Sunday, February 18, 2007


Heavy metal is typically characterized by a guitar-and-drum-dominated sound, strong rhythms and classical, bluesy or symphonic styles. However, heavy metal sub-genres have their own stylistic variations on the original form that often omit or alter many of these characteristics. There is a very wide variety of sounds and styles within the genre of Metal.

The most commonly used line-up for a metal band is a drummer, a bassist, a rhythm guitarist, a lead guitarist, and a singer (who may or may not be an instrumentalist). Keyboards were popular with early metal bands (especially the organ and occasionally the mellotron), but were gradually used less and less frequently. Today they are used by some styles (prog metal, later black metal) and shunned by others, though as different subgenres develop they have begun to become more popular. The guitar and the sonic power that it projects through amplification, however, is the key element in heavy metal music. Distortion of the guitar sound is used to create a more powerful, "heavy'" sound. Later, more intricate solos and riffs became a big part of heavy metal music. Guitarists use sweep-picking, tapping and other advanced techniques for rapid playing, and many sub-genres praise virtuosity over simplicity. Also, as technology has developed, new ways of altering the guitar's sound have been adopted.

In the early part of the 1970s, bands with two lead guitarists began to emerge. Wishbone Ash, The Allman Brothers Band, Scorpions, Thin Lizzy, Priormind and Judas Priest all made notable use of dual leads and harmonies. Many bands, such as Iron Maiden, would follow this pattern of having two guitarists share the role of both lead and rhythm guitar.

Metal vocals vary widely in style. Vocalists' abilities and styles range from the multi-octave theatrical vocals of Judas Priest's Rob Halford and Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, to the intentionally gruff vocals of Metallica's James Hetfield and Lemmy from Motörhead .

In terms of the live sound, volume is often considered as important as anything. Following the lead set by Jimi Hendrix and The Who (who once held the distinction of "The World's Loudest Band" in the Guinness Book Of World Records), early heavy metal bands set new benchmarks for sound volume during shows. Tony Iommi, guitarist in heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath, is just one of the early Heavy Metal musicians to suffer considerable hearing loss due to their live volume. Detroit rocker Ted Nugent and guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who are nearly deaf. (Some guitar stores even sell earplugs.) Heavy metal's volume fixation was mocked in the rockumentary spoof This Is Spinal Tap by guitarist "Nigel Tufnel", who revealed that his Marshall amplifiers had been modified to "go up to eleven."