There was a time when forming a metal band meant getting together some friends with instruments, sewing a patch on your denim vest, and spending sexless hours in your bedroom practicing Kiss and Van Halen tunes. Alas, those simpler times are gone. Metal’s a huge deal these days, complete with a thousand subgenres that each have their own set of rules (or rules to be broken). It’s a confusing time for people who just want to kick ass, worship the riff, and sweat onstage.
So if you want to start a metal band, you’ve got some serious decisions to make. Below are some of the crossroads you’re going to have to navigate on your path to laying down your soul to the gods Rock and Roll (Rock is benevolent, but Roll is a real blood-drinking world-ending bastard), and some advice for each chosen path.
THEATRICAL OR CASUAL?If you’re in a metal band, you either want to be a larger-than-life behemoth that wows their fans or a bunch of dudes showing that anyone can do this if they’re true of heart. Which will you be?
Theatrical: Arena acts like Iron Maiden and Rob Zombie, or any black metal band from Scandinavia. No one wants to see a bunch of normal dickheads onstage, they want an experience. Make sure to wear spiked leather, hooded cloaks, and/or corpsepaint. When playing live, there has to be fire, blood, or a skull onstage; all three and you might convince the crowd you’re not just a guy suffering from heat rash beneath those shin guards.
False move: Store-bought Halloween masks. Do not try to be Slipknot.
Casual: Early Bay Area thrash and most American death metal are the best examples. Wear whatever the fuck you’d wear normally—you’re not some cacodemon, you’re just some musicians ready to shred. The only thing that should be on your stage is a huge banner of your logo, if that. Make sure the kids know you’re just one of them, so long as they don’t dare to touch you when they’re stage-diving.
False move: Ranting about image-conscious bands onstage. Way to sound envious of someone else’s set design budget.
Middle Ground: Spiked thrashers. Think Slayer or Skeletonwitch. Just because you’re not a circus doesn’t mean you can’t strap on some bulletbelts and gauntlets.
TRADITIONAL OR PROGRESSIVE?
Metal’s a well-worn genre these days, man. Are you going to honor the gods by following in their footsteps, or use your open mind to forge your own path?
Traditional: Think Exodus, Manilla Road, Holy Grail. Fuck all of these hipsters—denim and leather, all the way, dude. Focus on tasty riffs, galloping drums, blazing solos, and windmilling your hair. Have at least one NWOBHM-based tattoo and one Slayer cover—first four albums only—that you can pull out at any moment. Drink whiskey, praise tits.
False move: Abstract imagery in your art. You slap a minigun-toting goat on that shit like a man.
False move: Homophobia. You know the guys from Cynic are gay, right?
Since the first Black Sabbath album, the Devil has been a mainstay in extreme music. But isn’t it time we gave Old Scratch a rest and go after something truly brutal?
Middle Ground: Schuldiner-worshipping death metal. You can still be brutal even if you have a prominent bass line and discuss conceptual psychology.
SATANIC OR NORSE?
Satanic: Just go for it. Pentagrams, inverted crosses, Baphomets, the whole schlemiel. Use phrases like “qlippoth”, “Gehenna”, and “blasphemic” in your lyrics. Write a song for every possible way you’d like to see Jesus killed. If pressed in interviews, make sure to explain that Satan is not just a creature with hooves, but a god of freedom, a lifestyle, or just a feeling inside of us all. False move: Later in your career, blow off your Satanism as being dumb teenage antics. Way to turn on the lights at the haunted house.
Norse: Take the hairy road. Satanists are just a different kind of Christian; Odin and the Aesir predate that shit by centuries. Wear a Mjolnir necklace, never fail to correct other folks’ pronunciation of ‘Mjolnir.’ Grow a beard, wear braided leather, drink mead from a horn. Listen to some folk metal, but only on the brutal side. Make sure to alter your terminology—it’s not the apocalypse, it’s Ragnarok. It’s not Hell, it’s Hel. False move: Shorts. If you want to cool off, wear a fucking kilt, asshole.
Middle Ground: Lovecraftian misanthropy. No hair, no horns, just the desire to see giant cuttlefish murder everyone with magical fire.
TECHNICAL OR SLOPPY?Metal is influenced by bluesy rock and baroque classical, but let’s be honest, it was a little lame until punk got involved. Do you run with that chaos, or focus on your finger placement?
Technical: Children of Bodom, Meshuggah, Brain Drill, Origin. Don’t be some lazy fuck—lock yourself in a room and play scales until your hands bleed. Those solos better be carefully mapped out, and that production sound better be crisp as fresh lettuce. This is what metal is about—the mastery of ability, the grandness of sound. Punk was just about haircuts, right? False move: Going full Malmsteen. No one gives a fuck about your fast hands if you can’t write a song.
Sloppy: Darkthrone, Midnight, Impaled, Pig Destroyer. Don’t be a fucking nerd—who cares if you hit every note, so long as you give it your all? Treat your instrument like male porn stars treat Sasha Grey. Drink and do drugs heavily, or be totally straight-edge. Absolutely lose it onstage—fall to your knees, cut up your fingers, puke. This is what music is about—pure energy. Classic metal was just about haircuts, right?
False move: Going full Discharge. Your sloppiness doesn’t mean anything glamorous or artistic.
Middle Ground: Stoner and sludge. It’s still technical music if you’re hitting the one tooth-shaking note you play every thirty seconds.
FUNNY OR SERIOUS?
Metal’s really just about having a few brews and hanging out, right? Wrong. It’s about the majesty of the cosmos, asshole. Are you a dick, or a dude?
Funny: The Black Dahlia Murder, Gama Bomb, GWAR. You may write about demons and darkness, but let’s face it, you’re just a guy with a lot of smegma. Hang out with your fans, make fun of yourself in your videos, occasionally have a dude dressed like a taco onstage. Live for weed and beer; make sure weed and beer appear in a lot of your imagery. If anyone takes you too seriously, make a jack-off hand motion at them.
False move: Irony. Metal may be funny, but it still rules, always, all the time.
Serious: Triptykon, Unleashed, Danzig. If you want to laugh, go have a fucking tickle fight. This is metal. Never smile in a band photo. Refuse to laugh or tell tour stories in interviews. If you’ve ever been part of a lame or ridiculous project earlier in your career, deny it entirely. Wear military gear or military-inspired gear. Write about moments in history and Aleister Crowley. Never let them see you drinking.
False move: Coming out publicly against the funny guys. Get ready for a jack-off hand motion.
Middle Ground: Socially-conscious. You can be laid-back and have a laugh at most things, but not animal rights. Never animal rights.
You can compromise on some of these points, right? The answer is no. Compromise is the least metal thing in existence. But no matter which path you choose—far-out beer-swilling stripped-down everyband or arch fire-spewing stone-faced envoy of Hell’s darkest pit—we hope you frighten the shit out of concerned parents and get your patches sewn onto jackets with dental floss the world over. Just keep your drummer’s drug habit in check, update your Bandcamp every so often, and remember: if this band blows, there are always side projects.