Just before Christmas, I started listening to the That’s Not Metal podcast, hosted by music journalists (and all-round good guys) Beez and Stephen Hill. Fast forward to 2017, and That’s Not Metal has become my favourite podcast, not only for reintroducing me to a lot of the rock and metal scene, but for offering honest and relevant commentary on the current state of the genre (there’s a link below. Follow it and listen!) .Recently, the duo put out a special podcast through their website, each host listing their 20 favourite metal bands of all time.
I now know how hard it must have been for both Beez and Stephen to put their lists together, because my list has changed more times than Trivium‘s drummer. As a committed metalhead from the age of about 10, I’ve cycled through plenty of “favourite” bands in the 14 years since then…fuck, I’m getting old. This was an interesting exercise, as it not only showed how my taste had changed as I got older and also made me directly question what counted a band as metal. (hence why Tool, A Day to Remember and System of a Down are not on this list).
Enough of the semi-philosophy. Let’s be ‘aving the list.
NB: I’ll do honourable mentions at the end of Part II….by the drowned god, there’s loads.
“But Tristan!” I hear you cry with baited anxiety. “Hatebreed are a hardcore band. That’s not metal!” (see what I did there?). That might be how Hatebreed started, but I challenge anybody to listen to recent Hatebreed outputs (“The Divinity of Purpose” (2013), “The Concrete Confessional” (2016) etc.) and not define them as metal. Hatebreed have always been heavier than an adamantium laced mammoth with the flame drenched ferocity to boot! Any one of their songs could be used as a walkout tune for pro-fighters, and is never out of place on the mats, on the bus, or just walking along punching trees (that’s normal behaviour right?…right?!). “Perseverance” (2002) ,“The Rise of Brutality” (2003) and the self-titled release (2009) were all mainstays for me as a teenager and still receive regular spins. I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to go to a live show yet…I’d probably come back dead.
Entry Point: “Hatebreed”(2009), Essential Album: “The Rise of Brutality” (2003)
19. Arch Enemy
Think of crushing melodies and unbelievably swift guitar leads, and Arch Enemy won’t be too far behind. The first song I heard by AE was “Nemesis” and immediately thought “Woah, these vocals! Who the hell’s behind this fierce jaguar growl?!” This was followed by me looking them up and seeing then singer Angela Gossow (who left the band in 2013, and has since been replaced by Alissa White-Gluz…an equally jaguarous vocalist). It really showed me that metal was as diverse a genre as any, as the only female fronted bands that I had listened to before were Evanescence and Nightwish, which were both a lot less aggressive by comparison.
Michael Amott and brother Chris (who has since been replaced by guitar God, Jeff Loomis!) created a beautifully meticulous, yet free spirited guitar trade off, with some of the best guitar solo collections in the genre (see “Burning Angel”, “The Day You Died” and “Blood On Your Hands”), whilst both Gossow and White-Gluz amplified the band’s powerful brand of melodic death metal with a roar to end all roars on vocals. Arch Enemy were one of the very first bands that I saw live (supporting Motorhead at my first gig ever!) and they’ve remained consistent since!
Entry Point: Doomsday Machine (2005), Essential Album: Rise of the Tyrant (2007)
Ghost have remained an anomaly in the rock/metal world, and that’s mainly because nobody is doing anything like them (or at least not to anywhere near the level of success…they have their own branded rings for crying out loud!). I mean, Iceman Thesis tried to emulate them slightly with the whole unknown band members thing…that lasted all of a fortnight. Ghost are, quite honestly, the most mesmerising band I have seen to date. Even during festival shows in broad daylight, they still manage to encapsulate audiences with their darkened brand of metal. Papa Emeritus’ vocals (be they from Papa I, Papa II, Papa III, Papa Shango, whoever!) are truly haunting, lingering in the ears of listeners like a….well, Ghost!
“Opus Eponymous” (2010) was one of the strongest debuts of recent memory, whilst “Infestissumam” (2013) carried on the eerie brand of rock put forward by the band. 2015’s “Meliora” and recent single “Square Hammer” have shot Ghost up into the satanic metal stratosphere, putting out anthemic tracks whilst not sacrificing an ounce of what makes them Ghost. If 2016’s “Popestar” EP is anything to go by, then we can expect big things from Ghost in the coming months.
Entry Point: “Opus Eponymous” (2010), Essential Album: “Meliora” (2015)
17. Dark Tranquillity
If there ever was a band that was summed up perfectly by their name, it would be Dark Tranquillity. Everything that these guys put out is blacker than the blackest black times infinity (cheers Nathan Explosion), whilst also being some of the calmest melodeath in existence. A central pillar of the Gothenburg metal scene (the others being In Flames and At The Gates) DT have put out some truly tremendous records over the last decade. From 2005’s opus “Character” the band have combined ambient keyboards with tactful guitar melodies, and rounded it all off with frontman Mikael Stanne’s soothing snarl. “Fiction” (2008), “We Are The Void” (2010) and “Construct” (2013) have followed, and remained one of the genre’s strongest strings of albums to date. Definitely more than worthy on a list of this kind.
Entry Point: “Fiction” (2008), Essential Album: “Character” (2005)
“Can you feel that? ahhh shit…..OHWRAGH AGH AGH AGH” (wow that was difficult to type). “Down with the Sickness” may be more meme now than song, but it does not change the fact that Disturbed have remained one of the scene’s most powerful bands to date. With a debut as crushing as “The Sickness” (2000), Disturbed have had some pretty umpfy anthems released in their time (is “umpfy” a word?…well it is now). Introduced to the band with 2005’s “Ten Thousand Fists”, featuring crunchingly heavy numbers like “Stricken”, “Sons of Plunder” and the album’s title track, it’s easy to say that I dove headfirst into the maelstrom that is Disturbed’s back catalogue. “Believe” (2002) contains my favourite Disturbed song, “Liberate” , as well as bangers like “Prayer” and “Remember”, whilst “The Sickness” (2000), brought us gems and monkey growls galore with “The Game”, “Meaning of Life” and “Stupify.” Even the band’s later efforts are pieces of stellar work, with “Indestructible” (2008) being perhaps the band’s best album to date, featuring thundering riffs and driving basslines, and fully showcasing the trade offs between Dan Donnegan, John Moyer and Mike Wengren.
Of course, David Draiman’s signature gravel-laced voice is Disturbed signature sound (so much so that attempted side-project Device ended up sounding like a Disturbed-lite, and that the one Trivium album that he produced sounded an awful lot like Disturbed) with his ability to growl like a cheesed-off werewolf permeating each release, it was easy to see why the band ended their hiatus in 2015. Recently, Disturbed have put out a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s anthem “The Sound of Silence”, which has since become one of the band’s highest charting singles to date (and will forever be a part of their setlists from now on). If you’re only just getting into heavy music, then Disturbed are one of the perfect entry points to the genre, bringing the precision of a ninja darts champion whilst not sacrificing any of their initial grit.
Entry Point: “Ten Thousand Fists” (2005), Essential Album: “Indestructible” (2008)
15. Linkin Park
I know. I know. Linkin Park put out a song called “Heavy”, that was about as heavy as a wasp’s left elbow (wasps have elbows…they must do). But let’s ignore Drake’s b-side for now. Linkin Park may have since drifted to shores less heavy, but their first two (hell even three) outings cannot be denied as essentials for any young heavy metal fan. 2000’s “Hybrid Theory” was a friggin’ masterpiece (and as you all know by now, the first album that yours truly ever bought). Find me someone that has never listened to “In The End” or “Crawling” and I will find you someone with an awful musical upbringing. Accompanied by heavier jaunts like “Papercut”, “One Step Closer” and “Points of Authority”, it’s plain as day to see why “Hybrid Theory” is on the list of albums to listen to before you die. 2003’s “Meteora” was equally as impressive, sticking to the band’s signature combination of hip-hop and hard rock vocals, courtesy of frontmen Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington. “Somewhere I Belong” is like “In The End” re-imagined, whilst “Faint” and “Hit The Floor” saw the band reach a new level of heavy! (no, not that “Heavy”, never THAT “Heavy”…)
“Meteora’s” crowning glory however, comes from its moments of softer respite. “Breaking the Habit” is one of the most emotionally charged LP songs to date, whilst “Numb” has remained a must in most metalheads’ early playlists. “Nobody’s Listening” is a straight up hip-hop track, and laid the foundation for Shinoda’s side-project, Fort Minor. Yes, Linkin Park did mellow out in later years, with “Minutes to Midnight”(2007) and “Living Things” (2012) being more electronically influenced, and lord knows what the hell 2010’s “A Thousand Suns” was supposed to be. Despite these SNAFU’s, Linkin Park’s earlier work cannot be denied as the formative records that got most kids of my generation into heavier stuff, and for that they should be commended.
Entry Point: “Meteora” (2003) or “Hybrid Theory” (2000), Essential Album: “Hybrid Theory” (2000)
14. Children of Bodom
These melodically infused scythe swingers were my favourite band from about the age of 12 until the age of 20. Infusing death metal riffs with almost classical guitar and keyboard melodies resulted in one of the freshest sounds in metal, for the time at least. Lead by lead (there must be something wrong with that sentence) axeslinger and frontman Alexi Laiho, Children of Bodom were an unstoppable force throughout the early and mid-2000s. “Follow The Reaper” was where the band departed from their initial neo-classical sound, and infused punk and thrash roots into their melody laden riff-fests. This is where we see the initial battles between Laiho and keyboardist Janne Wirman, resulting in lightning storms of leads from the swirling vortex of melody. 2003’s “Hatecrew Deathroll” catapulted COB to metal stardom, whilst “Are You Dead Yet?” and “Blooddrunk” brought grit darker than a tar-stained beach to the band’s sound. Whilst their efforts may have dwindled in recent years (aside from “Halo of Blood” in 2013, all other records have been pretty lacking in the lustre department) Bodom’s creativity and originality cannot be denied, especially with their 4 album run from 2000-2008.
Entry Point: “Hatecrew Deathroll” (2003), Essential Album: “Follow The Reaper” (2000)
13. Stone Sour
Warning. This is not the first time that Corey Taylor (or Jim Root) will appear on this list. You can guess what’s coming. BUT Stone Sour have also stampeded onto this list, and well deservedly so. Viewed initially as Corey and Jim’s side project, Stone Sour ended up carving out their own brand of notoriety, despite two of their members being in a fairly well established metal band. “Bother” and “Through Glass” are soft-metal essentials, and the former is guaranteed to make even the hardest of hard metalheads cry. “Come What(ever) May” (2006) is one of the strongest metal records of the decade, whilst double-album “House of Gold and Bones” (2012 and 2013) is one of the greatest universe builders ever attempted. Hard hitters like “Gone Sovereign” and “A Rumour of Skin” fit brilliantly alongside slower numbers like “Tired”, with Taylor taking a leaf out of Coheed and Cambria’s book….literally, they wrote a comic book based on the album! Stone Sour have proved that they are leaps and bounds above the side-project that they were initially dubbed as, and now nearly equal their founders’ first act by comparison. That and they have comic books…this wins for me.
Entry Point: “Come What(ever) May” (2006), Essential Album: “House of Gold and Bones Parts 1 and 2)” (2012 and 2013).
12. Killswitch Engage
Killswitch Engage, standing side-by-side with bands like Trivium and Avenged Sevenfold (oh, we’ll get there…maybe) were part of a titanic charge for American metalcore throughout the 2000s.”Alive or Just Breathing” (2002) was great combination of hardcore beatdowns and clean singing, being one of the fist bands to attempt such a venture. Adam D’s furious riffage stands out like a haystack in a needle factory….or a haystack in any factory for that matter, and then (since returned!) frontman Jesse Leach combined feral growls with some brilliant singing.
However, once Howard Jones joined the band, KSE’s vocals took on a completely new form. The double-barrel attack of “The End of Heartache” (2004) and “As Daylight Dies” (2006) extracted the band’s melodic prowess and brought it to the forefront on tracks like “This Is Absolution”, “My Curse” and “Break the Silence.” Leach’s triumphant return to Killswitch in 2013 brought back the bands honed edge, whilst maintaining the melodic sections from Jones’ days. “Disarm the Descent” (2013), whilst not technically a comeback, was a clear sign that Leach was no substitute, and that he clearly had no qualms in tackling the new material into the ground. A gateway band for many, and a clear creative force, Killswitch are a must on any metalhead’s list. Even yours.
Entry Point: “Alive or Just Breathing” (2002), Essential Album: “As Daylight Dies” (2006)
In a list like this one, I couldn’t NOT have Pantera. They are THE transitional band and are probably the reason why a lot of modern American metal acts exist today. Yes, Phil Anselmo has fallen off the wagon recently, and there are doubts as to wether he’ll recover (I certainly don’t think there’s anyway back from that sort of behaviour). BUT, this does not change the fact that Pantera were one of THE most aggressive and creative bands to ever exist. Blowing their initial glam rock start (look it up, it exists) and putting out the razor-sharp “Cowboys from Hell” in 1990, Pantera were making it very clear that they were going to rattle heavy metal’s cage until the parrot inside sprouted mechanical parts. I mean, Pantera’s grip speaks for itself. Pantera had long since broken up by the time I had listened to them (which was also sadly also three years after the murder of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott) and people my age were still enjoying them! That kind of longevity isn’t easily accomplished.
No other band will ever make the razorbacked masterwork that is “Vulgar Display of Power” (1992), where “Mouth For War”, “Walk” and “Fucking Hostile” tore the genre a new blackhole. Following this up with the sandblasted fury of “Far Beyond Driven” (1994) and “The Great Southern Trendkill” (1996) and giving us anthems like “Drag the Waters” and “5 Minutes Alone” in the process. Even the band’s final album, “Reinventing the Steel” possesses some of the fieriest metal ever created (despite it’s shyte cover art), “Revolution is My Name” being a living testament to that. Taking a look at the metal scene today, it’s easy to find little serrated pieces of Pantera lodged into various bands today. Machine Head, Lamb of God, Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch and even Matodon all contain elements of this Texan quartet. Want a glimpse of modern metal’s foundation? Then look no further than Pantera.
Entry Point: “Cowboys From Hell” (1990), Essential Album: “Vulgar Display of Power” (1992)
That’s a good load of metal to digest (the healthy amount before any poisoning occurs). I’ll be back tomorrow with the second half of the 20 greatest metal bands of all time. Until then, get listening through these. If you’re a first timer, you’re in for an awesome night!