Top 10 Differences Between Hard Rock and Heavy Metal

Before metal, the only music genre I really liked was hard rock because I didn't know metal existed. This is the reason I know pretty well both genres.

My comparison is based on the most typical cases and tendencies in these genres. I’m aware that there are exceptions but I’m not taking them into account.

Hard rock bands: AC/DC, Queen, Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Whitesnake, and many more.

I also made a list “Top 10 Similarities Between Hard Rock And Heavy Metal”.
Hard Rock and Heavy Metal are similar but different.

The Top Ten

1 Hard rock is based on blues, metal is based on classical music

Metal is strictly based on classical music but it doesn't mean that you have to hear classical music directly, not at all. Based on classical means that metal songs use scales typically found in classical music. Metal uses the template of classical music and this template is the structure behind the metal songs, its backbone. Metal music progresses in the way classical music does. This is the reason metal goes well with classical and they are absolutely compatible. No wonder, metal music is structured in the same way.

“Blues based vs classical based” is used to determine if a band is hard rock or metal. Hard rock uses blues scales, metal uses classical scales. It's already known that several heavy sounding bands are not metal because their songs are blues based: Guns N Roses, AC/DC, Motorhead, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Whitesnake, and so on. I know that many people still think these bands are metal but it’s wrong.

Also, very often heavy metal is confused with heavy ...more - Metal_Treasure

Reason why I like some hard rock is because it teeters on the border of psychedelic, which more often than not is just a good genre. - Stalin

More often than not, although old school Heavy Metal bands like Black Sabbath actually started out as a Blues band so Metal owes just as much of it's origin to the aforementioned genre as Hard Rock does. The only major difference in my not-so-humble opinion is that Hard Rock embraces it's roots while Metal is hell-bent on "evolving" or simply straying from it's roots and/or coming up with new ones.

Not strictly. Most bands in the Stoner, Sludge, and Doom Metal genres are very bluesy. - ryanrimmel

2 Musically, metal is more complex than hard rock

This is because classical music is more complex than blues. Think about this:
Classical music is art music and it was the music of the European aristocrats.
Blues is folk music created by the Afro-Americans in the rural areas.
Besides, most of the metal music is progressive in general (not only prog metal) while hard rock is not progressive. Some hard rock bands have progressive songs but these songs are prog rock songs and not hard rock songs. - Metal_Treasure

Compare AC/DC and Nirvana to Slayer and Metallica. You'll get the picture

Metallica is the most diverse band in history. Out of every band ever. From the sound of Fuel, Master of Puppets, and One it’s all different. Metallica is special - lilrocketman

3 Metal demonstrates better musicianship than hard rock

Take AC/DC for example. One thing most people don't like about them is the fact that they sound repetitive. There's hardly any difference between their albums and their sounds is really just the same. You'll hardly if ever see that in Metal. - RogerMcBaloney

In metal, there is a big competition based on technical skills and metal attracts virtuoso guitarists and drummers, hence better, longer, faster and way more complex solos and drum beats.The average metal musician is way more technically skilled than the average hard rock musician. It’s also true for the average metal singers - some of them are even trained opera singers. Hard rock material definitely doesn't require such degree of vocal skills. AC/DC songs don’t need singers with the stellar vocal skills of Rob Halford, Roy Khan or Hansi Kürsch, to name a few. - Metal_Treasure

4 Metal is more demanding and takes more talent than hard rock

This is a result of the things I explained above. - Metal_Treasure

5 Hard rock usually includes some swing in the back beat, metal doesn't

Metal should be played like thunder, raw and straight to the beat.
Metal compared to blues based rock is like comparing a military march played by an orchestra versus a traditional folk song made for dancing, mating, laughing and crying.

6 Hard rock can incorporate the entire “rock N roll” idiom, whereas metal takes only the “rock” part and discards the “roll” part

The entire “rock N roll” idiom is most notably available in AC/DC and Motorhead, for example. Most of their songs are RNR, played faster and heavier but the RNR template is there. Lemmy himself (R.I.P.) stated many times that Motorhead had never been a metal band and they had always been a RNR band. He certainly knows what is the difference between RNR and metal.

There’s no “roll” in metal - the “roll” part makes music sound playful and happier but metal doesn’t want that. Also, thanks to this “roll” part in hard rock, you can still dance to some hard rock songs but you can’t dance to typical metal songs. - Metal_Treasure

7 Hard rock can be part of the popular music culture whereas metal can’t

Nah, I've heard Master Of Puppets and Wherever I May Roam on the radio before. I think that Metal IS still an important part of Pop Culture.

It's funny though because metal is a very popular genre but you never get it on radio

You can hear hard rock songs on the radio but you don't hear metal songs, except probably Nothing Else Matters by Metallica, which is an acoustic love ballad though. You don’t hear Brain Drill in your local mall. You don’t even hear Helloween who are not very heavy. - Metal_Treasure

8 Hard rock uses major scales more often than metal and vise versa - metal uses minor scales more often

Yep that's true. - JoLeKosovo

As a result - hard rock usually sounds happy whereas metal sounds sad and dark.
There were some surveys about that and researchers measured people’s brain responses to certain songs - some minor scales just made people start crying even when they didn't understand the lyrics or there were no lyrics at all. - Metal_Treasure

True. Many minor scales such as E minor is very common in metal. Because it makes low sound. - zxm

9 Metal is faster than hard rock

Yeah that's easy. - JoLeKosovo

Yes, metal is faster than hard rock. In my opinion, it should be on top 3. This is the basic difference of hard rock and metal. Metal makes more brutal sound because of speed. Hard rock makes heavy sound, but with slow riffs. It's just the style. - zxm

I put it at #13 because this is obvious and doesn't need much explanations - everybody in the world knows it except one member of the Top Ten. - Metal_Treasure

10 Hard rock may sound sexy, metal doesn’t

Metal is "sexy" to me, and I think many people will agree. I don't really find music in general "sexy", but metal is probably the closest to it. - JoLeKosovo

It’s because hard rock is based on blues and blues is sensual and sexy - probably blues hits the areas in your brain related to your reproductive organs and hard rock may produce hormones of sexual pleasure.

On the other hand, there aren't many love songs by metal bands. In fact, sensuality and sexuality are banned in metal. Metal musicians know that “sex sells” but they actually avoid this.

From my experience, metal is far from influencing the brain areas related to your reproductive organs. I think metal music is rather rational and I often find that listening to metal music helps me think faster and better. - Metal_Treasure

Mötley Crüe? Poison? - Brobusky

RE "Mötley Crüe? Poison?" (btw, a very good question by Brobusky).
Yes, they sound sexy and they have many songs about sex but it's one of the reasons they aren't considered metal. It's not the only reason though - the main reason is that their music is mostly hard rock but was called glam "metal". - Metal_Treasure

The Contenders

11 Hard rock lyrics deal with the private sphere, metal lyrics deal with the public sphere

Eh. That's pretty vague. The thing is, hard rock is extremely vague as a genre. While glam metal indeed focuses on "the private sphere", other bands thjat are often considered Hard Rock (i.e. many bands that were in a more agressive brand of rock like The Who or The Rolling Stones) have wider themes. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Rush, Grunge acts (often considered Hard Rock) have a wide range of human and political themes.
Classifying a genre's lyricism is pretty selective in general. You can generally craft an opposite argument easily.
For example, most Pantera songs are about agressivity and power, Slayer's lyrics are also mostly about brutality and agressivity, Cannibal Corpse is only about torture, Venom is mostly about Satan...
Is that really what I think? No. I could do the opposite to defend metal. You just have to select well for your agument. So I don't think it's a factor of differenciation.

I think the main problem with Hard Rock is that the genre is way, way too ...more - JoLeKosovo

Private sphere - love, sex, relationships, family, having fun, getting high, getting drunk

Public sphere - society, the broader context of our life. Lyrical themes: social order, politics, war, injustice, poverty, world leaders, deaths of innocent people, violence, corruption, religion, youth problems, children, elderly people, people with disabilities, discrimination, and many similar subject matters.

Everybody can relate to lyrics about the private sphere (“she left me, he didn't call me, let’s have sex”). But you need to be more mature, more socially aware and more socially sensitive in order to listen to metal songs about politics, social injustice or people with mental disorders (Welcome Home, Metallica). - Metal_Treasure

12 Metal solos are usually faster, longer and more difficult to play than hard rock solos

Many times they may be faster. More difficult to play? Doubtful. Blackmore, Beck, Clapton, Vai, Vaughn, Page etc might disagree. Plus they have the task to make it melodic and tastrful not just angry and fast.

13 Hard rock vocals are raspy, clean metal vocals are operatic

Although there are some exceptions, such as James Hetfield and Freddie Mercury - yungstirjoey666

I don't know the different of vocals really. But I have noticed, metal vocals is more powerful than hard rock. But I have also seen some bands who play metal, but there vocals is kinda like hard rock. Unmatched. - zxm

@zxm - yes, metal bands with kinda hard rock vocals give you a hard rock feel, despite playing metal on the instruments. Yes, in such cases vocals are really unmatched. - Metal_Treasure

14 Metal is more aggressive than hard rock.

In my opinion metal does have a harsher, and more aggressive than hard rock. The reason for this is because 1, metal tends to be played with higher distortion than Hard rock, and 2 because metal is played in darker modes like Locrian, while hard rock is almost always in Aeolian.


15 Metal riffs sometimes are performed with palm muting where hard rock isn't

I remember adding this. And in fact it is really true. Palm muting makes the sound even darker. - zxm

16 Metal is more diverse than hard rock

Take bands like Avenged sevenfold for example they have experimented with their music so much listen to these four songs and you'll see the experimentation,(acid rain, natural born killer, almost easy, and chapter four)

While in hard rock you basically hear the same template over and over again, in metal things are completely different because metal experiments more than hard rock. - Metal_Treasure

17 Metal has powerful and fast strumming while hard rock has slow strumming
18 Metal deals with more serious lyrical themes than hard rock

Hard rock can be a lot of fun but there’s no fun in metal. - Metal_Treasure

19 Hard Rock has a good amount of simplicity and melody which makes every note appreciated, metal spams too many notes at once that the majority of it goes unnoticed
20 Hard rock is about sticking it to the man, metal isn't.

I didn't add this item because I wouldn't say such a silly thing. So metal is about sticking it to the flowers and herbs? - Metal_Treasure

21 Hard rock is more meaningful than metal

Depends on the song. Some hard rock sings about emotion, love, and life, while it could also glorify sex, drug, and rock n roll. Metal usually tackles their meaning to darker themes, such as political and warfare, while at the same time could also use gore and shock themes. - yungstirjoey666

Hard rock is more meaningful, metal has better lyrics aren't any actual differences. The song's structure is the most important thing to define whether its metal or hard rock. Riffs, solos, vocals etc. (I know Metal_Treasure didn't add this) - zxm

Zxm, you are right - yes, I didn't add this because it is subjective and was added by a ceratin metal hater / troll.
I tried to include differences that are more or less bias-free: as you said, things about the type of music, scales, stylistic origins, details related to music itself, structure, speed, etc. - Metal_Treasure

22 Metal uses power chords to sound heavy and fast. Hard rock can sound heavy with bluesy style with distorted instrumentation.

70s hard rock used to be heavy but not as metal until early 80s. in the mid and late 80s hard rock or hair metal you can call it, they decided to make softer music which saved some heaviness into their albums. on the other hand metal remained always heavy but sometimes they add calm parts in their music for newer ideas instead composing the same way instead.

23 Hard Rock riffs are distinct and easily noticeable while Metal Riffs sound repetitive and the same

Raining Blood, Enter Sandman, and Crazy Train are pretty noticeable - yungstirjoey666

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Top Remixes

1. Hard rock is based on blues, metal is based on classical music
2. Musically, metal is more complex than hard rock
3. Metal demonstrates better musicianship than hard rock


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