The 8 Ball 7.12.14: Top 8 Metal Frontmen
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.12.2014
From Metallica's James Hetfield and Rob Halford of Judas Priest to Ozzy Osbourne, Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 metal frontmen of all-time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Metal Frontmen
Welcome one and all to the 411 Music 8 Ball! Jeremy Thomas here as always and today we're going deep into metal territory. This week Judas Priest released their seventeenth album Redeemer of Souls, which I loved (you can check out my review here. Rob Halford's vocal stylings on the album got me thinking about the great metal frontmen. It takes a very specific kind of voice, attitude and presence to make it in the metal world when you're fronting a band, and many have tried and failed to capture that magic. This week we're going to look at the ones who have risen to the top and become gods of the metal scene.
Caveat: There are going to be a fair number of frontmen that people will think I forgot about, but I didn't. The definition of "what is metal" is a hard one to make, but there are some acts I just don't consider metal. Guns N' Roses and many bands lumped into the hair metal genre were really more just hard rock and so you won't see Axl Rose on the list. Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple were deeply influential in setting the groundwork for the metal sound but they were not in and of themselves metal. Many hard rock acts don't fall into the metal arena either for me including Disturbed and Tool.
In terms of criteria for ranking, the list was assembled based on vocal ability, stage presence, charisma, impact and influence on metal and of course personal preference.
Just Missing The Cut
• Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth)
• Tom Araya (Slayer)
• Dave Mustaine (Megadeth)
• Peter Steele (Type O Negative)
• Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour)
#8: M. Shadows (Avenged Sevenfold)
First up on our list is the youngest member of the top eight in M. Shadows. Born Matthew Sanders, Shadows is easily the greatest of the newer guard of metal frontmen and frankly he's more than a little underrated as well. He has one of the best voices in metal currently and has shown quite a bit of versatility, toning the guttural screams down from the metalcore-esque Sounding the Seventh Trumpet to a more melodic style. That being said, he's not afraid to bring the growls back when it's appropriate and they have a lot stronger impact when they aren't non-stop, something many frontmen in his era have yet to realize. He also happens to have an incredible level of charisma and Avenged Sevenfold concerts are considered to be among the best metal gigs to go to these days. It was tough leaving some of the more well-established names in the genre hanging just outside of the top ten but Shadows deserves his due and given time he could easily rise much higher on this list as he continues to build his name as a metal heavyweight.
#7: Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Down)
I don't know that there's anyone who exemplified the 1990s metal frontman role better than Phil Anselmo. It was a difficult decade for metal; grunge has put the final nail in the coffin of hair rock and metal was largely fighting for survival in an increasingly market that was increasingly hostile to it. And yet Pantera survived and even flourished, delivering some of the best metal music of the decade. Anselmo is one of those guys who lived the metal lifestyle as much as he delivered the music; he famously was clinically dead for four to five minutes in 1996 after a heroin overdose. But it isn't his antics that place him on this list; it was his impact on the new wave of American heavy metal. Anselmo's vocal growls and pure aggression fueled metal through its darker times and left a strong imprint that many other bands have been heavily influenced by. Since the band's breakup he has gone on to be the frontman for metal supergroup Down, where he continues to show why he's one of the best metal frontmen of all-time.
#6: James Hetfield (Metallica)
James Hetfield is easily one of the best-known frontmen in metal. And it isn't an undeserved honor; over the years Hetfield has established himself in the upper echelon through just about every aspect of his skills. His voice is just about perfect for metal; not too growly but certainly not overly melodic either and it has the ability to carry many different emotions across. Over the years he has only gotten better; even when during the band's rougher years he's been a great singer and a charismatic frontman. The image of Hetfield standing on stage with his feet planted apart as he powers his way through a song is iconic whether you're talking about the long-haired Hetfield of the '80s and early '90s or the short-cut one that followed. He's suffered his wounds on the battlefield as well, in that 1992 incident where pyrotechnics left him severely burned. Never one to give up, he worked his way back to health and has gone on to rock again. People can dislike what Metallica's become in terms of the Napster nonsense or the different directions their music has taken, but you can't deny how good of a frontman Hetfield is for the band and the genre in general.
#5: Lemmy (Motörhead)
Coming in at number five is one of the true elder statesmen of metal...or at least he would be, if he considered himself a statesman. And lest anyone think that that's a slam, let me assure you that it isn't. Lemmy Kilmister is a man who maintains the rock and roll attitude that helped him rise to prominence in the 1970s and '80s, even if his body doesn't quite allow him to live the same lifestyle anymore. Motörhead was one of the best metal bands throughout those years, and a lot of that had to do with Lemmy's stage presence, gravelly growl of a voice and undeniable bass playing. There are a lot of bands, particularly in the metal genre, where you can argue that no one person forms the identity of that band. Metallica isn't just James Hetfield or Lars Ulrich; Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo and even former members Jason Newsted and Cliff Burton are as much of the band's identity. As much as Axl Rose is carrying on Guns N' Roses on his own, almost everyone agrees it's not the same without at least Slash (not to mention Duff McKagan and the rest). While I'm not discounting the contributions of Wizzö, Mikkey Dee, Phil Taylor or any other member of the band, Lemmy quite frankly is Motörhead and you couldn't have a version of the band that didn't include him. It's just that simple.
#4: Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath)
This is one of those picks that is really hard to even argue against. Do you need a testament to how important Ozzy Osbourne is a metal frontman? Well, with no disrespect intended to Ronnie James Dio (and don't worry, we'll get to him), without Ozzy one of the greatest acts in the history of heavy metal took a sudden downward spiral. Osbourne took Mick Jagger's wild, frenetic stage act and added a distinctly dark twist to it. The Prince of Darkness is undoubtedly one of metal's greatest frontman, with a voice that can't be stopped and an attitude that made for some of the greatest legends of rock and roll. This is a man who is the subject of some of the most legendary on-stage actions of all time, even if that whole "biting the head off a bat" thing was semi-accidental (Ozzy swears he thought it was a fake bat). Ozzy has an intense charisma onstage and even though most people think of him as that doddering old guy from the Osbourne reality show, when he gets on stage he still puts on an amazing show.
#3: Rob Halford (Judas Priest)
When it comes to metal gods, you really can't argue with the man who first earned that very nickname. Rob Halford has (or at least had) one of the top two voices in metal period. His patented wail on tracks like "Painkiller," "Breaking the Law" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" are the stuff of legend and he's been keeping the metal crowd on its toes for forty years now. But it isn't just the voice that places Halford near the top of this list; it is his impact on the look and style of metal. Judas Priest was incredibly influential on the direction of the genre, helping to shape it with their fellow early innovators while Halford introduced the biker look into the heavy metal style. And then there's his absolutely relentless stage presence; when Halford takes the stage the audience pays attention. He's known for his over-the-top stage theatrics and for a damned good reason; his stage diving and Harley-riding antics have become hallmarks of metal. And oh yeah, there's also that little six-octave vocal range, which he uses not only to show off his power but his versatility. Honestly, the only problem I expect people to have with this ranking is that it's too low.
#2: Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
The top two are among the greatest frontmen not only in heavy metal but in all of music. Bruce Dickinson may not be my personal favorite frontman but that says nothing about how talented he is. The man has a voice that just won't quit; there is such incredible power in his ability to hold a note and his range is pretty impressive too. Dickinson isn't the only lead singer that Iron Maiden has had; he replaced Paul Di'Anno in 1981 (who himself had been the latest in a few lead singers for the band) spent six years away from the group from 1993 to 1999. Maiden has just never been the same without him though; he's an essential part of making the group what it was and his ability to captivate metalheads during live shows was something the band was certainly happy to see return when he came back. Along with Halford and our #1, Dickinson pretty much pioneered the operatic singing style associated with heavy metal and he remains one of the genre's absolute kings in his ability to turn it on.
#1: Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath, Dio)
I said before that I think Ozzy Osbourne's time away from Black Sabbath led to a downward turn for the band, and that's true. But that really isn't Ronnie James Dio's fault. I firmly believe that he just wasn't as good of a fit for the band as Osbourne was and Dio went on to top not only Ozzy, but every other frontman in the genre when he and Vinnie Appice left Sabbath and formed Dio. With his own band behind him, Dio took what is quite possibly the greatest rock singing voice of all-time and applied it to his own style of metal that just seemed to work better for him. There was no one who could top the man when he was at his best. And when he and Appice teamed up with Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler again to form Heaven & Hell, they were miles ahead of what they did as Sabbath. His stuff before Sabbath as Rainbow was undeniable as well; Dio was able to take hold of your attention and make it impossible to look away. His death in 2010 was a huge blow to heavy metal, a genre that is quite simply lesser with his passing. That's the mark of true greatness right there.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
For this week's Music Video A-Go-Go, I went with one of my favorite frontpeople of hard rock in Lzzy Hale. I don't really consider Halestorm metal so there was no way she would qualify for this list but such is my appreciation for her and the band that I'll use it as an opportunity to share another video of theirs. Check out "Ms. Hyde" below:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.