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The Definition of Heavy Metal and It's Sub-genres

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Unitron View Drop Down
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    Posted: 02 May 2017 at 6:00pm
Ever since the first coining of the term back in the late 60's, used to describe heavier blues bands like Humble Pie, the definitions of heavy metal and it's sub-genres have kept changing and gotten seemingly more complex over time. I thought this would be an interesting topic to strike up some conversation. 

Bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, and Rush were referred to as heavy metal bands back in the 70's and 80's, while now we usually just call them hard rock. Another example is how power metal, thrash metal, and speed metal were all used interchangeably back in the 80's by metal magazines, with Metallica sometimes being categorized as power metal while at the same time Helloween were sometimes known to be a thrash metal band.

Back when Bathory was the only band around that we still classify as black metal today, Venom, Celtic Frost, and even Slayer and Mercyful Fate were sometimes known to be black metal bands from looking at metal magazines from the early-mid 80's. Then of course, there's the infamous nu-metal of the late 90's and early 00's where many bands got thrown under that category for sometimes stupid reasons.

In a world where it seems like a new music genre is made up every day, what do you think about the evolution of the definitions of heavy metal and it's genres? What definitions do you use yourself, and how do you think the definitions of past decades compares with today's? Discuss.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mlkpad14 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 May 2017 at 8:19pm
Originally posted by Unitron Unitron wrote:

Ever since the first coining of the term back in the late 60's, used to describe heavier blues bands like Humble Pie, the definitions of heavy metal and it's sub-genres have kept changing and gotten seemingly more complex over time. I thought this would be an interesting topic to strike up some conversation. 

Bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, and Rush were referred to as heavy metal bands back in the 70's and 80's, while now we usually just call them hard rock. Another example is how power metal, thrash metal, and speed metal were all used interchangeably back in the 80's by metal magazines, with Metallica sometimes being categorized as power metal while at the same time Helloween were sometimes known to be a thrash metal band.

Back when Bathory was the only band around that we still classify as black metal today, Venom, Celtic Frost, and even Slayer and Mercyful Fate were sometimes known to be black metal bands from looking at metal magazines from the early-mid 80's. Then of course, there's the infamous nu-metal of the late 90's and early 00's where many bands got thrown under that category for sometimes stupid reasons.

In a world where it seems like a new music genre is made up every day, what do you think about the evolution of the definitions of heavy metal and it's genres? What definitions do you use yourself, and how do you think the definitions of past decades compares with today's? Discuss.

The definition of any large genre is, in itself, infinite. On PA we are always trying to define prog, and nobody ever wins in any argument. It is very subjective, destructive, but in general, very interesting.

To me, both prog and metal are very generally defined.

Most metal, to me, is really anything that reaches past its hard rock roots. Other compound metal genres, such as alternative metal, are slightly more extreme or exaggerated versions of their partner genre. Prog metal would, again, be more extreme or exaggerated progressive work. It is hard to describe it, but when it sounds metal, well it's metal. And it sounds metal if it's more than or parallel to rock - but not in the blues and jazzy directions, in the alternative and metal-type directions. Honestly, how do you put it into words, right?

Define heavy. It is simple to our ears but homicide to our brains.

I think it's perfectly fine to have your own barriers, but there is fact in music and that lies in the majority of quality listeners and musicians. They determine the influence and the goal of the music, in accordance with the band, and they're the closest most would get to defining an album, song, artist, composition... Yet everybody is their own judge, so if they are into music, they should make their own decisions based solely on their ears and the meaning that they retrieve from the music.

I regard most of The Mar's Volta's and Coheed and Cambria's work as metal - yet neither has been accepted onto the database and I'm fine with that.

Other bands that I know are just plain-out ridiculous to suggest as metal, yet totally metal to me. Some big bands that fit that category are Lunatic Soul, King Crimson, Guns N Roses, and Green Day. 

Mind blown.

Good music isn't dead, but it isn't on MTV and radio.

Good art is still being made, but you don't go to museums or hang with the right people.

^So if you aren't looking, what do you expect to find
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Unitron Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 May 2017 at 9:36pm
^Coheed and Cambria is on the site, as well as King Crimson and Guns 'n' RosesSmile

I agree that it's up to the bands and listeners to define what the music is, and it will almost always end up being subjective. What's interesting is how it shapes over time, and what makes the definitions different as time passes. Did the development of increasingly extreme metal genres such as death metal and black metal have an effect on bands once known to be metal, now known as hard rock? Or was it something else?


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vim Fuego Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 May 2017 at 10:45pm
Originally posted by Unitron Unitron wrote:


What's interesting is how it shapes over time, and what makes the definitions different as time passes. Did the development of increasingly extreme metal genres such as death metal and black metal have an effect on bands once known to be metal, now known as hard rock? Or was it something else?




I don't know if it's the development of those genres, or if it was when the mainstream came out to meet metal in the late 80s early 90s, when Guns n Roses and Metallica really busted into the charts. That led to grunge being able to hit the mainstream, and then punk through the likes of Green Day and The Offspring. There was the nu-metal movement too. That mainstreaming saw older bands and music get redefined, and stuck into progressively lighter slots.

In the past 10 years or so, it seems the mainstream has retreated from heavier music. I do not know why.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 666sharon666 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2017 at 4:37am
There are a few explanations for this, but the most important thing to always remember is this: Genre definitions are entirely subjective. The view of any individual is heavily dependant on a number of things, including their generation if you want to apply the then verses now argument (but it doesn't always play a part in such things). Something may have been deemed heavy metal in the 70's because there was a noticeable difference between other hard rock of the time. But skip forward a generation or two and that difference no longer seems noteworthy due to what's come out since and that's without considering sub-genres, which are a whole other branch of discussion.

Which brings me around to the other important thing to consider with this: hindsight.

When a genre is started, no one really knows what it is. It's only just been invented and it doesn't have a name yet and in the case of metal it probably got called hard rock at first. It's the same for a new sub-genre. Early Euro power metal for instance would have been called simply speed metal or, indeed, perhaps even thrash.

A new genre is something that no one is really sure about. Then someone puts a name on it, heavy metal in this case. But it may take a while still (years even) before that name is properly defined and understood, so it gets misapplied a fair bit during the formative years.

I remember seeing something in a Black Sabbath documentary once where one of them (Iommi or Geezer, don't recall which) recalled being asked about what he thought of the 'heavy metal scene' (or some such), to which he responded by asking what heavy metal was, because he didn't know.

'It's what you play,' said the interviewer.

'Is it?' Iommi/Geezer exclaims in surprise.

The start of a new genre is a time of confusion and its only natural that bands get misclassified (or rather, are later deemed to have been misclassified as the genre gets more defined). The same goes for when a branch of the genre suddenly gets some mainstream appeal (NWoBHM, Nu-Metal) because you suddenly have mainstream media covering it, who probably don't know what they're talking about half the time if we're being fair, because to them the music is new like it was to anyone listening before these scene explosions, and a new wave of bands get miscategorised. It's widely known that many bands lumped into NWoBHM were actually just hard rock, for example.

So some of those early bands that are generally accepted to be hard rock now like Rush, Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin would have been called heavy metal in those early days, because no one understood it properly yet. It was too new. Later on people realised that they were hard rock bands even by the standards of then.

If we agree that the Black Sabbath debut marks the true birth of what we now know of as heavy metal, then the genre will be 50 years old in just a few years. That's a lot of time for it to have been defined and even redefined, but I don't think it has been except for accounting for new sub-genres, as most still accept that Black Sabbath is metal. Of course if you look at the album's votes on RYM you'll see nearly 40 people trying to insist that it's not, but that just brings me back around to what I said at the start of this post: genres are subjective. 39 RYM'ers apparently think they know better than almost 50 years of history. And I think it's OK for them to believe that even if I disagree. That's the nature of music.

Edited by 666sharon666 - 03 May 2017 at 4:39am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mlkpad14 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2017 at 5:24am
Originally posted by Unitron Unitron wrote:

^Coheed and Cambria is on the site, as well as King Crimson and Guns 'n' RosesSmile


On the site, but they are not metal, nor should they be for anyone but me... LOL

Good music isn't dead, but it isn't on MTV and radio.

Good art is still being made, but you don't go to museums or hang with the right people.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 666sharon666 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2017 at 6:00am
Coheed is misfiled as alt metal. I've moved them to Hard Rock.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote aglasshouse Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2017 at 1:09pm
Originally posted by 666sharon666 666sharon666 wrote:

Coheed is misfiled as alt metal. I've moved them to Hard Rock.
I mean I could see your thinking but was there any discussion towards this? I'd like at least a discussion because I do like Coheed and they are a pretty diverse group.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mlkpad14 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2017 at 1:15pm
Originally posted by aglasshouse aglasshouse wrote:

Originally posted by 666sharon666 666sharon666 wrote:

Coheed is misfiled as alt metal. I've moved them to Hard Rock.
I mean I could see your thinking but was there any discussion towards this? I'd like at least a discussion because I do like Coheed and they are a pretty diverse group.

No, they should be alt metal, I think. Definitely not hard rock.

Can I move them back?

Good music isn't dead, but it isn't on MTV and radio.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote adg211288 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2017 at 1:41pm
Please take the Coheed debate to the collab zone if you have an issue with the move. This is an interesting topic and it would be nice if it didn't get derailed by collab matters. Thanks.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote siLLy puPPy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2017 at 9:23pm
^excellent debate but i think Nicole wrote it all out perfectly! Clap

BTW i keep wanting to call you Sharon! wassup with that?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Unitron Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2017 at 9:42pm
Originally posted by Vim Fuego Vim Fuego wrote:

Originally posted by Unitron Unitron wrote:


What's interesting is how it shapes over time, and what makes the definitions different as time passes. Did the development of increasingly extreme metal genres such as death metal and black metal have an effect on bands once known to be metal, now known as hard rock? Or was it something else?




I don't know if it's the development of those genres, or if it was when the mainstream came out to meet metal in the late 80s early 90s, when Guns n Roses and Metallica really busted into the charts. That led to grunge being able to hit the mainstream, and then punk through the likes of Green Day and The Offspring. There was the nu-metal movement too. That mainstreaming saw older bands and music get redefined, and stuck into progressively lighter slots.

In the past 10 years or so, it seems the mainstream has retreated from heavier music. I do not know why.


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That's a good point, and mainstream exposure also effects the fans' perception of the genre. The pop-punk of the 90's that you mention is a perfect example, as many more old-school punk fans seem to refuse to accept those kinds of bands as punk. The same with nu-metal, as I'm sure some metalheads thought along similar lines. (Which you yourself probably relate to. LOL)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote siLLy puPPy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2017 at 9:53pm
^ isn't that part of the game though? for newer generations to keep pushing the boundaries and making everything that came before seem tame? i always liked the tree analogy where you have the roots, the trunk and then a million branches. all those branches will eventually need new tags as they grow out
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 666sharon666 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 May 2017 at 1:08am
Originally posted by siLLy puPPy siLLy puPPy wrote:

]BTW i keep wanting to call you Sharon! wassup with that?


When I was younger I was paranoid about using my real name on the internet, so I used another one and stuck to it. Now it's the username that's stuck.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vim Fuego Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 May 2017 at 3:35pm
I just came across this video yesterday, which might in part explain why rock oriented bands no longer feature in the charts.

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