Non-Metal for Metalheads: 19 Artists You Need to Hear

Metal tends to ask a lot of its fans. The scene’s “do or die” attitude is actually one of the things about it that can be so enticing to newcomers, marking the genre out as one that demands commitment and adding to the supposed “authenticity” of the music itself and those who make it. It is no doubt at least in part why metal can feel like such a big and exciting realm in which to find a home, but it’s also the thing that can begin to strip the genre of that which makes it fun. Eventually, subscribing to this attitude can become taxing, and ultimately it only becomes clear that metal isn’t all that different from other genres, both in the ways that it’s made and consumed, and in the way that the industry itself operates.

Another casualty of the pervasive “metal or die” ethos is that in their undying loyalty, many metalheads won’t take the time to listen to other music, whether that’s because they refuse to believe that anything else can compare or because they’re spending so much time trying to keep up with all the killer metal albums out there as it is. Once you find yourself fully submerged in the metal scene, it becomes all too easy to start separating music into two categories: one being “metal” and the other being “literally everything else” (despite the fact that even these two broadest of categories would have tons of crossover).

This piece exists then not to contribute to this binary way of looking at things, but simply to introduce metalheads to some awesome artists from a wild range of varying styles that they might be missing out on despite the fact that they all offer something that could be very much appealing to those who like their music on the darker and heavier side.


With the name of their 2020 EP Ugly Pop, UK artist ZAND has set out their stall as the creator of a particularly noisy, abrasive strain of electro-pop (think Billie Eilish meets industrial music) that has thus far churned out anthem after anthem. All four of the EP’s tracks are brimming with infectious hooks, with each also confidently and unapologetically acting as bastions of liberation and empowerment, whether it’s ‘Slut Money’ speaking out against the demonisation of sex workers or closer ‘Freak’ drawing on ZAND’s experience coming out as non-binary in a cisnormative world. If you’re a metalhead who “doesn’t listen to pop”, then you’re needlessly missing out on a lot of good shit – and this would be a good place to start rectifying that. [GP]


Irish folk might seem about as far removed from heavy music as you could get, but dive a little deeper into Lankum’s captivating music and an intriguing inclination towards the realms of doomy drone and ominous ambient music creep into earshot. The band’s latest album, The Livelong Day, is opened by a rendition of the normally rousing drinking song ‘The Wild Rover’, which the band reimagines with scraped strings and restrained croons – this is no normal folk band. [GP]

Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643)

Arguably one of the most influential Italian composers to grace the Earth, Claudio Monteverdi is a stalwart musical bridge connecting the late Renaissance to the early Baroque. The strength of this connection, although great, lies within the documented remains of his compositional output, writings/letters, and records of his life. Monteverdi began his artistic development in Mantua, but his time as the maestro di cappella at the basilica in San Marco is the period from which most of his surviving material was written. From these documents scholars have been able to piece together the Italian composer’s undeniable mark on the grand history of music. Monteverdi’s two greatest contributions are his developments with polyphony and his foundational work for opera. His opera L’Orfeo (1607) is one of the earliest surviving works of the genre, and is still prevalently performed worldwide. The collected books of madrigals exemplify a differentiation between older and newer styles of polyphony, and paved the way for common Baroque compositional practices. [GT]


LA-based group clipping. have spent the last decade finessing their sound to make them one of the most distinctive groups in hip-hop. Combining rap with brutal sound collages more in-keeping with noise and industrial music, the trio (made up of rapper Daveed Diggs alongside producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes) see themselves in the tradition of hip-hop’s sonic experimentalists such as Dr Dre and Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad production team. Inspired by slasher movies and horror fiction (citing Clive Barker and Shirley Jackson as influences), the group’s music avoids the clichés of horrorcore to create some truly spine-chilling music. [DC]


Many were introduced to Mohammad (stylised as MMMD) through their breathtaking score for cult folk horror hit Hagazussa, but the duo have been crafting unsettling soundscapes for a decade now, and have built up an impressive discography over the years. The band’s sound is in part folk music, but there’s an unmistakably earthy feel to their deep drones, sweeping synths and the rustic yet sinister tones of their custom-made bowed instruments. This is a project capable of warping your very notion of what “heavy” means, with a sound far more daunting than any metal band. [GP]

The Haxan Cloak

The waning ability of heavy music to shock listeners is well documented. For anyone hoping to recapture a sense of the unknown and downright fear in their listening, there is Excavation by The Haxan Cloak, an alias of Bobby Krlic. Krlic has produced works for both The Body and Björk and has also been rightly lauded for his soundtrack to Ari Aster’s Midsommar. Excavation is his conceptual dive into the afterlife told through cavernous drones, disorienting strings and grisly thuds while leaving the listener just enough space to squint at the darkness to see who’s there. Excavation is the sound of something terrible about to happen. [LJ]

Fool’s Ghost

Though there have certainly been studies proving this fact, it doesn’t take a scientist to recognise that music has therapeutic value, and on some records, you can almost feel the catharsis along with the performers. In the case of Fool’s Ghost, the desolate vistas conjured up by their unique strain of introspective music are directly inspired by real-world pain. That feeling of loss and grief is palpable in their music’s stark soundscapes and vulnerable vocals, which come together to lament whilst searching for hints of hope. It’s both vastly cinematic and quietly introspective, making for a release that whilst not sonically heavy in the traditional sense, takes its toll on an atmospheric level. No wonder the duo’s debut album was picked up by Prosthetic Records. [GP]

Stick In The Wheel

Inspired by the parallels they found in the folk songs of the past and the contemporary conditions of the industrial/post-industrial working class of today, this born-and-bred East London duo are one of the most politically forthright acts in the contemporary folk scene. Over the course of four albums their visceral, stripped-back sound has come to incorporate everything from electronics to punkish guitar, all while staying firmly rooted in folk. The band have also put together compilations of self-made field recordings of other folk artists from around the UK, helping to both champion today’s performers and songwriters, as well as preserve them for posterity. [DC]


Folk has been a space for performers to wear their heart on their sleeve for centuries, and yet there still seems to be something uniquely intimate about Ghostwriter, the goth-folk project of Mors Certa’s Kalee Beals. On debut record Burial Grounds, Beals puts the struggle of self-sense under the microscope and explores her complicated relationship with religion. The songs are often hauntingly bleak, but with an understated sense of hope that shines through in spots, too. For more, check out our interview with Beals here. [GP]

Sun Ra

There’s prolific musicians, and then there’s Sun Ra. Since arriving on Earth in 1914, before ascending from this astral plane in 1993, Sun Ra recorded over 100 albums, taking in boogie woogie, bebop and free jazz. It’s the latter style he and his Arkestra are most associated with, especially his work from the 1960s. A vocal proponent of Afrofuturism, and claiming to be a visitor from Saturn on a mission to spread peace, Sun Ra’s politics were every bit as radical as his music. Along with the likes of Ornette Coleman and John and Alice Coltrane, it is impossible to appreciate truly experimental, forward-thinking music without at least checking out Sun Ra. [SW]

Cinder Well

California-born songwriter Amelia Baker moved to County Clare to study Irish music after touring with Lankum, and subsequently released her finest album yet in last year’s No Summer. Comparisons to Lankum are apt, particularly with the mere hints of drone present in Cinder Well’s music, but they don’t tell the full picture by any stretch. Baker’s music benefits from its solo nature, feeling lonely and austere but never devoid of hope – if anything, it’s a much-needed testament to resilience in a time that has tested us all. [GP]

Bert Jansch (1943 – 2011)

You like Nick Drake? Perhaps, more of a Donovan aura agrees with your palette? Maybe, Bob Dylan? Well if you enjoy all of those folk minded musicians you will enjoy one of the most important folk musicians of the 20th century, Bert Jansch. Jansch seems to be known for being one of two things in the USA: 1) A great guitar player, and basically the UK’s Clarence White. 2) One of the musicians Jimmy Page directly hijacked material from. The former of these points, even when placed in the sphere of the late great Clarence White, is a massive understatement to the longevity, dexterity and consistency of his career. His albums Bert Jansch (1965) and Jack Orion (1966) are essential. Jansch presented the music with such delicate and devoted grace, and that can be heard from the fledgling moments of his career to his twilight hours. In layman’s terms: he was a damn good musician. [GT]


Indonesia’s Senyawa merge local folklore and musical traditions with contemporary heavy and experimental music, becoming perhaps the most distinctly “metal” act on this list. Nevertheless, the result is a sound that’s utterly their own, one that conjures a dense darkness that slowly emanates out and ensnares you as you listen. Theirs is the sound of the apocalypse, not the sort that comes instantly from nuclear war or the sun exploding but a slow, creeping dread in which the world slowly decays and turns to ruin. [GP]


Easily one of the most exciting artists currently going in any sphere of music, this Zambia-born, Canada-based rapper released her phenomenal record God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It back in 2020 and quickly blew the minds of anyone who heard it. Mixing an incredibly smooth lyrical flow with an overwhelming industrial oomph to the underlying music, Backxwash creates music that is confrontational and intense in a way that your average metal band only wishes they could be. Check out the Black Sabbath sample on the title-track and see if you don’t immediately fall in love, then check out the somehow even better follow-up I Lie Here Buried With My Wings And My Dresses. [GP]


Blending the innate accessibility of contemporary pop music with something raw and distinctly their own, Kalandra call to mind fellow Nordic artists like Aurora and Eivør with an atmospheric and folky bent that fans of Wardruna will recognise, and yet such comparisons do little to paint the full picture. Katrine Stenbekk’s airy, ethereal vocals are also deceptively powerful, helping to construct some breathtakingly huge moments, and the group’s alluring charm can very quickly become doomy and imposing before you even realise anything has changed. [GP]

Marissa Nadler

Heaviness in music does not have to stem solely from dissonance and distortion – it can also dwell in the intense darkness or all-consuming poignancy of a piece of music. Indeed, Marissa Nadler’s mournful tunes are so captivating that you’d have to be the most diehard worshipper of blastbeats to not find something to love. Nadler is an artist who recognises the mundanity of life, but instead of wallowing within it, she finds nuggets of poetry in the humdrum of everyday existence, turning doom and gloom into something ethereal. [GP]

Rina Sawayama

Singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama channels the percussive pop of a 1990s Now That’s What I Call Music compilation, through a Y2K bubble font. She’s spoken of a love for heavy music that developed in her teenage years while raging through Camden and on her debut album Sawayama the influence is front and centre, from the soaring pop metal melodies of opener ‘Dynasty’ to the breakdowns and slap bass of ‘STFU!’. The album is wide ranging in its influences but the urgent pace, insistent beatwork and dramatic vocal melodies provide a through-line. Best listened to on your discman, walking two streets over to your mate’s house. [LJ]

Oneohtrix Point Never

One of the few artists in recent years who has taken noisey, experimental music into genuinely mainstream spaces, producer and composer Oneohtrix Point Never (AKA Daniel Lopatin) is a fascinating figure. Growing up on a diet of nu-metal, jazz fusion and pop, Lopatin found a home in Brooklyn’s burgeoning noise scene. There he refined his sound mixing industrial synths, ambient music, hyper-pop and anything else that came to mind to create impenetrably dense music with melodies that burrow into your brain. He’s worked with everyone from The Weeknd to Iggy Pop, and his film score work includes 2020’s nerve-jangling Uncut Gems. [DC]

Ethel Cain

Having grown up in a conservative Florida town and currently residing in an old converted church in rural Indiana, Hayden Anhedönia’s music under the persona of Ethel Cain is uniquely in touch with small-town America despite themes of religious torment and transgenerational trauma that will resonate with many around the world. Though the inspirations behind her songs have been made clear by Anhedönia in interviews, the music itself almost seems to inhabit a kind of liminal space that makes its true nature elusive, as if there’s more to be divulged if only you keep listening. New EP Inbred is the sort of release to be put on repeat as you drift in and out of sleep, the music gradually growing more intangible as the songs bleed into each other and take on a transcendental quality. Note: Anhedönia’s Daughters Of Cain Records label is an imprint of (alleged) abusive producer Dr Luke’s Prescription Songs [GP]

Words: Dan Cadwallader [DC], Stuart Wain [SW], Luke Jackson [LJ], George Parr [GP], Garrett Tanner [GT]

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