Typically, the electric guitar is performed with a large amount of reverb or audio feedback while vocals, if present, are usually growled or screamed. Songs often lack beat or rhythm in the traditional sense and are typically very long. The experience of a drone metal performance has been described as not unlike listening to an Indian raga in the middle of an earthquake, by novelist John Wray, in The New York Times. Wray also states, "It's hard to imagine any music being heavier or, for that matter, very much slower." A pioneer band of drone metal called Sunn O))) has indicated a kinship with sound sculpture. Jan Tumlir indicates a "sustained infra-sound rumble of sub-bass–-so-called brown noise".
Stephen O'Malley from Sunn O))) collaborated on an installation with artist Banks Violette, who has likened drone metal to the work of Donald Judd. Tumlir locates a precedent in Robert Rauschenberg. Violette points out, however, that drone metal is "as much a physiological phenomenon as an acoustic one", with an attendant physicality. O'Malley has also mentioned an appreciation for Cormac McCarthy and Richard Serra. Rhys Chatham's Essentialist included projections by Robert Longo.Jim Jarmusch's 2009 film The Limits of Control features music by a number of drone metal groups. Jarmusch said, "I love these kind of visual landscapes they make, and they really inspired things for me for my film ..., because when I write I'm listening to things that inspire me in the direction of whatever world I'm imagining. Boris and Sunn O))) and Earth were really instrumental in me just finding a place in my head."
Drone metal was first established by Earth, a group from Seattle, formed in 1990, which has been described as "minimalist post-grunge". Earth took inspiration from the sludge metal of Melvins and the minimalist music of La Monte Young, among other sources. Stephen O'Malley's group Burning Witch, formed five years later, also in Seattle, continued in this tradition, incorporating unusual vocals and bursts of audio feedback. The group initially recorded for the prominent powerviolence label Slap-a-Ham. O'Malley's subsequent group, Sunn O))), initially formed as a tribute to Earth, is most responsible for the contemporary prominence of the drone metal style. Godflesh is also a stated influence on many groups. Boris, from Tokyo, also developed a style of drone metal, parallel with the Seattle groups, as did Corrupted, from Osaka. In Europe, in 1997, the Spanish band Drone Sphere irrupts with a self-titled cassette in a Drone metal style. This band changed their name to Like Drone Razors Through Flesh Sphere in 1998, developing the style until nowadays through independent releases and live appearances.