On March 29, 2022, I was invited by Senator John Thune to be the guest chaplain for the U.S. Senate, and to open the day’s proceedings in prayer. Such an occasion is an honor and a privilege. It also requires some sustained thought about what exactly to say. I thought it might help others called to minister in the public square if I reflected briefly about what I prayed, and why.

The Senate chaplain, Dr. Barry Black, kindly sent along some instructions for the opening prayer. Here are the parameters I was given:

  • 60-90 seconds
  • Prayer must be scripted and submitted in advance for the Congressional Record
  • Written prayer should fit on a 4.25 x 5.5 inch sheet of paper
  • Free to pray within your own faith tradition, according to conscience
  • Prayer should not contain personal political views, sectarian controversies, or any personal opinions regarding foreign policy

In public events like this, I find it wise to hew closely to tradition. So I opened up the Book of Common Prayer to explore what resources it might give for a public prayer in a congressional or governmental setting. And that’s when I realized: almost all of the church’s public prayers are meant to be prayed aloud in public worship. They assume a room full of people who share a common faith and are offering shared petitions.

But that’s not the setting of the U.S. Senate. Christian charity in this context requires honoring the diversity of people in the room. I should not presume to speak for everyone present. Rather, the occasion requires that I address God, as one who worships him, on behalf of the Senators and their staffers, without assuming a shared faith – even as Daniel did in Babylon (Daniel 2:17-31).

So I wrote the following prayer:

Almighty God:

Every one of us in this chamber now – whether Senator, staffer, or civilian – is first of all a human being, made in Your image. And so we pray: give us grace to acknowledge our limitations, admit our faults, and affirm our fellow human beings, despite our many differences. Let us always remember that to You, and You alone, we must give account.

Those who serve in this chamber have been given a noble and weighty responsibility: to seek and serve the common good of these United States. And so, as they attend to the work before them this day, grant them the wisdom of Solomon; the courage of Esther; the patience of Jeremiah; and the humility of Mary. May they be guided by Your providence, and strengthened by Your common grace, to fulfill Your purposes for this nation. Through Jesus Christ our Lord: Amen.

[Full disclosure, lest you think these words just flowed from the pen: I spent the better part of 4 hours thinking and praying and editing and refining.]

Here are my background thoughts on the specific words and themes I chose to use:

Almighty God / through Jesus Christ our Lord: Simple & traditional. The language of Christian liturgy that would be familiar to most anyone who’s ever attended a church. Honors God as Almighty and Christ as Lord in a way that’s basic and fitting for the occasion.

Every one of us in this chamber: the Senate floor includes not just Senators, but staff members and stenographers and interns and pages. I wanted to honor everyone in the room, relativizing differences of power and emphasizing our shared humanity.

is first of all a human being, made in Your image. The imago Dei is the most foundational aspect of anthropology and the starting point for all the Bible’s teaching about ethics and public policy. The first thing about us is our human-ness; and that fact can point a way through our political and social divides. Before we are Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, powerful or ordinary, we are human.

And so we pray: give us grace to acknowledge our limitations, admit our faults, and affirm our fellow human beings, despite our many differences. Our shared humanity means we have limitations and faults. And we need grace to admit that. But when we do, it opens the way to affirm our fellow human beings. We are not competitors in a high-stakes, zero-sum political game; we are human beings who do have the capacity to appreciate one another despite our differences.

Let us always remember that to You, and You alone, we must give account. Especially in places of power and influence, we must always remember that there is a God who is a higher authority, and before whose eyes all our work takes place. “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13; see also Matthew 12:36, Romans 14:12, 1 Peter 4:5). Some of those present, no doubt, don’t think they will actually give account to God; which is why it’s appropriate for me to ask God, by his grace, to remind us of this fact. For on the day we all stand before him to give account for our lives, pleading ignorance won’t be an option.

Those who serve in this chamber have been given a noble and weighty responsibility: to seek and serve the common good of these United States. As I thought about the moment, I was overwhelmed with both the nobility and the weight of the office our Senators hold. Their decisions reverberate throughout the world and affect every American life. Serving the American people well requires setting aside self-interest and working for the common good. It requires give-and-take; it requires debate and discussion; it requires conviction and compromise. Naming both the nobility and the weight of the office reminds those present of the seriousness and significance of their vocation.

And so, as they attend to the work before them this day, grant them the wisdom of Solomon; the courage of Esther; the patience of Jeremiah; and the humility of Mary. The best public-square prayers are full of biblical imagery, calling forth the great heroes and high points of Scripture. I chose to explicitly name four characters (two men and two women), from four genres of Scripture (wisdom, OT narrative, prophecy, and NT gospel), who display three of the four classical virtues (wisdom/prudence, courage/fortitude, patience/temperance) – plus humility, which is greatly needed in places of power. By naming Esther, Jeremiah, and Mary, I also pay honor to the Jewish and Catholic traditions.

May they be guided by Your providence, and strengthened by Your common grace, to fulfill Your purposes for this nation. The classic Protestant doctrines of providence and common grace come into play here, as I acknowledge that national leaders are agents of God’s providence and beneficiaries of his common grace, whether they acknowledge Christ as Lord or not. Would I like to see widespread Christian revival in our nation? Yes. Would I like to see each Senator come to personal saving faith in Jesus Christ? Yes. But as a Christian and an American, my hope is not in spiritual renewal nor in Damascus-road conversions (though I pray for both). My hope is in a sovereign God who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11), guides history according to his sovereign purpose (Acts 17:26-28), and to whom will ultimately flow the honor of all the nations (Isaiah 60:3; Psalm 110; Revelation 21:26).

I don’t imagine these thoughts are necessarily new or novel, and I suspect those who serve in these kinds of spaces more regularly will have much to add. These are just the reflections of an ordinary pastor trying to serve well in a not-so-ordinary moment.

In the past week, it’s suddenly become commonly accepted wisdom that congregational singing is dangerous. We’ve been told that singing together in church could lead to a “super-spreading event.” We’ve been warned that if we sing together in worship, we will expose ourselves to higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Except that none of that is verifiably true.

Does singing together spread COVID-19? The correct scientific answer is: possibly.

We have anecdotal evidence of people being infected after a choir practice. We have a study from 1968 on tuberculosis. However, a causal link between singing and the spreading of COVID-19 has not yet been scientifically established.

But you wouldn’t know that from how pastors and church leaders are talking about it.

Two weeks ago, TGC posted an article with the click-baity title “Is Congregational Singing Dangerous?” (Implied answer: yes.) This week, an article by Houston pastor Steve Bezner has been making the rounds. In it, Bezner claims: “Some studies have suggested that singing—yes, singing—spreads respiratory droplets further than coughing.”

Notice the key word: suggested. Apparently the mere claim that “some studies have suggested” is enough to count for empirically verified science in some circles. But hold on a minute… when you actually drill down into the details to learn what science has established, a different picture emerges:

So, just line up the data: COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets; singing produces aerosolized particles, which are even smaller than droplets; choirs have gotten sick after singing together; therefore singing is dangerous! Case closed, right?

Except that’s not how science works. Correlation does not equal causation. As a researcher quoted in the Guardian article points out: “The evidence for a link with singing and spreading the virus may look compelling but is still anecdotal… Without data from comparably large groups who interacted in the same way but didn’t sing, it’s hard to be certain that the singing was responsible.”

In private correspondence, a pulmonologist who runs the COVID ward at his local hospital made the same point: “We know from news reports that churches have been identified as areas where concentrated transmission has taken place. Singing? Close proximity? Fellowship? We cannot tell which one is responsible.”

At least one researcher, in fact, claims to have evidence that singing ISN’T the cause of the choir outbreaks. Professor Christian Kähler of Military University Munich told the Guardian: “I have been studying how droplets and aerosols behave for decades, and I was very doubtful that musicians and singers were spreading the virus. So I decided to measure just how strong was the airflow from them… We studied singing in low and high frequencies… And based on the flow analysis we did of these performances… [we] found out that singing is quite safe. It was not the cause of the outbreaks of Covid-19 at these concerts. Air was only propelled about half a metre in front of a singer, and that is not far enough to cause the infection levels of these outbreaks.”

Now: we’re learning more about COVID-19 every day. It’s possible that further research will establish a definitive link between singing and spreading. But we shouldn’t act as if such a link exists when it doesn’t.

Some authors on this issue have done a fair job hedging their bets (“While the data is still coming in, it appears the path forward is wise caution… singing may generate more risk than normal speech,” writes Ken Boer at TGC). But others have made outright false statements (“the virus spreads through singing,” Steve Bezner claims). Part of the dynamic at play in this moment is the proliferation of secondary sources (blogs, Medium posts, Twitter threads, etc) where reputable sources (epidemiologists, biologists, infectious disease specialists) draw inferences and make their own conclusions in an attempt to offer their “expert opinion” on what we should do. Though at times these insights can be helpful, they’ve created a nebulous universe of pseudo-science where hasty and unverified conclusions are shared with frightening speed and presumed authority. For instance, in an article linked by Bezner, Erin Bromage, a Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, flatly assumes that the Skagitt Valley Chorale became sick through singing: “Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs. Two and half hours of exposure ensured that people were exposed to enough virus over a long enough period of time for infection to take place.” Bromage claims to know that “deep breathing while singing” caused the infection in the chorale members, despite the fact that this has never been established. As the L.A. Times reports: “There is still much to learn about the choir outbreak, starting with the original source of the virus… the county official said she hoped that a study would be conducted someday to determine how the infection spread.”

In Bezner’s defense, he’s likely taking Bromage’s word for it and treating his assertion as an established scientific fact. But Bezner would have been wise to check the primary sources himself. And this is the problem I’m trying to address: a telephone game that’s leading to great confusion among church leaders. Bromage on his blog draws an unverified conclusion; Bezner on his blog assumes and amplifies Bromage’s assertion; a church planter I know reads Bezner’s blog and shares it with his church; and the average person in the pew walks away convinced that congregational singing is dangerous.

The way each church treats the questions at hand (choosing to gather or not gather, sing or not sing, wear masks or not wear masks, etc) is up to them. My purpose in this post is to urge us to strive for accuracy and precision in how we talk about this. The past three months have created heightened anxiety and fear and concern in all of us. If we now give God’s people the impression that singing is certifiably dangerous, we do them a great disservice.

Some have asked: granting my point that the evidence is merely anecdotal and not scientifically verified… isn’t that still a good enough reason to refrain from singing in worship? It is not my goal in this post to address the “should we or should we not” question. My point is summarized in the title: please stop saying singing is dangerous. My concern is not with what churches choose to do, but with the way their justification of these decisions treats a possibility as a certainty, creating unwarranted fear, anxiety, and division within the people of God.

If you’re a parent, one of your most important responsibilities is protecting your children – and yourself – from the torrent of degrading, disgusting, and depraved material that’s out there on the internet. The same network connection that brings much good – online education, gospel proclamation, and funny videos – can also be a source of tremendous evil. And with a global pandemic making us more dependent on the internet than ever before, we need to be vigilant about protecting those we love. Which is why you need to install a router-level internet filter.

Using parental controls on your individual devices is like putting a water filter on every single faucet. A better solution would be to install a water filter on the main water line coming into your house. And that’s what router-level filtering software (i.e. DNS resolution software) does. It filters your internet traffic at the source – your main router connection – so that every “downstream” device that connects to your wi-fi is automatically protected.

A company called Cloudflare just introduced a new DNS-filtering product last week. I personally use a different DNS-filtering solution, so I haven’t installed this one personally. But a IT-specialist friend of mine highly recommended the new Cloudflare product and advised that every Christian family should consider installing it. It’s totally free, it’s regularly updated, and it filters out both adult content and malware. You can install this internet filter in just minutes with a mild level of proficiency – and even if you’re a total tech novice, there’s probably someone in your immediate circle of friends who can help you get it up and running.

One caveat: solutions like this only work for internet traffic; they don’t filter your cellular connection. So if your household owns devices that have both wi-fi and cellular (like smartphones), you’ll still need to address the cellular side of the equation. (Which is why, in our household, we stick to wi-fi-only devices.)

Would you let your kids wander dangerous neighborhoods alone? Would you let them start conversations with any stranger at the playground? Would you let them play with dangerous weapons? Then don’t let them near an unfiltered internet connection either. Lock your wi-fi down with a DNS-level solution like Cloudflare’s for Families. It’s a simple and easy way to love and lead your family.

In times of uncertainty, one of the ways Christians should be distinct is in our application of wisdom. We serve a wise and understanding God; we are called to be “a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6). We have a whole genre of Scripture called Wisdom Literature, and in a moment like this, it’s Wisdom Literature that should ground us and guide us.

Here are five ways to live with wisdom in the midst of a global medical pandemic:

  1. Don’t believe everything you hear. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). There is a LOAD of misinformation out there, even from normally reliable sources. In a moment like this, all news agencies want to get “the scoop,” and widespread anxiety rewards sensationalism and excess. Sloppy journalists have been caught re-tweeting secondary sources rather than doing the hard work to verify the facts on the ground. So in this moment, it’s wise to live by the adage: “trust but verify.”
  2. Don’t assume the future. “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Anxiety brings tomorrow’s worries into today. If you’re watching what’s happening in Italy and assuming that’s what’s going to happen in Omaha – you’re doing the very thing Jesus counsels against. Wisdom doesn’t assume the future; wisdom lives patiently and wisely in the present. In this moment, there are SOME people (epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, and so forth) who get paid to predict what COULD happen, so they can help us act to KEEP that from happening. Unless you’re one of those people, you shouldn’t be worrying about the what-if’s and the what-could-be’s. (Nor should you be sharing the what-if’s and what-could-be’s on social media. That only spreads anxiety to others rather than helping them grow in wisdom.)
  3. Be slow to speak, and don’t speak of what you don’t know. “Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.” (Proverbs 16:22). From my social media feed, it appears that suddenly everyone has become an expert on coronavirus. Suddenly everyone feels qualified to instruct on best-practices or pass judgment on what a city, government official, or church leader did or didn’t do. Wise Christians don’t join the chorus of folly in moments like this. Rather, wise Christians are prayerful, patient, and discerning; they speak calmly and with gentle wisdom. They know that the common good depends on steady, wise sharing of credible information from reliable sources.
  4. Be a person of peace, not anxiety. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). Wise people are peaceful, gentle, reasonable, and merciful in the midst of a crisis. They shun panic and despair. They avoid doomsday prognostications and worst-case scenarios. They take action patiently and diligently. And they are able to do so because they have steadied their internal world through prayer and communion with God: “I have stilled and quieted my soul” (Psalm 131:2).
  5. Don’t fear bad news. “[The righteous person] is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7-8). This doesn’t mean the righteous person won’t GET bad news; it means he doesn’t live in fear of that news. God’s people will be affected by this pandemic. Some of us will be infected. But Christians do not live in fear of sickness and death; rather, we taunt death (1 Corinthians 15:55), because Jesus has already defeated it. In moments like this, rather than capitulating to the same fears of the society around us, we can live with joyful confidence in the God who has triumphed over death.
We’re all living through the same moment. What sets Christians apart is HOW we live through this moment. May we live as a people marked by wisdom… and may that wisdom show forth in ways that glorify our Creator and Redeemer.

I recently took a sabbatical. And one of the joys of being on sabbatical is that you can devote time and attention and energy to pursuits that otherwise might seem frivolous and tangential and unrelated to your actual vocation. That’s how this heavy metal timeline came to be.

On sabbatical, I was hanging out with a group of friends we call “The Soul Brothers.” The Soul Brothers are music lovers, and one night we got to talking about music. I asked my friend Steve, who’s a heavy metal aficionado, what qualifies a song as “heavy metal.” Apart from “you know it when you hear it,” what defining features separate heavy metal from regular old rock-n-roll? And that started us down a rabbit hole from which we never really extricated ourselves. Our brief Google research unearthed theories upon theories upon theories… and of course, every artist wants to defy categories, which leads to endless debate over whether such-and-such artist should properly be understood as thrash metal or hardcore or crust punk or post-hardcore or something else. In the end, the Soul Brothers issued a challenge: why not answer my own question?  They charged me to use my teaching gifts to create an accessible “family tree” for heavy metal bands – one that doesn’t encompass every band and sub-genre and metalhead nuance, but that explains the basic evolution of the genre for the casual listener.

This post is the result of that challenge. Rather than a family tree, I built a timeline that traces the basic “flow” and evolution of the musical style known as heavy metal. Many of the explanatory nuggets below are cut-and-pasted from various sources I scoured over multiple days of internet research. I make no claim to originality for any of it. The descriptions below are largely borrowed from other journalists, painstakingly culled and condensed by yours truly. What IS original is my curating and arranging of the material in this fashion.

I dare say you won’t find a more concise, clear, accessible introduction to heavy metal anywhere else! Which may lead to a comment thread full of arguments over the generalizations I’ve made and the additional nuance that may be needed. And I’ll be the first to welcome your input. But remember: we’re trying to put the cookies on the bottom shelf. Feel free to suggest whatever additions, subtractions, or amendments you think may be needed in the comment thread.


  • Heavy Metal pioneers Black Sabbath

    Three genre-defining bands formed in 1968: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, & Deep Purple. Also in 1968, Steppenwolf recorded the lyric “heavy metal thunder!” in their song “Born to Be Wild,” which christened a de facto name for the budding new genre.

  • Heavy metal is a departure from standard blues-based rock; it’s influenced by 1960s drug culture (LSD, acid rock) and by rebellious/transgressive/counter-cultural sensibilities.
  • Black Sabbath’s guitarist Tony Iommi suffered an industrial accident and was unable to play normally; he had to to tune his guitar down for easier fretting and rely on power chords with their relatively simple fingering. This defined Black Sabbath’s heavy, chugging, metallic sound, and the sound of heavy metal in general.
  • Defining Features: prominent bass riffs, heavy and emphatic drumming, and the “heavy metal guitar sound” – high volume & heavy distortion.
  • Fashion: frayed blue jeans, black T-shirts, boots, and denim jackets; also down-the-back long hair.
  • A Characteristic Song: “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple (1973)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Kiss, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper
  • By the mid-1970s, the three pioneer bands of heavy metal – Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple – were disbanding. As a consequence, the whole movement lost much of its momentum and media interest, giving way to punk-rock.


  • “Punk” was originally a derogatory term; but it was claimed as a badge of honor by misfits and outsiders who felt they didn’t fit in mainstream culture (or who consciously wanted to reject it). Thus, punk music has always had an “outsider” vibe.
  • Punk was primarily a British phenomenon. It had a strong DIY ethic: simple home-grown recording, straightforward garage-band sounds, a rejection of commercialized music.
  • The trademark punk-rock look

    Punk also rejected hippie culture; it was more anti-authoritarian and rebellious. Its goal was to “outrage and shock the mainstream.”

  • Defining Features: simple guitar riffs; uncomplicated bass lines; generally 4/4 time signature (some bands would shout “1-2-3-4” at the beginning of every song)
  • Fashion: Mohawk haircut; dyed hair; t-shirts; leather jackets; ripped jeans; boots
  • A Characteristic Song: “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones (1976)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Ramones, the Clash, Sex Pistols, David Bowie
  • Quickly after its founding, the punk movement splintered into new wave (more popular) and hardcore punk (more grassroots).

1977: NEW WAVE

  • “New wave” was a poppy, mainstream style of punk-influenced music. It was essentially an “Americanized” sort of punk; music promoters used the name “new wave” to avoid the bad publicity that went with British punk’s anti-establishment vibe.
  • Defining Features: New wave blended the mainstream hooks and polished production of pop music with the sardonic, ironic attitude of punk. It also incorporated themes from disco and electronic music. This was the music style that defined the beginnings of MTV.
  • Fashion: commonly, a “nerdy” look (big glasses, button-down shirts, suits & ties)
  • A Characteristic Song: “My Sharona” by The Knack (Billboard #1 song in 1979)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Blondie, the Police, the Cars, the B-52s


  • Basically this genre competed with punk in Britain in 1979-1980 – you were either a punk rocker or a metalhead. NWOBHM resurrected the heavy metal sound of the earlier 1970s, infusing it with the intensity of punk rock to produce fast and aggressive songs. Like punk rock, NWOBHM had a DIY attitude, leading to raw-sounding, self-produced recordings and a proliferation of independent record labels.
  • Defining Features: shorter songs with fast tempos; loud guitars featuring power chords; vocals ranging from high pitched wails to low growls.
  • Fashion: long hair and jeans, black or white T-shirts with band logos and cover art and leather jackets or denim vests adorned with patches; metallic studs and ornaments; military elements such as bullet belts and insignias.
  • A Characteristic Song: “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead (1980)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Iron Maiden, Motorhead, early Def Leppard


  • Post-punk was a more artsy, avant-garde, philosophical type of music than new wave or traditional punk. “Inspired by punk’s energy and DIY ethic but determined to break from rock cliches, artists experimented with sources including electronic music and black styles like dub, funk, and disco… and ideas from art and politics, including critical theory, modernist art, cinema and literature” (Wikipedia).
  • This photo of The Knack shows the skinny ties, vests, and collared shirts of New Wave/Post-Punk fashion

    Defining Features: punk-rock foundations with electronic/dance influences (synth-heavy); lyrics and fashion marked by artistic, avant-garde sensibilities.

  • Fashion: see New Wave
  • A Characteristic Song: “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads (1983)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Talking Heads, The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Model Army, New Order, Violent Femmes


  • Hardcore has been called a “faster, meaner genre” of punk; a “rebellion against a rebellion.” If new-wave took a more commercial and broadly accepted path, hardcore went the opposite direction.
  • Defining Features: Shouted vocals; louder, harder, faster music (every instrument sounds like it’s competing for the highest volume); moshing or slam dancing.
  • Fashion: a dressed-down style of T-shirts, jeans, combat boots or sneakers and crewcut-style haircuts.
  • A Characteristic Song: “Attitude” by Bad Brains (1982)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, the Misfits, early Beastie Boys


  • Def Leppard began as a NWOBHM band; but the release of their third album Pyromania in 1983 corresponded to the advent of glam-metal. Also in 1983, Quiet Riot’s album Metal Health reached number one in the Billboard
  • Once this genre began to decline in the 1990s, “hair metal” became a
    Hair Metal. ‘Nuff said.

    derogatory term used to refer to the bands of this era.

  • Defining Features: the aggression and sonic power of classic heavy metal; the fashion and image of 1970s glam rock; and the hooky guitar riffs and vocal melodies of pop music. The mid-1980s glam metal bands perfected the “metal ballad” – a slowly building rock ballad, frequently focused on love-song themes, that eventually broke into powerful, high-energy guitar-driven heavy metal.
  • Fashion: very long backcombed hair; use of hair spray & make-up; tight denim or leather jeans; spandex; headbands.
  • A Characteristic Song: “Photograph” by Def Leppard (1983)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Van Halen, Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Poison, Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses, later Def Leppard


  • The band Metallica formed in 1983, making that year a defining moment for the thrash metal genre. This genre emerged as musicians began fusing the double bass drumming and complex guitar stylings of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) with the speed and aggression of hardcore punk.
  • Philosophically, thrash metal developed as a backlash against the pop-influenced, widely accessible sub-genre of glam metal. Thrash metal was also an inspiration for subsequent extreme metal genres such as death metal and black metal.
  • Defining Features: fast tempos; harsh vocal and guitar timbre; technically demanding guitar solos played at high speed and characterized by shredding.
  • Fashion: see NWOBHM
  • A Characteristic Song: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica (1984)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: early Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax (the “Big 4” of thrash metal)
  • Subcategory: DEATH METAL – A subgenre spawned by Slayer, whose music was more violent than their thrash metal contemporaries. Death metal’s defining musical characteristic is “death growl” vocals, along with violent and extreme lyrics that explore dark and sadistic topics like psychopathy, delirium, mutilation, exorcism, torture, rape, and cannibalism. Death metal in turn spawned multiple dark and morally questionable sub-genres: war metal, deathcore, grindcore, etc.


  • Growing out of the punk scene, bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements pioneered a more melodic, mainstream sound that took the late 1980s and early 1990s by storm.
  • This music was “alternative” because it was outside the mainstream; it had the DIY, non-commercial sensibilities of punk, and tended to be released on independent labels. It was sometimes called “college rock” due to airplay on college radio stations.
  • In 1988, Billboard created the “Alternative Songs” chart, indicating that this style of music was growing in popularity.
  • The designation “alternative rock” is probably unhelpfully broad; it encompasses a diverse set of styles unified by their debt to punk rock and post-punk, and their origins outside of the musical mainstream.
  • A Characteristic Song: “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M. (1987)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: 10,000 Maniacs, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers


  • 1991 marked the first Lollapalooza music festival, conceived by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, and also the release of Nirvana’s first album “Nevermind.” These two events would change the trajectory of popular music in America. Music journalist Michael Azerrad asserted that Nevermind marked “a sea-change in rock music.” Alternative music, which until now had truly been alternative, suddenly entered the mainstream.

    Kurt Cobain
  • The early grunge movement revolved around Seattle’s independent record label Sub Pop. The owners of Sub Pop marketed Northwestern punk rock shrewdly and the media was encouraged to describe it as “grunge”, which came to mean a punk + metal hybrid.
  • Defining Features: the “Seattle Sound.” Seattle music journalist Charles R. Cross defines grunge as distortion-filled, down-tuned and riff-based rock that uses loud electric guitar feedback and heavy, “ponderous” bass lines to support its song melodies. Grunge guitarists rejected the virtuoso guitar solos that had become the centerpiece of heavy metal songs, instead opting for melodic, blues-inspired solos – focusing on the song, not the guitar solo.
  • Fashion: loose-fitting thrift store flannel shirts, jeans, and boots
  • A Characteristic Song: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden


  • Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album,” released in 1991, was arguably a defining moment for this genre (and a pivot point for the band). The “alt-metal” label was applied to a wide spectrum of bands that fused metal with different styles: punk, funk, hip hop, progressive rock, and industrial. Alternative metal artists, though they did not represent a cohesive scene, were united by 1) their willingness to experiment with the metal genre and 2) their rejection of glam metal aesthetics.
  • Houston Press described the alt-metal genre as being a “compromise for people for whom Nirvana was not heavy enough but Metallica was too heavy.”
  • A Characteristic Song: “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica (1991)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Alice in Chains, Tool, Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, post-1990 Metallica, Faith No More

1993: NU METAL

  • Korn, a band formed in 1993, released their self-titled debut album the following year; it is widely considered to be the first nu metal release.
  • Stereogum claimed that nu metal was a “weird outgrowth of the Lollapalooza-era alt-metal scene.” During the late 1990s and early 2000s, nu metal was prevalent in the mainstream. It became more popular than alternative metal, and resulted in a more standardized sound.
  • Defining Features: elements of hip hop, often including DJs and turntables and rap-style vocals. Many nu metal guitarists use seven-string guitars that are down-tuned to play a heavier sound; the genre is heavily syncopated and based on guitar riffs.
  • Fashion: tracksuits; sports team tanks; baseball caps; hoodies.
  • A Characteristic Song: “In The End” by Linkin Park (2000)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Slipknot, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, P.O.D., Korn, Kid Rock
  • Editorial Note: in retrospect, nu metal is disrespected and panned by many, similar to 80’s glam metal. It was seen as a musical refuge for suburban kids with dysfunctional families; it’s sometimes been referred to as “mallcore” or “whinecore.”


  • The tragic suicide of Nirvana frontman and musical pioneer Kurt Cobain in 1994 brought the grunge movement to an abrupt end. In its place arose a genre called post-grunge, which was essentially a more polished, pop-influenced style of music with grunge sensibilities. The moniker “post-grunge” was originally a term of disdain for bands that seemed to be mimicking the grunge sound in order to capitalize off its success, but the term came to define a broad swath of rock music in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
  • Defining Features: a high-production, polished, radio-friendly sound; mainstream lyrics and song themes. (Grunge lyrics tended to focus on social alienation, angst, addiction, and hypocrisy; post-grunge lyrics are much more likely to focus on romance, relationships, and belonging.)
  • Fashion: see Grunge
  • A Characteristic Song: “Push” by Matchbox Twenty (1996)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Foo Fighters, Live, Creed, Matchbox Twenty, Bush

1994: POP-PUNK

  • If Seattle was the epicenter of music in the early 1990s, the focus shifted to California in the mid- to late-1990s. As grunge began to decline, a new strain of punk rock was coming to the forefront, rooted in California’s punk scene and headlined by bands like Weezer and Green Day.
  • Defining Features: bright, catchy pop vocals over standard punk-rock guitar and bass lines; a “slacker” vibe. (If punk had an anarchist/misfit feel, and grunge a brooding/angsty feel, pop-punk had more of a “who cares” feel.)
  • Fashion: skateboard fashion
  • A Characteristic Song: “When I Come Around” by Green Day (1994)
  • Bands Representative of the Category: Weezer, Green Day, Blink-182, The Offspring


  • Anarcho-punk = punk rock that explicitly promotes anarchy
  • Crust punk = English punk rock + extreme metal; pessimistic social/political lyrics
  • Thrashcore = a faster, more intense style of hardcore punk, associated with skateboard culture
  • Grindcore = fusion of heavy metal and hardcore punk; noise-filled and abrasive
  • Metalcore = a fusion of extreme metal and hardcore
  • Mathcore = rhythmically complicated metal; uses odd time signatures
  • Deathcore = metalcore + death metal
  • And dozens of other sub-genres that only matter to those who really care