Radio Lantern: Your Guide Through 15 Metal Subgenres

Everyone has to start somewhere! Whether you just found out AC/DC existed or you can’t wrap your head around what the hell Kawaii metal really is, this little guide might help you understand the difference between the following 15 metal subgenres and maybe help you expand your playlist a little. 

I’m not a metal scholar but I’d like to think I know a bit about the genre after doing The Iron Club for 4 years while working with all different kinds of metalheads and DJs. With the hope that this guide can be used to break the ice with your longtime crush or make friends with some Russian soldiers in the future nuclear wasteland, let's get right to it!

  1. Heavy Metal

The original of all. First appearing in the late 1960s (where its appellation was used as a synonym of “hard rock”) and popularized in the 1970s and 1980s, the genre can be recognized by its long and complex guitar solos, the use of distortion and power chords and controversial dark lyrics. A few fun facts for you; hard rock gave us some of the most talented guitarists of all time like Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen) and Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), amongst others. While also giving us the headbanging and the il cornuto aka the devil horns, it is responsible for metalheads being called this way.

My song suggestions

  • Iron Maiden - “Number of the Beast”

  • Judas Priest - “Breaking the Law”

  • Saxon - “Wheels of Steel”


  1. Glam Metal

Born in the 1980s, this heavy metal subgenre featured a lot of hair sprayed backcombed hair and lots of showy spandex/leather pants. Sound-wise, it can be recognized by catchy hooks and guitar riffs, shredding and power ballads, while the genre’s lyrics are known for talking about love and other non-PG stuff. Fun fact for you, the genre was known for its intense lifestyle of heavy partying, drugs and girls that the media were all too pleased to report on. Even though it might be slightly romanticized, you can watch The Dirt to get a gist of what I mean.

    My song suggestions

  • Warrant - “Cherry Pie” 

  • Mötley Crüe - “Dr. Feelgood”

  • Quiet Riot - “Cum On Feel The Noize”


  1. Death Metal

Now, we are getting to the heavier stuff, or for me, Hunter’s territory. Thanks to Newcastle’s Venom that gave us the bases for death metal, black metal and thrash metal in the early 1980s with Welcome to Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982), the genre features the use of death growls instead of clean vocals, abrupt tempos led by the use of double kicks and blast beats on drums as well as fast distorted and low-tuned guitars. Death metal is the genre that will make your parents wonder if you are a devil worshiper, as religion, politics, science fiction and Lovecraftian horror are all part of the lyrical themes the genre uses.

    My song suggestions

  • Obituary - “Body Bag”

  • Death - “Zombie Ritual”

  • Cannibal Corpse - “Hammer Smashed Face”


  1. Black Metal 

Another one of Hunter’s favorites, black metal was created in the mid 1980s with the “first wave” as bands like Venom, Bathory and Celtic Frost pioneered the genre that can be recognized by its fast tempos, the dark and heavy atmosphere of the songs as well as their unconventional structure and a vocal style that could sound like a shriek of a ghoul singing about Satanism, religion and paganism. In the 1990s, the “second wave” spawned out of Norway, as bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum brought us the signature crappy recording sound that the genre is known for and beloved by fans. Fun fact time! Black metal performers often paint their faces to look like a distorted version of KISS and use some scene names, like Cronos, Euronymous or Lady Gaga. This genre is also the reason your family is certain that you worship the devil and that you’re in need of an exorcism when you sing in the shower.

    My song suggestions

  • Bathory - “Hades” 

  • Darkthrone - “Quintessence”

  • Mayhem - “Chainsaw Gutsfuck”


  1. Thrash Metal

Created in the early 1980s, this genre is a fusion of heavy metal with the fast paced and aggressive style of hardcore punk. Aggressive greasy rhythm guitar, fast percussion and highly technical shredding solos accompanied by anti-establishment lyrics characterize the genre, which only became commercially successful in the mid 1980s. The number four seems to be very important for the genre, as the most successful bands of certain regions are often dubbed “The Big Fours”: there is an American one (Metallica, Megadeath, Slayer, Anthrax), a German one (Kreator, Destruction, Sodom, Tankard), and a Canadian one (Voivod, Sacrifice, Razor, Annihilator). Thrash metal is the basis of a lot of other subgenres like hardcore, metalcore, grindcore, groove metal, crossover thrash and thrashcore. Fun fact, the genre might be the reason why we popularized stage diving and mosh pits during concerts.

    My song suggestions

  • Metallica - “The Four Horsemen”  

  • Demolition Hammer - “Epidemic of Violence”  

  • Tankard - “Die with a Beer in Your Hand”  


  1. Doom Metal

From the hare to the tortoise, this genre is much slower than the others, featuring low-tuned guitars and the use of heavy distortion creating a bleak and heavy atmosphere. When put together with heavy lyrical themes (suffering, depression, grief, anger, etc), the genre’s goal is to communicate a sense of impending doom. Finding its origin in the early 1970s and in the early Black Sabbath, certain bands write about drugs and their effects, which is known as stoner doom metal. You might want to put some of that on next time you decide that you’re in the mood for grass and shrooms.

    My song suggestions

  • Acid Witch - “Swamp Spells”  

  • Candlemass - “Under the Oak” 

  • Black Sabbath - “Electric Funeral”  


  1. Folk Metal

Probably the easiest genre to figure out by itself, folk metal mixes traditional folk instruments with elements of heavy metal, sometimes adding some traditional singing styles. In the early 1990s, European bands like Skyclad and Cruachan pioneered the genre in its early days, inspiring bands across Europe and around the world to do the same. Principal lyrical themes usually deal with fantasy, mythology, paganism, history, and nature, which often define folk metal’s own subgenres like pirate metal, medieval metal, viking metal and celtic metal.

    My song suggestions

  • Finntroll - “Trollhammaren”  

  • Japanese Folk Metal - “Omatsuri Sawagi”  

  • Ensiferum - “Wanderer” 


  1. Power Metal

Ever wanted to kick some ass and then have coïtus with dragons? You might have channeled the essence of power metal at one point… Created in the 1980s, this genre is a mix of heavy metal and speed metal often backed with a more symphonical track, making it faster and more uplifting than other genres. With lyrical themes ranging from fantasy to camaraderie, war and death or combining all of them, power metal bands seem to seek to create battle anthems to fuel soldiers’ spirits on the battlefield with their strong choruses, the resulting songs being very theatrical and emotionally charged.

        My song suggestions

  • Sabaton - “The Last Stand”

  • Powerwolf - “We Drink Your Blood” 

  • Beast In Black - “Blind and Frozen” 


  1. Progressive Metal

Prog metal might be the best genre for your neurodivergent ADHD brain. In the mid 1980s, someone decided to mix the aggressive sound of heavy metal and the musical exploration and “big brain” part of progressive rock together to make this baby. Often mixed with other subgenres, this genre can be recognized by its unconventional harmonies and the use of syncopation, all interpreted by extremely technical performers. You can also recognize the genre by meeting up with some TOOL fans, as they will tell you how big of a brain you must have to understand how great it is to wait 13 years for a new album.

    My song suggestions

  • TOOL - “Invincible”  

  • Haken - “Prosthetic”  

  • Sleep Token - “Hypnosis” 


  1. Hardcore

I know this one isn’t technically “metal” but if you have seen an hardcore punk show before, you know how crazy it is to see people almost breaking their necks while stage diving. Having influenced a lot of other subgenres like thrash metal and any “core” genre ever, hardcore’s fast and aggressive sounds with some primal intonations put more emphasis on rhythm than melody. In more simple words, chugga-chugga guitar, fast drums and angry white guy screaming on stage against the establishment, commercialism, anything too mainstream, or their personal problems. I went to a Knocked Loose show back when live performances were a thing and it's still one of craziest things I have ever seen in my life. 10/10 would recommend it to everyone.

    My song suggestions

  • Knocked Loose - “Belleville”  

  • Hatebreed - “Destroy Everything”  

  • Bane - “Some Came Running”  


  1. Metalcore

We are now entering my territory, as metalcore is the genre I adore and won’t shut up about. In the early 1990s, some hardcore punk band decided to use a more melodic approach to their music, earning the humorous nickname of “metallic handcore” amongst their purebread peers, which soon translated to the modern appelation. Borrowing sounds and techniques from both thrash metal and hardcore, the genre is known for its slow build ups leading to crazy breakdowns, during which the crowd goes in a frenzy, letting it all out in a moshpit (which are usually less intense than the ones you can see at hardcore shows, but still). I could give you so many suggestions, it pains me to only choose 3 songs…

    My song suggestions

  • Parkway Drive - “Deliver Me”  

  • Currents - “Poverty of Self”  

  • Crystal Lake - “Apollo”  


  1. Deathcore

From metalcore, deathcore is, in my opinion, the logical evolution. As the genre appeared in the late 1990s, a little while after metalcore became a thing, it uses the musical components of death metal and adds metalcore’s breakdowns to it, often resulting in short but brutal songs. The vocalists of the genre are often put into the spotlight, as their personal use of the death growl is the centerpiece of records most of the time. I will never forget going to see Thy Art Is Murder live, seeing frontman Chris CJ McMahon show up on stage completely wasted, throw up in the middle of his set, slip on his own gut meal, get back up and finish it all with style.

    My song suggestions

  • Slaughter to Prevail - “Demolisher” 

  • Whitechapel - “Third Depth”  

  • Fit For An Autopsy - “No Man Is Without Fear”  


  1. Grindcore

Do you like the sounds of a fork on a chalkboard mixed with a saw cutting wood while someone is breaking twigs in your ears ASMR style? Depending on your answer, grindcore might be for you. First appearing in the mid 1980s, the genre mixed elements of heavy metal and hardcore punk to a certain extreme, creating a very aggressive and abrasive sound, sometimes condensed in mere 30-second songs. Lyrical themes go from politics to slaughterhouse materials, and the listener may go through them all while listening to a five minute long record.

My song suggestions

  • Napalm Death - “Cesspits”

  • Pig Destroyer - “Gravedancer” 

  • Wormrot - “Outworn”  


  1. Nu Metal

Nu metal happened when people decided to throw a lot of “metal convention” out of the window and added rap, DJing, or even Donald Duck to some classical elements. Created in the early 1990s, the genre brought a lot of people into metal with its creativity and accessibility (or not being too loud and heavy since you have some rapping parts in some songs, I guess). Though, the oversaturation of bands and the nu metal environment being more about the excesses of its performers than their music led to the rise of metalcore in the beginning of the 2000s. When I said it’s an accessible genre, I meant that it’s still a bit weird to me that my pop-head girlfriend knows “Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit by heart.

    My song suggestions

  • Linkin Park - “In the End”  

  • System Of A Down - “Sugar” 

  • Slipknot - “Spit It Out”  


  1. Kawaii Metal

Finishing on a lighter note, kawaii metal was created in the early 2010s by a lovely Japanese band called BABYMETAL. Just like Japan does best, this genre mixes some parts of heavy metal with some other parts of J-pop, the result being a couple of cute girls dancing and singing on a stage accompanied by some darkly dressed musicians that often produce the deeper back vocals needed in certain songs. There are two ways you get into this genre; either you are a “weeb” so it’s not that far off your alley or you start listening to it ironically and you get addicted. Might as well embrace your weeb-ness and dance along!

    My song suggestions



  • BiSH - “IDOL is SHiT”  


JP co-hosts The Iron Club, your weekly dose of handbanging and moshpit-worthy tunes as well as other numerous surprises from the realm of the underground, which airs every Sunday from 9:00 - 11:00 p.m.