From the dawn of the genre with Black Sabbath’s sludgy, iron-wrought riffs and plodding grooves to the frostiest tremolo picking and swiftest blast beats straight from Norway’s steepest fjords, metal has always been a genre felt on a visceral level as opposed to defined with language. Put another way, while endless late-night bar conversations have been devoted to attempting to define what exactly makes metal metal, it’s easier to just say “you know it when you hear it.”
But what is the internet for if not pedantic arguments? So let’s riff on it for a bit: what makes metal metal? Is there any one, single element? Is it a combination of several?
The problem, of course, is that for every example, a counter-example is easily served up. You say it’s gotta have distorted guitars to be metal? We’ll show you Opeth, or any alt rock band for that matter. Double bass drums? So many universally agreed upon “metal” bands don’t utilize them – Sabbath among them. Growled vocals? Not even really a thing until the ‘90s. And so on and so forth.
Let’s distill it down even further, then, to make it as simple a question as possible: which instrument is the MOST important in metal, without which metal simply could not be??
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