If it’s loud, furious and sounds the least bit “evil”, then it’s probably metal. Aside from the over-the-top themes and the sonic wallop it packs, heavy metal is celebrated for its high levels of musicianship on every instrument, but most importantly, the guitar. This is a list of those who are arguably the most influential guitarists in a genre of music that never really gets it’s due.
10. Kurt Ballou of Converge
You may be asking yourself, “Who the hell is this guy?” Listen to any of Converge’s songs and you’ll get treated to a blistering blend of punk aesthetics, but with metal’s swagger and menace. Think of the last modern metal band you listened to – did they have a bunch of jagged, dissonant riffs and off-kilter solos that were still melodic and powerful? Well, Kurt’s been busting out riffs like that since 1993 on a Fender Jazzmaster.
9. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
Plain and simple, Jimmy Page’s riffs were dark and monstrous and got stuck in your head for days. Jimmy influenced millions of kids in the 70’s to pick up a guitar.
8. Dimebag Darrell of Pantera
A lot of metalheads nowadays (especially the ones my age, in their early to mid 20s) only know Dimebag as the guy that got brutally murdered onstage by a deranged ex-Marine and that’s a shame. Dimebag wrote riffs that were hooky and heavy all at once. When grunge was all the rage, Pantera kept the flag of American metal flying high and proud. Pantera invented those “chugga chugga” breakdowns and high-pitched harmonic squeals that now dominate the landscape of metal. Also, in a scene full of people scowling, Dimebag knew how to grin like a fool and have as much fun as possible – something that’s dreadfully missing from modern metal.
7. Slash of Guns N’ Roses
Slash could out-shred many of his Sunset Strip contemporaries, but he knew that he never needed to. His big, emotive blues-inflected solos could say it all with only 10 notes instead of the 10,000 that most guitarists at the time used. There were many other glam metal guitarists before him, but few were that effortlessly cool?
6. Page Hamilton of Helmet
Page was a seasoned jazz guitarist, but wielded his guitar with a jock’s brutality, much like he was swinging a hockey stick. He took minimal jazz ideals and applied it to heavy metal. His powerful, staccato riffing and dramatic vocal shifts from soft and clean to full-on bulldog bark, influenced a slew of bands like Korn, the Deftones and countless others.
5. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden
Their influence is heard all over metal – the doubled lead riffs, the harmonized solos, the fast paced rhythms, the first signs of shred, etc. They were/are an impact on a massive scale to anyone that considers themselves a metalhead.
4. Robert Fripp of King Crimson
Robert Fripp’s dark, jazzy riffs, coupled with his band’s willingness to create ridiculously intricate song structures, opened up doors that didn’t previously exist in the realm of heavy metal music or any music at the time. Bands like Dream Theater, Opeth or Between The Buried And Me owe their existence to Robert Fripp.
3. Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen
If Eddie had recorded “Eruption” and decided quit playing guitar afterward, then his legacy would still have be cemented. He invented shred.
2. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica
James and Kirk are the successors to Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s title of “Most Lethal Guitar Duo Ever.” James’ frantic mute-picking created rhythms so fast is was almost like a buzzsaw, and Kirk’s wild shredding wasn’t “sloppy”- it had character. Nowadays, they’re all old and bitter, but the kids still connect with them – and that’s really what matters.
1. Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath
In the documentary “Heavy: A Headbanger’s Journey”, Rob Zombie makes the statement that “Every cool riff has been written by Black Sabbath. Whether it’s being played faster or slower or backwards or whatever – Black Sabbath did it first.” Ozzy may have been the most infamous member, but Tony Iommi’s evil riffs and liberal use of drop-tuning was the core of Black Sabbath’s legendary sound, and the birth of heavy metal.
Written by Daniel Harlow