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By Rhys Lett

10 Best Metal Bands Ever

As a guitar player, learning to play my favourite metal riffs was one of my most memorable times developing as a guitarist. Metal inspires many people to pick up an instrument. The passion displayed by metal fans for their music is unmatched by fans of other music styles. Metal is life. Here we present the kings of the style, bands that innovated and created on the way to becoming superstars.

What is Metal?

Always a hotly debated topic is whether a band is metal or not. Bands that I would class as hard rock bands are often called metal. Looking at the way songs are constructed and the scales and chords used is decisive. This list will help you understand if a song is metal.

  • Metal songs borrow more from classical music, hard rock uses pop songs structure.
  • They are much longer, usually have multiple sections or themes, rock songs follow the verse/chorus style.
  • They are minor in key. The harmonic minor scale is used more than the natural minor.
  • Certain intervals are favoured in the riffs and the chords like the flat 2 and flat 5.
  • Lyric content is often fantasy and darker than rock.

Listed in historical order, here is the 10 best metal bands ever.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath are The Beatles of metal. Guitarist Tony Iommi has lasted the distance with various lineup changes around him. The most famous members are the pioneers of the style. First era Black Sabbath created the genre. With vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, bass player Geezer Butler and Bill Ward on drums, Iommi wrote riffs that could not be called anything but heavy metal. No one else was doing it like this at the time.

Here is a classic of metal featuring the first line up playing War Pigs.

Joining Black Sabbath after his time in Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow (more on him next), was metal god Ronnie James Dio. Dio came and went from Sabbath from 1980 onwards doing four studio albums with the band (the last one under the band name Heaven and Hell, it was Sabbath in all but name). His vocal styling and mystical lyrics had a great influence on the next wave of metal.

Here is the reformed second line up (with Vinnie Appice on drums) Sabbath doing Neon Nights from the Heaven and Hell album.

Deep Purple

Like Sabbath, Deep Purple are well known for having two distinct line ups. At any time through their history, every member was the top of their instrument for the era. The most famous incarnation was the second line up of the group. Richie Blackmore’s lead guitar style has more influence on metal guitar solos than anyone else. Drummer Ian Paice could swing better and hit harder than anyone else. Keyboard player Jon Lord would load his organ sound through Marshall stacks. Singer Ian Paice could wail just about better than anyone.

Check out this ripping live version of Highway Star and start taking notes.

The next incarnation of the band featured two more future metal legends, singer David Coverdale and bass player singer Glenn Hughes. The band released two albums with this line up before guitarist Blackmore left replaced by Tommy Bolin. Bolin tragically died young as Deep Purple finished up and evolved into the Coverdale lead Whitesnake.

Here is a clip from the first gig of the Coverdale/Turner Deep Purple era in front of

Blue Oyster Cult

A forgotten band of the 70s. An American take on the Sabbath sound, Blue Oyster Cult had five equally talented musicians. The rhythm section of the Bouchard brothers, frontline of singer Eric Bloom and guitarist Buck Dharma, held together by the skill of keyboard/guitarist Alan Lanier. They are also one of the few metal bands where all members would sing lead vocals. Classics like Godzilla, Don’t Fear the Reaper, Black Blade and Cities on Flames must be heard by all metal fans. Their lyrics also delve into the darker side of life and sci fi fantasy, a feature of metal lyrics opposed to hard rock.

Here is one of their classics, Career of Evil.

Judas Priest

Judas Priest could be second to the throne of creating this style of music. There is no better frontman than Rob Halford. Riding onto the concert stage leather clad and motorbike engine revving. Albums like British Steel, Screaming for Vengance, Sad Wings of Destiny and Painkiller are must have metal classics. Twin guitar line up of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing wrote a catalogue of great riffs.

Here is long time concert opener Hell Bent for Leather.

Iron Maiden

Leading the 80s metal charge was Iron Maiden. After replacing vocalist Paul Di’Anno who sang on the first two Maiden albums (probably my faves), Bruce Dickinson delivered the metal howl to make them superstars of the style. Albums like Number of the Beast, Powerslave and reformation album Brave New World show the unmistakable Maiden sound. Bass players check out this band, Steve Harris is the most creative player in the style.

Here is one of the classics from their Number of the Beast album, Hallowed be Thy Name.

Mercyful Fate/King Diamond

Mercyful Fate pioneered the black metal sound. Black Metal gained popularity in the late 90s with bands emerging from Scandinavian countries. Mercyful Fate were doing it since the early 80s and influenced thrash bands like Metallica and Slayer. Lead singer King Diamond split away from the band during the late 80s but took two members of Mercyful Fate with him for his solo career. Fate albums like Don’t Break the Oath and King’s Abigail are metal classics. Practice your harmonic minor scales and get into some Fate.


Metallica are the most commercially successful band in this style. They pioneered Thrash in the 80s with four faultless albums. Since then they have explored more of a commercial hard rock sound but became more popular than ever. James Hetfield is the most precise rhythm guitar player in the caper.

Here is their anthem Master of Puppets.


Along with Metallica, Slayer lead the Thrash scene and stayed true to the style throughout the band career. Their classic album Reign in Blood could be considered the best metal album ever made.

Here is the title track of that album.


Carrying the torch through the 90s were Pantera. Lead by brothers Darrell and Vince Abbot the band gained the respect of the metal guard that came before them. After making four power metal albums through the 80s, they evolved their sound for their major label debut Cowboys from Hell. It  included more thrash elements and attention paid to the groove and feel of songs. Guitarist Darrell was tragically shot on stage performing with his post Pantera band Damageplan in 2004.

Here is the Pantera theme song, Cowboys from Hell.


Slipknot takes in every form of metal that has come before it.  The down tuned guitars and clean vocals mixed with screams are a feature of the current style. At the core remains the importance of the song which Slipknot do best. The nine member band has innovated the metal sound for the new age including two percussionist and a DJ as apart of the line up. Guitarists Jim Root and Mick Thompson know how to shred like the 80s players and groove like Pantera. Longtime drummer Joey Jordison also substituted for Metallica when their drummer Lars fell ill before a festival gig last minute.

Watch this clip from their appearance at the Big Day Out festival.

Learn one song by each of these bands and no doubt you will understand the techniques and skill it takes to play metal.

For further questions or if you are wanting to learn to play metal, contact Eastern Suburbs School of Music on 0421 705 150 or via the contact form on this website.