Hard Rock Bands vs. Heavy Metal Bands

Hard Rock vs. Heavy Metal

Sometimes it can be challenging to distinguish a hard rock band from a metal band. It is possible for bands to be both, however some bands are either purely hard rock or purely heavy metal. Let’s explore the differences between hard rock and heavy metal bands by considering some real-life examples. Pay attention because you will be tested in the end.

Hard Rock: Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin was a pure hard rock band, a legendary and pioneering hard rock act. What makes Zeppelin purely hard rock is the following. The guitars are bluesy, loud, and heavy, yet crisp and clear. They are distorted and often in standard or open tunings. The singer demonstrates a wide vocal range with an emphasis on the high notes. The drums feature thunderous grooves and the bass does not merely follow the guitar riffs. Hard rock bands put out studio albums that can be loud, but only heavy for certain moments. Hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin are also not shy about throwing in a ballad or two.

Heavy Metal: Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is a heavy metal band, the godfathers and pioneers of heavy metal. They turn up the distortion on guitars and tune them down to produce a gloomy sound. Sabbath wrote the greatest and heaviest guitar riffs of all-time. The music is blues-based, similar to Zeppelin, only heavier. The subject matter is darker compared to hard rock songs from a lyrical perspective, while the vocals have an eerie feel to complement the song’s subject and tone. Metal bands may write ballads too, but these ballads will NOT heat things up in your bedroom.

Hard Rock: AC/DC

There is nothing metal about AC/DC. They are purely hard rock and are the most consistent hard rock band of all-time. The guitar riffs and solos are based on minor pentatonic blues scales. All instruments are loud and are not very fuzzy. Songs are either in the key of A, E, G, or D minor and contain a 3- or 4-chord progression for the most part. The vocalist emphasizes the high notes and the drums provide a simple and steady backbone.

Heavy Metal: Metallica

Metallica is mainly a heavy metal band, however, they fooled around with hard rock in the mid to late 1990s. Overall, the guitars, bass, and drums are fast and heavy. The vocals are deep and manly, but very difficult to emulate. Subject matter often consists of war, death, or the Old Testament.


Here are two more quick examples before you take the quiz on your own.

Hard Rock: Aerosmith

Aerosmith is pure hard rock due to bluesy guitars, standard tunings, and panty-removing ballads.

Heavy Metal: Lamb of God

Lamb of God is 100% metal because the guitars, vocals, bass, and drums are relentless and extremely difficult on virginal ears.


Quiz Yourself: Hard Rock or Heavy Metal?

Now it is time to practice on your own. Are the following bands hard rock or metal? You will find the answers below. Good luck!

1.  Iron Maiden

2.  Pantera

3.  Van Halen

4.  Megadeth

5.  Slayer

6.  Alice in Chains

7.  Slipknot

8. Guns N’ Roses

9.  Machine Head

10.  Children of Bodom


Answer Key 1. Metal (NWOBHM), 2. Metal (Power/Groove), 3. Hard Rock, 4. Metal (Thrash), 5. Metal (Thrash), 6. Hard Rock (Alternative), 7. Metal (Nu-Metal early on), 8. Hard Rock, 9. Metal (Power/Groove), 10. Metal (Power/Progressive/Melodic)


Congratulations, you can now go out in the real world and better characterize bands like Judas Priest, Kiss, and Motley Crue. If you take away one thing from this article, remember this: IT DOESN’T MATTER! Whether the band is hard rock or metal, what matters most is that the music is original, awesome, and rocks.

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