The floodgates have been opened for the heavy metal community as the iconic guitar company Gibson drops their top ten list of greatest heavy metal guitarists. Spoiler alert: the list’s top spot was reserved for the riff-master himself Tony Iommi, of Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell, while the subsequent entries leave fans shaking their heads. Spots two through ten are filled with exceptionally talented individuals without a doubt, but some fans (this one included) beg to question how many of these listed artists are commercial ploys or truly deserving inclusions.
This list seems to have been compiled of artists who conform to the palatable groups within the heavy metal genre that are fed to the general collective. The top ten coveted spots are certainly filled with deserving and remarkably influential musicians — that just all happen to primarily endorse and perform with Gibson products. Motivation behind Gibson’s commercial allocation of rank is, while staying somewhat objective in their choices, perplexing. Communal frustration among surveyed heavy metal listeners is rooted deep in this simple inquiry: How can certain heavy metal axe-masters who are equally as influential and (on a case-by-case basis) exceedingly more talented be so easily disregarded? Popularity contest? Maybe. Commercial exploitation? Possibly. Heavily subjective, opinion-based self-promoting publication? Definitely.
There is no denying the intense passion, dedication, and fervor of the heavy metal community. Coming directly from the lens of someone gravely immersed in this grotesquely charming counter-culture, metal-heads prove time and again to be some of the general music industry’s most excitedly devoted fan-base. The overwhelmingly contagious components of the musical community’s most diverse and expansive genre penetrate a listener’s emotive epicenter and intellect. Heavy metal’s sonic seduction surrounds its implementation of a thundering bass tone, persistent percussive flare, soaring vocal range, fierce guitar leads, and hearty rhythmic flavor. Instrumentation and skill-sets aside, heavy metal is effortlessly distilled to pure individual emotive expression and release for performers and audiences alike. Discrediting the latter is a painfully common mistake within the “mainstream” of society as the communal whole of heavy metal is often regrettably misunderstood. Heavy metal music (and subsequent culture) effortlessly becomes a quasi-metaphysical process for the listener, as I, a passionately engrossed metal-head myself, can vehemently corroborate. This music, with its performing masters at the helm, becomes more than a sonic experience for it has now become a profoundly emotional transcendence.
Moreover, it really is no stretch of rational thought that a publicized list which aims to concretely decree one artist superior over another would create fiery contention between the actively attentive members of the heavy metal community — especially if said list is seen as an exclusively subjective commercial ploy for entry-level-only metal audiences. Listeners intimately invest themselves in artists, songs, albums, artwork, performances, and merchandise. Hierarchical lists placing impartial stock in “best of” ranking systems divert quickly from objectivity and delve quite deep into collective and/or individual subjectivity which, more often than not, consequently creates a “popularity” list instead. Play with Gibson? You’ve made their list. Play without in the tributaries the mainstream? Sorry, but you’ll just have to sit this one out. Whether Gibson.com published a list cohesive with the collective heavy metal community or happened to forge their own systematic ranking based purely on talent is futile to debate. The real issue at hand with commercially ranked lists such as these is to actively assert the beautifully raw virtuosity that exists in the musicianship and livelihood of the sequestered heavy metal sub-culture.
If nothing else, take from this list the innovation, integrity, and influential nature of each musician — whether it aligns or diverges from personal or mainstream preference, taste, and bias. Gibson.com may have their allegiances within these culturally iconic artists, but, by no means, should one shy away from creating a list of this nature on their own through exploration of the lesser known sub-genres of heavy metal. Heavy metal, with its multitude of sub-genres, boasts some of the most talented musicians to grace the general music community. Let us not forget the pertinent, undisclosed axe-men permeating heavy metal, including but not limited to: Uli Jon Roth, Chuck Schuldiner, Jeff Loomis, Paul Ortiz, Chris Broderick, Dave Mustaine, Al Pitrelli, Marty Friedman, Steve Vai, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, Richie Faulkner, Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Andy LaRocque, Hank Sherman, Michael Denner, Janick Gers, Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Gary Holt, Alex Skolnick, Jari Mäenpää, Jesper Strömblad, Jimmy Page, Vinnie Moore, Scott Ian, Alex Lifeson, Ted Nugent, Joe Satriani, Jon Schaffer, Timo Tolkki, Kai Hansen, and Alexi Laiho.
The Gibson list of the greatest heavy metal guitarists of all time is as follows:
1. Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell)
5. “Dimebag” Darrell Lance Abbott (Pantera, Damageplan)
6. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen)
– Alex Long / 98.5 WNCX Intern