-By Doc Coyle
Compiling a list of the most influential modern Metal guitar players is intimidating. There was no way to do this without pissing a bunch of people off. I did my best to quantify which guitar players’ mark was being felt the most by the up and coming generation of new bands and musical movements in the realm of all things heavy. Whose legacy stood the test of time? Why is player “A” more influential than player “B”? Is there empirical evidence to support these arguments? These are the burning questions. There are some tremendously phenomenal players who did not make this list because their significance will not be known for some time. There are some players who made a big splash initially, but stature has waned in recent years. There are some genres like Black Metal where I had difficulty pinpointing 1 or 2 specific players that stood out among the slew of pioneers. Enjoy this list in all of its imperfect glory!
Synyster Gates – Avenged Sevenfold
We won’t know the full impact of a band like Avenged Sevenfold and a player like Synyster Gates for several years, but this is a band that moves the needle with young people in a way most of the players on the list just don’t have the ability to do. No other band on Rock radio is as unafraid as A7X to flex their chops. They helped open doors that huge gateway bands like Black Veil Brides and Asking Alexandria continue to expand. They are one of the biggest metal bands around the globe, and their image may turn you off, but Synyster is a world-class musician who has trained in Classical and Jazz. His style is somewhere between other list selections John Petrucci, Slash, and Marty Friedman, but he does have a special commodity that is truly his own. Slash inspired me to pick up a guitar, and without a doubt, thousands of kids decide to pick one up everyday because of Avenged Sevenfold and Synyster Gates. That should be commended and respected.
Benjamin Weinman - The Dillinger Escape Plan
Benjamin Weinman may be considered an unconventional choice for a list like this, but he is the only remaining original member of The Dillinger Escape Plan. It is his brainchild. It appears to be the brain of a mad scientist is you examine it closely, but this particular scientist has broken all of the rules associated with heavy music. He showed that you could be in the hardcore scene and bring the skill level of Technical Death Metal and advanced math-y jazz and blend it with frenetic punk noise and metalcore thump. DEP have been the most important Alt-Noise-Math-Post-Rock-whatever you want to call them-band, of their era. Weinman is a true artist and pioneer for the instrument.
Alexi Laiho – Children of Bodom
In an environment where we have plenty of robotic and technically salient players who lack individuality, Alexi Laiho stands out as one of few true Guitar Heroes and Rock Stars whose personality matches his space bending playing. He is a throwback through-and-through. From his 1980’s nameless pre-amp distortion to his Yngwie Malmsteen meets Zakk Wylde approach, they just don’t make them like Alexi Laiho anymore. He has graced the cover of Guitar World more than once, and his signature ESP V guitar is one of their biggest sellers. We don’t just need players; we need stars, like Alexi Laiho.
Björn Gelotte & Jesper Strömblad - In Flames
At The Gates gets most of the credit for the explosion of Scandinavian Melodic Death Metal, but it was really In Flames’ work as an active band after At The Gates’ demise that catapulted the genre into mainstream, global notoriety. The immensity of their sweeping influence has been somewhat been lost to history, but the world needs to understand that their signature harmonized twin-guitar attack set the table for a whole generation of bands including Killswitch Engage, Atreyu, Darkest Hour and many, many more. Jesper Strömblad is no longer in the band, but he was 2nd guitarist for the bulk of the classic material. Björn Gelotte deserves credit for being the rock and one of the most underrated players in heavy music.
Marty Friedman – Megadeth, Cacophony
Marty Friedman’s impact on contemporary metal lead guitar playing is difficult to quantify, but the legacy left by his stint in Megadeth from 1990-2000 is affectionately regarded as the “golden era” for the band. On the timeless classic, Rust In Peace, Friedman introduced an Arabian sounding, exotic slant on metal soloing that had never been heard before. He played outside of conventional major and minor scales with contorted bends and toyed with phrasing and odd timing to give his presentation a completely new and original identity. Since his departure, every lead guitar player in Megadeth has had to exist in his shadow, with impossible standards to meet. You can feel his mark in the playing of modern titans like Jeff Loomis, Emil Werstler of Daath, Chris Amott formerly of Arch Enemy, and Dave Davidson from Revocation. After a long absence from the metal world, Friedman returned in 2014 with the fantastic Inferno solo album.
Misha “Bulb” Mansoor – Periphery
Misha Mansoor has changed the game. With the help of some other likeminded and talented individuals pioneers like Tesseract’s Acle Kahney and Cloudkicker’s Ben Sharp, Mansoor spearheaded the Djent scene. That word may sound like gibberish to the uninitiated, but Djent is a collection of music nerds who took back control of the music industry by self producing their own albums and created a network of peers who shared music amongst an online community. Misha was at the forefront of utilizing technological breakthroughs like Toontrack’s EZdrummer software, and state-of-the-art guitar processors like the Fractal Audio’s Axe FX. I haven’t even mentioned how brilliant a guitarist, songwriter, and producer Misha is, but his stature as an influencer in regards to the gear guitarists use and how modern bands operate is truly revolutionary.
John Petrucci – Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment
You can argue that John Petrucci deserves to be much higher on this list as well. Anyone who has been paying attention to guitar playing over the last 20 years understands the John Petrucci is in an elite class of true virtuosos like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani that make you expand what you thought was possible with the instrument. Mind blowing players like Synyster Gates from Avenged Sevenfold, Travis Montgomery from Threat Signal, and Per Nilsson from Scar Symmetry are Petrucci disciples. I have so much respect for he and the band for really being on an island, waving the flag for progressive heavy music. It wasn’t until the last 10 years or so that the progressive metal scene began flourishing.
Trey Azagthoth – Morbid Angel
Trying to pinpoint singular guitarists that have been superfluously influential in the death metal world had me wracking my brain, but Trey Azagthoth has distinguished himself above and beyond the crowd. Azagthoth is a unique and thrilling lead player more following in the adventurous footsteps of Eddie Van Halen than a stiff tactician. Bands like Hate Eternal and Nile have used the now common death metal language that Morbid Angel commenced. Their influence is most clearly represented by current Metal heavyweight, Gojira. The links between the 2 bands are unequivocal as evidenced by Formulas Fatal To The Flesh’s “Nothing Is Not”.
Stephen Carpenter – Deftones
It’s important that reiterate that this list is composed of players whose influence carries significant weight, not necessarily those players who are most technically impressive. Without a doubt, the Deftones have carved out their own little piece of the heavy music universe. Steph Carpenter has managed to keep the band remarkably crushing in spite of their light and spacious ventures. An outspoken Meshugguah fan, he has followed suit going all the way down to 8 string guitars on recent albums. His tone is huge, and my favorite aspect of his playing is that it’s understated, and he knows what not to play, leaving room for Chino Moreno’s vocals to soar above the fray. From Glassjaw to Taproot to 36 Crazyfists, the Deftones reach is ever sprawling with no sign of retreat.
Mark Morton & Will Adler – Lamb of God
Lamb of God is one of the few bands whose influences are fairly obvious (Pantera, Slayer, Meshuggah, Testament), yet crafted their own unique sound to the point that it is completely obvious when someone else has been influenced by them. It really is a kind of beautiful, pay-it-forward circle of influence. In Pantera’s absence, Lamb of God have come to own the “American Metal” brand. You have probably seen a Lamb of God clone at every local American metal show in the last 10 years. Their impact comes down to one element: Riffs. Mark and Willie were the best riff writers in metal from around 2001-2009. To the point that they were impressing and influencing bands and players that came before them like Scott Ian, Slash, Mark Tremonti, and Metallica. The beautiful circle of influence continues.
Zakk Wylde – Black Label Society, Ozzy Osbourne
Should Zakk Wylde be higher on the list? Probably. I almost left him off, just to be dick, and troll the VH1 readers. But he’s from New Jersey, like me. Jersey loyalty held this together. You don’t need me to tell you how great and influential of a guitar player Zakk Wylde is. But I will anyway. He’s one of the few true Guitar Heroes we still have. His image, playing, and personality are all larger-than-life. Black Label Society just keeps growing their rabid fanbase as Lynyrd Skynyrd meets motorcycle club Americana. I personally prefer his Ozzy-era lead playing as it was a little more economic, but he is an icon and I marvel at his abilities as a musician. Zakk Wylde is one of the last of a dying breed, and I cherish his work.
Mikael Åkerfedlt – Opeth
Genius is a word that gets tossed around too often. I just used it the previous paragraph to describe…well…a genius. Mikael Åkerfedlt is often referred to as a genius, mainly because he’s earned it. Combining Scandinavian Death Metal and folk-y prog rock might seem like old hat these days, but it didn’t exist before Opeth. From what I gather, Åkerfeldt pens every note. The guy is just so smooth. Every chord change is sublime. His creamy lead tone and tasty note choice always come off as flawless in their composition and execution. It’s easy to understand the comparisons to Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. Luckily, this article doesn’t factor in singing, or else he’d probably be #1. Modern Proggers like Between The Buried And Me and Ne Obliviscaris owe Opeth a big debt of inspiration.
Chuck Shuldiner – Death, Control Denied
Chuck Shuldiner was a once-in-a-generation type of musician. He filtered his genius through his band, Death, which was, and in many ways, still is the standard bearer for Technical Death Metal. Unlike their peers, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Deicide, and Obituary, Death wasn’t defined by their brutality. There was an elegant regard for precision and sinewy melody that lived in harmonic minor bliss. His playing was so clean and impressive, yet he never came off as a showboat. Without Chuck Shuldiner, there wouldn’t be bands like The Faceless, Obscura, Arsis, or Necrophagist. The metal world would is much worse place without his presence. RIP.
Eric Peterson & Alex Skolnick – Testament
It’s probably fair to label Testament as a dark horse to land on this list from the Bay Area Thrash alumni. What sets Testament part from their peers is that you can make a case that the band’s post-classic output is just as good or better. They have never put out a record that felt dated against the backdrop of the status quo. Alex Skolnick deservedly gets much of the attention as a master lead player with a career spanning beyond Testament with his Jazz band, The Alex Skolnick Trio, and a stint with Transiberian Orchestra. Although, the lion’s share of the credit for Testament’s consistency really belongs to rhythm guitarist and main riff-smith, Eric Peterson. He was the one that steered the band in a more extreme direction in the late 90’s, and is also an underrated lead player. Bands like Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and Trivium have preached Testament’s far-reaching influence.
Adam D & Joel Stroetzel - Killswitch Engage, Times of Grace
Adam D and Joel Stroetzel have perhaps had more of an impact on modern metal guitar tone and style than any other band in the past 10 years. You can trace the roots of their sound to bands like Pantera, Hatebreed, In Flames and Carcass, but the output is truly their own. The influence can be traced to an old piece of gear that they re-introduced and became industry standard for modern Metal: the Ibanez Tube Screamer or the often preferred, Maxon Overdrive. The pedal gave your amp a tighter, more metallic crunch that cut through the mix better. This trick has since been used by countless bands and you can hear the band’s signature sound and style directly influencing bands like As I Lay Dying, Caliban, Five Finger Death Punch, and Parkway Drive.
Slash – Guns N Roses, Velvet Revolver, Slash
I’m not sure if this pick is overly obvious as Slash is such an iconic figure that he somewhat exists in an altitude above the rest of heavy music. Although Slash is a throwback rock player, reflecting the vibe of guys like Joe Perry and Jimmy Page, he remains as relevant as ever as he continues to reinvent himself and find new audiences. His solo band fronted by Alter Bridge crooner, Myles Kennedy, is a global success. They are playing arenas and experiencing some huge radio hits stateside, and it is not a nostalgia act. It should be noted that Slash has continued to perfect his craft and is becoming better as a player. Check out the newly found neo-classical territory examined on single, “Anastasia”.
Jeff Loomis – Nevermore, Conquering Dystopia, Arch Enemy
The stretch of Jeff Loomis’ influence is a bit difficult to pinpoint, and his heralded skillset is mostly appreciated in the guitar nerd enclaves. In my humble opinion, he is currently the best all-around guitar player in Metal when you factor lead, rhythm, songwriting, and style. Loomis emerged as a superstar on Nevermore’s 2000 album Dead Heart, In A Dead World, when he was sole guitarist remaining in a 2-guitar band. The game was changed when he introduced 7 string guitars in a perceived power metal band, and put Nevermore in their own unnamable category. Catapulted by the jaw-dropping diminished, chromatic economy-picked solo section in “The River Dragon Has Come,” Jeff Loomis kept raising the bar with each subsequent release. He is finally getting his just due and recognition as a solo artist, and recently joining Swedish powerhouse, Arch Enemy.
Brian “Head” Welch & James “Munky” Shaffer - Korn
Putting the guitarists from Korn this high on this list might be heresy to some of the traditionalist old-school Heavy Metallers and shred enthusiasts, but Korn’s massive influence on modern heavy music cannot be denied. Munky and Head’s Dropped A tuned Ibanez Universe 7 strings rewrote the rule book on what you could do with a guitar. The heaviness brought with the newly accessible frequency range defined the Nu-Metal sound, which influenced bands like Slipknot and Sevendust, and still has it’s impact being felt by modern Deathcore groups like Emmure, Suicide Silence and more mainstream Rock acts like In This Moment. Similar to Rage Against the Machine ax-man, Tom Morello, Munky and Head stretched the bounds of the instrument’s sonic limitations by experimenting with ambient guitar effects in ways never heard before. This out-of-the-box thinking is what solidifies Korn’s place in history.
Fredrik Thordendal & Mårtin Hagström - Meshuggah
Only one other band I can think of, Korn, is responsible for the creation of an entire genre (Nu-Metal). Like a boomerang hurled around the globe for 15 years, somehow Meshuggah became the harvesting ground for the Progressive offshoot, Djent; the genre name being derived from the sound of the palm-muted heavy pick attack and tone. Also like Korn, Meshuggah was one of the first bands to showcase 7 string guitars in the mid 90’s. In addition to their landmark guitar tone, Thordendal and Hagström’s staccato rhythm technique locking in with drummer, Thomas Haake’s, polyrhythmic kick drum patterns was a game changer. Fredrik Thordendal’s Allan Holdsworth inspired Jazz-fusion lead style was also a completely left-of-center creative choice. From the band’s later innovation with 8 string guitars and digital recording, they have and always will be 10-15 years ahead of the competition.
Dimebag Darrell – Pantera, Damageplan
Dimebag Darrell is definitively the most influential metal guitarist of the last 25 years. He is to the 1990s what Eddie Van Halen was to the '80s and Jimi Hendrix was to the '60s. His precise thrash chops are on full display on tracks like “Shattered” and “F-cking Hostile”, and yet Dime also knew how to keep the riffs simple and grooving with iconic songs like “Walk” and “5 Minutes Alone”. This sparse, low-end, bluesy chug was the blueprint for post-thrash, nu-metal, and metalcore in the subsequent years. From the solid-state behemoth crunch, signature squeals, and peerless lead playing, everything he did was 100% his own style. Despite his monumentally vast influence, we still have not found the heir apparent to Dimebag’s throne. He is irreplaceable, and I am just thankful for the legacy he left. RIP.