The 10 greatest heavy metal power trios

Lemmy Kilmister onstage with Motörhead in 2015
(Image credit: Samir Hussein/Redferns via Getty Images)

When you think of a metal band, you most likely imagine one with four or five members. After all, vocals, bass, drums and at least one guitar is the most traditional set up.

But, ever since the genesis of heavy metal, artists have repeatedly proven that the power of three is enough to invent, improve or define a subgenre. Whether they’re multitasking or just cutting an instrument out of the equation completely, they can make it work. Below is our selection of the 10 best heavy metal power trios, who prove that less really is more.

Metal Hammer line break


Lemmy once declared, “The only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud!”, and Motörhead’s music embodied that spirit. Almost always a trio revolving around their mutton-chopped frontman, the Brits’ rowdy songs inspired thrash and spawned countless wannabes. They remain one of metal’s most influential ambassadors, even after their leader’s 2015 death.

Sleep / High On Fire

As riffmaster general of doom trio Sleep, Matt Pike was key in dragging Black Sabbath’s hazy guitar sludge into the 1990s. The guitarist then formed stoner/thrash juggernaut High On Fire, who reaffirmed not only his skill in dealing out weed-stenched heaviness, but also his love of being in a three-piece.


Throughout their 40-year career, Melvins have become one of our most important underground bands. Their influence can be found in numerous genres, particularly sludge and grunge, but their insistence on experimentation has seen them dabble in noise, electronica and ambient jazz. They’ve consistently pushed the bounds of heavy music.  


Thrash-funk, absurdist rock, psychedelic polka – however you want to categorise Primus, there’s simply never been another band quite like them. For 30 years, the Californian trio, led by the incomparable Les Claypool, have packed their bizarre, caricaturistic metal with enough punch that their songs are instantly identifiable and simply unforgettable.


Venom were so influential that the black metal subgenre was named after their second album. Their penchant for going hard, fast and grimy set them apart from their peers and they were a huge influence on Megadeth, Kreator and Slayer. They even had Metallica open for them on an early 80s tour!


One of the earliest true heavy metal bands, Cardiff’s Budgie took the blues rock and prog of the 1960s and gave it some extra crunch. Paving the way for everyone from Metallica and Iron Maiden to Van Halen and Soundgarden, their 10 albums between 1971 and 1982 chart the genesis of this genre.


When Cynic released debut album Focus in 1993, there wasn’t a single band you could compare them to. Truly the forefathers of progressive metal as we know and love it today, the release remains an utterly timeless debut, and they’ve since added three equally great albums to their catalogue.

Voice Of Baceprot

This Indonesian trio’s story is astounding. Coming up through YouTube, they garnered attention with their pairing of groove-laden heavy metal and proudly feminist lyricism. They secured glowing endorsements from Tom Morello and Slash, and last year’s debut album Retas delivered the goods in spades. The future is bright with VOB in it.


Prong were one of the leading lights for groove metal in the early 90s, alongside the likes of Pantera, Machine Head and Sepultura. That they also rose from the New York hardcore scene and dabbled in the arts of industrial metal and thrash helps their records hold up well to this day. 

Russian Circles

Pioneers in the post-metal space, Russian Circles make their three-man lineup sound thousand-strong. Dave Turncrantz’s shotgun drums, Brian Cook’s thunderous bass and guitarist Mike Sullivan’s innovative use of looper pedals turn the band’s songs into gargantuan and always-cacophonous movements. Their live shows are among the loudest you’ll ever experience, too.