Metal's four-string instrument provides a solid foundation of rhythm, centering the music and allowing the guitar, drums and vocals to take center stage. But the following ten bass players rise above their mere musicianship to provide more than just a backdrop. They provide a pivotal creative, driving force behind the music that cannot be denied.
We now present the top ten bassists in heavy metal:
10. Shane Embury (Napalm Death)
Although he is not a founding member of the legendary grindcore band Napalm Death, Shane Embury might as well be. He has lasted the longest, among a band that has had dozens of members in its three decade long career, having been part of the tour to promote the album, SCUM (1987). As Napalm Death's bassist, Embury's duties require precision, strength, and insane amounts of speed and endurance behind the four strings. Embury's talents shine through with each Napalm Death record, and live intense and sometimes violent live performances. Embury's bass lines actually accent and mimic the drumming style known as blast beats. Though he may be in his mid-40s, as a bass player, Embury is on fire and shows no sings of slowing down. He is extremely active in the extreme metal/hardcore punk community of musicians, also performing with such bands as Venomous Concept, Lock Up, Brujeria, Unseen Terror and countless others.
9. Steve Digiorgio (Sadus, Death, Autopsy)
Another bass player in his mid-40s, Steve Digiogio is known as one of death metal's most respected bass players. He was a founding member of the Bay Area thrash-metal band Sadus, and throughout his extensive career in heavy metal music, played bass for bands such as DEATH, Autopsy, Obituary, Testament, Iced Earth and even Sebastian Bach and the rapper Necro. From his ability to switch tempos in a heart beat to a stand-out sense of timing and epic death-metal bass solos, Digiorgio is one of heavy metal's most versatile and sought after bass players for recording and tours.
8.Paul Gray (Slipknot)
Known to maggots around the world as Pig or #2, Paul Gray was a driving force and one of the founding members of Iowa's heavy-metal masked madmen, Slipknot. Being part of a nine-member band might sound crazy, and it is, but Gray fit in with Slipknot's early anonymity, even as the band blew up in the early 2000s, earning Grammy nominations, selling millions of records and touring the world. Gray's energetic, heavy and thunderous, thrashy-yet-underlying-funky style of bass set up Slipknot to be the enigmatic musical masterpiece it has become. He had a certain magical way of sliding around the bass to create vivid and distorted sounds that came to life in each of Slipknot's songs. But, sadly, Gray's inner demons, and struggles with drug addiction took over, and in 2010, he was tragically found dead, due to a drug overdose, in a motel room in Iowa. In the years since Gray's untimely passing, Slipknot has resurrected (without another founding member, drummer Joey Jordisson) and vows to continue on in honor of Gray's spirit and musical legacy.
Read more: Slipknot's Corey Taylor Talks Knotfest, New Album and Paranormal Experiences
7. Robert Trujillo (Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies)
Born in Santa Monica, Robert Trujillo first became an established bass player as an up-and-comer in Venice punk OGs Suicidal Tendencies, earning him a reputation as an artist with talent and street credibility. In the years since, he's worked with of course Metallica, but also other artists such as Ozzy, Black Label Society, Infectious Grooves, Jerry Cantrell, and Glen Tipton, among others. Trujillo has been the bass player of Metallica since 2003, replacing Jason Newsted. Trujillo's funky-yet-heavy style is known for almost extensively using the slap method, which produces some amazing, powerful sounding results live.
6.Peter Steele (Type O Negative, Carnivore)
This late, great legendary front man was the muscles and brains behind Type O Negative. Although he was a tall, buff, monstrous longhaired vampiric guido with a deep voice from Brooklyn, Type O Negative's Peter Steele was larger than life and larger than death. With Type O Negative, he created a sound that was goth, doom metal and equal parts Bauhaus, The Beatles, and Black Sabbath — not to mention his adoration of hardcore punk and thrash. Steele wrote lyrics and music for a few songs on the album Cause for Alarm by Agnostic Front and fronted his own violent hardcore/thrash band Carnivore. Throughout his career, Steele was plagued by his inner demons and his personal life came out in his music. He suffered from mental problems, alcoholism, and substance abuse and even went to prison. His aching, romantic metallic love songs deal with issues of despair, grief, addiction and dying. Tragically, life seemed to imitate art and he was found dead at the age of 48, in 2010, due to heart problems, no doubt due to the lifestyle of excess amounts of red wine and cocaine over the years. Yet, even in exiting this life, Steele's sense of humor and morbidity still lived on with his music and Type O Negative, the bands last album was entitled Dead Again.
Legendary doesn't even begin to describe the caliber of Motorhead's legendary vocalist and bass player, Lemmy Kilmister. Lemmy is an icon, both in his image and his sound. His style of bass playing in the early days of Motorhead laid down the foundation for thrash and all heavy metal that followed, according to acts like Megadeth, Anthrax and Metallica. Motorhead is one of those bands where once you hear a song's first note, you know it's Lemmy's bass line. He plays it in a distorted way, much in the style of most heavy-metal guitarists. Motorhead is surprisingly still going strong, despite the past few years of serious health problems that Lemmy has faced. Although he has had to force himself to cut down on the cigarettes, Jack Daniels, and other forms of partying, the music of Motorhead has been what keeps him going; the band is looking forward to more music and tours in 2015 and beyond. All of this, and his former appearance with the psychedelic rock band Hawkwind, and his experience as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix give Lemmy more than street credibility — he's a literal rock 'n' roll god.
4. Steve Harris (Iron Maiden)
Steve Harris is the founding member of one of heavy metal's biggest and most influential bands, Iron Maiden. As Maiden's primary song writer and lyricist, he has also become known for his unique style of bass, known as a galloping sound, using two fingers to create an epic thunderous form of build up. Harris has been responsible for most of Iron Maiden's biggest albums and songs and has been there since the band's inception. His iconoclastic approach to playing bass and very energetic live performances convey a sense of passion and true talent for the bass that few can match.
3. Les Claypool (Primus)
Although most might not necessarily include Primus as a metal band, including Les Claypool on this list was inevitable. The man is responsible for the world-renowned alternative rock band Primus, and is another bass player with such a distinct sound, you know it's him from the first second you hear it. With a style that is all over the place in terms of slapping, picking, fingering, and strumming, Claypool is literally a modern Jimi Hendrix on bass guitar, and his songs are heavy, funky, freaky, and full of energy that pulls from all genres of rock, funk, punk, metal, experimental, roots rock, alternative, pop, and even jazz fusion. You might also know Claypool's other work outside of Primus, including a lucrative solo career and the iconic South Park opening theme as well as the opening music for Robot Chicken.
2.Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath)
Geezer Butler's bass playing was integral to the sound of Black Sabbath from the band's inception in 1969, and Butler is considered by many to be the first heavy-metal bassist. His frantic, psychedelic sounds conjure up slower thrash and sounds of stoner metal, before it was known as such a term. The distortion and haunted bass lines were definitely a sound no one could replicate. Butler's insane finger-picking style and mesmerizing bass solos during live performances are still one of a kind.
1.Cliff Burton (Metallica)
As the bass player on Metallica's first three albums, Kill Em All (1983), Ride the Lightning (1984), and Master of Puppets (1986), the world was enthralled with this furiously talented bassist because everything about him screamed out energy. His painful-yet-contagious head-banging and wild style of finger picking the bass gave Metallica the fuel it needed to explode onto the world of heavy metal music, not as creators, but innovators of the at-the-time new sound known as thrash metal — a mix of punk-rock aggression with heavy metal's virtuosity and speed.
Burton's bass playing was everything thrash should be, fast, sharp, full of aggression and yet full of musicianship and edge. Burton was arguably the most talented musician in Metallica, at least in the band's early days. But again, as is the case with so many on this list, tragedy struck. Burton was killed while on tour with the band in Sweden in a horrific bus accident. His legacy with the band's first three seminal albums will remain. There is not one bass player into heavy metal, who has not been influenced buy Cliff Burton's playing, which makes him the best bass player in all of heavy metal.