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10 bands who prove you don’t need a guitar to be heavy

Metal bands without guitars
(Image credit: All press)

Sorry drummers, bassists and keyboard players everywhere – metal is built on the guitar. From the ominous chords that opened Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album more than 50 years ago onwards, six strings have ruled all.

Well, not quite all. A handful of bands have managed to conjure up all manner of almighty noise without relying on the instrument. From subterranean doom merchants to rave-metal kingpins, here are 10 bands who don’t need a guitar to be heavy.

Metal Hammer line break

Botanist

San Francisco black metal avant gardeners Botanist swap out pretty much all of the genre’s cliches in their strange, swirling noise. But most noticeable is the lack of guitars - instead, blast beats are layered on top hammered dulcimers, harmoniums and brilliantly weird lyrics about the plant kingdom.


The Hu

When is a guitar not a guitar? When it’s a Tovshuur – an ancient lute-type instrument, as played by Mongolian folk-metal heroes The Hu. In fact the four-piece’s self-professed “hunnu rock” swerves pretty much all Western instruments, not just the guitar. The result sounds like nothing else out there.


Bell Witch

Doom’s subterranean heaviness works surprisingly well without a guitar – just crank up the bass and drums and the result is even more intense. Stygian Seattle duo Bell Witch are living proof – their sepulchral, half-a-mile-per-hour noise is just as ominous as any of their six-string-toting peers.


Scarlxrd

One of the shining stars of the trap metal movement that burst out of the underground at the tail end of the 2010s, Scarlxrd's scabrous mix of pulsating, bassy reverb and furious rap took him from YouTube to stages around the world. The only thing heavier than his tunes are his chaos-inducing live shows. 


Suicide

New York duo Suicide rose to notoriety as part of the 70s New York punk scene, but they were a world away from the Ramones. Instead, their provocative sound was built entirely on chain-wielding singer Alan Vega’s confrontational whisper and keyboard player Martin Rev’s oppressive synthesiser. Their harrowing 1977 anti-anthem Frankie Teardrop remains the most terrifying song ever written.


Apocalyptica

The metal world struggled to get its head around Apocalyptica when they emerged in the mid-90s: a band covering Metallica… on cellos?! But the Finns have worked that sound hard, eventually ditching the covers for original material. And with the exception of 2006’s Worlds Collide album - which featured guest appearances from Rammstein‘s Richard Kruspe and Japanese six-string wizard Hoteii – the guitars have remained absent.


Backxwash

She may have sampled a bit of Sabbath to help bring the heavy, but Ashanti Mutinta's scintillating blend of industrial, hip hop and heavy metal remains one of the most unique musical concoctions of recent years. How music this evil could be crafted without a solitary instrument in the studio still blows our mind. 


Lightning Bolt

A gig by Rhode Island noise-rock provocateurs Lightning Bolt is like nothing else on earth: a drummer and a bassist playing on the floor rather than the stage, summoning up an unhinged thunderstorm of fury without having to rely on anything so passé as a guitar, as anyone who has had their eardrums ruptured by them can vouch.


Cop Shoot Cop

Pretty much anything went on the late 80s/early 90s New York underground scene - in fact, ditching guitars was pretty low on the out-there scale. Still, sneering Lower East Side noiseniks Cop Shoot Cop’s twin-bass attack was as abrasive as anything their plank-spanking contemporaries were churning out at the time.


Carpenter Brut

Synthwave's grand fromage has enamoured the metal scene with music that sounds like it was destined to soundtrack an 80s horror-themed Halloween rave. Through 2018's Leather Teeth and this year's Leather Terror, the French producer has even gone as far as piecing together his own fictional slasher story. What's more metal than that? 

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