When Metal Goes Off the Rails: Exploring the Most Unusual Subgenres

Are you ready for a musical journey that will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew about metal? From the fantastical world of Steampunk Metal to the anthropomorphic anthems of Furry Metal, here are subgenres that challenge the status quo.

Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

The Metal Melting Pot

The world of metal music is not just a realm of guttural growls, double-bass drumming, and distorted guitars. It’s a sprawling labyrinth of creativity, a playground where musicians unleash their wildest imaginations. Welcome to the land of bizarre and unique metal subgenres.

These esoteric branches of metal are not merely about breaking sound barriers; they’re about smashing cultural, thematic, and even historical walls. Imagine a genre that can blend elements from traditional Japanese theater with the grit of glam metal. Or picture a subgenre that infuses Victorian-era aesthetics into a sonic landscape of heavy riffs. Sounds like a fever dream, right? Well, it’s time to wake up and smell the… brass? Leather? You’ll find out soon enough.

So put on your most eccentric band tee and fasten your seatbelt. We’re about to dive headfirst into eight of the most unusual, mind-bending metal subgenres you never knew existed.

Japanese Visual Kei: When Glam Meets Genre-Defying Artistry

X Japan, Dir En Grey, The Gazette
X Japan, Dir En Grey, The Gazette

What Is It?

Think of Japanese Visual Kei as the lovechild of glam rock and a musical kaleidoscope. This subgenre is not just about the music; it’s a full-on artistic movement among Japanese musicians. The term “Visual Kei” literally translates to a “visual style”, and that’s the epicenter of this subgenre. From makeup that could make a geisha jealous to hairstyles that defy gravity, Visual Kei is about embracing androgynous aesthetics while cranking out tunes that range from pop to metal.

The Nitty-Gritty

Visual Aesthetics: The makeup, the costumes, the hair—it’s all a crucial part of the performance. Visual Kei artists treat their appearance as an extension of their musical artistry.

Androgynous Vibes: Gender norms? Visual Kei doesn’t know them. This subgenre blurs the lines between traditional male and female appearances, adding another layer of intrigue.

Musical Roulette: Metal? Pop? Electronic? Why not all of them? While the look remains consistent, the musical styles can vary as wildly as the outfits.

Theatrical Flair: Forget just a gig; Visual Kei bands offer a full-on theatrical experience, complete with choreographed performances and dramatic stage setups.

The Bands You Need to Know

X Japan: Think of them as the godfathers of Visual Kei. Known for their power ballads and symphonic metal, they’ve laid the foundation for many to follow.

Dir En Grey: This band is like a chameleon, changing colors—or in this case, sounds—from alternative metal to deathcore but always maintaining that Visual Kei aesthetic.

The Gazette: Nu-metal? Check. Hard rock? Check. Industrial metal? Check. The Gazette has it all, always wrapped in their Visual Kei style.

Why Should You Care?

Japanese Visual Kei is more than a subgenre; it’s a celebration of visual and musical creativity combined. It’s an ever-evolving scene that has a far-reaching influence, inspiring musicians and fans alike around the world.

Kawaii Metal: Where Heavy Riffs Meet J-Pop Sensibilities

Babymetal, Ladybaby, Doll$Boxx
Babymetal, Ladybaby, Doll$Boxx

What Is It?

If you ever wondered what would happen if you threw a heavy metal band and a J-Pop idol group into a blender, you’d get Kawaii Metal, or “Cute Metal”. This subgenre is a head-spinning cocktail of aggressive metal instrumentation and the cotton-candy aesthetics of Japanese pop culture. Picture death growls and blast beats set against a backdrop of pastel colors and playful themes. Intrigued?

The Nitty-Gritty

Cute Overload: Imagine a mosh pit filled with plushies and kawaii emojis. That’s Kawaii Metal for you, where the imagery is as youthful and adorable as it gets.

Sound Collision: It’s like your playlist got confused and started playing Slayer and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu at the same time. The contrasting melodies create a sound that’s as captivating as it is bizarre.

High Voltage Shows: Forget standing still; Kawaii Metal concerts are like heavy metal meets Zumba, complete with choreographed dance routines.

Universal Appeal: Whether you’re headbanging to Metallica or swaying to Hatsune Miku, Kawaii Metal has something for you. Its cross-genre elements attract a fanbase as diverse as its sound.

The Bands You Need to Know

Babymetal: The poster children of Kawaii Metal, Babymetal has stormed the international stage, turning skeptics into believers with their unique blend of metal and idol music.

Ladybaby: Imagine a cross-dressing lead singer growling to pop tunes. That’s Ladybaby for you, a band that’s as unconventional as they come.

Doll$Boxx: An all-female powerhouse, Doll$Boxx shows that Kawaii Metal isn’t just a gimmick but a platform for musical diversity.

Why Should You Care?

Kawaii Metal isn’t just a subgenre; it’s a cultural phenomenon. By fusing the cuteness of pop culture with the raw energy of metal, it challenges our perceptions of what metal can be. It’s playful, it’s innovative, and it’s making waves not just in Japan but globally.

Metal from Botswana: The Heart of African Metal Innovation

Overthrust, Crackdust, Wrust
Overthrust, Crackdust, Wrust

What Is It?

When it comes to metal, Africa—particularly Botswana—might not be the first place that springs to mind. But think again, because this nation is making waves in the global metal scene. Fueled by a unique blend of Western metal influences and local African sounds, Botswana is pioneering a distinctive metal subgenre that’s as rhythmically rich as it is sonically aggressive.

The Nitty-Gritty

Cultural Melting Pot: This isn’t just any metal; it’s a unique fusion steeped in local African sounds and themes, creating a style that’s authentically Botswanan.

The Message Matters: With lyrics that often address social justice and political activism, this subgenre serves as more than just entertainment; it’s a reflection of the local landscape and the issues that matter.

Small but Mighty: While still nascent, the metal scene in Botswana is growing steadily, with local bands gaining both national and international recognition.

Distinctive Groove: It’s the gritty riffs and rhythmic flow that set this subgenre apart, offering a unique musical voice in the broader metal landscape.

The Bands You Need to Know

Overthrust: This Botswanan band embodies the spirit of innovation that defines the scene, blending traditional metal elements with distinctly local influences.

Crackdust: A cornerstone of Botswana’s metal landscape, Crackdust incorporates elements that resonate with the ethos of Botswana’s unique metal sound.

Wrust: With a sound that embraces a fusion of styles, Wrust contributes to the diversity and complexity of Africa’s metal scene.

Why Should You Care?

Metal from Botswana is more than just a subgenre; it’s a testament to the global reach and adaptability of metal. It showcases how metal can resonate across different cultures and find a home even in places you’d least expect. This Botswanan innovation not only contributes to the diversity of the global metal landscape but also proves that metal knows no boundaries.

Doom Jazz: The Brooding Lovechild of Doom Metal and Jazz

Bohren & der Club of Gore, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation
Bohren & der Club of Gore, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation

What Is It?

If you ever found yourself torn between the haunting riffs of doom metal and the intricate improvisation of jazz, say hello to Doom Jazz. Also known as Dark Jazz, this subgenre is where the weight of doom metal meets the atmospheric allure of jazz, resulting in soundscapes that are as dark as they are captivating.

The Nitty-Gritty

Mood Setting: Doom Jazz is a master of atmosphere, often creating soundscapes that wouldn’t be out of place in a smoky noir film or a haunting thriller.

Musical Alchemy: Imagine a doom metal guitarist and a jazz saxophonist jamming together. That’s the essence of Doom Jazz, a fusion of slow, heavy riffs and complex jazz harmonies.

Cinematic Vibes: This isn’t just music; it’s a soundtrack for your darkest imaginings. Many Doom Jazz compositions could easily serve as the background score for dark-themed films.

Instrumental Mash-Up: Distorted guitars and heavy drums from the metal world collide with saxophones and trumpets from the jazz universe, creating a sound that’s uniquely Doom Jazz.

The Bands You Need to Know

Bohren & der Club of Gore: Hailing from Germany, this band takes a minimalist approach to jazz and infuses it with doom and dark ambient influences.

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble: This Dutch act blends doom metal, dark ambient, and jazz into cinematic soundscapes that are as complex as they are haunting.

The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation: A side project of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, they delve deeper into the fusion of doom and jazz, often venturing into more experimental territories.

Why Should You Care?

Doom Jazz isn’t just a subgenre; it’s an exploration of musical possibilities. It challenges the boundaries of both doom metal and jazz, creating a unique sound that’s as complex as it is emotive. Whether you’re a metalhead, a jazz aficionado, or someone looking for something off the beaten track, Doom Jazz offers a compelling listening experience that’s unlike anything else out there.

Blackgaze: When Black Metal Gazes Into the Ethereal Abyss

Alcest, Deafheaven, Lantlôs
Alcest, Deafheaven, Lantlôs

What Is It?

Welcome to the sonic realm of Blackgaze, a genre where the ferocious intensity of black metal coexists with the dreamy, almost celestial soundscapes of shoegaze. Born in the early 2000s, this fusion has captivated listeners with its mix of raw power and ethereal beauty, creating an experience that’s as emotionally charged as it is musically complex.

The Nitty-Gritty

Sonic Architecture: Blackgaze is known for its “Wall of Sound” approach, employing layers upon layers of distorted guitars to create a dense, immersive atmosphere.

Mood Master: Ever felt a blend of melancholy, introspection, and transcendence while listening to music? That’s the atmospheric power of Blackgaze for you.

Vocal Versatility: From guttural black metal screams to soft, lilting melodies, Blackgaze vocals offer a dynamic range that adds another layer of complexity to the genre.

Visual Poetry: This isn’t just music; it’s an experience that often incorporates visual elements like nature, existential themes, and abstract art, mirroring the genre’s philosophical leanings.

The Bands You Need to Know

Alcest: Often credited with pioneering Blackgaze, this French band skillfully blends the intensity of black metal with the dreamy nuances of shoegaze.

Deafheaven: An American ensemble known for their eclectic blend of black metal, shoegaze, and post-rock. Their album “Sunbather” is a genre-defining masterpiece.

Lantlôs: A German act that takes Blackgaze to experimental heights, incorporating progressive elements into their fusion of black metal and shoegaze.

Why Should You Care?

Blackgaze isn’t just another subgenre; it’s a musical revelation. By seamlessly blending the raw power of black metal with the ethereal beauty of shoegaze, Blackgaze offers a unique musical journey that’s both intense and introspective. It’s a testament to the endless possibilities that arise when musicians dare to cross genre boundaries, and it continues to inspire a new wave of bands within the metal community.

Steampunk Metal: The Retro-Futuristic Realm Where Metal Meets Victorian Elegance

Abney Park, The Cog is Dead, Steam Powered Giraffe
Abney Park, The Cog is Dead, Steam Powered Giraffe

What Is It?

Pack your brass goggles and tighten your corsets, because we’re diving into the world of Steampunk Metal—a genre where metal’s sonic rebellion meets the Victorian era’s genteel sophistication. Imagine a world where steam-powered airships sail the skies to the tune of shredding guitars. That’s Steampunk Metal for you: a blend of alternative history, retro-futuristic tech, and, of course, metal.

The Nitty-Gritty

Victorian Vibes: When you listen to Steampunk Metal, you’re not just hearing music; you’re stepping into a Victorian-era parlor filled with steam-powered gadgets and intricate machinery.

Beyond the Steam: This genre isn’t just about steam power; it explores alternative histories and projects what the 19th-century future could have looked like, often through a lens of fantastical technology.

Visual Feast: This is as much about the look as it is about the sound. Expect bands to rock Victorian attire, complete with brass instruments and an array of intricate, steam-powered stage props.

Musical Melting Pot: Steampunk Metal is a cross-genre adventurer, blending elements of folk, industrial, and symphonic music with the core metal sound.

The Bands You Need to Know

Abney Park: Considered pioneers of the Steampunk music scene, they seamlessly blend industrial, world, and folk music, all set against a Steampunk backdrop.

The Cog is Dead: With a mix of rock, metal, and folk, this band takes Steampunk storytelling to another level, often featuring unconventional instruments like accordions and banjos.

Steam Powered Giraffe: While they may not be pure metal, their theatrical performances, featuring robotic mime and makeup, bring a unique twist to the Steampunk Metal scene.

Why Should You Care?

Steampunk Metal is more than a genre; it’s a time-traveling experience. It takes you to a world where history took a different turn, where steam reigns supreme, and where metal serves as the soundtrack for a life of fantastical inventions and alternative realities. With its blend of music, fashion, and storytelling, Steampunk Metal offers a multi-sensory feast that’s as imaginative as it is head-bangingly awesome.

Nintendocore: Where Metal Meets the Mushroom Kingdom

Horse the Band, I Fight Dragons, Anamanaguchi
Horse the Band, I Fight Dragons, Anamanaguchi

What Is It?

Buckle up, gamer-metalheads! We’re about to dive into the 8-bit world of Nintendocore. Imagine the intensity of metalcore combined with the nostalgia-inducing chiptunes of your favorite video games. This subgenre takes you on a trip down memory lane while giving you the headbanging experience you crave.

The Nitty-Gritty

8-Bit Nostalgia: This isn’t just music; it’s a retro gaming session set to a metalcore soundtrack. The genre brings those classic NES sounds back to life, blending them with aggressive riffs and vocals.

Hardcore Fusion: What happens when you add breakdowns, heavy guitars, and scream vocals to 8-bit music? You get Nintendocore, a genre that’s as playful as it is intense.

Gaming Galore: Lyrics often delve into the worlds of Mario, Zelda, and other video game legends, making this genre a hit among gamers and metalheads alike.

Visual Bonus Level: Expect to see pixelated graphics, video game imagery, and even some cosplay during live performances. It’s a fully immersive experience.

The Bands You Need to Know

Horse the Band: Considered the pioneers of the Nintendocore movement, they skillfully blend metalcore elements with 8-bit synthesizers and video game-themed lyrics.

I Fight Dragons: Mixing chiptune with alternative rock and pop-punk, this band delivers catchy tunes that are both energetic and deeply rooted in video game culture.

Anamanaguchi: While not strictly metal, their fusion of chiptune and rock elements has earned them a spot in the Nintendocore scene, broadening the genre’s reach.

Why Should You Care?

Nintendocore isn’t just a musical genre; it’s a pop-culture mash-up that celebrates the glorious intersection of gaming and metal. It’s where your love for classics like Super Mario meets the intensity of metalcore, resulting in a subgenre that’s as engaging as it is nostalgic. Whether you’re a gamer, a metalhead, or both, Nintendocore offers a unique experience that’ll have you reaching for both your game controller and your air guitar.

Furry Metal: When Metal Gets its Fur On

Run, Definitely Run!, NIIC the Singing Dog, Matthew Ebel
Run, Definitely Run!, NIIC the Singing Dog, Matthew Ebel

What Is It?

Put your paws together, because we’re about to enter the fuzzy realm of Furry Metal! Ever wondered what it would sound like if your favorite anthropomorphic animal characters formed a metal band? Well, Furry Metal answers that question by combining the passion of the furry community with the intensity of metal music.

The Nitty-Gritty

Anthro Anthems: Furry Metal isn’t just about music; it’s about storytelling that involves anthropomorphic animals. Whether it’s a fox shredding a guitar or a wolf on vocals, this genre brings fursonas to the metal scene.

Community Vibes: This subgenre has found its audience within the furry community, tapping into shared interests and values. It’s a metal niche that serves a particular fandom but resonates with anyone open to its unique themes.

Visual Tail Wagging: From artwork to stage costumes, visual aesthetics in this genre are heavily influenced by furry culture. Don’t be surprised to see a band dressed in full fursonas while delivering a killer performance.

Genre Mashup: While the furry theme remains constant, the style of metal can vary, from classic heavy metal to the brutality of death metal. It’s the furry ethos that ties it all together.

The Bands You Need to Know

Run, Definitely Run!: Making waves in the furry scene, this band is known for its energetic performances and fur-centric lyrics.

NIIC the Singing Dog: Kyle McCarthy’s green singing dog persona, NIIC, blends elements of pop, rock, and metal to deliver a multi-genre furry experience.

Matthew Ebel: Though not a pure metal artist, Ebel has gained recognition for his contributions to the furry music scene, incorporating a blend of rock, electronic, and even some metal elements.

Why Should You Care?

Furry Metal isn’t just a subgenre; it’s a cultural crossover. It’s where the furry fandom’s imaginative world meets the raw intensity of metal. Whether you’re a part of the furry community or just a metalhead looking for something different, Furry Metal offers a unique experience that combines fandom culture with musical expression, making it an intriguing niche in the broader metal landscape.

The Evolutionary Symphony of Metal’s Bizarre Subgenres

Beyond the Boundaries

So, there you have it, metalheads and curious wanderers alike—a whirlwind tour through some of metal’s most peculiar, intriguing, and downright jaw-dropping subgenres. Whether it’s the 8-bit nostalgia of NintendoCore or the cultural storytelling of Furry Metal, these subgenres prove that metal is anything but monolithic.

Why It Matters

The beauty of these subgenres lies not just in their sonic diversity, but in the communities they build, the boundaries they push, and the fresh perspectives they bring to the metal world. It’s a proof to the genre’s ongoing evolution—showing that whether you’re exploring religious themes or jamming to a playful fusion of video game sounds, metal continues to be a broad, ever-changing canvas of musical expression.

The Curtain Call

In the grand symphony that is the world of metal, these subgenres are like the unexpected instruments that add new layers to the composition. They diversify the genre, challenge our preconceptions, and invite us to step into new realms of musical experience. So, don your preferred band tee, throw up those horns, and dive into these subgenres. You might just discover your new metal obsession.