Far too often, style and genre are terms used interchangeably by fans and musicians alike. Informal talk cannot always strictly conform to what might ultimately amount to only academic differences in meaning. To all intents and purposes, both style and genre are one and the same, and are used to denote either style or genre or both, in all possible permutations and combinations! Such are the quirks of language.
But where heavy metal is concerned, perhaps more concerted thought on the differences between these two words is warranted to clear the confusion over what constitutes true metal and what simply poses a verisimilitude of being metal.
Style, to me, seems a meta characteristic of how music is played. ‘”Playing” a piece of music however is not the same as “writing” or “composing” a piece of music. Style is an impersonal and technical aspect of the musical process though a talented musician can obviously color his style with huge amounts of flair and emotion. Styles are cumulative by nature, relying on techniques developed over time and spanning across seemingly disparate types of music. Over time, they come to be representative of individual genres and are often thought of as being the genre themselves. Down-picking, gallop-picking, tremolo-picking, pinch harmonics, the use of various scales, five-note, seven-note, and twelve-note, bass-drum dominant percussion, falsetto vocals, death metal growls, black metal rasps, etc are all styles commonly associated with metal.
In the public eye, the briefest appearance of these styles in a well-packaged avatar is enough to qualify the music at hand as metal. Styles, however, are but a means to an end. Styles are sterile until they are brought to their natural culmination in a self-contained genre. Genres are external to styles; this doesn’t mean that genres preclude styles but rather that genres bring a whole other world of ideals to superimpose on existing styles. Composition and ideology are the twin pillars on which this world rests, the former of which is described with a little more clarity here.
Ideology, on the other hand, is equally indispensable as composition, but refers more to a way of thinking about the world and the life in it. Unsurprisingly,it also finds its way into the process of composing any honest piece of music as the musician’s take on his environment. Composition and ideology are intertwined, much like the ego and the non-ego or being and non-being, and incapable of existence without one another.