn FlamesKorpiklaaniNile.


metal gear

This is titled with the word metal twice in the title so you can remember that you’re listening to metal and not the musical interpretation of some college student’s physics homework. Just like Metal Gear’s plot, these guys make it all complex. In difference to what the Wizards and Dragons guys do (making it “complex” by cramming as much notes as possible inside a 4/4 time signature), they have weird scales and time signatures.

Examples: Dream TheaterMeshuggahAnimals as LeadersStrapping Young LadThe Dillinger Escape PlanOpethBetween the Buried and MeFallujahCloudkickerProtest the Hero.



Yeah, well, if Tyree likes it it’s on here.

Examples: Anal CuntDying Fetus, you get the idea.

So there you have it: The be-all, end-all solution to all genre debates from now on, or at least until somebody comes out with another genre that isn’t really more of the same. Can somebody name another genre? I doubt it. Lives changed? Jimmies rustled? You want to call me a poser because Gorgoroth is a LOTR reference so it is on the wrong genre? Where do Manowar fit in? Go get wild on the comments below!

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