Britain has consistently produced some great metal bands. Before hard rock came on the scene, famous bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Thin Lizzy and The Rolling Stones all originated from Britain.
With a rich history, it is not easy to choose a short-list of the most famous metal bands from Britain. Here we have considered influence, impact, longevity and the strength of the catalogue from each of the bands, that led the way to extreme metal genres like black metal, grindcore, goregrind, death-doom and death metal.
It could be argued that Britain’s most famous bands is Black Sabbath and the greatest of all metal bands ever. Black Sabbath are cited as the godfathers of Heavy Metal with the band forming in Birmingham, England in 1968. Their first six studio albums serve as one of the most remarkable achievements in music. Tony Iommi’s famous riffing muscle, drumming by Bill Ward with Geezer Butler’s lyrics channelled through the haunting dread of Ozzy Osbourne’s voice until he was fired and replaced by Ronnie James Dio in 1983.
Their final album, 13, was released in 2013. Black Sabbath were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 for their music and their influence on other acts including Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Metallica.
From Birmingham, England and formed in 1969, Judas Priest took the lumbering riffing ethos of Sabbath and set it against harmonized lead playing and Rob Halford’s dynamic vocal presence and ear-shattering falsettos. Responsible for the denim, leather and studs that make up the famous heavy metal dress code, Judas Priest is one of the few bands from Britain that has sold over 45 million albums to date.
Formed in Leyton, East London, in 1975 by bassist and primary songwriter Steve Harris, Iron Maiden have released sixteen studio albums with big hits including ‘The Trooper’ and ‘The Number of the Beast’. Iron Maiden dominated the metal bands in the 1980s with their elaborate songs spanning literature, film and history. They were part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal Pioneers and have sold almost 95 million albums.
Motörhead was formed in June 1975 by bassist, singer, and songwriter Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister, who was the sole constant member along with guitarist and songwriter Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox. Given the furious brand of Hell-raising, decibel-pushing power, it is hard not to qualify one of Britain’s famous rock bands as a metal act as well. Their influence inspired the first wave of black metal and thrash metal movements.
One of Britain’s earliest extreme metal bands was formed in 1979 in Newcastle upon Tyne. Coming to prominence towards the end of the new wave of British heavy metal, Venom’s first two albums entitled ‘Welcome to Hell’ and ‘Black Metal’ are considered a major influence on thrash metal and extreme metal in general.
Formed in Hertford in 1968, Deep Purple are considered to be among Britain’s pioneers of heavy metal and modern hard rock, although their musical approach changed over the years. Originally formed as a progressive rock band, the band moved to a denser sound in 1970. Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, have been referred to together as the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal in the early to mid-seventies”. The band have sold over 100 million albums worldwide.
Napalm Death are one of Britain’s grindcore/death metal bands formed in Meriden in 1981. Fusing the raw energy of hardcore punk bands like Discharge with thrash and early extreme metal, Napalm Death created music that would lead to grindcore. With blast beats, concise song-writing, massive riffs and rapid-fire extreme vocals, Napalm Death pushed the boundaries of Britain’s metal bands. Over three decades later, Napalm are still the genre’s gold standard with an intensity that’s never been in danger of waning. Even though none of the original members remain in the group, the line-up of vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway, bassist Shane Embury, guitarist Mitch Harris and drummer Danny Herrera has remained consistent for most of the band’s career.