If you look up the definition of rock, you’ll find a different answer each time; there have been many attempts, but none successfully captured true essence. Ozzy Osbourne might have the best definition yet; “I’m into rock ‘n’ roll because rock ‘n’ roll, to me, means freedom.” The same can be said about metal. But what exactly sets metal apart from rock ‘n’ roll?
Rock is a vast musical spectrum that developed through time and the combination of various musical styles and influences. Metal arose from the core basics of rock and evolved into a more aggressive style; louder, harder, and faster, which is perhaps the leading factor that sets them apart.
Although metal is essentially born from rock, it is distinctive in its own class. Various aspects set the two popular spheres apart in terms of style, lyrics, stage presence, followers, etc.
The Difference Between Rock and Metal (The Basics)
A Brief History
In the 1950s singer-songwriter, Chuck Berry (1926-2017) lay the deep-set foundation for the road to rock ‘n’ roll. From his amazing career, many musical artists have found inspiration to become some of the most successful, and by extension, influential bands of all time. Metal became popular towards the end of the 1970s, specifically with bands formed in 1968 like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple.
Rock includes artists like Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, U2, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Guns’ N Roses, and Queen.
Some metal bands are Metallica, Korn, Anthrax, Slipknot, Pantera, Black Sabbath, Death, Amon Amarth, Slayer, and Iron Maiden.
It is worth mentioning that some of the musicians and bands listed in the respective genres can technically be placed in either category due to the close relationship between rock and metal.
Genre and subgenres
Rock genres can get pretty complicated, bringing along hard rock, punk rock, goth rock, blues rock, alternative rock, soft rock, indie rock, Christian rock, glam rock, and you get the idea. There are a lot of them. To make things just a little more confusing, metal, as it happens, is considered a sub-genre of rock. Metal built upon the core basics of rock techniques and styles, transforming itself into a harsher, louder, and faster sound.
Even as s a subgenre of rock, metal has a long list of related branches; thrash metal, death metal, black metal, glam metal, groove metal, nu metal, metalcore, doom metal, speed metal, and the list goes on. Suffice it to say; whether you prefer rock or metal, there should be something for everyone to enjoy.
Not all rock lovers enjoy metal, and not all metal fans listen to rock. There is, however, a great overlap in fans as well. But it might be somewhat unlikely for a Beatles fan to go from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Chop Suey” from System of a Down.
Suggestion for some subgenres
- Alternative Rock
- Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Depeche Mode
- Linkin Park
- Pearl Jam
- Hard Rock
- The Rolling Stones
- Van Halen
- Mötley Crüe
- Alternative Metal
- Alice In Chains
- System of a Down
- Thrash Metal
- Judas Priest
The Difference Between Rock and Metal (The Sound)
Growling vs. Singing
Metal has received a reputation for “screaming.” While there are bands who lean heavily on ruthless vocals, don’t be fooled into thinking that vocalists are just yelling out their lyrics; take David Draiman from Disturbed as an example. At the same time, his sound is intense and guttural, and it is closer to growling than screaming.
Then again, there are genres, such as death metal, which can become pretty incoherent, and you’ll have to look up most of the lyrics. Cannibal Corpse, Inhuman Harvest is a good example of intense growling, and yet it is still not really screaming.
In contrast, rock vocalists have a somewhat cleaner sound, but this is, of course, not a rule. Compare “We Will Rock You” from Queen to “Holy Wars” from Megadeth. The voice styles are two completely different sounds. And there will be no doubt in the classification between rock and metal. But the lines can get blurred; some metal bands have songs closer to rock, and the same is true for some rock bands.
In both genres, artists and bands use electric guitars, bass guitars, drums, and vocals. Those are the basic instruments you’ll commonly find in each setup. Some musicians have a couple of add-ons such as keyboards or pianos, acoustic guitars, additional percussion instruments (rattles, cymbals, gongs, etc.). There is no set instrumental structure between metal and rock, and it mostly depends on the band’s style.
Distorted guitars and pounding drums
Metal is fast, and the beat is punishing; more often than not, you’ll get lengthy guitar intros or insane guitar solos somewhere in the middle of a song. There is a noticeable distortion on guitars, and the overall sound is louder and generally more aggressive than rock.
The Difference Between Rock and Metal (The Lyrics)
Lyrics in rock songs tend to be more about the fun things in life; parties, sex, love, and friendship. AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” is a good example of sexy rock. However, it can go deeper than “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”. It can be inspirational; think of “Don’t Stop Believin'” from Journey, or gloomy if you think of “Paint It, Black” by the Rolling Stones.
It is no secret that metal bands can veer a step or two from accepted social norms, but let’s face it, that is exactly the point. While some lyrics are as crazy as you get them, others can make your skin crawl if you listen closely. “Zombie Ritual” from Death is just one such example.
Somewhere in the middle
The lyrics in metal can be viciously dark, but there are times where the aggressive sound of the song makes the lyrics appear much more sinister than they actually are. Take Amon Amarth, for example; their song “Live for the Kill” – on the 2008 album Twilight of the Thunder God – might come across as some plot of a serial killer. However, the heavy metal band from Sweden is singing about the natural instinct of wolves.
The Difference Between Rock and Metal (The Bands)
Heavy metal performances are chaotic; we’re taking fire – on the stage and on purpose. Rammstein, a metal band from Germany, is known for its explosive performances. Metal has insane shows. However, rock is not to be cast aside – there is a reason Chuck Berry, the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, won the prestigious Polar Award in 2014 – it is passionate, exhilarating, and consuming.
To take the examples to two extremes, Slipknot has a thing with masks, all sorts of terrifying disguises straight out of nightmares. On the other hand, compare it to Kiss, and their get-up is more eccentric and wild than scary. Then there’s Ramones, the punk rockers with their leather jackets, and the pop-rock band Duran Duran with their blazers. It’s all about image, and what the band feels represents their passion the best.
The main differences between rock and metal can be found in the technique composition, vocal styles, instrument pace, and the general emotions or feelings it pulls from the listener. In addition, lyrics, live performances, and individualism in attire and image are other factors that set the genres apart.