The guitar has been the cornerstone of metal since the opening notes of Black Sabbath, and there’s never been a legendary metal band without an iconic axe slinger. The guitar makes riffs, and riffs make mosh pits. Doomsayers have been predicting the guitar’s death since the invention of the synthesiser, but these ten upstarts prove a new generation of guitar heroes is ready to take over.
Diamond Rowe (Tetrarch)
Nu metal revivalists Tetrarch have riffs spilling out of their pockets like they were just caught shoplifting. But where Korn made guitar solos so unfashionable even Kirk Hammett had to stop doing them, Diamond Rowe is influenced by the likes of Dimebag, Slash, and Mark Morton. When she needs to step on the gas, she’s got chops Head and Munky couldn’t touch.
Hannah Staphnill & Anna Papadimitriou (Hawxx)
The Hawxx guitarists kept themselves entertained in lockdown with good-humoured shred battles on YouTube, so they enter 2021 with chops intact and a fistful of new songs that need to be heard live. Like the best guitar duos, Hannah and Anna rarely play the same thing at once, creating grooves with massive layers of guitars.
Kieran Johnston (Perpetua)
Edinburgh groove metal merchants Perpetua are gearing up for a new release in 2021 following 2018’s well-received To Suffer EP. Johnston is terrifying, unleashing a hail of shred while his hands barely appear to move. He has a knack for finding gnarly melodies and dissonant notes that keep you interested when you’ve recovered from the g-force of his ridiculous speed.
Stephen Platt (Collibus)
After impressive sets at Wacken and Bloodstock, prog-metallers Collibus are heading for bigger shows with their third album, Trusting the Illusion, released in February 2021. Stephen Platt’s fretwork is undeniably mainstage-ready. Collibus were introduced by Brian May at an unlikely gig in the Houses of Parliament, and Platt’s Queen-esque sense of melody and harmony lift him above textbook shredders.
Serena Cherry & Liam Phelan (Svalbard)
Serena Cherry is most often described as Svalbard’s singer, which overlooks her 50% contribution to their wall of guitars. Cherry and Phelan’s cleverly-layered, reverb-drenched parts sound massive and pack a heavy emotional impact. When Cherry’s vocals are pure screaming, their guitars supply both melody and harmony. These two show that beyond killer riffs and solos, the guitar is a vehicle for creating atmosphere.
Andrew Pevny (Daughter Chaos)
Pevny studied at Berklee College of Music, the prestigious school where Dream Theater formed. Since then he’s played with Arch Enemy frontman Christopher Amott in Armageddon. Daughter Chaos continues in that style, but Pevny’s skill and musicality stand out. There’s killer vibrato and wailing licks that call to mind ‘70s gods like Michael Schenker, so it sounds like as well as going to school Pevny spent plenty of time in grimy metal clubs.
Tim Henson & Scott LePage (Polyphia)
With their fourth album in the works Polyphia are now old hands, but Henson and LePage are still the most arresting and unpredictable guitar tag team on the scene. Tim may have told MusicRadar he wishes guitar music “a painful death”, but this hasn’t stopped him reinventing it with similar passion to his hero Jimi Hendrix. By treating the stuffy world of guitar with such blatant disrespect, Polyphia continue to make it relevant.
Katy Montgomerie (Dehumanaut)
You know what we haven’t heard enough of lately? Whammy bar. Plugging this gap in the market is Bristol’s Katie Montgomerie. On Dehumanaut’s 2020 debut she provides the kind of divebomb-happy performance Kerry King might give were he more inclined to play in tune. It’s been a while since we heard an attack this ferocious, and it’s a welcome return.
John Browne & Olly Steele (Monuments)
With new vocalist Andy Cizek on board, the djentle giants are reinvigorated and spinning their wheels to get back in action after cancelled tours in 2020. Browne and Steele have an unerring groove that makes even their flashiest moments feel funky and tight. They prove guitar brilliance isn’t just for solos, but can make the building blocks for great songs.
Pablo Devila (Irist)
2020 should have been Irist’s year, but a pandemic hurt the momentum of their debut album, released in March. Argentinian guitarist Pablo Devila brings Latin rhythms to modern metal much as Sepultura brought them to thrash. A Latin Mastodon may not be a thing you knew you needed, but Irist’s diverse influences are keeping metal innovative.