The 10 Legendary Bands Now Representing Heavy Metal’s Old Guard

Corey Taylor Photo by Venla Shalin/Redferns (via Getty Images) / Rob Halford Photo by Mario Skraban/Redferns (via Getty Images) / Jonathan Davis Photo by Andrew Benge/Redferns (via Getty Images)
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With Ozzy Osbourne retiring from touring life, a big question comes to mind: who now represents the old guard of heavy metal?

Who are the legendary metal bands that have stood the test of time and best captured the genre’s history? Who are the bands that have forever changed metal and represent its creative wonder? Which veterans of the genre can younger bands turn to for guidance? Of the many bands that exist today, who are the modern masters of metal?

With time never-ending in its march forward, here are the ten legendary artists who now represent heavy metal’s old guard.

Judas Priest

Going strong for half a century, Judas Priest is easily one of heavy metal’s greatest bands. 

Though metal has evolved in fascinating ways, Judas Priest has remained steadfast in their importance. Black Sabbath and Deep Purple may have come first, but Judas Priest elevated metal to new technical and creative heights thanks to releases like 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance

As one of the longest-running and most successful bands, Judas Priest has cemented itself as one of the genre’s old guards.


Perhaps the most influential and mainstream acts to come out of metal, Metallica’s reach crosses all around the globe. 

While they may have taken the thrash scene by storm with albums like Ride the Lighting, the band’s Black Album shot them into the greater pop culture limelight. Since then, they have gone on to become one of the world’s biggest acts, not only shaping heavy metal but other genres as well. 

While some may look down on Metallica’s transition out of thrash, it’s remarkable to see how many new fans they have brought to metal. 


Another iconic ‘80s band, Megadeth has gone on to become one of the most respected names in the genre. 

Over the course of 16 studio albums, the band has provided nonstop thrash metal action, bringing a technical finesse that is tough to outclass. As one of the Big Four, Megadeth has proven themselves to be masters of metal; for over 40 years, they’ve continued to raise the bar when it comes to thrilling and intricate technical musicianship. 

As one of the most innovative bands in metal, there is no doubt that Megadeth has earned themselves a place as one of the genre’s old guards.


As one of thrash metal’s Big Four, Anthrax has cemented itself as a legendary act. 

While the other Big Four bands tend to get a shout-out for their influence, there is no denying the impact that Anthrax has had on heavy music. The band’s crossover stylization has gone on to inspire a tremendous number of bands throughout the years (especially given the prominent rise and popularity of modern hardcore music). 

The band not only delivers awesome thrash metal, but they have ultimately become the foundation for so much of the genre’s evolution.


Though the Big Four tend to get the most attention when it comes to thrash metal, it could be argued that Exodus is one of the more important bands in the thrash scene (for they are pioneers of the genre). 

Their 1985 studio album Bonded by Blood introduced a whole new wave of metal aggression into the world – one that would end up inspiring and shaping some of metal’s greatest acts to come. 

Without Exodus, who knows what Metallica and company may sound like? It’s thanks to Exodus that we have thrash metal as we know it today.

Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden is one of the most important bands in heavy metal. 

As the main event in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Maiden is one of the defining pillars that represents what metal is all about. From their thrilling sense of theatricality to their riveting technical performances, the band has created remarkable classics like 1982’s The Number of the Beast.

Maiden has been captivating audiences for decades and continues to bring more fans into the metal community. 


As much as some folks may want to hate on nu-metal, there is no denying the impact that Korn has had on metal as a whole. 

Korn lead one of heavy metal’s most commercially successful eras (if not the most successful) thanks to bringing a new level of heavy. The ‘90s and early aughts nu-metal boom was massive, perhaps only rivaled by the ‘80s thrash era. They brought a totally unique perspective to the genre, blending a plethora of heavy genres alongside hip-hop and funk. 

When it comes to mainstream metal, Korn forever changed the game (and they are still going strong to this day).


Among those bands to come about during the nu-metal boom, no one was as insane as Slipknot

Slipknot made for a much more extreme take on mainstream metal than what had been seen before. The Des Moines, Iowa act cemented themselves as a menacing presence by incorporating elements of death metal noise, thrash, and more into their work. 

Over the course of 20+ years, they have not only gone on to become global superstars but have also continued to innovate and build upon their craft in unique ways that few mainstream bands are willing to do.

Machine Head

With a killer aggression that blends both thrash and death metal, Machine Head has become one of the biggest headliners in the genre. 

While the band saw success early on, 2007’s The Blackening put them on the map big time, with many considering the record to be one of the greatest releases in metal. Machine Head’s music is brimming with sonic ferocity and style, and in hindsight, the band marked a step forward in metal’s evolution. 

To this day, Machine Head represents some of the heaviest music coming from metal.

Mercyful Fate/King Diamond

Sort of a double whammy here, but the likes of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond have proven themselves to be some of the most influential acts in all heavy metal history. 

From the imagery of both acts, as well as the epic-sounding instrumentation and technicality they both display, bands all across music have been influenced by the likes of these two. Most noticeably, Mercyful Fate brought a new level of “scary” and “evil” to the metal landscape, specifically through their stage presentation and lyrics revolving around satanism and the occult. 

Thanks to them, a new level of storytelling depth was birthed in the metal world.