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Alternative metal is... what the hell is it, anyway?

OK, let's try this... you know Alternative Rock? Stuff like REM, Radiohead and They Might Be Giants? Well, imagine alternative rock. Imagine all its weirdness, all its... "alternativeness". Now, imagine that with the sonic amplitude of metal, and you've basically got alt-metal.

Alt-metal started off in the mid-to-late-eighties as a response to Hair Metal, which was the commercial darling of MTV and had in many people's eyes reduced (non-underground) metal to a watered-down pop movement; consequently, alt-metal bands sought to bring back metal's original fire. There was no specific "scene" for alt-metal bands, and not even a specific sound, but they were all united by experimental flourishes and influences from other genres.

The genre became popular in the late eighties/early nineties (around the same time that alt-rock got its big break) thanks to a few bands that are considered the founding members of the genre; these bands included Faith No More and Primus. A couple of years later, Tool took alt-metal and made it considerably darker.

The genre is wide enough that bands will often have totally different sounds to each-other (compare Primus and Korn - do they sound the same?), which causes a fair bit of annoyance with people who like to categorise their bands. At the end of the day, though, alt-metal is a handy catch-all term for bands that are both arguably metal and hard to classify.

See also Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly, a trope that many alt-metal bands possessed.


Bands typically classed as alt-metal include:

Tropes that apply to the alternative metal genre:

  • Gateway Music - If you're a metalhead, and you're close to graduating college, you either got into metal through this or Nu-metal. More likely the latter, but the trope still applies to alt-metal.
  • Heavy Metal
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness - Usually most bands under alt-metal tend to be in the 5-7 range, with a few bands getting up to 8.
  • More Popular Spinoff - Nu-metal was this to the original alt-metal movement for a period.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly - Demonstrated by many bands in the subgenre, whether prominently (Faith No More, Primus) or subtly (Living Colour, Deftones).
  • Trope Maker - Generally considered to be Faith No More.
  • What Could Have Been: Nu-metal is perceived as being more commercial than Alternative Metal, and the current lack of commercial interest in Nu-metal has kept Alternative Metal from reaching or even eclipsing the popularity Nu-metal once had.
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