When it comes to heavy metal music and the various sub genres it has spawned, one cannot deny the impending necessity of the most holy of instruments in the metallic equation: the guitar. It is the perfect instrument to capture the essence of the most brutal music ever created and we've got eternal love for the iconic shredders who have mastered it. So, without further delay, we now present our totally subjective list of the 10 Best Metal guitarists.
10. Max Cavalera-Sepultura, Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy
As a guitarist and founding member of the Brazilian thrash metal unit Sepultura, Max Cavalera's guitar playing helped the band rule over the international metal scene. With a primitive, tribal sound and urgent social political message against oppression Cavalera led the band with until his departure in 1996, and formed Soulfly a few years later, which still tours.Cavalera's guitar is instantly recognizable, for its roots in thrash and hardcore punk, but also it's very groovy hooks.
9.Alex Skolnick-Testament, The Alex Skolnick Trio
This guitar virtuoso, speed metal axe man rose to fame and is most known by thrashers for his work with bay area veterans, Testament. But some may not know that Skolnick is also a world renowned jazz guitarist and expert, having a career his own Jazz band, The Alex Skolnick Trio, a technical, instrumental Jazz band with subtle hints of rock and throughout its layers of heavy drums and beautifully clean, rapid guitars. Skolnick's speed, mesmerizing solos and utter dominance over the guitar with Testament really bring out thrash metal's epic approach to guitar playing. His best work is on Testament's album, the New Order, which many claim is a good rival album to Slayer's Reign in Blood but often over looked because it is not as fast.
8.Dimebag Darrel- Pantera, Damageplan
Dimebag was an obvious choice on this list. The man is another late GREAT guitar virtuoso iconic player who was in the same league as other guitar greats such as Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and Ace Frehley. His shredding ability was best displayed with Pantera, and his musicianship was top notch. It was his partying lifestyle and in your face humanity that also made this guitar player shine. Dimebag's playing with Pantera took metal to another level of heaviness, and his riffs added the famous grove that the band became known for. To this day, there aren't many guitarists who can come close to what Dimebag brought to heavy metal music, though many are inspired by the legacy he left.
What is most tragic is how his life was horrifically cut short by a mentally deranged Marine, and Pantera fan, who was also killed in a shocking violent stand off in 2004 at a club in Ohio, while Damageplan was on tour. His senseless death was truly a loss for the entire music world and heavy metal community. Dime was one of the guitar greats, whose spirit will never die among guitarists and metal heads worldwide.
Emperor certainly didn't invent the genre of black metal, but they pioneered it with a new, majestic force to bring in symphonic elements to the music. The band, formed in the early '90s, and with the sorcery of Ihsahn's guitar playing, perfected the art form of Norwegian Black metal.
Ihsahn's unique guitar playing to this day entrances listeners both with Emperor and his solo career. As a revered guitar player, his song structures, and vibe alludes to a musical séance. Very primeval sounding work with the first albums in the Nightside Eclipse (1994) and Anthems From The Wilken At Dusk (1997). His craftsmanship as a guitarist added so many variables, and haunting layers of despair and anguish, listeners can feel each song in their veins when they listen to Emperor.
Perhaps one of the most under rated, and important guitarists in the history of death metal, Chuck Schuldiner founded the band Death. Schuldiner was prolific guitarist and songwriter; his songs are revered among most death metal fanatics. The early DEATH albums set the standard for grind and gore metal, but as the band evolved, so did Schuldiner's talent and passion for the guitar, and an ability to switch tempo and use abstract sound. Schuldiner's guitar playing was full of beautiful layers of melodic thrashy riffs that were beautiful and horrifying all at once.
Classic albums such as Leprosy, Human, Individual Thought Patterns, Symbolic and others, showcase his song writing structure and amazing talent with the guitar. Unfortunately, the guitarist best known as the Father of Death Metal lost his battle with a brain tumor in December 2001 at the age of 34.
5.Dino Cazares- Fear Factory, Brujeria, Asesino, Divine Heresy
This Mexican American guitarist gave birth to a signature sound with his guitar playing and song writing structure that most new metal/metal core bands owe their existence to. Sepultura, Cazares used his skills with Fear Factory to create musical breakdowns with the guitar that sounded good before they were trendy and overdone by the post hardcore set. As a metal shredder, Cazares' talent is evident when you hear his catchy hooks and brutal riffs.
As a world-renowned guitar player, Cazares helped to usher in a new (or nu) metal scene that emerged in the late '90s, early 2000s. He helped to discover Dez, from the band Coal Chamber, and later Devildriver, as well as paving the road for future artists alongside Korn, Deftones, Soulfly, Static X, Sevendust and Limp Bizkit.
4.Jesse Pintado -Terrorizer, Napalm Death, Resistant Culture
It is said that this extreme metal guitarist for coined the term 'grind core' to describe a mix of chaos, death metal, chaos, noise and punk. It was a scene in which Pintado's band; Terrorizer came up in, along side bands such as Napalm Death and Repulsion. Based out of Los Angeles, Terrorizer's debut album, World Down Fall was released in 1989, and has since been described as a seminal album for any extreme metal fan, and a grind classic. This intensity of Terrorizer's songs were brought to life, by the buzzing, caustic fury of Pintado's guitar; and made listeners feel the wrath, despair and destruction with the classic World Down Fall album, and even newer efforts, including Darker Days Ahead (2006), and Horde of Zombies (2009).
Sadly, Pintado passed away due to liver failure in Holland, in 2006, just weeks before Darker Days Ahead was about to be released. His death didn't end the band, which continues on to this day, featuring original drummer Pete Sandoval, and bassist David Vincent, from Morbid Angel, as well as Anthony Rezhawk and Katrina Culture(Resistant Culture). To mark the 7th anniversary of his passing, members of Pintado's family are holding a benefit gig, to honor his spirit, and lasting impact on extreme music on September 14 at the Vex in Alhambra. More information can be found at www.grindcorenoize.com.
3.Mick Murphy-My Ruin, Chevy Metal
This talented, mutli instrumentalist and songwriter, for the LA based rock/metal band My Ruin (featuring Murphy's wife of a decade, Tairrie B) is a guitar virtuoso that is one of LA's best-kept secrets in terms of shredders. He is not afraid about being in a now guitar centric rock band, with fuzzy distorted rhythms and riffs as thick as his sideburns. Murphy's talent with a guitar is evident once you seem him live, in often-cathartic performances. His influences are worn on his sleeve and often shirt, and consist of everything from punk, classic rock, hard rock and stoner metal. Murphy's true talent can be heard and seen in My Ruin, where his approach has added more of a old school rock based, doomy, classic metal sound to Mrs. Murphy's lyrics. In a 2009 article, Guitar Player Magazine wrote that Murphy is “One of the most ferocious and creative hard rock guitarists you'll ever hear underground, above ground or bouncing off satellites.” Aside from being a song writer and the guitarist of My Ruin, Murphy also lends his guitar playing abilities to the 70s hard rock/metal cover band, Chevy Metal, featuring Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters.
2 Jeff Hanneman-Slayer
Jeff Hanneman, the founding member of Slayer, is a pioneering guitar wizard with an incredible talent for raw speed and aggressive playing. His style with Slayer, as the main song writer (both lyrics and music) is often cited as being the missing link between the savage '80s metal sound, and hardcore punk rock. The influence in his guitar playing is clear: heavy doses of King Diamond, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, all sped up to a maximum level, literally helping to usher in speed metal or thrash, as some might call it.
After suffering from a serious case of the flesh eating bacteria on his arm, that what was likely caused spider bite in early 2011, Hanneman took time off from Slayer to recover, while the band toured on and played shows across the world. Unfortunately, in 2013, Hanneman passed away due to liver failure, in Hemet, California, leaving behind a legacy that will never be forgotten among metal heads and thrashers worldwide. Heavy Metal music will never be the same without the late guitarist, who was responsible for many of Slayer's well known hits, including 'Angel Of Death,' 'War Ensemble,' 'South of Heaven' and many more.
1.Tony Iommi-Black Sabbath
Heavy Metal as a genre didn't exist before Black Sabbath. Most music historians, writers, fans and even many metal band themselves consent that Black Sabbath are indeed at the top of the heavy metal family tree. Guitarist Tony Iommi revolutionized a new form of rock music, with a dark, dreamy and thick riff based approach to rock and blues, described as 'heavy' for a powerful thunderous sound, and a lasting impact it on listeners.
Iommi's ability and talent is highlighted with is work on Black Sabbath's albums with the original line up, which laid down the blueprints for all 'metal' bands to follow, with Iommi looked up to as the music's main architect. What truly gives Iommi an edge above others is his longevity and contribution to creating the style now known as heavy metal music. With a musical career as a guitarist for five decades, his riffs, power chords and one-of-a-kind solos still captivate audiences to this day, and despite the fact that he is in his 60s, and was recently treated for Lymphoma, Black Sabbath are still at it hard, backed by Iommi's iconic guitar playing. The band is currently on tour (minus original drummer Bill Ward), promoting a new studio album, entitled 13.
Alex Distefano is an established freelance writer and music blogger from the Los Angeles area. With over a dozen years under his belt as a published Journalist, he covers the worlds of heavy metal music, punk rock, current events, cannabis culture, comedy, radio, food, tattoos, the paranormal, and ‘conspiracy theories.’ He graduated from California State University Long Beach in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in both Journalism and Ancient History. Aside from his professional writing endeavors, Distefano works as an Educator, and delivery/rideshare driver.