Any epic metal band arguably needs a wicked drummer to bang out the beat with a masterful mix of sensational speed, meticulous precision, and thunderous power. In fact, many head-banging fans will likely attest that the best metal tracks wouldn’t be the same without the boundary-pushing thrashing of those sticks pounding out the rhythm.
Metal drummers also need incredible endurance to push through a live two-hour concert set. And, for every huge metal hit, the intricate rhythms the drummers lay down are instantly recognizable as a core part of an infectious song. Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” and Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” mark stellar examples.
Many prolific metal drummers have delivered some wicked beats through the years. Though it was hard to narrow it down, we’re tipping our high hats to our picks for the Top 13 best metal drummers.
13. Chris Adler
Chris Adler is well-known as the founder of Lamb of God for which he played for over two decades from 1994-2019. He also joined Megadeth (one of thrash metal’s Big 4 bands) during that time from 2015-2017. He’s known for using an open-handed technique and heel-toe technique. He supported the latter band performing on their Grammy Award-winning album Dystopia in 2017.
12. Charlie Benante
Any proper metal ranking wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to Charlie Benante from Anthrax- another thrash metal Big 4 band. He’s frequently credited as a double-bass pioneer and is known for his signature super-fast double kick technique. Fans and critics alike consider him to be a kind of revolutionary on the drums – but his talent does not stop there. He’s also a sensational guitarist and songwriter.
11. Mike Portnoy
Mike Portnoy currently drums for a wide variety of supergroups and The Neal Morse Band. Many fans know and love his work best during the 25 years he spent with Dream Theater. The master of his craft racked up over 30 Modern Drummer Magazine Awards in his time with the band. Portnoy was subsequently inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame when he was 37 years old. He’s known for his precision, speed, and power behind the kit.
10. Nicko McBrain
Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain is widely considered one of the most influential metal drummers in music history. From his complex patterns and mind-bending speed to his unnerving stamina, McBrain relentlessly unleashes power and precision like no other. Interestingly, he also loves jazz and reportedly counts Joe Morello of the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Buddy Rich as some of his chief influences.
9. Vinnie Paul
The late Vinnie Paul left us too soon. Known best as the co-founding drummer for Pantera, the Texas native talent played with the band until they split in 2003. He was instrumental in birthing groove metal with Pantera – with his instantly recognizable double kicks and intricate rhythms. A consummate thrasher, songs like “Domination” displayed his amazing fills. Following Pantera, Paul played for Hellyeah until he died in 2018.
Co-founding member of Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, is known for his unparalleled power and high-pitched snare. Many consider him to be a beast behind his mega-sized drum kit – though many may also feel a lot of focus is placed on his brother Eddie’s wicked guitar playing. Rock fans far and wide count his intro for “Hot For Teacher” as one of the most famous drum intros of all time.
7. Tommy Lee
Motley Crüe's founding member Tommy Lee not only loves to pound out an aggressive beat. He also puts on a wild show – making the drums part of a theatrical performance. Has anyone else ever strapped themselves to the drums to spin upside down – never breaking stride with the sticks? He may arguably be the wildest drummer on our list and fans can’t ever get enough of watching him play.
6. Danny Carey
Danny Carey of Tool has established himself as a drumming heavyweight in prog rock, metal, and beyond. He plays with a sheer force that compliments his large frame and he’s known for his fierce, out-of-the-box experimental sound. There’s never a dull rhythmic moment when Carey really gets in the groove.
5. Bill Ward
Black Sabbath’s original drummer Bill Ward listened to Big Band music in his formative childhood drumming years. He’s considered one of the early masters of metal drumming and the self-taught British rocker helped the band break out as a giant in the genre. He’s ferocious - yet delivers a jazz feel that sets him apart with his own sound.
Dubbed the “godfather of double bass” by Drummerworld, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo has influenced fellow musicians inside and outside of the thrash genre. He’s fast, aggressive, and widely considered one of the most innovative drummers of all time. He’s been beating the drums for over four decades and his hot percussive presence on songs like “Ghosts of War” and the iconic fill in “Angel of Death” remain fan favorites across generations.
3. Keith Moon
The late, legendary Keith Moon is often in a class by himself because he’s so daring and unpredictable behind the kit. A critical member of The Who, Moon’s frenetic, theatrical performances all had a musical purpose. He helped get any crowd revved and the fact that Animal from Sesame Street was influenced by Moon creatively speaks to the kind of percussive “monster” that he was.
2. Neil Peart
Like many of his late predecessors on this list, Neil Peart’s 2020 death left a hole in the metal drumming landscape that will never be filled. The Canadian native musician was the drummer and lyricist for Rush for more than 45 years. Peart played the drums hard, but he also played with a level of precision few others could match. He stood out for so many reasons, including his strong penchant for playing a wide array of eclectic percussive instruments like orchestra bells, timpani, and later incorporating electronic percussion. Peart received a slew of career honors including being a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee.
1. John Bonham
Led Zeppelin’s late legendary drummer John Bonham (aka Bonzo or The Beast) has topped several Best Drummer rankings, including Rolling Stone’s 2016 list of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. He unleashed an unparalleled blend of speed and power behind the kit. The wild abandon and virtuosic brilliance he employs on “Moby Dick” also consistently ranks as one of the best drum solos of all time. The British native rock icon has also influenced scores of drummers across multiple generations, including Neil Peart, Peter Criss, Chad Smith, and Dave Grohl who told Rolling Stone, “John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn't know what was going to happen next — like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff. No one has come close to that since, and I don't think anybody ever will. I think he will forever be the greatest drummer of all time.”