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

Regarding the bluesy bands in Stoner, Sludge, and Doom metal:

These bands are bluesy, but there are problems with that because metal is strictly non-bluesy. Jeff Hanneman of Slayer said about Pantera that he liked some stuff but Pantera were too bluesy at times. Jeff Hanneman wasn't the only one - when the groovy Pantera were signed to a major label, American and Canadian metal bands (mostly thrash bands but not only) left the same label in protest.

If this was such a big problem with Pantera, imagine what metal musicians would say about bands with even more blues elements. These blues-inspired metal subgenres are very small and they are getting smaller for a reason - they don't belong. They were put in the metal genre long ago due to a misconception, and now their metal status is just a tradition and inertia. This tradition doesn't bother me much, but I know that they were mistakenly attached to metal.

Probably the bands know this too and have started some desperate adaptation processes:

Doom - Candlemass even included operatic vocals at a point in an attempt to obtain a more metal sound. I think doom is actually an extreme subgenre of heavy blues/psych rock and not heavy metal.

Stoner metal - many bands that played stoner metal switched to traditional and even power metal just because they wanted to be considered metal, i.e., based on classical. Overall, stoner metal isn't possible because stoner is always blues-based, metal is always classical-based, and they don't mix. Stoner metal is a contradiction in terms, like wooden iron.

2 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.

3 Heavy metal doesn’t differ between lead and rhythm guitar as it uses power chords to build melodic riffs

The key thing to note about this is that it is talking about how the guitar is used, not about the number of guitarists. Even though Judas Priest and Iron Maiden have many guitars, you can't divide them into lead and rhythm because they are all playing metal riffs. Meanwhile, with a band like AC/DC, there is a very clear line between open chord rhythm guitar and single-note lead guitar.

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

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.

True. Many minor scales, such as E minor, are very common in metal because they make a low sound.

5 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 African-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.

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.

6 The bass serves as a backing in both genres, but in hard rock, it served more as a "background music", in metal on the other hand - it holds onto the riffs tightly in order to make the music "heavy".

In general, metal has a much tighter sound, while hard rock sounds looser.

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

I don't know the difference in vocals, really. But I have noticed metal vocals are more powerful than hard rock. But I have also seen some bands who play metal, but their vocals are kind of like hard rock. Unmatched.

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

8 Metal is more aggressive than hard rock.

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

9 Metal demonstrates better musicianship than hard rock

In metal, there is a big competition based on technical skills, and metal attracts virtuoso guitarists and drummers. Hence, there are better, longer, faster, and 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 a 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.

10 Metal is more demanding and takes more talent than hard rock
The Contenders
11 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.

12 Metal is more diverse than hard rock

True. Power metal, happy metal, viking metal, symphonic metal, death metal, thrash metal, gothic metal, melodic metal, extreme metal. It seems to me everyone here is referring to speed or extreme metal. But there is only one type of hard rock, which is basically a 16 notes in a bar music. To me, hard rock is about sex, drugs, and rock & roll, where metal contains all things in life: sex, drugs, rock & roll, historic battles, historic events, made-up events. So, very diverse on so many levels.

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.

13 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 Motörhead, 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 Motörhead had never been a metal band and they had always been an RNR band. He certainly knew 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.

14 Metal is faster than hard rock

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

15 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.

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

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 (e.g., "Welcome Home," Metallica).

17 Metal solos are usually faster, longer and more difficult to play than hard rock solos
18 Hard rock may sound sexy, metal doesn’t

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.

19 Metal has powerful and fast strumming while hard rock has slow strumming
20 Hard rock can be part of the popular music culture whereas metal can’t

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. You don't hear Brain Drill in your local mall. You don't even hear Helloween, who are not very heavy.

You barely hear metal songs in the mainstream besides Enter Sandman, Crazy Train, and perhaps Through the Fire and Flames.

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

21 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

Metal is a complex genre, but it's so complex to the point where it doesn't sound fun.

22 Metal songs are longer than hard rock songs

Most metal songs are longer than hard rock songs.

23 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 the early '80s. In the mid and late '80s, hard rock, or hair metal as you can call it, they decided to make softer music which retained some heaviness in their albums. On the other hand, metal always remained heavy, but sometimes they added calm parts in their music for newer ideas instead of composing the same way repeatedly.

24 Metal came out later than hard rock; hard rock in late 50s, metal in late 60s
25 In hard rock, the vocals are sitting on top, being the loudest, whereas heavy metal demands the blending of different voices. Usually the vocalist and guitarist are fighting for dominance
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