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Top 10 Heavy Metal Bands

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Ozzy. Mustaine. Lemmy. These are just a few of the names that spring to mind when thinking of heavy metal gods. But there are so many who have done so much for the genre it’s tough to narrow down the list. Some have brought punk to a harder and faster realm, others have pioneered glam metal, while still others have gone through revolving lineups only to come out stronger and faster on the other side. But they all have one thing in common: they rock. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 most influential heavy metal bands of all time.

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Top 10 Heavy Metal Bands

They were the loudest and fastest guys around. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 most influential heavy metal bands of all time.

#10 – Venom

Though initially criticized for being less skilled than other acts, Venom made up for it by composing some of the fastest metal around. Because of this, their trailblazing influence in death and black metal can’t be denied. Their dark sound, combined with morbid lyrics and imagery, also made them forerunners of the extreme metal scene and heavily inspired thrash metal’s “Big Four.”

#9 – Motörhead

By taking hardcore punk rock into a faster and heavier realm, and adding loud guitars and raspy vocals, Motörhead has been called the originator of speed metal. The band set the stage for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with its first few albums and eventually joined the movement’s ranks. They also planted the seed for thrash metal’s foundation with their consistently hard rockin’ sound.

#8 – Pantera

With the hiring of Phil Anselmo on vocals, Pantera went from a glam metal band to pioneers of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. They first distinguished themselves with the groove and thrash metal effort Cowboys from Hell, but within a few short years, they topped the charts with Far Beyond Driven. Pantera’s legacy continues to live on despite their breakup and Dimebag Darrell’s tragic death.

#7 – Megadeth

Founded by ex-Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine, Megadeth has had a revolving lineup since its inception. Even so, the band remains a force in metal today because they haven’t lost any of their speed or intensity. With complex instrumentals, memorable guitar solos and volatile lyrics, they made a name for themselves as one of the “Big Four” early on, and have since earned gold records and a massive international following.

#6 – Anthrax

Without Anthrax and the rest of the “Big Four,” thrash metal wouldn’t be what it is today. As one of the first thrash metal acts to gain major label recognition, the American outfit helped define the genre with their rapid-fire riffs and hardcore punk-inspired ferocity. By adding humor to their lyrics or collaborating with hip hoppers Public Enemy, they also showed they weren’t afraid to experiment.

#5 – Slayer

Slayer set the pace for thrash metal with the speed and aggression of 1986’s Reign in Blood. Throughout the years, the band built a reputation for technical mastery thanks to Tom Araya’s raw vocals and bass, Jeff Hanneman’s and Kerry King’s dual guitar solos and Dave the “godfather of the double bass” Lombardo on drums. Despite their graphic and often controversial lyrics, the Grammy-winning Slayer has influenced many subgenres and metal acts.

#4 – Judas Priest

If you’re looking for pure heavy metal, look no further than Judas Priest. In the 1970s, these metal gods combined the double guitar style of K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton with Rob Halford’s theatrical vocals to create their unique and heavy sound. Though more radio-friendly tracks gave them success in the ‘80s, the Brits remain in heavy metal consciousness for their varied song structures, fierce and fast tunes and fashion sense.

#3 – Metallica

While they’ve softened over the years, Metallica remains one of the most commercially successful heavy metal bands ever. The fast-paced and aggressive sound and complex compositions of Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets positioned the band as one of thrash metal’s “Big Four.” Thanks to The Black Album and their technically astounding performances, their underground following turned into mainstream success and made them leaders in the genre.

#2 – Iron Maiden

With their iconic guitars and hard rockin’ attitude, Iron Maiden spearheaded the New Wave of British Metal. Despite controversial lyrics and imagery, The Number of the Beast has become a classic, while Powerslave cemented them as heavy metal greats. Known for their killer live shows, Maiden has always been open to trying new things and is continuously cited as an influence by scores of artists.

#1 – Black Sabbath

Ozzy isn’t called the “Godfather of Heavy Metal” for nothing. With Black Sabbath, the Prince of Darkness set the blueprint for heavy metal and countless subgenres. Alongside Tony Iommi’s big bad riffs, his signature vocals and tormented lyrics made for a dark and heavy blues-rock sound unlike anything before. Though they solidified their status as heavy metal pioneers with the seminal Paranoid, the band continued to mark the genre with later lineups as well.

Do you agree with our list? Who is your favorite heavy metal band? If they’re not on the list, be sure to check out our Top 10 Hard Rock Bands of the 1980s and other entertaining videos at!

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