What is metal? What is heavy metal? How does one define heavy metal music? Moreover, how is heavy metal different from other genres of music? There is no doubt that it is the most noble, lofty, demanding and challenging genre in all art, but how does one define it and set it apart definition-wise? Yet, how is metal music best defined in words? Metallian contacted a number of musicians to ask ‘what is metal?’ and ‘what the difference between heavy metal and other genres of music is?’ Here is how they answered. – 06.2023

What is heavy metal? What is the difference between heavy metal and other genres of music? What is heavy metal
Denis – Musician For Die Entweihung

Loud, aggressive, powerful yet melodic music, based on the distorted guitars and powerful drums sound. Probably the most die-hard, out-of-trend music genre thanks to its many fans around the world.

One of the main differences between heavy metal and other styles is that this music can be combined with anything. Over the years of its existence, metal from a purely guitar, bass, drums sound form has been able to introduce elements of completely different musical directions often having nothing to do with heavy music. The same could be said about the lyrics. Heavy metal lyrics can tell about standard things like life and death, love and hate, as well as historical events, wars, horrors, fantasy and much more. Hardly any other musical style can be so diverse in lyrical terms.
Esben Slot Sorensen – Guitarist For Samhain, Desexult And Barcode

Heavy metal is a superhero cape you wear to cope with the world. We all need to belong to a tribe with ritual dances and shit. Ours is metal. Like Jehovas Witnesses, Hells Angels or another religious cult or brotherhood, we feel better than the surrounding community. But reality is that most metalheads are merely introverted loners and outcasts who find comfort in brutal staging and a tough attitude (thus the superhero cape analogy). Moreover, a lot of metal peeps also suffer from mental diagnoses such as ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, et cetera. Metal is the remedy. Pretending it’s a choice makes being a freak somewhat easier.
As you grow older, you develop an independent identity and experience teaches you, to some degree, to imitate an extrovert behaviour allowing most of us to live amongst and interact with ‘normal people.’ But you still stick to your love for metal. It’s a lifelong passion that has offered us all a sense of belonging.

When I was young, we all lived by the misconception that metal was a higher form of music. An exquisite artform. With its speed, virtuosity and dramatic shifts in dynamics, it had clear references to classical music. We thought this put the genre above all other modern genres. Pop, rock, rap, hip hop, whatever was just commercial shit produced to make money on ignorant morons who weren’t musically skilled or sophisticated enough to know how to appreciate real music. We were. We had seen the light, so we felt superior.
Today, I still love Slayer, Venom and more extreme stuff. And I’m so fortunate that I work at an office with colleagues also into metal where I can put on whatever music I like on our Bluetooth speaker. But funny enough, when classic hits such as Holy Diver, Breaking The Law, Ace Of Spades, et cetera. are on the playlist, they always put a smile on people’s face. Songs that still hold up to this day because they’re written like pop songs with a catchy chorus. Just with a slightly heavier touch.

Genevieve Rodda – Singer For Temtris

It definitely relates to the guitar. What the guitar is doing… it’s going to have the drive in the guitar sound. It’s got to have distortion, double kick drums, big vocals, big power, vocals without getting operatic! I find that even metalheads say, ‘I am surprised that dance beats, the pop tune sound is called metal.’ That ‘doop doop’ sound is not metal. The drums affect the sound in metal and that is not a real drum sound. Everyone nowadays programs drums when they record albums, but it’s definitely the guitars, the amplified guitars, the speed of the song, the tempo that’s involved. Many factors come together to make something metal, it’s not just one thing. I mean, even someone tried to put us into the hard rock category. I wouldn’t consider us hard rock because we are heavier than hard rock. Nowadays, a lot of younger people… when heavy metal started bands like Sabbath… metal has gotten heavier now and a lot of your newer and younger metal fans listen to Black Sabbath or Judas Priest and say, ‘Judas Priest is not metal.’ They say, ‘it has to have death vocals to be classified as metal.’ I’m not saying it should. I am saying that is the opinion of other people if it doesn’t have the death vocals, it is not metal. Funny. Funny, how things are changing. I think everyone’s trying to be as heavy as hell, but that’s why I like that middle road in my metal. I like to sing along with my metal. It would definitely be the distorted guitar and the big vocals. The riff is very important. One thing Temtris has is the riff, that catchy riff, if you got a good riff in the song then you have won the people over.
Rick Hughes – Singer For Sword

Lots of times it’s the influence. Metal players are influenced by great players. If you want to play in a metal band you have to be a really good drummer, you have to be a really good bass player, you have to be an awesome guitar player, all the best guitar players are from metal. Jimi Hendrix was not metal, but he was doing heavy blues. It’s got the word ‘heavy’ in it. Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown might be the birth of heavy metal. Because musicians that are playing metal have been influenced by great artists it rubs on them. I love Country. I love all types of music. I’m a music lover. I play guitar and I play Country and I play blues and I play jazz… Well, no, I am not as good at playing jazz, but to be good in Country music you’re playing a certain groove, but you don’t have to be a gymnast player, but if you do metal music, whoa! The drummer is going to be really good because there’s a pace to it. Same with the guitar because there’s a pace to it. You have to be like a tennis player and the singer has to be a gymnast because the vocals in metal have to be over the top. So it sticks in your mind. The difference is the musicianship. I have always compared metal to jazz. That’s why I stop myself from saying that I play jazz because I cannot… because I am not as good a guitar player. Jazz and metal are very alike. If you want to play jazz you have to be a good musician and if you want to play metal you have to be a good musician. Jazz, for a long time, was mostly… It was men who listened to Jazz. Men that like their music. There were not a lot of women in metal for a long time.
Ryoto – Guitarist For Hell Freezes Over

It is hard to lump it all together as metal because it is something that has changed so much overtime. The characteristics of metal are… It is capable of extreme expression, but it is also capable of expressing subtlety. The sound is intense, of course, but so is rock music these days. When it comes to extreme expression, so does punk and the like, right? But only metal can express the subtlety and delicacy of these elements in one song. It is impossible for pop-rock music to express the horror of war, from the intense gunfire to the misery, and the struggle of the heart that is distorted by the hopeless agony.
Sin – Musician For Astarium

Metal is not music for everyone. And this is normal, because it gives the style a certain sacredness and elitism. Let the majority hear only noise instead of music and, in principle, they do not understand what it is and what this style is eaten with. Let them be frightened by the hard sound and aggressiveness, although it is more correct to say that this is the presentation of the material. This is the style that allows you to let out what is being held back in a musician who is mired in a boring and hypocritical society. Metal is the music of creators, free artists, romantics and mystics, violators of the foundations and rebels. In general, it’s more than just music! Of course, we can start talking about song structures, types of vocals, musical instruments, lyrical themes and similar nonsense, but is it necessary? I think everything is clear enough.