Stylistic origins Post-rock, heavy metal
Cultural origins Mid 1990s, United States and Sweden
Typical instruments Electric guitarBassDrumsSynthesizer – Other less common instruments, such as cello, minimal use of vocals
Mainstream popularity Low, exists mostly within the metal and post-rock scenes
Regional scenes
California, Chicago, Illinois, New England and Umeå, Sweden
Other topics
Drone metal

Post-metal is a music genre, a mixture between the genres of post-rock and heavy metal.

Hydra Head Records owner and Isis frontman Aaron Turner originally termed the genre "thinking man's metal", demonstrating that his band was trying to move away from common metal conventions.[1] "Post-metal" is the favored name for the growing genre, but it is also referred to as "metalgaze",[2] "steel,"[2] "atmospheric metal,"[3] and "experimental metal," though this last term is also another term for avant-garde metal.[4]



Journalist Simon Reynolds writes that

the term post-metal seems increasingly useful to describe the vast and variegated swath of genres (the thousand flavors of doom/black/death/grind/drone/sludge/etc., ad infinitum) that emerged from the early '90s onward. Sometimes beat-free and ambient, increasingly the work of home-studio loners rather than performing bands, post-metal of the kind released by labels like Hydra Head often seems to have barely any connection to metal as understood by, say, VH1 Classic doc-makers. The continuity is less sonic but attitudinal: the penchant for morbidity and darkness taken to a sometimes hokey degree; the somber clothing and the long hair; the harrowed, indecipherably growled vocals; the bombastically verbose lyrics/song titles/band names. It's that aesthetic rather than a way of riffing or a palette of guitar sounds that ties post-metal back to Judas Priest and Black Sabbath.[5]

According to Aaron Turner of Isis, experimental bands such as Melvins, Godflesh and Neurosis "laid the groundwork for us [...] we're part of a recognizable lineage".[1] Although Neurosis and Godflesh appeared earlier and display elements befitting post-metal, Isis are often credited with laying down the conventions and definition of the genre in less nebulous terms, with their release of Oceanic in 2002.[6]

Helmet's albums Meantime (1992) and Betty (1994) are cited as having "eschewed the traditional concept of heavy music" and having "trademarked the drop-d power-groove in 5/4." They may be considered "definitive texts in post-metal."[7]

Previously, Tool had been labelled as post-metal in 1993[8] and 1996,[9] as well as in 2006,[10] after the term came into popularity.

In 2009, Jim Martin of Terrorizer commented that Neurosis' 1996 album Through Silver in Blood "effectively invented the post-metal genre".[11]


The simplest way to define post-metal is as a fusion of post-rock and heavy metal. This indicates the interplay of light and dark - taking the distorted guitars and guttural vocals of metal and setting that against the clean instrumentalism of post-rock. Pieces tend to be at a slow- to mid-tempo, focusing on chord changes and barrages of sound rather than lead guitar riffing and shredding, and usually eschewing guitar solos.

Isis' Panopticon (2004) is a prime example of post-metal, and post-rock elements are clearly evident in the contrast between calm melodic passages and aggressive distortion-driven climactic sequences. Similar musical structuring can be heard in Pelican's second album released in 2005, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, again with a focus on gradual evolution of structure.


A typical post-metal set-up includes two or three guitars, a bass guitar, synthesizers, a drum kit and a vocalist.[12][13] There are a number of completely instrumental post-metal bands, such as Pelican and Russian Circles.

The overall sound is generally very bass-heavy, with guitars being down-tuned to B or lower,[14] the equivalent of a seven-string guitar. Production is usually very tight, and there is little "garage band" feel to the music. This allows for pervasive or minimalist sections, often including instruments such as clean guitars or synthesizer, to come through more clearly.

Vocals and lyrics

The general philosophy behind post-metal production is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so each instrument is usually given about equal presence. Vocals are often not particularly high in the mix, and in most cases are "barked" in the style of hardcore punk or metal, i.e. guttural and shouted, rather than growled in death metal. Lyrics cover a wide spectrum of issues, usually somewhat metaphysical, existentialist or macroscopic, as opposed to deeply personal or directly allegorical. Themes often include political dissatisfaction, or criticism of herd mentality.


Post-metal is also defined by structure, which leans far more towards that of post-rock than metal: songs tend to 'evolve' to a crescendo or climax (or multiple ones within a song), building upon a repeated theme or chord shift, whereas metal, however, often adheres to verse-chorus-verse conventions of song structure. As Aaron Turner of Isis states, "the standard song format of verse-chorus-verse-chorus is something that has been done and redone, and it seems pointless to adhere to that structure when there are so many other avenues to explore".[14] The result of this is often long songs, commonly in the range of six to eleven minutes. Therefore a typical post-metal track is not generally suitable for radio play, nor is it commercially viable. Similarly, albums are often created as quasi-conceptual, creating the greatest impact when listened to as a whole. Likewise, it is not uncommon to see literary influences on albums, such as Red Sparowes' At the Soundless Dawn.

A typical post-metal piece might start with a lone guitar, but eventually build to six-plus members playing simultaneously, as shown in songs like "Genesis" from The Beyond by Cult of Luna. Likewise, a post-metal song may leap "head-first" into the music, with distortion and aggression evident from the start. Songs like this challenge the definition of the genre, but the majority of them will contain clean interludes or lulls, usually as parts of a build-up in themselves. Relevant examples include "False Light" from Oceanic by Isis, or "Australasia" from Australasia by Pelican.

Criticism of the term

Since this genre is relatively new and is only represented by a small number of artists, the need for an entirely independent classification of music has occasionally been questioned by music reviewers and listeners. As a label, some see "post-metal" as redundant, since some bands listed as post-metal contain many elements similar to doom metal, progressive metal, sludge metal, and stoner metal. Others, however, argue that these elements have been combined and altered in ways that go beyond the boundaries of those respective genres, creating the need for a single, distinguishing label.[15][16]

Pelican's Trevor de Brauw said, "I have an affinity for metal, but I don't think of Pelican as a metal band. So when people call us 'instrumetal', or post-metal, or metalcore or whatever, I can see why they say that, but it's not something that I feel a close connection with... I feel our [music] has more in common with punk and hardcore."[17]

Aesthetic or visual similarities in album art and performance are cited as derivative in claims that post-metal is an overly incestuous movement for its relatively small group of bands and musicians. Isis is often cited as the source of this shared imagery, although bands with similar visual themes playing in the post-metal style existed before Isis greatly popularized the subgenre.[18][19]

List of notable post-metal bands


  1. ^ a b c Caraminica, Jon. "The alchemy of art-world heavy metal". The New York Times. Retrieved September 20, 2005. 
  2. ^ a b Bosler, D. Shawn. "Record review of Jarboe and Justin Broadrick's 'J2'". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  3. ^ Buts, Jeroen. "5.1". The Thematical and Stylistic Evolution of Heavy Metal Lyrics and Imagery From the 70s to Present Day. pp. 82. 
  4. ^ Bowar, Chad. "What Is Heavy Metal?". Retrieved 2010-04-25. 
  5. ^ Reynolds, Simon (29 May 2009). "Grunge's Long Shadow". Slate. Retrieved 14 November 2010. 
  6. ^ Thompson, Ed (2006-11-22). "In the Absence of Truth Review". IGN. Retrieved 2007-05-09. "...many credit the band with being the inspiration of the term post-metal after the release of their 2002 album Oceanic..." 
  7. ^ "HELMET Rediscovery". X-Press Online. 2007-03-28. Archived from the original on 2007-08-31. Retrieved 2007-03-31. 
  8. ^ a b Ferman, Dave (1993-07-30). "At the main stage..." (fee required). Fort Worth Star-Telegram, archived by NewsBank. Retrieved 2007-05-09. "Tool's vicious, post-metal attack is one of the more intense offerings of the day..." 
  9. ^ a b Augusto, Troy J. (1996-10-16). "Live Performances: Tool". Variety. Retrieved 2007-05-09. "The group's rhythm section, featuring new bassist Justin Chancellor, propelled the group's post-metal stylings with a twisted, near-jazz approach." 
  10. ^ a b Baca, Ricardo (2006-09-08). "Reverb, 9/01: Tool". The Denver Post. Retrieved 2007-05-09. "...Tool's bag of post-metal goodies, and it's every bit as fear-inducing as it was in 1993." 
  11. ^ Jim Martin, "Retroaction," Terrorizer #188, September 2009, p. 80.
  12. ^ Cult of Luna#Members
  13. ^ Callisto official biography
  14. ^ a b Porosky, Pamela. "Aaron Turner and Michael Gallagher interview". Guitar Player. Retrieved 2006-09-06. [dead link]
  15. ^
  16. ^ Jarboe / Justin K. Broadrick: J2
  17. ^ Diver, Mike (2007-03-27). "Pelican: "We're neither trend setters nor trend followers"". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 2007-03-29. 
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b c d Burgess, Aaron (2006-05-23). "The loveliest album to crush our skull in months". Alternative Press. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Carman, Keith (November 2010). "Valley of Smoke review". Exclaim!. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  26. ^ In the Absence of Truth review at Metal
  27. ^ In the Absence of Truth review at Altpress
  28. ^
  29. ^ Review of Red Sparowes / Made Out of Babies / Battle of Mice
  30. ^ The Ties That Blind review at Allmusic
  31. ^ Freeman, Phil. "Review of Fluxion". Allmusic. Retrieved 14 November 2010. "The Ocean, a largely Berlin-based musical collective, occupy a space right near Neurosis, Isis, and Cult of Luna in the post-metal arena." 
  32. ^ Pierce, Leonard (14 April 2010). "At the Post". The A.V. Club.,40102/. Retrieved 14 November 2010. 
  33. ^ Wigley, Allan (2006-06-14). "Pelican's music tough to categorize". Ottawa Sun. Retrieved 2007-08-02. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ Coppola, Josh (2007-09-05). "Rosetta: A Metal Odyssey". Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  36. ^ Hartwig, Andrew (2010-05-02). "Rosetta - A Determinism of Morality (Sputnikmusic album review)". Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  37. ^ Review of A Determinism of Morality review at Allmusic
  38. ^ Enter review @ Boomkat
  39. ^ "Frequency Fundamentals", interview with Coy Scottberg of Clad in Darkness
  40. ^ Horsley, Jonathan (March 2011). "Kiwi death merchants destroy 'em all". Decibel (77): 32. ISSN 1557-2137. "What could be better than some evocatively bleak death metal while panic-buying canned goods and bottled water on the day when the chemical factory has turned the sky green and the river purple? New rager The Destroyers of All is a disorienting, desolate doozy, taking elements of weird post-metal to construct a sound that would be mother's milk to ADHD Neurosis fans." 
  41. ^ Freeman, Phil. "Everything Is Fire review". Allmusic. Retrieved 24 April 2011. "Their music combines the brutal, downtuned riffing of traditional death metal (think Immolation or Morbid Angel) with the dissonance and shifting time signatures of Gorguts and the slow, atmospheric passages reminiscent of Isis." 

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