Alternative Metal

Faith No More

Faith No More

Alternative Metal is one of the most radio friendly forms of heavy metal. The genres that comprise this genre, aka alt metal, are funk metal, rap metal, *metal,  and some crossovers from nu metal. Alternative metal covers a very wide range of music, from the funk and rap induced metal of Faith No More to the hard to pinpoint medley of sounds of Alice in Chains.

As one of the most diverse forms of heavy metal, defining an exact alternative metal sound is hard to pinpoint since it covers a large gamut of sounds and bands. Rap metal bands like Rage Against the Machine often fall into the alt metal genre, while  the synthesized, clean vocals of Linkin Park and Disturbed also fall into this bracket.   Many of the bands that are labeled as “grunge,” like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, are more metal than they are alternative or “grunge”, so they actually fall into the alt metal category. There is no one element that threads alternative metal bands together, but musically, they do tend to follow a few rules.

1. Guitar solos are not the emphasis of the song. While solos can exist in alternative metal, they rarely are as indulgent as other metal genres.

2. The guitars are usually drop-D tuning. This incorporated a lower, muddier sound in the guitar in bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, .

3. Singing is intelligible, and usually consists of a range of sung lyrics and sometimes rap. Lyrically, alternative metal can range from light-hearted, love songs, jokes, existentialism, to sarcasm.

Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains

The roots of alternative metal began to form in the late 80’s with bands like Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, White Zombie, Faith No More, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. While some of the alt metal scene originated from Seattle, much of this sound was found elsewhere in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Alternative metal had no name in the era, it was dubbed simply “alternative” in the 90’s during the grunge boom. Listening to the music that comprised the “alternative” movement, you’ll hear massive differences between bands like White Zombie and fellow “alternative” artists, R.E.M.

Thus, the genre “alternative metal” was posthumously born. As there was no aggregated alternative metal movement, the label is loosely defined as bands that experimented with heavy metal and incorporated other genres of music into their style of metal. There was funk in Primus and the Chili Peppers, hardcore and death metal elements in Fear Factory, and classic 70’s rock in Soundgarden.

Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie during his White Zombie days.

Alternative metal began to hit a commercial high point in the early 90’s when Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Faith No More experienced their biggest charting albums. The alternative metal movement exploded side by side with the grunge and industrial movements, leading to many miscategorizations of some bands as grunge or simply “alternative.”

Alternative metal, along with grunge, ruled the radio airwaves in the early 90’s. Hair metal had all but died by 1993, and had almost completely vanished as a presence in rock radio. Bands like Faith No More, Rage Against the Machine, and White Zombie experienced their biggest breaks in the period from 1991-1996.

Further subgenres of the alternative metal genre are funk metal and rap metal, with nu metal being highly influenced by all of these.

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s with nu metal on the decline, many nu metal artists like Korn, the Deftones, and Papa Roach began to reinvent themselves as alternative metal artists.  In doing so, they have been able to stay relevant and have even helped to influence the sounds and success of bands like Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, and Breaking Benjamin.  With the release of their album Reroute to Remain in 2002, melodic death metal band, In Flames, also began to add alternative metal elements helping to bring their music to a wider audience.   Alternative metal remains a force in the heavy metal world and is the only genre that continues to receive consistent radio airplay.

Essential Alternative Metal Albums

  • Angel Dust (Faith No More)
  • Astro Creep 2000 (White Zombie)
  • Rage Against the Machine (Rage Against the Machine)
  • Dirt (Alice in Chains)
  • Badmotorfinger (Soundgarden)
  • Frizzle Fry (Primus)
  • Vivid (Living Colour)
  • Facelift (Alice in Chains)
  • Superunknown (Soundgarden)
  • White Pony (Deftones)
  • The Real Thing (Faith No More)
  • Toxicity (System of a Down)
  • Faceless (Godsmack)
  • Break the Cycle (Staind)
  • The Sickness (Disturbed)
  • Obsolete (Fear Factory)
  • Arrow & Anchors (Fair to Midland)
  • Soundtrack to Your Escape (In Flames)


Funk Metal

Funk metal takes the simplified alternative metal sound and adds complicated funk elements.  Red Hot Chili Peppers and Living Colour were amongst the first  bands to fuse funk with hard rock and heavy metal.  Funk metal also has the distinction as the only subgenre of alternative metal that was used outside of alternative metal with glam metal bands, like Extreme and Bango Tango, using funk metal elements in some songs to help diversify their sound.


Rap Metal

Rage Against the Machine

Zach De La Rocha, Rage Against the Machine

Bands like Faith No More used hip hop elements in some of their material, but rap metal was officially pioneered by Anthrax and Public Enemy in the late 1980’s with their reworking of Public Enemy’s hit song, “Bring the Noise”.  Rap metal differs from the rapcore created by Biohazard, as it contains metal elements like thrash guitar and solos instead of three chord progressions and breakdowns.  Rap metal would not really reach prominence until the 1992 release of Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album.  From here other bands such as Stuck Mojo would surface helping to influence the creation of nu metal in the mid 1990’s.



Alternative metal is alive and well in the 2000’s, with bands like Staind, Seether, Godsmack, 36 Crazyfists, and Chevelle all experiencing some degree of success on modern day rock radio.  *Metal is even more radio friendly than typical alternative metal. Pioneered by bands like Creed, Linkin Park, and Nickelback, it features fewer metal elements and more grunge related elements like Eddie Veddar type singing, clean vocals, and very basic song structures.  There are even some ballads and lots of experimentation with acoustic guitars.  In the mid to late 2000’s into the 2010’s, *metal has been the most popular form of new rock music.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Veronica Collins November 20, 2014 at 1:41 am

Great article! this is my favorite type of metal. Alice in Chains is my favorite band since the late 80’s early 90’s. Still listen to all of their music. White Zombie also Corrosion of Conformity came out with Clean My Wounds. That LP Deliverance was more grunge a lot more laid back then the heavier stuff. thank you again for a great article.


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