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The Strangest Rock and Metal Subgenres Ever Put to Music

We’re all familiar with the rock staples – heavy metal, classic rock, a bit of thrash or some doom if you’re feeling particularly vibrant. If they can make a radio station that plays exclusively that genre, you know that it’s about as common knowledge as it gets.

Funnily enough, though, the genres I’m about to let you in on don’t have their own radio stations. Most of them barely have representation by more than one band, but they exist all the same as wonderful little oddities that have evolved from the rock and metal we all know and love. Buckle in, because we’re going on a wild ride through the lesser known and decidedly stranger rock and metal subgenres.

1. Unblack Metal

Check Out: Antestor, Horde, Shadows of Paragon

Also colloquially known as “White Metal”, Unblack metal is a coming together of black metal and Christianity, which straight out of the gate sounds like a strange mix if you’ve heard any black metal songs recently. Black metal was, for a long time, pretty much synonymous with Satanic metal. It featured heavy anti-Christian themes or paganistic views, making it about as Church friendly as a Viking raiding party.

From about 1994 onwards, however, groups of Christian bands set out to take the genre for themselves, writing traditional black metal music but with pretty much binary opposite lyrics and imagery. Musically, it doesn’t sound any different than Black Metal – it’s very much a thematic genre, and plenty of Unblack metal artists oppose the idea of being called such as they consider themselves very much within the black metal camp. However, the fact it even exists as a concept seems mighty strange; the fact there are so many active bands in the genre even stranger.

2. Kawaii Metal

Check Out: Babymetal, Ladybaby

The ultra-catchy, clean brand of J-Pop feels like it couldn’t possibly exist in even the same room as heavy metal, let alone get along. Leave it to Japan, though, to pioneer a brand of metal that combines the two in a way that elevates both elements in kawaii metal (or cute metal to translate it directly).

The genre exploded in popularity in the early 2010s fronted by pioneering band Babymetal, who pushed sugary-sweet pop lyrics about things like chocolate over extreme heavy metal breakdowns and riffs. And, honestly? They rock hard – often imitated and never bettered, they’re the definitive example of a genre that seems strange on the surface but just works.

3. Medieval Folk Rock

Check Out: Blackmore’s Night, Steeleye Span

The folk and progressive rock movements of the 1960s in Great Britain inspired many of the world’s biggest and most famous bands; Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead are direct descendants of the progressive folk scene. But there were offshoots of the genres that didn’t quite have the same lasting cultural impact but were weirdly interesting all the same – which is where Medieval Folk Rock comes in.

Blending elements of traditional acoustic rock with, you guessed it, Medieval and Baroque musical lyrics and themes, the genre didn’t exactly set the world on fire but it still found a small audience and there are still bands performing the style to this day. Imagine Jethro Tull crossed with the background music at a renaissance faire, and you’ll get pretty close. If you’re a fan of Alan Partridge, you might recognise one of the more famous songs in the genre, a cover of 16th century hymn Gaudete by Steeleye Span which made it to the heady heights of number 14 on the UK Top 50 in 1973. Now that’s rock and roll, baby.

4. Dinosaur Metal

Check Out: Hevisaurus

Cannibal Corpse doesn’t feel like a strong fit for a game of musical chairs. Though, that actually sounds like a lot of fun as an adult. Thankfully, Finland is there to save the day yet again with yet another brand of unique rock music – dinosaur metal for children. There really is no end to what Northern Europe can do with metal music, is there?

Combining power metal and heavy metal elements with child-friendly, dinosaur-based lyrics and themes, the band have been around for about fifteen years now and… oh, wait, did I not mention the entire band are dressed as dinosaurs? Because that seems like a fairly important part, and they are. It’s like Lordi and The Wiggles collaborated on an entire career together. It’s bizarre but endearingly so, and they’re not half bad either. There’s even a Monkees style rabbit hole of controversy to go down as to whether they’re actually playing their own instruments, if you’re so inclined, but personally I wouldn’t blame them if they aren’t – I doubt T-Rex arms are conducive to power metal guitar solos.

5. Math Rock

Check Out: Dance Gavin Dance, Battles

On the surface, math rock might not seem all that strange – it’s a fairly modern sound with roots in the classic prog scene, King Crimson and Rush coming to mind as key influences. But it’s when you stop and listen – really listen – to the sounds that are being played that it all clicks into place. Something feels… off? Not wrong, but, not right either.

No, you aren’t going mad, I promise. The entire premise of math rock is that the music is played not only in unusual time signatures – 5/4s and 11/8s compared to your usual 4/4 rhythm in traditional rock, for you muso types – but that those time signatures skip and jump around the meadow of music throughout the songs, meaning that some sections feel unnaturally fast or slow. But the more you listen, the more it works and the more can be said for such an unusual style of music. It can be jarring, at first, but when it comes together it comes together strong.

Posted by Eddie "stranger arrangements" Hull published on: 1 Aug 2022

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