Skip to main content

The 50 greatest cult metal bands of all time

Necrophagist

With just two stunning albums (Onset Of Putrefaction in 1999 and Epitaph in 2004), Germany’s Necrophagist helped lay down the blueprint for death metal in the 21st century. Technically dazzling, fiendishly inventive and heroically heavy, the band’s aptly titled second and final effort had the underground salivating and gave countless bands plenty of ideas to plunder for years to come.

Given no official statement of their demise has ever emerged since they last played in 2010, fans have feverishly speculated that a third album might be in the works or even finished. Sadly, the reclusiveness of perfectionist mastermind Muhammed Suiçmez has merely added an air of mystery and meant that any reappearance remains a rumour.

Listen to: Stabwound (Epitaph, 2004)


Confessor

Formed in 1986, this doomy crew from North Carolina split opinion like blue cheese and Brussels sprouts. Fronted by vocalist Scott Jeffreys, whose despairing, ear-piercing caterwauls rivalled the Die Hard franchise for potential glass breakages, Confessor’s complex, stop-start creations baffled a multitude of less resilient listeners, as drummer Steve Shelton’s fondness for fitful rhythmical jerks over steady beats reinforced an alienating rep.

The band collapsed under the weight of their own musical ambition after releasing their heavy-ass debut album, Condemned, in 1991, only getting back together after the death of guitarist Ivan Colon in 2002. Scott now broadcasts on serener frequencies, but metal continues to play catch-up to Confessor’s still-curiously delirious art.

Listen to: Collapse Into Despair (Condemned, 1991)


Lääz Rockit

In 2011, to celebrate their 30th anniversary as a band, Metallica hosted a four-night concert event in their hometown of San Francisco, with each night featuring different surprise openers. On the third evening, fans lost their collective shit when the openers turned out to be none other than Lääz Rockit. The Bay Area five-piece formed in 1982 and their late-80s releases saw them make a compelling case for the much-debated fifth spot after the Big 4 of thrash.

They played with Metallica, Motörhead, Megadeth, Anthrax, Exodus and even Slayer, who opened up for Lääz Rockit in 1984. But inconsistent output and a 1992 breakup would conspire to forever relegate the band to ‘local legend’ status. Still, 1989’s Annihilation Principle stands as one of the greatest thrash albums of all time, and a highly successful 2005 reunion established that there remained much love in the world for Lääz Rockit.

Listen to: Fire In The Hole (Annihilation Principle, 1988)


Painkiller

Featuring the exploratory talents of John Zorn, Bill Laswell and Mick Harris, Painkiller ran John’s thrash-jazz ensemble Naked City towards darker and noisier territories. Their debut album, Guts Of A Virgin, and follow-up EP, Buried Secrets, combined John’s harsh sax bleating, Mick’s final associations with the grindcore and death metal beats he pioneered in Napalm Death, and Bill holding it together with a fat bass that somehow managed to veer into dub slinkiness. No sensibilities were spared as UK authorities found themselves rankled by Guts…’ original ‘obscene’ cover art, while fans found themselves overwhelmed by violent noise and the projection of violent imagery during their live shows.

Listen to: Scud Attack (Guts Of A Virgin, 1991)


God

Almost everything about this British avant-noise troupe was blasphemous. The first and obvious strike was their moniker. Next, the bastardisation and inflation of the parameters of ‘musical ensemble’, then the thematic exploration of the already-scarred underbelly of addiction, sexuality, religion and various combinations thereof. Band leader Kevin Martin, who has since found fame as The Bug, curated a ribald and palpitating factory-floor groove with the help of a lineup that often included two drummers, two bass players, three guitars, a wall of saxophones, woodwinds, samplers and whatever else was lying around. The result was some of the heaviest industrial metal/rock ever to displace organs. In Possession and The Anatomy Of Addiction, Martin and friends – a rotating cast that included Mark E. Smith (The Fall), Justin Broadrick (Godflesh), John Zorn, experimental horn blower Tim Hodgkinson, Alex Buess (16-17), Niko Wenner (Oxbow) and more - gifted two impeccable and thunderous full-lengths rooted in outsider art improv jams and chest-caving potency.

Listen to: On All Fours (The Anatomy Of Addiction, 1994)

Yakuza

It’s only in our topsy-turvy world that the real Yakuza – a ritualistic organised crime syndicate – has a higher profile than these wizards from Chicago, a jazz and world music-inspired/avant-garde/doom/thrash outfit who originally trod the boards from 1999 to the mid-2010s. Better known in underground music nerd circles as the band that introduced saxophonist/vocalist/guitarist Bruce Lamont (Bloodiest, Brain Tentacles) to the world, Yakuza always seemed destined for bigger things, but never failed to disrupt their own progress by deliberately becoming more and more musically impenetrable with each release. Their works, especially 2002’s Way Of The Dead and 2006’s Samsara, were embraced by outlets as diverse as Terrorizer, Rolling Stone and the Chicago Sun-Times as they crushed the boundaries of metal, soared over the heads of the fanbase of tour mates Opeth, Lacuna Coil and The Dillinger Escape Plan, and proved they were way ahead of their time.

Listen to: Miami Device (Way Of The Dead, 2002)


The Blood Brothers

As the emo and post-hardcore boom of the mid-00s began to take over alternative culture, fans of the inventive, manic early version of the genre felt disenfranchised by the new corporate variant they were being spoon-fed. For many, Washington quintet The Blood Brothers provided some much-needed balance. With their third album, 2003’s …Burn, Piano Island, Burn, they gained a significantly larger platform thanks to production from nu metal overlord Ross Robinson. Not everyone got it, but for those who delighted in the unique and acquired taste of dual frontmen Johnny Whitney and Jordan Billie trading screaming chipmunk yelps over scratchy, Fugazi-style guitars, noise-rock freakouts and lyrics that read like serial killer beat poetry, The Blood Brothers became an obsession. The band reached their commercial and creative peak in 2006 with fifth album Young Machetes, before splitting up a year later to little fanfare from the mainstream, but sorrow from a devastated hardcore fanbase. Their influence can still be heard in the boundary-less melting pot of The Armed, or the scattergun blasts of Seeyouspacecowboy.

Listen to: Ambulance vs. Ambulance (…Burn, Piano Island, Burn, 2003)


Pagan Altar

While their Black Sabbath-obsessed brethren Angel Witch and Witchfinder General released some of NWOBMH’s finest LPs, south London’s Pagan Altar only initially managed a self- released tape in 1982. However, their ominous, occult-steeped Hammer horror metal, centred around the father and son duo of Terry and Alan Jones, slowly (it is doom after all) spread with tape trading and helped shape the nascent doom metal scene throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Inspiring a small but fanatical fanbase (known as Templars), they then reunited in the 00s, with help from Solstice guitarist Rich Walker. With the original tape finally seeing a proper release, along with further new slabs of killer, 70s-flavoured doom, plus festival appearances across Europe and North America, Pagan Altar were finally starting to get their due when Terry Jones sadly passed away in 2015. Alan keeps the spirit alive with occasional appearances with Brendan Radigan (Magic Circle/The Rival Mob) doing Jones Senior’s legacy proud.

Listen to: Judgement Of the Dead (Judgement of The Dead, 1982)


The Young Gods

If Geneva’s The Young Gods aren’t more widely renowned, it’s only because their techno-primitive vision was so revolutionary, no one but them knew how to follow it through. Appearing like an cataclysmic fissure amidst the rock landscape, their self-titled debut album still sounds as startling and futuristic as it did 34 years ago, turning sampled metal riffs and classical music into a series of matter-meets-antimatter detonations. This was music to move mountains, at the command of frontman Franz Treichler, whose rich, elemental invocations sounded like the Doors’ Jim Morrison turned wild priest. Ecstatic, restless and still shamanic, TYG have never stopped evolving. From the vast, unstable terrain conjured up by 1989’s L’Eau Rouge, through the rock-pulverising thrill rides of T.V. Sky and Only Heaven, to the by turns exhilarating and sensual electronica of their later albums, they remain a Promethean, life-changing entity, regularly name-checked and held in awe by metal and industrial artists alike.

Listen to: Envoyé! (The Young Gods, 1987)


Reverend Bizarre

In choosing to worship in the church of traditional doom, all signs pointed to Reverend Bizarre living a life of pious toil at the altar of the riff. But call it divine intervention or a deal with the devil: the band didn’t just succeed at championing doom metal in all of its occult-flavoured glory – they excelled at it. Chart success in their native Finland on Crush The Insects and swansong III: So Long Suckers was undoubtedly impressive, but even more amazing was the band’s ability to turn a 16-minute dirge (Teutonic Witch) into a chart-topping single. Less successful outside their home country, the band nonetheless earned reverence from those lucky few who bore witness to their enthralling combination of traditionalism and theatricality. Displaced from time, Reverend Bizarre came too late for the 90s doom-boom, but too early to enjoy the fruits of the 2010s occult rock revival. Even so, Reverend Bizarre skulked so Ghost could loom. 

Listen to: Teutonic Witch (III: So Long Suckers, 2007)