Every now and then, the opportunity arises to introduce a friend who’s never explored metal to the genre. Finding friends to debate Behemoth albums with gets more difficult as we grow older, and so the chance to potentially turn a pre-existing friend into a fellow metal fan is exciting. Not only will you have another option in your pool of show-going buddies, but you can pat yourself on the back knowing you successfully guided another innocent soul over the border into metal. Here’s the catch, though: a lot of the standard “gateway bands” in metal probably already feel a little obvious and old to you. You want a new bonding point with your pal but not at the cost of your own tastes. Fear not, though. There are plenty of bands that make a good introduction to someone new to metal, yet will still be exciting for you.

3 Inches of Blood

There’s a genre of metal that’s so gloriously goofy and purely entertaining that even the most resistant metal listener could have a hell of a good time listening to it: power metal. But sometimes power metal is the last thing a seasoned metalhead wants to listen to. That’s where the great compromise, 3 Inches of Blood, comes in. The Canadian band is a little less DragonForce and a little more modern-day Hammerfall. The epic lyrics of power metal and the dramatic, classical-tinged melodies are there, but 3 of Inches of Blood steps it up in aggression, to the point that some of their songs veer into death metal territory. Shrill Halfordy vocals mix with a welcome dose of growl-screams. The guitar riffs are confrontational. This stuff has a melody but any cheese factor is squashed with a raw, old-school vibe.

Listen to: “Deadly Sinners” off of 2004’s Advance and Vanquish.

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British doom band Alunah’s sound is woven with traces of Black Sabbath influence—they even hail from Birmingham. And one doesn’t need much experience with metal to appreciate that mix of psychedelic melody and moody sludge. Soph Day’s strong but smooth, vocals float on top of riffs that are trippy yet defiant and heavy. Alunah takes their time to pound through their compositions, executing that gloomy doom element, and it only allows more time to hear every spiralling guitar solo or mesmerizing vocal harmony. Each song has a folktale feel, unraveling stories through both lyrics and compositions that evolve in the course of several minutes. Tapping into the early glory days of metal while fleshing out with their own flourishes, Alunah is an accessibly melodic intro to the genre yet a heavy, intriguing sound for a longtime metal listener to explore.
Listen to: “Heavy Bough” off of 2014’s Awakening the Forest.

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Melodic and heavy, yet approachable, Japanese outfit Boris is a great welcome for someone new to metal, and a classic favorite that will keep a long-time metal fan interested. Boris is known for their experimental ways, keeping listeners on their toes with elements of different genres and new twists with each new album. The base is a more introverted, thoughtful kind of stoner metal, and Boris builds from there with steadily pounding doom percussion, sludgy riffs and clean, soaring vocals. The band even dances into J-pop territory from time to time. With masterful musicianship and a genius ear for melody, Boris sounds as if classical music indulged its evil streak and unleashed its rage. The ethereal compositions and flirtations with poppier sounds will draw even the most non-metal music fan in, while a need to know what cocktail of genres Boris does next will keep metalheads hooked.

Listen to: “Pink” off of 2005’s Pink.

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Ghoul appeals to both the metalhead and the metal novice with a campy, costumed live set that doesn’t take away from their thrash-meets-grindcore sound. The Oakland band claims to be from Creepsylvania, and play under the personas Cremator, Digestor, Dissector and Fermentor. They wear masks and are accompanied by other costumed characters; giant, school-project looking monstrosities like their infamous “Killbot” that bring to mind Japanese horror and B-movies. The band’s schtick is enough to keep the most non-metal friend mesmerized, but beyond the costume thing, this band delivers. With members from Impaled and Ludicra, Ghoul applies solid chops to a tight yet rowdy sound that drives hard, like Autopsy or Obituary and that’s laced with death metal guitar, guttural grindcore vocals and old school thrash choruses.

Listen to: “Metallicus Ex Mortis” off of 2011’s Transmission Zero.

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Mammoth Grinder

Mammoth Grinder is another genre-bender. The Austin band has taken a tour through extreme music since their 2006 inception, exploring metal-tinged hardcore with a punk twist before digging deeper into that metal influence to take on a death metal sound. Where Mammoth is living now, as of their last album, Underworlds, is a hybrid of death metal and punk. The result is heavy and forceful but moves at a hyperactive pace – it’s like sludge that’s been tidied up and wrapped in thrash riffs. The ruthless rage of Mammoth’s songs hurdles at you at a yet frenzied pace. It feels raw but sounds more strategized, and that’s a good thing for this band. It’s an intriguing listen for newbies and metalheads alike because of all those doses of different genres to pick up on.

Listen to: “Barricades” off of 2013’s Underworlds.

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Black metal and shoegaze converging is something we’ve gotten used to, but black metal and Appalachian folk music? That’s a market still masterfully cornered by Panopticon’s sole proprietor, Austin Lunn, who delivers the soul-plundering sound you think can only come from the bleak, snowy expanses of Scandinavia, except that he chops up his howling growls, guttural vocals, racing guitar riffs and merciless drums with folksy fiddle. This is apocalyptic rage and gloom from the heartland. The sound of roaring, chaotic metal played against haunting violin and bluegrass fiddle is far from typical. It will will pique new metallers’ curiosity and present an exciting discovery for lifelong metalheads

Listen to: “The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong” off of 2014’s Roads to the North.

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For an intro that throws someone into the deep end of metal’s rawness, go for Revenge. Right from the very first second of every song, album and show, Revenge launches at you, going for the jugular with a sick glee. Formed in 2000 in Edmonton, Alberta, Revenge stays true to the trend-resistant rebellion of black metal. Even a newbie will recognize that scuffling, blurry growling and screaming as essential black metal, but might not totally get why it’s appealing. Still, they’ll be fascinated by the darkness, the rage, the unwaveringly confrontational volume and the frenetic pace of Revenge. And a metal fan will appreciate the subtle mastery of the lo-fi element, as well as the anguished, furious vocals, the controlled chaos of the drums and the wild beatdown of the guitar riffs.

Listen to: “Parasite Gallows (In Line)” off of 2012’s Scum. Collapse. Eradication.

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Thurn & Taxis

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Revenge is an opportunity to quiet it down and really geek out on the intricacies of music. This instrumental Brooklyn trio calls themselves math metal, and maintains a broad appeal with skillfully composed and layered music. It’s somehow simple yet complex–the bare-bones approach allows you to catch every little riff or arch or build or breakdown. Carefully measured and laced with sharply executed harmonies and crescendos, it’s low-key metal with a more classical, orchestral approach. Because Thurn & Taxis is so essentially melodic, it’s approachable for a non-metaller, and anyone can appreciate the musicianship here, the composition and the instrumental storytelling.

Listen to: “Metzger” off of 2014’s Ep1.

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Tombs’s eclectic mish-mash of genres makes them a strong introduction to metal. Founding member, vocalist and guitarist Mike Hill has spoken about the myriad of influences that lay the groundwork the band’s music, from Swans and Ennio Morricone to David Lynch. The layered musical styles will appeal to someone who may have never realized an interest in metal, because he or she will be excited to pick up on relatable factors that have something in common with more familiar genres. And seasoned metal listeners will keep finding new nuances in Tombs’s sound, delving past the urgency and rawness of black metal to uncover distorted yet focused melodies of post rock, and guitar riffs of hardcore and even thrash.

Listen to: “Gossamer” off of 2009’s Winter Hours .

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If there’s any hesitation about giving Warbeast a go, the Texas thrash band comes stamped with Phil Anselmo’s seal of approval: they’re signed to his label, Housecore. Their sound is closer to that of the classic, thrashy gateway bands, while a line-up consisting of members from Gammacide, Demonseed and Rigor Mortis keeps things interesting for a more jaded metalhead. Warbeast’s thrash is big and bold. It rocks, it has a good time, it’s pissed off. Bruce Corbitt fires his vocals through a rage of racing guitar and drums, lashing out with expert phrasing, high energy and the ultimate thrash fury. The result will bring a metal fan back to the music that got them hooked - Metallica, Pantera, Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, etc., and as reminiscent as it is of a metalhead’s introduction, it’s the perfect intro now for someone new to the genre.

Listen to: “Blood Moon” off of 2013’s Destroy .

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—Courtney Iseman

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