Unless they also happen to be the lead vocalist, bass players rarely get any recognition. But without their low-end rumble, heavy metal wouldn't be nearly as menacing as it is. Over its 50 years, metal has turned out some great bassists, but these thirteen stand above the rest.
13. Chuck Garric (Alice Cooper, Beasto Blanco)
Being the bassist for Alice Cooper is a tough gig. Throughout his career, Cooper's output has ranged across multiple metal subgenres and anyone playing bass for him live has to be able to pivot from haunting ballad to driving industrial metal on the drop of a dime. Since 2002, that person has been Chuck Garric. Garric also flexes his muscles as frontman/guitarist for Beasto Blanco along with Cooper's daughter Calico.
12. Tom Araya (Slayer)
As lead vocalist for “Big Four” thrash metal pioneers Slayer, Tom Araya is one of the more well-known people on this list. But while his vocals are distinctive, it's his speedy basslines that warrant inclusion here. Hits like “Raining Blood” and “Dead Skin Mask” wouldn't be the same without Araya's ESP bass providing the anchor for Kerry King's hyper-kinetic guitar.
11. Steve DiGiorgio (Charred Walls of the Damned, Testament, Death)
Some artists become known for their work with one band. Others, like Steve DiGiorgio, make their names playing for numerous artists. DiGiorgio first came to prominence playing with Death but is currently playing with thrash metal band Testament and in Charred Walls of the Damned with Tim “Ripper” Owens. DiGiorgio helped pioneer the use of fretless bass in heavy metal music and is widely considered a major influence on many modern players.
10. Fieldy (Korn)
Not many people know the name Reginald Arvizu, but considerably more know him by his nickname “Fieldy.” As founding bassist for nu-metal pioneers Korn, Fieldy has been lauded by critics for his innovative bass work. While grounded in heavy metal, Fieldy's bass work also takes considerable influence from hip-hop as well, giving Korn its unique sound.
9. Robert Trujillo (Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies)
As Metallica's third bassist, Robert Trujillo had some big shoes to fill, having to not only recreate the basslines of Cliff Burton and Jason Newsted era but also putting his own signature on Metallica's new materials. While Metallica has sometimes been criticized for burying the bass in their album mixes, especially on the ...And Justice For All album, Trujillo's flying fingers ensure that there is no lack of back-end for those songs in concert.
8. Duff McKagan (Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver)
Sometimes, when you have massive egos in a band, the role of the bassist becomes more of the rock that holds it all together. That is the role that Duff McKagan takes in Guns N' Roses. While vocalist Axl Rose and guitarist Slash display their huge (and sometimes conflicting) personalities on stage, McKagen is the stoic anchor that keeps them both tethered. It's no surprise that, even when Guns N' Roses were personally at war with each other, McKagen was the one person who performed with both Axl and Slash in other bands.
7. Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy, Dio)
It would be easier to name the heavy metal bands Rudy Sarzo has not been a part of. Over his career, Sarzo has provided the low end for Ozzy, Dio, The Guess Who, Whitesnake, and many more. But for most people, his most recognizable work comes as part of the most successful era of Quiet Riot. Sarzo would play in Quiet Riot with guitarist Randy Rhoads before leaving to join him in Ozzy's band. He would later rejoin Quiet Riot in 1983 as their Metal Health album hit #1.
6. Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Winery Dogs)
Like Rudy Sarzo, Billy Sheehan is another journeyman, having played with numerous bands including David Lee Roth and Steve Vai, as well as his own bands Mr. Big and Winery Dogs. Sheehan is a multi-time Guitar Player magazine bassist of the year. Bassists rarely get solos in concert, but many Mr. Big shows are highlighted by Sheehan's highly technical while still melodic solos.
5. Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead)
While it was Lemmy's unmistakable vocals and look that were the signature of Motorhead, the band's songs would not sound the same without his unrelenting Rickenbacker attack. On songs like their biggest hit “The Ace of Spades,” Lemmy's bass work is straightforward to the edge of simplicity, but that no-frills approach fit the band's style perfectly.
4. John Myung (Dream Theater)
To stand out on bass in what is arguably the most technically solid heavy metal band in history, Dream Theater, you have to be on your A-game at all times. John Myung consistently lives up to that standard and more. Myung's wide range of bass styles are up to any direction the progressive rock gods want to go and his brief moments out front, when he bassline dominates, shows how much faith his bandmates have in his skill.
3. Cliff Burton (Metallica)
Had Cliff Burton lived beyond age 24, he might have been at the top of this list. As it is, the three albums he was able to record with Metallica prior to his untimely death have made him one of metal's most revered bassists. As the most well-known band in early thrash metal, Burton's style influenced practically every thrash bassist to come after him, and even some contemporaries have cited his influence on their work as fellow Big Four bands Megadeth and Anthrax dedicated songs to him.
2. Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath)
Black Sabbath practically invented heavy metal and their early albums' ominous, almost funeral, drone owes a lot to bassist Geezer Butler, who not only put down an appropriately funereal bass line but also wrote the majority of the band's songs. You'd be hard pressed to find many metal bassists, and a fair number outside of the metal world, who don't list Butler as a major influence on their work.
1. Steve Harris (Iron Maiden)
No heavy metal bassist is more “out front” than Iron Maiden's Steve Harris. Along with vocalist Bruce Dickinson's operatic yell, it is Harris' “gallop” bass style that has given Iron Maiden the sound that has made it one of the most successful metal bands of all time. Harris also serves as the band's primary songwriter, tapping into his love of literature and mythology to give Iron Maiden their well-earned reputation as one of metal's most literate bands.