Now, more than ever, heavy metal is a worldwide affair. The Internet has empowered a generation of would be metal enthusiasts in corners of the planet that once had little to no access to the music we cover here on Noisecreep. But as common as it is right now to discover and fall in love with bands from exotic countries throughout the world, Europe remains the biggest hotbed for metal music.
No matter if it’s the Scandinavian territories or the rain soaked streets of England, heavy metal is alive and well in Europe. Even in the most remote corners of the continent, you're guaranteed to find a fellow brother or sister of metal to share your love for the music and its culture with. Today, Noisecreep is counting down the 10 Best European Metal Bands as a tribute to the continent and its invaluable contribution to the art form.
Hailing from Umea, Sweden, Meshuggah kicks off our 10 Best European Metal Bands list. The quintet has been delivering forward-thinking tech-metal since forming in 1987 and helped change the sound of our beloved genre in the process. Innovators through and through, Meshuggah’s Fredrik Thordendal and Marten Hagstrom have invented their own guitar language, while Tomas Haake’s polyrhythmic drum work is something to be marveled at. Well into their career, Meshuggah continue to inspire legions of musicians.
With their roots stretching back to the middle of the ‘70s, England’s Saxon is one of the well-respected names in the metal game. The mere fact that they’ve reached 20 studio albums in their career is reason enough to salute the group, but it’s the quality of the vast majority of the material in their discography that lands Saxon on this list. They might not be a household name in the States, but Saxon deserves your attention.
Sweden’s Opeth is one of modern metal’s most critically acclaimed acts and deserving of a spot on the 10 Best European Metal Bands list. Rightfully so, since the group has managed to disregard all genre limitations while always keeping their songwriting sharp and focused. It doesn’t matter if it’s funereal death metal or folk-tinged prog-rock, Opeth exist in their own micro world, and as long as they keep unleashing records as great as 2011’s ‘Heritage,’ we’ll be taking the journey there to hear what they’re cooking up.
Celtic Frost shot out of Switzerland in the mid-‘80s and quickly become not only a darling of the underground music press, but also a guiding light to a new generation of musicians also trying to push the boundaries of what was considered heavy metal back then. Frost always kept the listener guessing, mixing traditional metal flavorings (thrash, doom) with atypical influences such as goth-rock and even opera, and making it all sound effortless.
The longest running band on our list, Scorpions have been cranking out their brand of melodic metal since 1965. Their musical output has unquestionably dipped into the poppier side of the spectrum for most of their career, but their ‘70s and early ‘80s albums won the Germans a slot here. ‘In Trance,’ ‘Animal Magnetism’ and ‘Blackout’ are must own albums for any self-respecting metalhead whether they were born during the Scorps’ commercial heyday or just getting into this kind of music.
Led by falsetto-loving vocalist King Diamond, Denmark’s Mercyful Fate combined the epic song arrangements of progressive rock and married them with the meaty guitar riffs first heard during the original New Wave of British Heavy Metal. While their guitar work helped influence groups such as Metallica and In Solitude, it’s Diamond’s over-the-top vocalisms and theatrical stage look and delivery that truly set Fate apart from the rest of the bands that first arrived in the early ‘80s metal scene.
Motorhead bassist/vocalist Lemmy Kilmister is the living embodiment of the spirit of heavy metal, and his band’s no-nonsense songwriting approach matches his attitude. Taking on an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude to their music, Motorhead never mess with their stylistic formula, bringing to mind the Ramones in that sense. Now 30-plus years after they first formed in London, England, Lemmy and company have no intentions of screwing up the plot.
In terms of flying the heavy metal flag, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger high-profile champion for the movement than Rob Halford and Judas Priest. Through seminal albums like 1978’s ‘Stained Class’ and 1982’s ‘Screaming for Vengeance,’ the British quintet have helped define the blueprint for our beloved genre, all the while also proving that melody and metal muscle can live harmoniously without sacrificing the heaviness that makes the sound so appealing in the first place.
Iron Maiden is not only one of the most important metal acts of all time, they’re also probably the most consistent. Over the course of 15 studio albums, the English band has rarely had a misstep, bringing to life some of the most cherished songs in the heavy metal canon. With over 85 million albums sold to date, Maiden’s influence can be heard in the anthemic songwriting of younger groups Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium and countless others.
There was no way around it; Black Sabbath had to top our 10 Best European Metal Bands list. The architects of what would become the original sound of heavy metal, the British icons fused the grit of American blues with the crunchy guitar tone favored by bands like Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly and created their own sonic beast. Sabbath’s 2013 album, ’13,’ showed us that even with its band members in their sixties, they’re still a vital musical force.