We are possibly at the forefront of solving one of the mysteries of rock-related music as to who got to dominate the heavy metal scene both in the countries of origin and in the world. Whether they are all talking and making apologies to cults and violence, or was it just coincidence or bad press. So many sub-genres that for more than 4 decades have not ceased to surprise. But who are the best metal bands?
In this article, we will count down our top 10 best metal bands of all time. Be sure to stick around until the very end, our top spot might surprise you!
Without further ado, let’s jump into our best top 10 metal bands of all time!
It would be utterly cruel not to begin by pointing out one of the few groups that in the 1970s helped shape something that in the 1980s would create a big gap between what we consider hard rock and heavy metal.
Like any rock band, they would start with immense influence from the blues bands of the time and Jimi Hendrix style of ‘treating’ the guitar. Then they would go on to develop some innovative techniques such as “darkening the sound” through guitar low-pitching tunings.
They would obscure textures, in addition to lyric writing often linked to occultism or Satanism, both philosophies not as well known to the masses as they are today.
The band’s line-up went through many changes. Having the historical singer Ozzy Osbourne, then the iconic Ronnie James Dio as a first replacement.
The history of Black Sabbath is full of awards, surprises, macabre behind-the-scenes stories, drugs, television accolades, and dozens of documentaries, lending an undeniable legacy to British rock and metal.
Recommended song: “Paranoid”.
There is a great mass of people who believe that Iron Maiden managed to be one of the biggest metal bands as they took the genre where its predecessors never could have.
Perhaps it is due to a ‘healthier’ condition of the members, not being involved in typical rock star sex scandals.
And this is totally remarkable since they have received almost no support from the mass media. Unlike metal-ish-bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, AC/DC or Black Sabbath for example. They have been given numerous awards in England and the rest of the world.
For more than 40 years, they have been identified by their famous mascot Eddie The Head. starring in most album covers. He is present in all of the band’s merchandising and in hundreds of thousands of tattoos from his fans.
Their longest-lasting and most popular singer is Bruce Dickinson. He is an overwhelming personality who has excelled in fencing, script and novel writing, music production, entrepreneurship and professional aviation, among other accomplishments.
On top of that of course, he is one of the most talented singers in the history of heavy metal.
Recommended song: “The Number of the Beast”.
The founding fathers of thrash metal, with a young Lars Ulrich that would meet James Hetfield in Los Angeles in early 1981. To pursue the dream of dedicating his life to music, especially with influences from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM).
They went through several preliminary formations until Hetfield remained as a vocalist and guitarist. This was right after Dave Mustaine (future founder of Megadeth) was expelled for his repeated violent behavior as a result of the continuous ingestion of alcohol.
We could have seen a different outcome if they had all stayed together. But in the end, over almost four decades we face two awe-inspiring bands. They have evolved so much that we no longer know what else to ask from them.
Metallica has extensively modified its sound over the years. From ‘The Black Album’ entering a little more in the mainstream hard rock circuit. To finally return to its roots, not so much though, in ‘Death Magnetic’, with no longer the complete acceptance of the primary fans of the band.
Metallica produced a concert in 1999 called S&M with the SFS (San Francisco Symphony Orchestra) that went down in history; the total duration of more than 2 hours of pure thrash metal and symphonic arrangements.
This makes it clear that Metallica knew how to remain as one of the top metal bands.
Recommended song: “The Four Horsemen”.
Stepping aside from the classic UK-US duality for a while, this time we are located in Hamburg, Germany. This is where that subgenre called speed metal would end up being called power metal thanks to the qualities of Kai Hansen, founder of Helloween.
They adapted new sounds and compositional forms to that kind of heavy metal scheme we all knew about until the early 1980s. It is then one of the top ten metal bands due to its extensive trajectory and its evolution with a path sometimes similar to that of Metallica.
Tasting a sort of mainstream flavour in the 1990s and later returning to its origins in the first decade of this century.
Kai Hansen would leave Helloween very soon and form Gamma Ray, another of the best heavy/power metal bands in history. So they have had three singers in these four decades: Kai, Michael Kiske and Andi Deris, who are now all reunited for the new self-titled album to be released in 2021.
Helloween has fourteen gold records and six platinum records. This is an almost unthinkable achievement for a Germany-based heavy metal group.
They are one of the biggest bands to transfer a pure quality sound from studio to world tours; and being able to bring together those scratchy guitars from the 1980s with the dark and dynamic sound of the 2000s.
Recommended song: “I’m Alive”.
Back to the British bands of the late 1960s, yeah, as The Beatles led the way. We do not take into consideration that musical genres take more than a decade to develop. Perhaps this even takes another decade. The history of Judas Priest fits right in these times.
Since after several failed formations, the entrance of the extraordinary singer Rob Halford, who would be off the band between 1992 and 2003. In any case without detracting from the new entrants.
Judas Priest has received all kinds of criticism due to their different works; some more commercial and others more linked to the roots of hard rock and heavy metal.
Judas Priest has managed to influence great contemporary bands like Kreator, Exodus, Pantera, Skid Row, Mercyful Fate, even new metal bands.
Among their studio albums we can highlight the classic ‘Painkiller’, some of his early hits like ‘Stained Class’ and ‘Killing Machine’ or even more recent material like ‘Nostradamus’, a work entirely dedicated to the French writer and so-called prophet.
Recommended song: “All Guns Blazing”.
Arguably the most influential band in thrash metal right after Metallica for obvious reasons. Dave Mustaine was part of it for a while until he dropped out and then created Megadeth, in Los Angeles in 1983. By the time Metallica released their first album “Kill ’em All”.
It should be noted that Mustaine made his band evolve very quickly once the right members were found, and also due to the techniques of the highest level in guitars that would end up shaping the thrash metal subgenre along with his very particular and raspy voice.
Of course, we are talking in parallel to the guitars of Kirk Hammett in Metallica or Kerry King’s in Slayer. Mustaine has been an extremely controversial character. He has had problems with drugs and alcohol dozens of times, even one of them being revived.
He has also fired statements with resentment towards almost all his former musical partners. This caused him to lose many of his followers over the last two decades.
Musically, nothing to criticize. Dave’s virtuosity has been key to the development of the thrash metal subgenre and for many other bands. Both in the United States and in the world. His legacy is not debatable at all.
Recommended song: “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due”.
Perhaps one of the subgenres with the greatest debate in regards to its creators or pioneers. But this may be the case where it is possible to highlight a group that has maintained its root sound over so many years.
Cannibal Corpse represents one of the ‘waves’ of death metal that happened at the end of the 1980s in several cities of the world at the same time. From Stockholm to New York.
Death metal has practically never been recognized in the mass media. So the success of these groups is largely due to their musical demonstrations, where sometimes non-marketing leads to greater success than expected.
Extremely low-pitched and saturated guitar riffs added to throaty vocals and screams that try to add up to a sometimes repetitive but tempting rhythm. This makes them one of the best death metal bands.
Of course, having the word ‘death’ as a musical representation of a subgenre leads us to think why. They bear association with Satanism and violent sexuality both on the album cover artworks and in the lyrics of the songs.
Many enthusiasts come to recognize a particular passion for these topics in their daily life. Of course, you are to find different approaches as to why death metal is not just ‘that’.
Recommended song: “Necrogenic Resurrection”.
In the 1990s, globalization brought in a culture crossing never before seen in history. English-speaking heavy metal bands were widely triumphing in countries like Japan. So there was a need to export new proposals.
In the case of grunge that had its period of pause after the death of Kurt Cobain, nu-metal in parallel showed sustained growth. Taking elements even from electronic dance music and is not the exception when it comes to Slipknot.
They were a band that spent 7 years of changes until they managed to find something good and proper to show. Just as the success they got back from the public in the early stages of the first album in 1999 ‘Slipknot’, something that later took only 2 years to become the most advanced band and of the best new metal bands.
Corey Taylor, their second and current singer, sang in a throaty, raspy, hard and also melodic and pop way. The band stand out in their masks and all the audiovisual game. This made Slipknot surprise everyone, album by album, year by year and so on for two decades.
Recommended song: “Surfacing”.
They are one of the first and most influential bands, formed in the late 1970s in Brooklyn. The distorted bass and characteristic vocals of glam rock and thrash metal are also to be found here.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing happens to be the choice of organs and synthesizers for most of the musical composition. This accentuates the doom and gothic influence, in addition to the mysticism of the themes in the lyrics.
This takes Type O Negative one of the best gothic metal bands. The vocals here are often reminiscent of the hard-rock of the 1970s and also the grunge that emerged in the 1990s.
Recommended song: “I Don’t Wanna Be Me”.
Lastly, one of the best metal bands of all time that could not be out of this list is Manowar. Along with others such as Motörhead, Dream Theater, Blind Guardian, Pantera or Slayer. It was formed at the time when hard-rock and heavy metal still shared sound and lyrical in the 1980s. This was Manowar’s fastest-growing era.
They have dedicated themselves to writing about mythology on their albums. They have a very particular Guinness record for being the group with the ‘biggest power registered’, in 1984.
And then they outdid themselves two more times. They also hold the record for having thrown the longest show in heavy metal history, exceeding 5 hours.
They are clearly a band outside the norm. The band like to push the limits and do it with quality, not simply out of nowhere. They have managed to secure an elegant line-up towards the recording of the first studio album.
And then lend influence to many new bands of the late 1980s; including the emerging German power metal. It is one of the most stable bands heavy metal scene has ever had as founding partners Eric Adams and Joey DeMaio never left.
Recommended song: “Kings of Metal”.
You probably think this is the ultimate list of the best heavy metal bands. But you ought to think about this as an open door to a world full of surprises as to finding incredible musicians.
Above all the way in which they have managed to incorporate the least expected elements to the evolution of rock and the new waves of metal over the decades.
You may be able to pick up influences from garage-rock, glam rock, gothic rock, synth pop, new wave and postpunk, epic symphonies, progressive rock, orchestras, mysticism, terror lyrics related to Satanism and anti-Christianism, rap and DJs, grunge and punk rock behaviour, and hardcore. Sometimes even techno elements if you research well. A world full of music is what this is!
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