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Top Metal Bands

Updated on July 24, 2016

Top Metal Bands of All Time... as seen by a mediocre guitar player

So I was thinking about the top metal bands out there and I have to admit that my mind started to drift and I began to analyze how I would back up my list? What are the criteria that I would use to justify my selections? I know and fully admit that when you make a list like this all you are going to do is upset people when you don’t include their choices and that this process is EXTREMELY subjective and no two people will probably agree on this.

I think I should begin by explaining my criteria and to some extent the logic behind my selections for top metal bands of all time. Yes, my list will have to include bands from all time because I believe they have to have inspired something new within the genre or further the conversation so to speak. I believe all of these bands pushed metal into a new area or at least were the top representative of the type of metal band they represent. Additionally, I have become very biased in the process and only included bands that I enjoy listening to as they include a variety of music (tempos, song structures, subject matter) and do not fall into the “screamo” area of metal as far as vocals are concerned….I can’t stand that stuff when that’s the only flavor of vocal within a band’s repertoire.

10. Nothing More- This is a newer band and have definitely not left a huge mark in the music world at this time. That being said, they have some of the most exciting songs I have heard in probably a decade. The lead singer is amazing, the subject matter of most of their songs is interesting and varied and they display solid musicianship. I’m putting them on the list with the inclusion of great promise in the future. If you haven’t heard of them, you need to check them out immediately.

9. In This Moment- Again, a newer band without a huge legacy yet. I believe that an objective metal fan cannot deny the wide range of songs that this band is capable of performing. Touching ballads to the raunchiest of metal even including pseudo-screamo vocals. This variety is a testament to the vocal capabilities of their lead singer (female) and the band overall. I believe they do show great song writing skill and lots of potential in the future all the while displaying a very unique “skill-set” with the powerful female vocalist out front.

8. AC/DC- I know some people would not consider these guys to fall under the title of “metal,” but I believe you can make the argument and that without their contributions in the 70’s and 80’s we would not have the breadth of bands that we have today. You cannot overlook their showmanship and consistency in blues-based metal phrases that powered their addictive songs. They have been the pinnacle of blues-based hard-rock/metal for decades and have inspired hundreds of bands during that time. With unique voices representing them (Bon Scott and Brian Johnson), along with the great guitar riffs meshed with various tempos, their music has been a force within metal for years. I have to admit, I have not seen the up-tempo songs in their recent album releases and am very disappointed; I fear they are on a slow decline musically. That being said, I loved them growing up and without this band, I probably never become a musician.

7. Rush- This is probably the most influential band in launching the “madness” that I enjoy today known as “adventure rock,” “progressive rock,” or whatever you want to call it. The absolute rareness of what these guys do musically is truly awe-inspiring. I don’t think people really knew how to classify them without creating whole new labels as mentioned above. Their song structures and bravery in exploring longer song concepts along with their musical creativity and skill has made them a genuinely legendary band. How many bands don’t exist today, or at least play the style of music they play today without Rush shattering the mainstream packaging and songwriting of the times??

6. Judas Priest- What a great traditional rock band in the 70’s…..and great heavy metal band of the 90’s….these guys have truly evolved over the years and I can respect that. From simple, catchy songs in the 70’s (with exceptions of course) to speed metal glimpses in the 90’s they have been present in quite an array of metal music over the decades. Honestly, I think the thing that makes them truly special is the vocals of Rob Halford. But the use of their duos of guitar players has been great and their songwriting has always stayed interesting and followed the wide subject matter of their lyrics thoroughly. Their live show has been top-notch and for years they carried the mantle of the prototypical rock/metal band that others had to chase.

5. Disturbed- The first thing I realize when thinking about their music is the breakthrough in mainstreaming rap-metal. This is the first band to truly make a living in this realm on a huge scale and to be enjoyed by traditional metal-heads. In this aspect, they are innovators within the metal genre. So much music is born today because this band made it palatable and even desired by metal enthusiasts. Not only that, but they write really good songs with muscular vocals. I have always admired their sonic processing in the studio as well. I believe they have one of the most polished sounds on their albums of any band out there. They continue to do a remarkable job in staying true to their style and form while providing great music to fans that would not normally have crossed over into their genre of music.

4. Black Sabbath- I would feel so guilty if I did not include this band as they pretty much started the whole thing! I can still hear the haunting riff to the beginning of the song “Black Sabbath,” which includes the diminished fifth interval that makes it sound so deliciously evil. The first time you experience this music, it can be like watching a horror movie for the first time. Bands just didn’t write stuff like this before Sabbath. It was all boy meets girl stories as the subject of songs. As weird as this will sound, I have to thank God for Black Sabbath…lol. For their time, they were totally innovative in their songwriting, the subject matter of their songs and just blew the doors off of everything with their display of musicianship and unique song structures. Not only did they invent a new genre, but they grew it and developed it to what it is today.

3. Iron Maiden- Earth shattering vocals of Bruce Dickinson…..story telling within the songs at a level never before or again achieved……phenomenal musicianship across the board…..amazing live show……wide range of music, song structures, tempos…..a mind-boggling synergy of all of these traits working together….integration of more classical music influence early in their journey at a time when it wasn’t really popular yet. These are the things I think of when pondering Iron Maiden. What an amazing band for display of song writing and musicianship but also for creating a concept that fits a band and their song subject matter which has included science fiction, religion, and history.

2. Metallica- Yeah, I know….this is where everyone starts cussing me…lol. Metallica took metal to a whole new level, mainstreamed “thrash” or a heavier version of metal, wrote great songs, put on great shows and rocked the world….literally. That being said, I just like a few other bands much more….sorry. They will probably be THE band for a few generations of metal fans and are one of those bands that transcends the metal genre completely and people that probably don’t really like metal that much have learned to say they enjoy due to their enormous popularity. They have become “pop” icons as a metal band. ENORMOUS achievement. They are very good musicians, they write really good songs and hit the right place at the right time. And so, due to their influence, I feel they have to go at least here and many would probably put them number one. But on a strictly musical level, I probably would have them in the bottom half of top ten….just my personal preference. I like their music a lot, but not as much as a few other bands. I will explain more in #1. Please forgive me if this ranking angers you....

1. Dream Theater- As a musician who probably suffers badly from ADHD, gets bored easily, loves when bands push the envelope, loves unexpected twists and turns in song structure, enjoys different rhythm patterns and rare musical devices and loves raw musicianship, this is the band that the universe revolves around for now. The first time I heard this band was when “Pull me under” played on the radio…..I remember that day still. It blew my mind. I loved the clean, soaring vocals, the virtuosic guitar work but what I loved the most was the completely insane double bass patterns that Rob Portnoy served up like French fries at McDonalds. This is one of those bands where I could sit for hours with my favorite drink and just listen to any one of the musicians in this band and just focus on what they are doing and life would be great. I can listen to Myung’s amazing bass lines, the keyboard parts of Jordan Rudess and ignore the traditional elements of a metal band and still love what these guys do. But when you throw in the whole band, their song concepts and their musicianship…..well, it is something unique and special that I cannot imagine living without. Their ballads pull at my heart strings, their heavier compositions make me bang my head and their creative rhythms have me using my teeth as drums, going over their parts at work to pass the day. I hum their melodies, guitar solos, bass parts and keyboard parts all the while not even realizing I’m doing it. I know this happens with many bands but does it happen for each individual instrument in many bands??? For me, no. It is a specific occurrence for me that only happens with Dream Theater to this extent. This is the number one metal band for my money. Now it’s not all teddy bears sliding down rainbows while holding lollipops and landing on unicorns though…I do not like their latest album…..I do not like it at all y’all. I do not like the songs as much…I don’t like the storyline….i don’t like this album and can’t listen to it all the way through this time. I suppose every band has a dud once in a while. I never saw this coming from my favorite band. I only hope they have not achieved such a level of success that they have lost that struggle or hunger to write the music they have written for years. It seems that success can murder the motivation and work ethic of the best of people and I hope that Dream Theater does not fall into this category. Time will tell if they remain number one for me but right now I’m only listening to earlier works from them…the magical ones that hold my musical universe in place and patiently awaiting the next album.

Honorable Mentions:

1. Led Zeppelin- great band and highly influential but not enough variety to warrant making the list in my mind. 2. Kiss- great band and innovative in live show but again, not enough musical innovation/variety going on. 3. Van Halen- great band and what they do, they do as well as anyone but the subject matter of songs and their musical variety was lacking for me. 4. Tool- Very innovative band and influential to many later bands. Musically, they do some really unique things but variety of tempos and to me some really offensive song subject matter keep them off the list. 5. System of a Down- Influential and popular band that does some great things with their songs but for me the poor vocals kill the music for me. It’s probably just a subjective thing on my part but I can’t stand the lead singer in this band. To go from Bruce Dickinson to this guy makes me want to puke. I’m glad for those fans that enjoy their music…rock on!! 6. Symphony X- One of my absolute favorite bands. I can listen to them for hours!! Great variety of song structure and some of the best musicians in the universe!! For every 5 amazing songs, they seem to have one pretty bad or cliché song…..this is why I can’t include them in the list even though right now, they are probably my 2nd favorite band.


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