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Updated by GOAT Series Staff on Sep 22, 2017
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Greatest Heavy Metal Band of All Time

What is the greatest heavy metal band of all time?

1

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

One of the first bands to really be considered “heavy metal,” Black Sabbath formed in 1968 as a blues band called Earth, and rapidly evolved their sound to be much heavier and darker. Contrary to popular belief, Black Sabbath was not the only band at the time to be doing the proto-metal thing and introducing elements of black magic imagery into their shtick. Coven, War Pig, and Black Widow were all doing the same thing at the same time. But there’s no doubt that Black Sabbath did it best. Something about the charismatic personality of frontman Ozzy Osbourne combined with his evil antics of biting the head of a bat and a dove on stage made their live show unforgettable, and their bluesy rock sound is as catchy as it is heavy and foreboding. Even those who aren’t Sabbath fans and don’t like the heavy stuff recognize hits like “Iron Man” and “Paranoid.” What would an action movie be without “Iron Man” playing while the main character gets up to fight again?

Place of Origin: Aston and Birmingham, England | Associated Subgenre/s: doom metal, blues metal | Labels: Vertigo, Warner Bros., I.R.S., Sanctuary | Associated Bands: Heaven & Hell, Mythology, DIO

Core Members: Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio | Earlier Name/s: Earth, Polka Tulk Blues Band | # of Albums: 9 with Ozzy, 12 without | Most Popular Albums: Paranoid, Black Sabbath, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Master of Reality, Heaven & Hell | Years Together: 1968-2006, 2011-present

2

Judas Priest

Judas Priest

Chances are, if you think of metal stereotypes, you think of Judas Priest, even if you don’t know it. Frontman Rob Halford made it OK to wear bondage gear and ride a motorcycle on stage, and they were one of the first bands to really pull out all the stops when it comes to stage presence. They also pioneered the sound of really heavy and aggressive metal, leading the way for thrash and speed metal bands that would come afterword. Later in their career, Halford came out as openly gay. Instead of alienating metal fans or causing a huge controversy, most fans showed support and claimed that the singer’s sexual orientation didn’t change their appreciation for the music, no matter how macho they were, and gay metal fans now had someone to rally around. Priest are one of the metal greats, and clear evidence that good music speaks for itself.

Place of Origin: Birmingham, England | Associated Subgenre/s: New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), glam metal | Labels: Sony, Epic, Colombia/CBS, SPV, CMC, Atlantic, Gull | Associated Bands: Flying Hat Band

Core Members: K.K. Downing, Rob Halford, Tim "Ripper" Owens, Ian Hill, Al Atkins | Earlier Name/s: Na | # of Albums: 17 | Most Popular Albums: Sad Wings of Destiny, British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance, Ram it Down, Painkiller | Years Together: 1969-1992, 1996-present

3

Slayer

Slayer

One of the most famous thrash bands to come out of the early 80s in California, Slayer has been playing music since 1981, and they are still at it, set to release their eleventh studio album next year. Slayer are characterized by their fast and shredding riffs and evil lyrics denouncing religion with songs like “Reign in Blood” and “God Hates Us All," although interestingly enough, their Chilean singer, Tom Araya, is actually a practicing Christian. This band is so great not only because they paved the way for the death metal era and heavier music, but also because they defined the sound of their time and made memorable and great music.

Place of Origin: Huntington Park, California | Associated Subgenre/s: thrash metal | Labels: Metal Blade, Def Jam, American, Nuclear Blast | Associated Bands: Exodus, Megadeth, Anthrax, Metallica

Core Members: Tom Araya, Kerry King, Paul Bostaph, Gary Holt, Jeff Hanneman, Dave Lombardo | Earlier Name/s: Na | # of Albums: 10 | Most Popular Albums: Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, Seasons in the Abyss, God Hates Us All | Years Together: 1981-present

4

Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden

Another great British band to come out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) along with Judas Priest, Iron Maiden are also hailed as one of the absolute classics, and everything about them – their look, their logo, their sound, have become the poster child for what metal is all about. But to the discerning ear, there are definitely differences between their style and Priest’s. While Judas Priest were all about the glam rock image and exaggerated style, Iron Maiden were one of the first metal bands to incorporate punk into their sound, an idea which most metal bands since have copied. They are also known for their catchy riffs and signature skeletalmascot, Eddie.

Place of Origin: Leyton and London, England | Associated Subgenre/s: NWOBHM | Labels: EMI, Colombia, Portrait, Parlophone, Sanctuary, Epic, Capitol, Harvest | Associated Bands: The Entire Population of Hackney, Gogmagog, Praying Mantis, Samson, Trust, Urchin

Core Members: Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Bruce Dickinson, Nicko McBrain, Janick Gers | Earlier Name/s: Na | # of Albums: 15 | Most Popular Albums: Killers, The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave | Years Together: 1975-present

5

Metallica

Metallica

This band may be the best example of an underground metal band breaking into the mainstream and becoming a household name. The group originally started in '81, the same year as Slayer, and had a very similar fast and thrashy sound. As the years went on, their sound became more accessible, and they started to attract fans of garage rock, grunge, and mainstream metal as well. This was after acting as one of the pioneering thrash bands and helping create an overall heavier brand of metal with classics like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Whiplash.” They gained kind of a bad rap with the underground metal scene for making so many changes to their sound, and then a bad rap with pop culture fans in general during the Napster scandals in the 1990s, when they sued a bunch of their fans for downloading music. However, they still remain one of the most influential and versatile metal bands of all time.

Place of Origin: Los Angeles, California | Associated Subgenre/s: thrash metal | Labels: Megaforce, Elektra, Warner Bros., Vertigo/Virgin EMI/Universal, Blackened | Associated Bands: Megadeth, Flotsam and Jetsam, Newsted, Echobrain, Ozzy Osbourne, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Label Society, Exodus, Voivod, Lou Reed

Core Members: James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo, Cliff Burton, Jason Newsted, Dave Mustaine | Earlier Name/s: Na | # of Albums: 9 | Most Popular Albums: Kill 'Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets, …And Justice For All | Years Together: 1981-present

6

Death

Death

As their name suggests, Death are widely considered one of the first death metal bands. They formed in 1983, when most people were still listening to thrash and other predecessors, and got involved in the underground tape trading scene, learning more about fellow groups around the world and developing their sound. Death got really popular and well respected, but then their lead singer, Chuck Schuldiner, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. As such, the band wrote a lot of deeper songs about death and facing the afterlife, rather than focusing on the hack-and-slash gore appeal of most death metal. In addition to being the first death metal band and mature lyrically, they also had a huge impact on prog rock, as all of their songs are very technically good and demonstrate strong musical prowess.

Place of Origin: Orlando, Florida | Associated Subgenre/s: death metal, progressive metal | Labels: Combat, Relativity, Roadrunner, Nuclear Blast, Relapse | Associated Bands: Autopsy, Repulsion, Cynic, Dark Angel

Core Members: Chuck Schuldiner, Chris Reifert, Kam Lee, Terry Butler, Rick Rozz | Earlier Name/s: Mantas | # of Albums: 7 | Most Popular Albums: Scream Bloody Gore, Spiritual Healing, Human | Years Together: 1983-2001

7

Motörhead

Motörhead

Motörhead formed in 1975 after founder and frontman Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister was fired from the band Hawkwind for, as he says, “doing the wrong drugs.” He strove to get away from playing progressive speed rock and instead play something more straightforward, and closer to punk. He joined up with a guitarist and drummer (Lemmy was a bassist and singer) and Motörhead was born. They played a blend of fast punk and metal, and it became known as speed metal. Songs like “Ace of Spades” and “Bomber” became absolute anthems for a generation of leather jacket-wearing, gambling, speed metal heads, and the songs still sound like classics today.

Place of Origin: London, England | Associated Subgenre/s: speed metal | Labels: Sanctuary, SPV, Epic, GWR, Bronze | Associated Bands: Hawkwind, The Head Cat, Girlschool, Headgirl, Pink Fairies

Core Members: Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister, Phil "Wizzö" Campbell, Mikkey Dee, Larry Wallis, Lucas Fox | Earlier Name/s: Na | # of Albums: 22 | Most Popular Albums: Motörhead, Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades, Iron Fist | Years Together: 1975-present

8

Mötley Crüe

Mötley Crüe

A band who needs no introduction, Mötley Crüe gave birth to all that is glam and hair metal. The band got their start in their hometown of LA in the early 80s, playing local clubs across their city. The hair-and-makeup androgynous look they went for really took, and they became one of the most celebrated and listened-to metal bands of all time. They are legends not only in the metal world but throughout pop culture in general.

Place of Origin: Los Angeles, California | Associated Subgenre/s: glam metal, hair metal | Labels: Mötley, Eleven Seven Music, Elektra, Leathür, Warner Music Group | Associated Bands: 58, Brides of Destruction, Methods of Mayhem, MoonShiners, Rock Star Supernova, Sixx:A.M.

Core Members: Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil | Earlier Name/s: Christmas, Mottley Cru | # of Albums: 9 | Most Popular Albums: Too Fast For Love; Shout at the Devil; Girls, Girls, Girls | Years Together: 1981-present

9

Diamond Head

Diamond Head

Around the time that Metallica, Slayer, and the other thrash greats were getting big, they were all influenced by the sounds of one band: Diamond Head. These guys were writing catchy thrash hits long before any of the other groups, and they were already an underground sensation. They took their time signing to a major label, instead opting to go with a more underground friend’s label, Happy Face Records. Once they finally did sign on with the larger MCA Records, they los all their profits, due to the fact that they had never secured the rights to their own songs. There was also some controversy about a few of Metallica’s key riffs being overly similar to some that Diamond Head had written, giving rise to rumors that their songs had been “recycled.” Still, regardless of the ownership issues they went through, and whether or not they were ripped off, it’s still undeniable that they were one of the most influential metal bands of all time.

Place of Origin: Stourbridge, England | Associated Subgenre/s: speed metal, thrash metal | Labels: Happy Face Records, MCA Records | Associated Bands: Na

Core Members: Brian Tatler, Eddie Moohan, Karl Wilcox, Nick Tart, Andy Abberley | Earlier Name/s: Na | # of Albums: 6 | Most Popular Albums: Lighting to the Nations | Years Together: 1976–1985, 1991–1994, 2002–present

10

Anthrax

Anthrax

Anthrax is another band that has the seal of approval from the public as well as the metal community. Fronted by charismatic singer Scott Ian and hailing from New York City, these guys put their own aggressive and punky spin on thrash and metal in general. Anthrax are known for catchy songs like “Caught in a Mosh” and “Soldiers of Metal,” and for releasing an EP with rap group Public Enemy. They were one of the first bands to bring the punk/metal crossover sound all the way into the mainstream and make a major debut on MTV.

Place of Origin: New York, New York | Associated Subgenre/s: thrash metal, speed metal | Labels: Megaforce, Island, Elektra, Sanctuary, Nuclear Blast | Associated Bands: Armored Saint, Stormtroopers of Death, Nuclear Assault, Damnocracy, Brutal Truth, Public Enemy, The Damned Things, Sepultura, Shadows Fall, Overkill

Core Members: Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Frank Bello, Joey Belladonna, Jonathan Donais | Earlier Name/s: Na | # of Albums: 10 | Most Popular Albums: Fistful of Metal, Spreading the Disease, Among the Living | Years Together: 1981-present

11

Coven

Coven

Around the time that Black Sabbath were getting big, there were several other bands writing heavy blues music with dark and evil themes, the very first inklings of metal. One of these bands was Coven, a female-fronted group out of Chicago, Illinois. The singer, Jinx Dawson, was from a family who practiced magic, and she used these themes in her lyrics and imagery. Unfortunately, their music got wrongly associated with Charles Manson and murder in a Rolling Stone article, and they were abruptly dropped from their record deal. Still, they played a big role in defining the sound of metal for their contemporaries, and they were the first female fronted metal band to hit the scene.

Place of Origin: Chicago, Illinois | Associated Subgenre/s: doom metal, female fronted metal | Labels: Mercury, Warner Bros. Records, MGM, Buddah, Nevoc Music | Associated Bands: Na

Core Members: Jinx Dawson, Oz Osborne, Steve Ross, Rick Durrett, John Hobbs, Chris Neilsen | Earlier Name/s: Na | # of Albums: 5 | Most Popular Albums: Witchraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls, Coven, Bloon on the Snow | Years Together: 1969-1975, 2007-present

12

Budgie

Budgie

Budgie, from Wales, were one of the first bands to coin the heavy metal sound. They started playing together in 1967, and the music was half psych rock, half metal. While they never got particularly big, they are special because they were playing heavy metal closer to the New Wave of British Heavy Metaland other later, faster stuff before Black Sabbath even formed. They also wrote the song “Breadfan” which Metallica later covered. Budgie had a huge impact on the way that the early metal sound formed, and are still remembered today in more obscure circles.

Place of Origin: Cardiff, Wales | Associated Subgenre/s: classic metal, prog rock | Labels: MCA, RCA, NPL | Associated Bands: Tredegar

Core Members: Burke Shelley, Steve Williams, Craig Goldy | Earlier Name/s: Contemporary Grass | # of Albums: 11 | Most Popular Albums: Budgie, Squawk, In For The Kill | Years Together: 1967–1988, 1995–1996, 1999–2010