Readers' Poll: The Top 10 Metal Bands of All Time - Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The Top 10 Metal Bands of All Time

Selections include Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Megadeth

metallica 1986

Grant Davis./Redferns

Last week we asked our readers to vote for their favorite metal bands. As predicted, we got tons of feedback. No poll we've ever conducted has racked up so many votes. You metal fans are a devoted bunch. The results of these readers' polls are sometimes thrown off when the fanbase of a certain group mobilizes and stuffs the ballot box. We have little doubt that Dream Theater would have ranked high on this list no matter what, but the group tweeted the voting link to all their fans. Bear that in mind when you see how high they ranked. If the Bay City Rollers fans had done that, we simply would have yanked all the votes, but Dream Theater are an amazing metal band and we are going with the results as they stand. No other ranking should shock many people, unless you don't see Led Zeppelin as a metal band. The line between hard rock and metal is murky at times, so we're going to let that stand as well. Feel free to flame away in the comments, but remember that we are merely counting your votes here.

By Andy Greene

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10. Tool

Tool aren't the most prolific metal band out there – they've released only four albums since their formation in 1990. By comparison's sake, Black Sabbath released their fourth album about three years into their career. But despite their minimal output and complete lack of hit singles, Tool have built up one of the biggest cult audiences in all of metal. The band broke big in 1993, right at the height of the alternative music movement. They didn't sound anything like Pearl Jam or Smashing Pumpkins, but they still gained a big following with the release of their debut LP, Undertow, particularly after they toured with Lollapalooza that summer. MTV even put their video for "Sober" into semi-regular rotation. Since then, their audience has grown, despite long gaps between projects. Their last album hit in 2006, but they have reportedly been working on a new album for the past couple of years. 

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9. Pantera

Back in the Eighties and Nineties, Pantera was the band for metal fans who felt Metallica didn't rock quite hard enough. The thrash metal band had a devoted following all through the Eighties, but the release of Cowboys From Hell brought them to a huge audience, which only grew two years later when they dropped Vulgar Display of Power. Long-simmering tensions between frontman Phil Anselmo and guitarist Dimebag Darrell reached a boiling point in 2003 and the band split up. The next year, Dimebag was touring with his new band, Damageplan (also featuring his brother and Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul), when a deranged fan killed him onstage in Columbus, Ohio.  No clear motive for the murder has ever surfaced, but the tragedy forever ruled out the possibility of a Pantera reunion. 

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8. Led Zeppelin

We can debate all day about whether or not Led Zeppelin are an actual metal band. It'll get us nowhere. What's undeniable is the fact that generations of metal guitars worship at the altar of Jimmy Page. Also, the entire genre of music probably would have been a little different had they not created albums like Led Zeppelin II. That LP hit shelves a few months before Black Sabbath's debut, and both had an incalculable impact on the genre. The group split when drummer John Bonham died in 1980, but they've reformed for a handful of gigs over the years, most notably at London's 02 Arena in 2007. They rehearsed an elaborate two-hour show, but Robert Plant refused to take it on the road. And they haven't even released the video of the show they shot that night. C'mon guys, we're dying over here! Robert, you have to suck it up and spend just six months on the road with Zeppelin. We all do things in life we don't want to do, and you'll bring joy to millions of people. If you're reading this, give it some more thought. 

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7. Judas Priest

There's no ambiguity about whether or not Judas Priest are a metal band. The group formed in Birmingham, England right around the time that Black Sabbath began, but it took them a few more years to gain a big following. By the release of 1980's British Steel they were one of the biggest metal bands in the world, and they held onto that role until frontman Rob Halford left in 1992. They had some lean years with Tim "Ripper" Owens as the frontman, but they came back strong when Halford returned in 2003. The band are in the midst of a world tour, though founding member K.K. Downing recently left the fold. 

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6. Megadeth

Dave Mustaine was the original guitarist in Metallica, but they fired him in 1983 due to his chronic alcoholism and personality clashes with the rest of the band. Pissed when they gave him the boot, he immediately decided to form a group that would wipe Metallica off the map. He didn't succeed with that, but Megadeth did evolve into one of the most potent metal forces of the Eighties. The lineup has changed a lot over the years, but Mustaine has always stayed at the helm, and in 2010 the group hit the road with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. The show ended with all four groups jamming, and Mustaine and the rest of Metallica finally shared the stage again. 

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5. Slayer

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. At Yankee Stadium this summer, it was a beautiful sight. Their most beloved record may be 1986's Reign In Blood, which was produced by Rick Rubin, but to Slayer fans, every LP is a classic. The quartet still tours with the original lineup, though guitarist Jeff Hanneman was forced to miss some shows after becoming infected with flesh-eating bacteria on his arm. 

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4. Iron Maiden

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." Not even Rush manages to fill arenas with nothing but super-hardcore fans. Frontman Bruce Dickinson joined the band in 1982 for their classic LP The Number of the Beast, and even though he took some time off in the Nineties to focus on his solo career, he's still leading the group. They just wrapped a world tour behind their 2010 LP The Final Frontier, but they should be back at it in another couple of years. 

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3. Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath did heavy metal first, and they may have done it best. Has any metal group managed to improve on songs like "Children of the Grave," "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" or "War Pigs?" The Birmingham band started in 1968, and by the early Seventies were introducing metal to people all over the planet. 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. Word is they are working on their first LP since 1978's Never Say Die!, but they have yet to confirm that. 

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2. Dream Theater

Dream Theater is the perfect marriage of prog rock and heavy metal. If you've never heard the group, a good starting place is "The Big Medley" from their 1995 EP A Change of Seasons. It somehow combines Pink Floyd's "In the Flesh," Kansas' "Carry On Wayward Son," Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Turn It On Again" by Genesis. It's a tough thing to pull off, but they do it with ease. That's not to imply Dream Theater is a cover band. The group has 11 studio albums, dating all the way back to 1989. Drummer Mike Portnoy left the band last year, but guitar great John Petrucci remains, and the band is still extremely active. 

As we noted earlier, Dream Theater tweeted this poll to their fans, which helps explain why they ranked so high. 

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1. Metallica

Metallica fans love to complain. They complained when the band made a video for "One" in 1989. They complained two years later when they scored a giant crossover hit with "Enter Sandman." They really went nuts a few years later when they cut their hair, put a photo of blood and semen on their album cover and recorded with Marianne Faithfull. They complained when the band waged war against Napster, and again in 2003 when they made the drums sound all crazy on St. Anger. 2008's Death Magnetic was supposed to be a return to form, but fans complained about Rick Rubin's ultra-compressed mix of the album. How does the band respond to that? They record an album with Lou Reed that most of their hardcore fans are guaranteed to hate. The band has always done exactly what they felt like doing, and it's no coincidence they still pack stadiums all over the world. They must have been doing something right all of these years. 

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