It has been proven that Metal is the world's most popular form of music (source: Metalocalypse, Lemmy sleeping with 1,200+ women--this one is true...I think) and is greatly adored by people from all subcultures and economic statuses. These days, you can't go to a bar or club without hearing Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" or Anthrax's "Madhouse," and you can't listen to a pop music station without hearing at least one Cannibal Corpse song. But Metal is a difficult genre to get into, but with enough patience, you can acquire its taste and in no time, the ladies will be swarming to you for your knowledge of all the words to "Number of the Beast."
"How do I start?" you might be asking. I will outline the three levels of Metal music listening and how you can pick and choose your own genres and advance to being a full-fledged fan of the music.
DISCLAIMER: this is my opinion of how one can sufficiently come to appreciate the genre, and I have been a fan for only roughly five or six years. Also, because Metal is a form of art, it is impossible to define correctly, so I remind you of the importance of forming your own opinions.
First I start with the Beginner's Tier. Here I recommend a number of songs that I consider to be the "foundation" of the genre; songs that every Metal fan has heard dozens of times. These songs are mostly from the 70s and 80s because they are the songs that helped define the genre, and are also the easiest to listen to. Although defining the "difficulty" of a song's listen value is a bit subjective, I feel these are the songs from which the most enjoyment can be received and have the best building power:
Paranoid, Iron Man - Black Sabbath
Detroit Rock City - KISS
Born to be Wild - Steppenwolf
Highway Star, Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple
Back in Black, Thunderstruck - AC/DC
Man on the Silver Mountain, Long Live Rock and Roll - Rainbow
Enter Sandman - Metallica
Rock You Like a Hurricane - Scorpions
Breaking the Law, You've Got Another Thing Comin' - Judas Priest
You can hear 90%--scratch that, 100%--of these songs on your standard Classic Rock stations, so just tune in to these stations for a few months and let the magic of the music work it's magic--don't "force" yourself to listen to it. Once you've got a powerful attraction to these songs, you're probably ready to advance to what I call the "Advanced Level" of listening. This is where you begin to select genres that you enjoy more than others, and the artists in this category are either the founders or significant contributors to their respected genres (while some of these artists inspired new genres for other bands to create). Below, I will list what I consider to be the biggest sub-genres of Metal, and I will also be grouping sub-sub-genres together as well, so when I list Death Metal, don't ask me why I left out Melodic-Stoner-Sludge-Black-Piano-Electric-Flute-Death-Metal. First, however, I will list a few more artists and songs that I consider "Advanced Listening," and from there, you can match band with the genre below. Most of these songs are from the 80s and 90s, as they are built off the inspiration from the songs I mentioned earlier, so we really begin to see the genres forming with these songs:
Raining Blood, Angel of Death - Slayer
Master of Puppets, Four Horsemen - Metallica
Peace Sells, Holy Wars - Megadeth
Hallowed Be Thy Name, Fear of the Dark - Iron Maiden
Heaven and Hell, Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
Scream Bloody Gore (album) - Death
Would?, Man in the Box - Alice in Chains
Thrash Metal: Inspired by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, created by the Big Four, Testament, Pantera, and Exodus. Generally very fast with shouted vocals, often makes use of violent imagery.
Power Metal: Inspired by Dio, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, created by Helloween, Stratovarius, Manowar, and Blind Guardian. Generally makes use of high vocals combined with thrash-y guitar work, often makes use of sci-fi or fantasy imagery.
Death/Black Metal: Loosely Inspired by Black Sabbath and Slayer, created by Death, Venom, and Possessed. Coined the majority use of growling/screaming of lyrics, generally dominated by morbid imagery, very fast guitar and liberal use of double bass drums.
Alternative Metal: Inspired by, interestingly enough, a rejection of the popularity of Metal's image obsession and borrowing Metal's guitar style, created by Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Tool. Generally contain Metal guitar styles with a wide range of vocals and tempos.
The Expert Level is the most blurry, because it's really up to you as an individual to decide how much further you want to go with your listening and in which direction. Many genres are similar to one another or borrow elements from one to form another so it's helpful to know how each is related. Below I will provide a handy flow chart to describe the basic evolution of Metal from the Documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey to help give you an idea of what you should listen to next (this chart is highly debated and is not the be all, end all of the genre. Also, if it is hard to read, do a Google image search for "metal genealogy"):
So there you have it, the best description of a cultural form that words allow me. Keep it mind that most of this article is up to interpretation, so it's up to you to define your own taste within the genre. Do not expect to gain a huge appreciation for the genre or one of it's sub-genres within a few days; it take a long time of occasionally listening to the genre when you truly want to and it cannot be forced. Enjoy and keep on rockin'!