Who do you have a tendency to think of when you’re thinking about heavy metal bands? Chances are, if you had to make a list of the top 20 heavy metal bands that have ever played, your list would be different from just about every other person’s. Why does this happen? It’s because music is a form of art. Just like a painting or a Broadway performance, music is subjective. Therefore, certain people prefer a particular genre of music over others. Moreover, people have a tendency to prefer a particular band or performer more than others, even within the same genre. As a direct result, your list is highly unlikely to look like anyone else’s. You probably have your favorite bands that you have listened to for years and you might even have a few newer ones that you thrown in more recently. The person next to you might come up with a completely different list.
In reality, both lists are valid. This is because you can’t say that your list is definitively correct just because those are your preferences, any more than the next person could do the same thing. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion when it comes to anything that is subjective. With that being said, you can easily look at the success of a band in order to determine whether or not that particular group has resonated with large numbers of the general public over a period of several years. When you look at it like this, it’s sometimes easier to tell who has held the greatest degree of success.
The funny thing about heavy metal bands is that you might hear people say that they don’t like heavy metal and they never listen to it. Almost every time, there is at least one or two songs that they listen to regularly, not to mention thoroughly enjoy, that come from heavy metal bands. The thing is, some of these bands are undeniably more hardcore than others. Nevertheless, they’re all considered heavy metal performers. Even if you don’t think you listen to a lot of heavy metal, you’re likely going to have to reconsider that after you read this list. In fact, out of the top 20 heavy metal performers of all time, you might be surprised at some of the ones that show up. Without a doubt, some of them are extremely hardcore and you may or may not enjoy listening to their music. In other cases, you might be surprised that they showed up on the list as you think about all the times you have listened to their music and enjoyed it, realizing that it was indeed classified as heavy metal.
One of the truly unique things about this particular genre of music is that it encompasses such a wide range of performance styles. Because of that fact, there are acts that perform in such a way that you do well to even understand the words they are saying. To most people, it probably sounds more like yelling than anything else. To fans of the genre, these might be some of the best bands that have ever played. On the other side of the spectrum, you have bands that have been around for decades and have created some of the most memorable songs that you’re ever likely to hear. These songs are widely played on radio, and not just on stations that cater to heavy metal bands. Before you know it, you may have to reconsider the whole idea that you don’t particularly listen to the genre because it encompasses a much wider base than most people initially believe.
Below is a list of 20 of the top heavy metal bands that have ever played. Of course, you might agree with some and disagree with others, and that is perfectly fine. One thing is certain, most of these bands have been around for a few years and some of them have been around for a few decades. Obviously, they’re doing something right because they’re getting a lot of people to listen to them. Some of the bands that show up on this list are so popular that a lot of their songs are well known by people that don’t even listen to this genre of music. Others are extremely hardcore and some people might even consider them a little bit scary. Whatever your personal preferences are, keep reading to see if your favorite band shows up on the list.
It would be hard to argue that any other band that plays this genre of music should be at number one. Metallica has been playing since 1981 and they’re still going strong. In addition, they typically get a lot more airtime than many of the other bands that show up on this list. They also have some of the most memorable songs, giving them air time on radio stations that play all kinds of rock music. In the unlikely event that you’ve never heard them before, you really should check them out. They have a whole plethora of songs to choose from, not the least of which includes the ever-popular Enter Sandman. If you’ve ever watched any of The Nightmare on Elm Street movies, you know a little something about this song, whether you realize it or not.
2. Avenged Sevenfold
This band has not been around nearly as long as some of the others that show up on this list, as they just started playing publicly in 1999. With that being said, that’s still a long time. Most of the time, you hear this band on radio stations that cater to a more hardcore type of music. Nevertheless, this is a band that has always been extremely popular with most people, even for the ones that don’t typically consider heavy metal to be their style of choice.
“Rock you like a Hurricane.” Dare we say, “enough said?” Rolling Stone Magazine described the Scorpions as “the heroes of heavy metal”, and MTV called them “Ambassadors of Rock”. The band was ranked number 46 on VH1’s Greatest Artists of Hard Rock program with “Rock You Like a Hurricane” at number 18 on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs
Formed back in 1973, AC/DC has had a number of songs that most people can still identify today. In fact, the band became so popular that a lot of their songs are still recognizable to people of a much younger generation. Even for those that have never seen them play in concert and don’t really even know much about who they are, they still know that a particular song like Back in Black was performed by AC/DC. This is unquestionably one of the highest honors that any band could ever hope to achieve. In fact, they’ve taken their music into an entirely new generation that can fall in love with them all over again. Obviously, they’ve always known how to create a successful path in the music business and they’re still doing exactly that.
5. Black Sabbath
This is a group that was formed in 1968 and actively performed up until last year. Some people love the group and others can’t stand it. Comprised of performers like Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Zombie, it’s easy to see why some people might be afraid to go see what this band is all about. After all, these are probably two of the most influential performers in rock music, but they’re also two of the more controversial figures. With that being said, there are plenty of fans of the band that still enjoy listening to their music. For those that prefer something a little tamer, there are plenty of other names on this list that don’t carry such a dark note with their music.
6. Motley Crue
Who hasn’t heard of Motley Crue? The band started performing in 1981 and they performed all the way up until 2015. Their songs are so popular that they have even been used in demonstrations put on by the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, all in an attempt to get the attention of younger individuals so they could recruit them into the military. Their songs have been featured in numerous movies and they’ve made some albums that were nothing short of spectacular. This is what you would expect from a band that experienced enough success to last for so many years. Even though they’re no longer touring, their music is still just as popular as ever.
7. Guns N’ Roses
One of the songs that people associate with this band, Sweet Child of Mine, ends up being played on the radio numerous times a day on several different types of stations. There’s a better-than-average chance that you’ll hear the song at least once or twice if you have the radio on for any length of time. While this might arguably be one of their most popular songs, the band has a number of other hits as well. Formed in 1985, they produced a lot of different songs that can fit the mood of just about any individual that wants to listen to them.
8. Lamb of God
You have to wonder about a heavy metal group that titles itself Lamb of God, but that is exactly what this group did when they formed in 1994. Like some of the bands on this list, this is a group that is loved by some music fans, but not so much by others. Again, music is subjective. Therefore, it’s up for up to every individual to decide for themselves whether or not they enjoy heavy metal music to begin with and if so, how hardcore they want that music to be.
9. Iron Maiden
Many people consider this group to be a little bit disturbing. They’ve been around since 1975 and fans of the band seem to enjoy their music. People that don’t really listen to them on a regular basis are more likely to remember them for their album covers that always seem to feature the numbers 666 somewhere on there. This alone is enough to make some people decide that they don’t want to hear anything on that album. For others, it doesn’t really seem to be an issue. Again, it’s up to the fans to decide. With that being said, this is a band that has been around for more than four decades. Therefore, they have a place on the list because they’ve managed to remain successful in an industry that sees people come and go on a daily basis.
10. Sixx: A.M
This is one of the newer bands on the list. Formed in 2007, it is the brainchild of Motley Crue member Nikki Sixx. This is definitely a band that is considered heavy metal, but it is also one that produces a surprising number of heartfelt songs without allowing those songs to lose their heavy metal element. To say the least, this is hard to do. It’s extremely difficult to mesh a heavy metal song with heartfelt lyrics and have it come out correctly. That’s one reason why a lot of heavy metal bands have a tendency to avoid these types of ballads. Typically, the two just don’t work well together. This is one of the few groups that has managed to somehow combine the two in order to practically create a whole new genre of music. The band is immensely popular, not just because of the background of Nikki Sixx, but because of the music that it’s been capable of creating. This is a band that still tours, so if you have the opportunity to go see them, you would be doing yourself a favor for taking that opportunity.
11. Judas Priest
This is another band that’s been around the block a time or two. In fact, it was formed in 1969, making it one of the oldest bands on this list. While the band may not be as popular with today’s audiences as it was at one time, it still manages to enjoy a better than decent level of success. In addition, people that loved to listen to the group years ago still enjoy listening to those songs and because of that, they keep the band alive.
A lot of people might agree that this is one of the most hardcore heavy metal bands on the list. Still others might agree that even for most heavy metal fans, the group is so hardcore that it’s hard to enjoy their music. However, most people that say that haven’t really given all of their music a chance. While a lot of their music is indeed extremely hardcore, they have a few songs out there that are actually very poignant. For anyone that takes the time to listen to them, they’re likely to find a song that has a great beat and some lyrics that really hit home. For that reason alone, they’re worth listening to, even if you haven’t considered yourself a fan of the band in the past.
This is also an older band, formed in 1983. If you haven’t already noticed, there are a large number of heavy metal bands that were formed during the early 1980s. Much of this is because of the success of bands like Metallica and Motley Crue, both of which were formed in 1981. This was an era that saw a large resurgence in heavy metal performances. When people saw that these bands were highly sought-after, a number of them were formed on the heels of earlier acts. Megadeth is one of those that seemed to take advantage of the success of bands that had been formed a year or two earlier. They’re a little more obscure today, but they’re still popular enough to make this list because they still have a strong following mong dedicated fans.
This is another one that was formed during the early 1980s, more specifically 1981. You might not hear them on the radio as much now as you did a few years ago, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have a few songs that are definitely worth hearing. As is the case with a lot of bands that don’t play as frequently as they once did, they have a few songs that were quite popular back in the day and those are the ones that you are most likely to hear today. If you want to know more about what the band is all about, pick up a CD or download an album and judge their music for yourself.
This is easily one of the more interesting bands on the list. They’ve been around since 1995 and they’ve gone through a lot of different changes since then. At the current time, there are about nine members in this band. During the years after they were first formed, they seemed to have trouble keeping members in the band and even went through a few different lead singers. None of this really seemed to hurt their popularity and some might even argue that it made them more popular. Today, the band wears full costumes on stage, including masks that are likely to scare small children and even some adults. Whatever the case might be, fans of the band seem dedicated to supporting them and their music.
This is yet another group that came along during 1981, which turned out to be a banner year for heavy metal bands. When compared to other bands that came out at the same time like Metallica or Motley Crue, this one is not nearly as well-known, at least not in today’s world. At the time, it was easily one of the most popular bands in existence. That’s why they still managed to make the list. Even though the popularity of Pantera has decreased markedly in recent years, there was a time when the band was extremely popular and highly sought-after.
This is one of the more popular heavy metal bands from the 1970s, being formed in 1975. You don’t hear much from this band today, but fans still enjoy listening to their music. Much like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Judas Priest, this is a band that successfully performed heavy metal music decades ago. While they don’t have the staying power of Led Zeppelin or AC/DC, most people still consider them to be on par with these groups as far as their performances are concerned.
18. Cradle of Filth
You just have to wonder what on earth they were thinking when they decided to name this band Cradle of Filth. They’ve been around since 1991 and while their music is very popular among devoted heavy metal fans, a lot of people consider their on-stage appearance to be somewhat frightening. One thing is certain, if you love listening to this band, you can consider yourself a full-blown heavy metal aficionado. This isn’t one of those bands that you’ll typically find on the playlist of someone that only listens to heavy metal once in awhile.
19. Def Leppard
Everybody’s heard of Def Leppard, the popular and prolific heavy metal band formed in 1977. To this day, they still put on a show that is equaled by few, if any. If you’ve never had the chance to see them perform, or even to sit down and really listen to their music, you don’t know what you’re missing.
20. Van Halen
There’s no doubt that Van Halen has had some obstacles to overcome through the years, namely going through different lead singers. With that being said, the band that has existed since 1972 has undoubtedly produced some of the best songs that have ever been performed. Some of their songs are far more hardcore than others, so there’s usually something for everyone if you’re willing to look long enough in order to find it.