Alternative metal
Stylistic origins Alternative rock, heavy metal, grunge
Cultural origins Mid–late 1980s, United States
Typical instruments Vocals, guitar, bass, drums
Mainstream popularity Underground in 1980s, moderate in early 1990s, mainstream in mid to late 1990s, moderate in 2000s, slowly rising in late 2000s
Other topics
Artists, Lollapalooza

Alternative metal is a genre of heavy metal that gained popularity in the early 1990s. Most notably, alternative metal bands are characterized by heavy guitar riffs; typically, these riffs have a pronounced experimental edge, including unconventional lyrics, odd time signatures, more syncopation than typical metal, unusual technique, a resistance to conventional approaches to heavy music and an incorporation of a wide range of influences outside of the metal music scene.[1]


The term is used as a very loose categorization, but is usually used to describe artists playing a style of heavy metal music with an "alternative" approach. Many bands categorized as "alternative metal" are equally influenced by alternative rock and heavy metal.

Initially alternative metal appealed mainly to alternative rock fans since virtually all 80s alt-metal bands had their roots in the American rock underground scene. Alt-metal bands commonly emerged from hardcore punk (Corrosion of Conformity), post-punk/noise rock (Helmet, The Jesus Lizard), grunge (Alice in Chains, Soundgarden), or industrial (Ministry, Nine Inch Nails).[citation needed]

These bands never formed a distinct movement or scene; rather they were bound by their incorporation of traditional metal influences and openness to experimenting with the form. For example, Jane's Addiction utilized performance art and a bohemian aesthetic, Corrosion of Conformity, The Melvins and the recently reformed grunge band Soundgarden had a fondness for subverting '70s metal, and Faith No More, along with Living Colour, injected funk and hip hop into their brand of alternative metal, [2] while Primus incorporates an obscure Residents-esque touch.

The grunge movement of the early 1990s helped increase the audience for such bands, and these artists were as comfortable playing to alternative rock fans on various Lollapalooza line-ups (itself founded by Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell) as they were opening for metal bands like Metallica. With the changing of the musical landscape by the popular breakthrough of alternative rock, "alternative metal" became a new phrase used to describe bands in the early 1990s who managed to make relevant era music that was "heavy without necessarily being metal".[3]

New bands emerged in this era with their distinctive takes on metal: Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry started the industrial wave, combining punk-influenced electronic music and heavy guitars, System of a Down and Tool immersed themselves in progressive rock influences, Rage Against the Machine was as informed by hip hop and post-punk agitprop such as Gang of Four as it was by metal, and Helmet molded a background in jazz and noise-rock/post-hardcore influences into a highly influential strand of intense rock music.

As the 90s progressed, alternative metal's sound became more standardized as newer bands drew inspiration for the same collective set of influences that included Rage Against the Machine, Tool[4], Korn, Deftones, Faith No More, Fear Factory, Nine Inch Nails, Primus and Helmet. Korn, in particular, with its downtuned riffs and aggressive dissonance, created the sonic template for a new movement, which became known as nu metal.

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