Classic heavy metal music is described as having a thick, massive sound that includes extended guitar solos, complex beats, amplified distortion and an overall loudness. The main instruments in most groups are the electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, vocals and sometimes, keyboards. While most groups focus on a vocalist as their front man, heavy metal music, more often than not, uses the lead guitarist as the focus.
The guitarist in heavy metal music is key. They perform extended riffs and usually lead the group. While some guitarists use main power chords in their songs, most have studied classical music and have amazing abilities. Some of the techniques used are alternate picking, string skipping, tapping, legato, sweep picking and economy picking.
Heavy metal music developed in the late 1960’s with groups such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. From the origins of this new style of music emerged a huge sub-genre of music. The lyrics tend to focus on dark or depressing subjects, including death, war, paranoia and personal trauma. Some extreme forms often focus on aggressive or gory lyrics, while others focus on more philosophical themes. A common theme in most metal is the idea of doing what you want, despite what the world says.
Genres of heavy metal music are as vast as the ideologies of each artist. The most popular styles include alternative metal, drone metal, funk metal, classic metal, grindcore, industrial metal, metalcore, neo-classical metal, nu metal, gothic, speed, post metal, rap metal, sludge metal and doom and death metal. Each sub-genre brings in elements of other styles of music such as blues, rap, rock, alternative, folk, punk, hip hop and classical.
Visual appearance has always been a strong factor in heavy metal music. Some groups, such as Kiss and Alice Cooper, have become known for their outlandish costumes and huge stage performances.
The classic dress of today’s metalhead consists of long hair, past the shoulders, black t-shirt with a favored metal band logo, jeans, black boots and black leather jackets. According to journalist Nader Rahman, long hair gave the members of the metal community “the power they needed to rebel against nothing in general”.
Heavy metal music is extremely masculine and, therefore, there is not the usual dancing at concerts. Most of the audience will engage in headbanging or just make arm gestures. Other displays may include “moshing”, stage diving or crowd surfing.
Heavy metal fans have their own code of authenticity. The code demands that performers be authentic, devoted to the sub-culture and the music and they must never sell out. Some performers have been shut out of mainstream metal because they lacked the authenticity the crowd was looking for.