The Top 10 Heavy Metal Music Bands

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking for the best heavy metal bands? Here are the top 10 heavy metal bands of all time, according to experts.


Metallica is an American heavy metal band. The band was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles, California by drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist James Hetfield. Metallica’s current lineup includes founding members Hetfield and Ulrich, longtime lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo. Lead vocalist James Hetfield and bassist Cliff Burton are deceased.

Metallica has released ten studio albums, four live albums, two EPs, 26 music videos, and 37 singles. The band has won nine Grammy Awards, and their 1991 album Metallica (commonly known as The Black Album) was produced by Bob Rock and was certified Diamond in the United States. Rolling Stone ranked Metallica number 54 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.


Megadeth is an American heavy metal band from Los Angeles, California. The group was formed in 1983 by guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson, shortly after Mustaine’s dismissal from Metallica. A pioneer of the American thrash metal scene, the band is credited as one of the genre’s “big four” with Anthrax, Metallica and Slayer, responsible for its development and popularization. Megadeth plays in a technical style, featuring fast rhythm sections and complex arrangements. Themes of death, war, politics and religion are prominent in the group’s lyrics.

In 1985, Megadeth released its debut album Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good!, which reached platinum certification in the United States. The album’smoderate commercial success caught the attention of big labels. Megadeth signed with Capitol Records, releasing a number of successful albums including Countdown to Extinction (1992), Youthanasia (1994) and Cryptic Writings (1997). These albums, along with worldwide tours, brought substantial mainstream attention to the band. In 2001, following a hiatus due to frontman Dave Mustaine’s arm injury from a fall at his home, Megadeth returned with The World Needs a Hero (2001). It was not well received by critics or fans; according to Mustaine it sold “two copies”. In 2004 he released The System Has Failed; although not a commercial success by any means it was critically acclaimed as some of their best work in years past. In 2010 he released Endgame which debuted at #11 on Billboard 200 selling 44k copies making it their highest charting album since 1994’s Youthanasia as well So Far… The Best Of which was a greatest hits album that spanned their entire recording career up until that point debuting at #24 selling 34k copies. In 2013 he released Super Collider which debuted at #6 on Billboard 200 selling 38k copies thus becoming their 4th top 10 album. Dave has said himself that this is his favorite record that he has ever made. As of 2016 they are still touring and have sold over 50 million records worldwide making them one of the most commercially successful heavy metal bands of all time.


Slayer is an American metal band from Huntington Park, California. Formed in 1981 by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, drummer Dave Lombardo, and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya, Slayer’s fast and aggressive musical style made them one of the founding “big four” bands of thrash metal, alongside Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Slayer’s current lineup comprises King, Araya, guitarist Gary Holt and drummer Paul Bostaph. Hanneman and Lombardo are former members of the band.

Slayer’s music involves fast tremolo picking, double bass drumming, screaming vocals and heavily distorted guitars. The band’s lyrics frequently deal with topics such as death, violence, war and satanism. Central to their music are the Serpents of Chaos—seven demons that often appear in Slayer artwork. Most of Slayer’s musical influences were not metal bands; King has said their biggest influence was 1970s hard rock group Aerosmith.

Despite its criticising reviews upon release in 1986, Reign in Blood has been cited as one of the most influential metal albums ever recorded; it has been ranked highly on lists by Kerrang!, Guitar World and Rolling Stone magazine. Reign in Blood helped define what thrash metal was both musically and lyrically; AllMusic described it as “the heaviest album ever made”. It was certified double platinum after only two months of release by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Between 1991–2013 it sold more than three million copies in the US alone. The album remains one of Slayer’s most popular releases; it was ranked number 272 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2003 and appeared on several lists commemorating Metal Blade Records’ 35th anniversary in 2019


Anthrax is an American heavy metal band from New York City, formed in 1981 by guitarist Scott Ian and bassist Charlie Benante. Anthrax’s first album, Fistful of Metal, was released in 1984 on the independent label Megaforce Records. Primarily a thrash metal band, Anthrax pioneered the subgenre speed metal in the mid-1980s. They have released eleven studio albums, several other compilations and live albums. According to Nielsen SoundScan, Anthrax sold 2.5 million records in the United States from 1991 to 2004, with worldwide sales of 10 million.


Formed in Berkeley, California in 1983, Testament is a heavy metal band that helped pioneer the thrash metal sound. The band has seen many line-up changes over the years, with singer Chuck Billy and guitarist Eric Peterson being the only constant members. Testament has released eleven studio albums, with their most recent being 2016’s Brotherhood of the Snake.

Their debut album, The Legacy, was released in 1987 and is considered one of the greatest thrash metal albums of all time. It was followed by 1988’s The New Order and 1990’s Practice What You Preach, both of which were also highly acclaimed. With each album, Testament’s sound became heavier and more technical. They are considered one of the best heavy metal bands of all time and have influenced many other bands in the genre.


Formed in 1979, Exodus is a thrash metal band from the United States. With albums like “Bonded by Blood” and “Fabulous Disaster”, Exodus helped to pioneer the thrash metal genre. The band has undergone many lineup changes over the years, but founding members Gary Holt and Tom Hunting have remained constants. Exodus is currently signed to Nuclear Blast Records.


Death is an American heavy metal band from Orlando, Florida, founded in 1983 by guitarist and vocalist Chuck Schuldiner. Death is considered to be one of the most influential bands in heavy metal and a pioneering force in the extreme metal subgenre of death metal. Its debut album, Scream Bloody Gore, has been widely regarded as the first death metal record, while the band’s individual style was vastly influential on subsequent death metal acts.

The band’s name was derived from Schuldiner’s fascination with horror films. He often took inspiration from these films and incorporated it into his music. Death has been through several line-up changes, with Schuldiner being the only constant member. The band ceased to exist after Schuldiner’s death in 2001, but it was reformed in May 2009 by seven of the musicians who had played on its most successful albums. It resumed touring in 2011 and released its first album in 13 years titled Spiritual Healing in February of that year to critical acclaim.

Death has released seven studio albums, four live albums, one compilation album, one demo album, thirty-two singles and ten music videos.


Obituary is an American death metal band formed in Tampa, Florida, in 1984. The band’s current lineup consists of founding members John Tardy (lead vocals) and Trevor Peres (guitar), brother Donald Tardy (drums), Ken Andrews (bass), and Pittsboro, North Carolina native Obituary is considered one of the pioneering bands of the death metal genre. Their first two albums, Slowly We Rot (1989) and Cause of Death (1990), are considered cornerstones of the early death metal sound. Starting with their third album, The End Complete (1992), Obituary transitioned into a more groove-based sound. The band has released ten studio albums, and with the exceptions of 1997’s Back from the Dead and 2005’s Frozen in Time, all have been released through Roadrunner Records.


Destruction is a German thrash metal band, formed in 1984. They are considered one of the “Big Four” of the thrash metal genre, along with Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Destruction’s debut album, Sentence of Death, was released in 1985. The band has released fifteen studio albums, three live albums, five compilation albums and two EPs.

Destruction was formed in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany in 1984 by guitarists Schmier and Mike Sifringer. Schmier had previously played bass for the amateur band Venom (not to be confused with the British black metal band). Sifringer came from a hardcore punk background, having played drums for Sopunk. Drummer Oliver Kaiser and bassist Harry Wilkens completed the lineup.

Kaiser was soon replaced by Tommy Sandmann. The first three songs written by the band were “Invincible Force”, “Total desaster” and “Bestial Invasion”. These songs were recorded in May 1985 at Music LabStudio in Berlin and released as a self-titled 4-song demo tape that same month. This attracted the attention of Excessive Noise Records, who offered to release Destruction’s debut album.

TheSentence of Death EP was recorded in June 1985 at Studio Janski in Hannover with producer Harris Johns (known for his work with Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys album). It was released that September on 7″ vinyl format (with an alternate cover), followed by a cassette release (also with alternate cover) through Excessive Noise Records. In November 1985, Destruction toured Europe with Tankard and Exodus as part of the Metal Maniaxe package tour.

In 1986, Destruction entered Studio 1in Kempen with producer Harris Johns to record their first full-length album Release from Agony, which was released that September on vinyl format by Steamhammer/SPV; it was also issued on CD format by Roadrunner Records outside Germany


One of Germany’s “big four” thrash metal bands, Kreator blasted out of Essen in 1984. Kreator’s style changed over the years, from black-thrash to Teutonic thrash to straight-up death metal, but they’ve always been one of the most extreme and controversial bands in metal. Kreator’s albums include Endless Pain (1985), Pleasure to Kill (1986), Coma of Souls (1990) and Violent Revolution (2001). They’re currently working on a new album, set for release in early 2017.

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