From their punk-metal hybrid beginnings in the San Francisco Bay Area to their ongoing rule as global superstars, Metallica have always paid tribute to the pioneering musicians who inspired them, while also keeping their ears open for new artists on the cutting edge.
Just consider the multitude of bands whose songs Metallica has covered or even jammed with live on stage, as well as the group’s legendary roster of opening acts to whom they exposed fans worldwide.
As a result, the roster of bands that have helped make Metallica into Metallica is vast, varied, and continuing to evolve. Scoping out similar or associated artists, therefore, can be an arduous undertaking.
No need to bang your head in frustration, though. We’re here to help. Each group in the following lineup shares some elemental DNA with the world’s all-time biggest heavy metal band while also exploding with their own power and originality. If you like Metallica, check out these mighty forces of rock—and then bang your head for all the right reasons.
“Am I Evil?” live by Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax (2011)
MetalliConnection: Thrash Metal’s Mount Olympus
Bang Head Also To: Megadeth, Anthrax
The popular ranking of the individual member bands of thrash metal’s Big Four is reflected in the order in which each group took the stage when they toured together. Anthrax opened up, Megadeth played next, Slayer went on before the headliners, and then Metallica took the top of the bill. It’s hard to argue with that roster—although plenty of Slayer fans make a multitude of convincing cases as to why their favorite marauders ought to be taking the highest honors.
Anthrax shares direct, early 1980s roots with Metallica in that the New York-based thrashers often fed and housed the Bay Area out-of-towners during the leanest of everyone’s earliest days. Megadeth, of course, happened as a result Dave Mustaine getting booted out of Metallica and vowing to create his own paragon of metal excellence.
Slayer, on the other cloven hoof, forged their way to greatness in a sphere of their own. The terrifying foursome blazed their own righteously rocking path out of L.A.’s metal scene at the height of glam, and established themselves as thrash masters not just equal to Metallica, but actually harder and heavier. Alas, Slayer’s seemingly impossible intensity may have prevented them from conquering the mainstream in the manner that Metallica did from 1991’s self-titled “Black Album” onward, but, all these decades later, they remain the standard bearers of extreme metal at its most brilliantly brutal.
Kirk Hammett live jam with Exodus (2014)
MetalliConnection: Bay Area Thrash (and Beyond)
Bang Head Also To: Testament, Nuclear Assault, Vio-Lence, Death Angel, Overkill, Flotsam and Jetsam
After Metallica showed the door to Dave Mustaine in 1983, the group turned to their Bay Area friends and fellow thrash pioneers in Exodus. They invited founding Exodus member (and Joe Satriani guitar protégé) Kirk Hammett to join them in recording what would become Metallica’s debut LP, Kill ’Em All. That line up, as history would have it, stuck, and Kirk Hammett has been Metallica’s properly worshipped lead guitarist ever since.
Unbowed and actually happy for the success of their departed comrade, Exodus soldiered forward. In 1984, Bonded by Blood hit the mosh pits as an end-to-end collection of flawless metal on par with the greatest hard rock releases of its era. To those who know best, thrash’s Big Four is in fact the Big Five, with Exodus holding its own among the top echelon the genre’s highest, heaviest canon.
Amidst the ruckus stirred by Metallica and Exodus, the Bay Area’s thrash scene exploded, rendering a moment in rock history akin to New York and London spawning punk in the ’70s and Seattle spawning grunge in the ’90s.
The ’80s revolution sparked by California’s combination of metal and hardcore detonated movements worldwide, starting in hot points such as New Jersey, from which Overkill emerged, and Phoenix, the hometown of thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam, the original outfit of future Metallica bassist Jason Newsted.
Guns N’ Roses
Metallica live on stage with Guns N’ Roses and Sebastian Bach (1990)
MetalliConnection: Hard Rock Megastardom/Meltdown Spectacle
Bang Head Also To: Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Kiss
The year 1991 proved to be one of rock-and-roll’s most towering groundswells. Much is often made Nirvana’s Nevermind hitting #1 then by infusing punk with metal, but the top of the charts had already been stormed that year by groups who had previously infusing their metal with punk to monumental effect: Metallica and Guns N’ Roses.
Metallica struck first in 1991 with their self-titled “Black Album,” while Guns N’ Roses followed suit just a few weeks later by simultaneously issuing Use Your Illusion I and II. Each blockbuster successfully transported their makers from definitive ’80s acts into huger-than-ever superstars poised to own the decade that lay ahead. For a while, then, that’s exactly how things played out.
Seeming to be natural allies, Metallica opened for Guns N’ Roses on a legendarily half triumphant/half-disastrous 1992 stadium tour. It was Metallica who triumphed, while, night after night, GNR routinely collapsed into disaster by way of creative disputes, member clashes, and shows getting repeatedly delayed and/or cancelled. By the following year, Metallica soared onward to become the biggest metal band of all time, while Mach I of Guns N’ Roses permanently disbanded.
By virtue of time, place, and musical styles, Metallica will always share a profound link with Guns N’ Roses. What’s interesting to note is that in the years sense, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich followed Axl Rose into the undesirable limelight of gross overexposure by forcing band grievances, interpersonal conflicts, private meltdowns, and other squabbles to play out with unvarnished ugliness before the public.
It’s a rock tradition hailing back to at least the Beatles and that very tension adds drama and potency to the music. Then again, it also sometimes results in St. Anger or Chinese Democracy. Either way, Metallica and GNR will never cease to fascinate.
Motörhead medley by Metallica and Lemmy
MetalliConnection: Proto-Thrash Pioneers
Bang Head Also To: Ramones, Stooges, MC5, Ted Nugent Budgie, Venom, Dust, Sir Lord Baltimore
Motörhead and Metallica have been united in a two-team mutual admiration society for more than thirty years now—and, for sure, there’s no end in sight.
Bashing up out of mid-1970s London at the exact moment between the conclusion of classic heavy metal’s first wave and the advent of punk, the hyper-powered power trio Motörhead combined the best aspects of each genre and boasted—in the form of bassist, vocalist, and mastermind Lemmy Kilmister—a living, boozing, noxious-substance-inhaling embodiment of rock-and-roll itself.
Thus with one biker boot in metal and the other in punk, bashed out a new musical frontier that, come the 1980s, Metallica elevated to whole new dimensions. Since then, as noted, each camp has kept personally and professionally connected, with one highlight occurring in 1995 at L.A.’s Whisky a Go Go, when Metallica, in full Kilmister garb, played a surprise Motörhead set in honor of Lemmy’s fiftieth birthday.
Misfits medley by Metallica and Glenn Danzig (2011)
MetalliConnection: Punk-Metal Crossover
Bang Head Also To: Samhain, Danzig, Discharge, Anti-Nowhere League, GBH, Exploited, UK Subs, Crass, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Black Flag, DRI, Corrosion of Conformity
Metallica’s late, great bassist Cliff Burton won his bandmates over into worship of New Jersey’s horror-themed hardcore monsters the Misfits through sheer relentless playing of their tapes on the band’s tour bus in the first half of the ’80s. “It just kind of grew on us,” recalled Kirk Hammett. “I liked the songs and then I saw the pictures of them and went, ‘Wow! This is cool!’”
Burton also sports a Misfits t-shirt on the back cover of Master of Puppets and, starting around 1985, Metallica took to covering Misfits numbers in concert. At the time, metal fans by and large shunned punk, but whatever walls separated the two camps came thundering down once and for all when Metallica released The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited, which concludes with blistering three-minute smash-up of the Misfits’ “Last Caress” and “Green Hell.”
At the same time, Misfits founder Glenn Danzig was moving on in more metallic musical directions himself, first by fronting Samhain and later with his self-named group, Danzig. Metallica’s massive army followed him and the Misfits grinning skull logo has since reigned as an omnipresent, unmistakable heavy metal icon on par with upside-down crosses and devil-horn hand gestures.
Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson interviews Metallica’s James Hetfield (2011)
MetalliConnection: New Wave of British Heavy Metal
Bang Head Also To: Judas Priest, Diamond Head, Blitzkrieg, Holocaust, Saxon, Samson, Def Leppard, Witchfinder General
The late-1970s-launched musical revolution known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) has been aptly defined as “metal played with punk attitude” and no one band more spectacularly, of with more phenomenal success, has crystallized than concept better than Iron Maiden.
Formed by bass genius Steve Harris, Iron Maiden hit the streets in 1980 with a self-titled debut LP that knocked NWOBHM fans flat out on their denims and leathers, while attracting major label attention that wanted the band to get Mohawk haircuts so they could be marketed as punks. Iron Maiden, of course, could only ever possibly sell themselves as Iron Maiden.
After two albums featuring the street-fighting style of original vocalist Paul Di’Anno, Maiden scooped up the more operatic Bruce Dickinson from NWOBHM peers Samson to sing lead. Dickinson’s first effort with the group, 1982’s The Number of the Beast, broke Iron Maiden worldwide and forever after defined them as one of heavy metal’s truest, mightiest, and most universally beloved powerhouses.
Beyond just Maiden, though, the New Wave of Heavy Metal figured profoundly in the development and arrival of Metallica. Group members initially bonded over their shared love of NWOBHM bands and, early on, Metallica covered “Am I Evil?” by Diamond Head in concert and attempted to pass it off as their own (ah, youth).
Voivod live with Jason Newsted (2002)
MetalliConnection: Prog Thrash Wild Card
Bang Head Also To: Rush, Hawkwind, Primus, Queensryche, System of a Down, Dream Theater, Mastodon, King Crimson, Einsturzende Neubauten, Cynic, Opeth
Intergalactic musical explorers Voivod come to our planet by way of Quebec, Canada where, since their 1987 opus Killing Technology, the group has combined thrash, science fiction, progressive rock, and technical metal with utter mastery. In the entirety of the universe, Voivod is truly one of a kind.
As Metallica pushed mainstream metal onward and upward, Voivod similarly expanded extreme rocks boundaries with one remarkable album after another, as well as an endless succession of mesmerizing live performances. So enamored was bassist Jason Newsted, in fact, that he immediately joined Voivod in 2002 after getting booted from Metallica.
“Helpless” live by Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Sepultura’s Andreas Kisser (2011)
MetalliConnection: Local Thrash, Latin American Style
Bang Head Also To: Pantera, Soulfly, Sacofogo, Executor, Holocausto, Vulcano
The 1980s’ thrash insurgence ignited new metal scenes all over the globe, with specific pockets proving especially fertile for headbanging innovation. One was Germany, which produced Kreator, Sodom, Destruction, Coroner, Tankard, and Holy Moses. Another was South America, where Sepultura spearheaded an all-out metal insurrection that continues to inflame, inspire, and liberate music listeners to this day.
Brazilian brothers Max and Igor Cavalera formed Sepultura in 1984 and thereafter begat a series of albums that forced thrash forward musically by incorporating elements of death metal and philosophically by using all that forceful noise to give voice to political outrage.
Sepultura’s 1993 masterpiece, Chaos AD, proved similarly influential, utilizing strains of hardcore punk and industrial metal to lay the battle-ready blueprints for groove metal, a form their friends in Pantera also pioneered and would perfect going forward.
Alice in Chains
“Would?” live by Alice in Chains with James Hetfield (2006)
MetalliConnection: 90s Alt-Metal
Bang Head Also To: Soundgarden, Faith No More, Tool, Marilyn Manson, White Zombie, Rage Against the Machine, Melvins, Butthole Surfers, Helmet, Ministry, Prong
The 1990s is looked back upon as the decade in which grunge broke and that begs one question: what, exactly, is grunge? As ultimately codified by the works of Nirvana, grunge is punk rock fortified with heavy metal that, from there, can incorporate second-tier elements such as hardcore, thrash, pop, prog, or whatever.
Arising out of grunge, then, came a musical form that upped the metallic factors while reducing the rest and seeing what might come forward from there. Such was alternative metal—alt-metal for short—the apex of which is none other than 1991’s Metallica by Metallica, aka the “Black Album.”
As Lollapalooza tours sprung up all over the globe, alt-metal emerged victorious, largely coming to define the decade’s sound. As for the two most prominent purveyors of the form—Alice in Chains and Soundgarden—it’s a toss up as to who was more dominant. Both Seattle exports are monumentally great, although the former may be slightly more rooted in the sort of metal from which Metallica initially arose. You’ll never go wrong listening to either one of them, though, that’s for sure.
“Orion” cover by Mastodon (2006)
MetalliConnection: The 21st Century Metal Vanguard
Bang Head Also To: High on Fire, Queens of the Stone Age, Kylesa, Red Fang, Baroness, Torche, Weedeater, Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust, Warbringer, Skeletonwitch
Upon the dawn of the 2000s, heavy metal shattered into an infinite number of fragments. It’s not that the music or the culture broke, per se, it just exploded out in countless different directions, resulting in innumerable subgenres, scenes, and philosophies. The days when Metallica—or anyone—could break a song on the radio and an MTV for the whole word to notice at once were definitely, and permanently, a part of the past.
The upside of this is that online technology and social media have empowered musicians and enthusiasts to fully and independently ride metal into endlessly evolving new possibilities. The tough part is that keeping track of all that’s going on in contemporary hard rock can seem overwhelming.
Nonetheless, through this onslaught, several bands have thoroughly captured the metal world’s imagination without the assistance of old-school media. Looming quite large and extremely loud among extreme rock’s presently dominant innovators are Atlanta, Georgia’s premier providers of prog-sludge Mastodon.
Coming together at the very start of the present century, Mastodon has stunned with each new release, always taking listeners on unexpected adventures. The band’s first album in 2002, Remission, varies vastly from their 2014 release, Once More ’Round the Sun, but there’s no mistaking that, for every difference, the pummeling avalanche of wildly inventive metal could only be coming from Mastodon.