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Lords of the riff: The greatest metal guitarists of all time

10. Robb Flynn & Phil Demmel, Machine Head

Gus G: “Robb and Phil are the creators of some of metal’s greatest riffs. Machine Head are just riff machines – they always have been. Just listen to Davidian and how they use harmonics to break it up and make something truly heavy – it’s such a clever riff! I met them at this year’s Metal Hammer Golden Gods. They’re really cool.”

(Image credit: Travis Shinn)

9. Andreas Kisser, Sepultura

Gus G: “Sepultura were really important for introducing new styles to heavy metal, especially Roots. If you think about it, that’s where nu metal came from. Listen to Slipknot and Coal Chamber, they’re all heavily influenced by Andreas’s powerful riffs with that kinda groove. You can hear his influence in the background of so many bands, not to mention what Sepultura brought in with the whole percussion thing.”

8. Zakk Wylde, Black Label Society

Phil Demmel  “The first thing I think of with Zakk Wylde is his left-hand vibrato – it’s the sickest ever! He uses the entire fretboard
to shake those bends. He’s really bluesy and loves the pentatonic, he’s the master of that, you know? I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Zakk – put a quarter
in that dude and he’ll talk about Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page ’til the sun comes up! He is like the real man’s guitarist – with all those pinched harmonics, he’s truly carrying the torch.”

Zakk Wylde

(Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

7. Kerry King & Jeff Hanneman, Slayer

Phil Demmel: “I first saw Slayer back in ’83 when they had makeup and the Spandex! Since then those guys have written some of the heaviest, most brutal riffs in metal. To be able to write those riffs year after year is amazing. Try playing some of those Slayer songs, the down picking on Postmortem – it’s tough. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman have a gift in brutality and they’re the AC/DC of metal – you know what you’re getting!”

6. KK Downing & Glenn Tipton, Judas Priest

Zakk Wylde: “The cool thing about Priest is that when everyone used to frown about metal and say ‘Don’t call us a heavy metal band’, Priest were always like ‘We are a heavy metal band and we’re proud of it!’ They could write amazing metal songs like You’ve Got Another Thing Coming that could be on the radio, but without any cheesy pop hooks. But they can also write songs like Rapid Fire or Painkiller which are beyond heavy. When you go to see them, it’s like drinking a pint of Guinness – you know what it’s gonna taste like and it’s gonna taste good every time!”

(Image credit: Future)

5. Dave Mustaine, Megadeth

Phil Demmel: “Dave Mustaine is such a precise player, even his riffs feel like solos! When Marty joined them on Rust In Peace, it was just a perfect time for that band – he brought a huge melodic aspect to what they do, there’s an almost sweet and sour contrast, like sweet and angry! 

"They are both such great students of the guitar. Dave’s leads are so pissed off and make such a statement. Together their note selection was just so beautiful, it’s the kind of shredding I’m really into – not burning for the sake of burning but actually adding in choice notes.” 

4. Janick Gers, Dave Murray & Adrian Smith, Iron Maiden

(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns via Getty)

Gus G: “Iron Maiden riffs always just make me wanna fucking headbang. Whenever
their music gets played at metal clubs, everyone just goes fucking crazy, every time. Listen to The Trooper, it’s also one of the easiest choruses, there’s just one big ‘Oh’. 

"You don’t need to know lyrics with a massive hook like that! I remember the first time that I heard it and I was like ’Woah, what in the name of fuck is this song?‘
It sounded like Thin Lizzy on steroids to me! You’ve just gotta love Iron Maiden for their twin guitar sound and all those amazing harmonies.”

3. James Hetfield & Kirk Hammett

Phil Demmel: “I really think that James Hetfield is the best rhythm guitar player in metal. He’s got the tightest, most amazingly strong right hand. He picks with two fingers and his thumb and I think he gets this extra strength out of it, whilst always being precision tight. And Kirk is the master of the memorable solo. 

"His left hand is super quick – we covered Battery and learning that solo wasn’t easy. I wanted to play it note for note but might have missed a few off! We’ve played quite a few shows with Metallica, and night after night to hear 50 or 60,000 people singing his leads says a lot about how memorable they actually are. 

"Kinda melodic but shreddy too. Don’t forget James’s solos too – he’s just so natural with a guitar in his hands. Melting these two styles together but keeping their separate strengths is just the ultimate in synergy.”

2. Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath

Zakk Wylde: “Tony Iommi wrote groundbreaking, legendary and monumental riffs that define an entire genre of music. Into The Void, Iron Man, Paranoid, Electric Funeral, Hole In The Sky, Megalomania... the list goes on! He’s the architect of making music that’s truly special. He created the very blueprint of heavy metal. 

"He invented the wheel, he really did. It’s not just about being a great guitar player – he wrote amazing songs in the  same way The Beatles or The Rolling Stones did. And that is what’s important. I know Tony, and he’s my hero. From growing up with their posters on my wall to actually knowing them – I’m beyond blessed, man.”