Best Heavy Metal Bands Of All Time: Top 5 Legendary Rockers, According To Experts

Perhaps nothing is as motivating or cathartic as jamming out to a great heavy metal band. Whether you’re looking for a little extra motivation or just need to escape after a long day at the office, it pays to know the best heavy metal bands of all time. And speaking of motivation, a recent survey discovered that listening to the right music can help boost your workouts. 

A recent survey commissioned by RockMyRun sought to discover the role music played in motivating people to exercise. The survey asked 2,000 Americans with regular workout routines about their music-listening preferences. A whopping 65 percent of respondents say they’d have little to no motivation to work out without their favorite jams playing on their earbuds or in the background. Of the respondents, nearly 70 percent experience an increase in performance due to listening to music while working out

Listening to music aside, there are also plenty of benefits to playing music, especially the drums. Researchers from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany analyzed a group of seasoned drummers’ brains and found that playing the drums positively influences brain structure and activity. The research team studied a group of 20 professional drummers with an average of 17 years of experience. 

Compared to non-drummers and non-musicians, the drummers’ brains appeared to be organized more efficiently and possess thicker connecting fibers between the two halves of the brain. Although the group of drummers had fewer than normal connecting fibers between the two halves of the brain, these fibers appeared thicker and stronger in drummers’ brains than those of non-drummers or non-musicians. That’s definitely a reason to rethink your teenager’s request for a new set of drums this Christmas

Out of all the amazing rockers in history, how can we possibly choose who is number one? StudyFinds consulted 10 music review and critic websites to find the best heavy metal bands of all time. Our list is comprised of recommendations from across these websites. As always, feel free to share your picks with us in the comments section below!

The List: Best Heavy Metal Bands of All Time, Per Music Junkies

1. Metallica

Topping the list is none other than Metallica, one of the most popular bands of all time in general. The band came to prominence in the ’80s and continued topping the charts for the next few decades. Even today, both old and new Metallica songs can be heard on radio stations across America. 

Metallica group members today
Metallica group members today (

“In the 80s, glam and heavy rock competed for the attention of the public. It was then Metallica came into the scene with a sound so unmistakably heavy that it was given its own name: thrash metal. In 1986, by the time they released ‘Master of Puppets,’ Metallica became one of the very first metal acts to reach a mainstream audience,” writes Musician Wave

However, like most successful music groups, Metallica isn’t without its share of criticism from fans and critics. “Metallica are icons. Gods. Whatever hyperbole you wish to insert here, the shoe fits. An omnipresent, monolithic presence on the metal scene, it’s often worth reminding yourself exactly why this has happened to Metallica, rather than the temptation, when discussing their unwieldy career, to focus on their various missteps,” explains Louder Sound

And the list of great albums released by Metallica just keeps growing. “They are considered one of the first and most influential thrash metal bands, and their subsequent 1988 album …And Justice For All would net them a Grammy. However, their 1991 self-titled album provided a more mainstream sound, growing their fanbase substantially,” adds Music Grotto

2. Black Sabbath

The next band on the list of the best heavy metal bands of all time takes us back in time – Black Sabbath. Perhaps the most influential heavy metal band of all time, Black Sabbath created a sound that hadn’t really been heard before. With heavy guitar riffs and thumping drum solos, Black Sabbath defined an entire genre of music. 

Ozzy Osbourne on stage with Black Sabbath
Ozzy Osbourne on stage with Black Sabbath (

“Often considered one of the first heavy metal bands, Black Sabbath’s 1970 self-titled debut album was a commercial success, though few critics had anything positive to say. They followed this up later that year with Paranoid and then 1971’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. These three albums came to shape the sound of the metal genre for generations to come,” writes Music Grotto

Black Sabbath, known to many heavy metal fans as simply “Sabbath,” is led by one of the most recognizable personalities in music history – Ozzy Osborne. But that’s not the extent of this group’s famous members. Black Sabbath also featured one of the best heavy metal guitar players of all time: Tony Iommi. 

“While the songs of Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne are metal through and through, they appeared in a context where metal music still didn’t exist. At the time they released their legendary self-titled debut album, Black Sabbath were simply trying to reinvent psychedelic rock. Needless to say, they were successful,” adds Musician Wave

Still, Black Sabbath faced plenty of adversity throughout the years, starting with an epic split. “Frontman Ozzy Osbourne was pushed out in 1979, but they recruited Ronnie James Dio and immediately cut Heaven and Hell, inarguably one of their finest works. They’ve been through an insane number of singers and lineups since, but in 1997 Sabbath reunited the classic foursome for a triumphant series of reunion tours,” adds Rolling Stone

3. Slayer

Slayer appeared on 80 percent of the lists we referenced, and for good reason, too. With iconic songs, hoards of loyal fans, and an unforgettable sound, Slayer is an original ’80s metal band. 

“The band initially built an underground following, touring the West Coast and with the release of their debut, self-funded album, Show No Mercy. It was their 1986 record Reign In Blood that put Slayer on the global map, with shorter, faster songs that merged metal and hardcore punk,” explains Music Grotto

And did we mention that Slayer has gobs of loyal fans? “It’s possible that no other metal band has amassed a group of fans as loyal and hardcore as Slayer. Even when they are on the bill with Metallica, it seems like more fans are in the audience wearing Slayer t-shirts than those of the headliner. From the second they walk onstage, the thrash-metal giants whip the crowd into a violent frenzy unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” writes Rolling Stone

One thing is for sure, Slayer has never shied away from tackling edgy, controversial topics and themes with their music“Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman, Dave Lombardo and Tom Araya have battled bans, lawsuits and criticism galore thanks to the taboo subjects… approached in the band’s lyrics and artwork,” adds Louder Sound

4. Iron Maiden

Jamming into the fourth spot on the list is none other than Iron Maiden. Similar to Slayer, fans of Iron Maiden are passionate about this group’s music and their place in heavy metal history. 

Iron Maiden's Steve Harris on the Legacy of the Beast Tour
Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris on the Legacy of the Beast Tour (Photo by JOHN McMURTRIE 2018)

“There’s almost no such thing as a casual Iron Maiden fan. People are either vaguely aware there’s a metal band that sings that song ‘Run To The Hills,’ or they’re wearing a vintage Fear Of The Dark Shirt at a Maiden show screaming at the top of their lungs for Wrathchild,” writes Rolling Stone

Like most heavy metal bands of their time, Iron Maiden has explored various lead singers. “Few metal bands have been more prolific or influential than British rockers Iron Maiden. Releasing nearly an album per year throughout the 1980s, they established themselves as a premier heavy metal act. After Paul Di’Anno sang lead on the first several albums, the band shot to the top of the charts when Bruce Dickinson took over as lead singer for their 1982 mega-hit album The Number Of The Beast,” explains Music Grotto

Again, Iron Maiden isn’t this successful without receiving a fair share of criticism. “Despite a lack of radio airplay or mainstream media support, early allegations of Satanism, and a revolving lineup, IRON MAIDEN have consistently remained one of the most important, successful and influential heavy metal bands of all time,” adds Loaded Radio

5. Pantera

Rounding out the list is one of the heaviest and most hardcore bands on this list, Pantera. Also known as the Cowboys of Hell, the band embodies the essence of heavy metal music. With a distinctive, heavy guitar and bass sound and growling lyrics, Pantera is one of the best heavy metal bands of all time for various reasons. 

“From Texas to the world, Pantera is one of the best metal bands of all time for many reasons. But I will give you the main three: they were super popular in the 90s, they virtually created the sound of groove metal, and they were extremely influential in terms of metal-music production,” explains Musician Wave

Even though Pantera virtually created Groove Metal, the band is deeply rooted in traditional heavy metal music“Pantera still owes its music from trash metal and more traditional heavy metal genres. However, their songs are unique in that it involves down-tuned guitars, syncopated rhythms, and heavy guitar riffs. Add to these elements the screaming and raspy singing of Phil Anselmo and you have a metal group that loves to hear its fans screaming in front of them,” explains Guitar Junky

Phil Anselmo is, perhaps, one of the best front men in the history of music, not just heavy metal. Anselmo lives and breathes his music, and that’s totally apparent every time he and Pantera take the stage at a live show. 

“Not a duff moment in sight, but the real legend of Pantera is the jaw dropping live shows and the sense of community they fostered in the metal scene, keeping metal true, real and relevant during the genres most testing of times,” adds Louder Sound

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  1. All good bands obviously, but no Judas priest? I love Pantera’s sound, but I consider Judas priest more legendary. I still listen to Pantera more often though so I guess… umm, I’ll shut up

  2. Maiden should be number 1 and no mention of Judas Priest or Dio? Sorry but this list is way off.

  3. Any article rating Slayer over Iron Maiden is frankly ridiculous. I just can’t take this seriously. Like comparing a Rolls Royce to a Fiat.

  4. Iron maiden well above slayer all day long. They have been the most consistent band in music. He says metallica for the last thirty years selling out arenas and festivals all over the world. Their tours are legendary and they show no signs of letting up. Up the irons troopers

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