I have been a heavy metal fan ever since I can remember. I think I was around 8 years old the first time I heard AC/DC’s TNT, and something deep inside clicked. Although I like to think of myself as a music fan in general, no other musical genre can even remotely trigger the kind of emotions in me as heavy metal can.
In time my taste has evolved, as well as heavy metal as a genre. Today, many bands that were labeled as metal, are hard rock for me, due to the brutal extremes some metal subgenres have gone to. For example, I no longer consider AC/DC, Motley Crue, or Skid Row as being heavy metal bands, but rather great hard rock acts.
I just want to point out that I’m expressing my own opinion here, and not stating the absolute truth, or official data.
For me, heavy metal is Pantera, Metallica up until “Load”, Megadeth, Gojira, Lamb of God, etc. The heaviness took off in the 90s mainly because of the impact Pantera’s “Vulgar display of power” had, and the brutality has been increasing year after year, sometimes taken to levels of absurdity.
Read our article about Pantera
Heavy metal started in the late 60s and early 70s with bands like Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple adding a new layer of heaviness to their blues-based hard rock, but the first true heavy metal band was, without a doubt, Black Sabbath. Judas Priest and Motorhead soon followed setting the path for an evolving, and ever-growing musical genre that’s been around for more than 50 years.
But, I don’t want to talk about any of the Heavy metal giants I mentioned before.
Instead, I want to explore bands that are not from the US or UK, but have achieved global popularity and established themselves as relevant heavy metal representatives equally prominent like their American and British counterparts.
There are tens of thousands of metal bands sprouting from each and every corner of the world, but, in this article, I will be talking only about bands with significant record sales, and a huge fan base across the world.
Australia’s Greatest Export
As I mentioned before, in my personal opinion, a lot of bands that are considered by many to be metal, are actually hard rock. But, I have to take into account the general opinion, especially when it comes to the first band on this list.
This band has been so successful, and had such a long career that it cannot be ignored, even though, they themselves have repeatedly stated to be “just a simple rock n roll” band.
The band I’m talking about is Australia’s greatest export AC/DC.
Formed in 1974 by the Young brothers, Angus and Malcolm, this incredible group has sold over 200 million albums worldwide.
Their first album, High Voltage was released in 1975, but they achieved true global fame and success with “Highway to Hell” in 1979.
Their musical style has been described over the years as rock n roll, blues-rock, hard rock, and, of course, heavy metal. The most incredible thing about AC/DC is that they released their 16th album “Power Up” in 2020, almost 50 years after their formation, confirming their deserved music icons status.
Read our article about AC/DC here
And the Award for Best Metal band from Germany goes to…
The first name that comes to mind when I think about huge heavy metal bands outside of the US and UK is Rammstein. I couldn’t place this German band in a specific subgenre if my life depended on it, but I know they sound freaking heavy, and I know they sound freaking great.
Rammstein was formed in Berlin in 1994 and is one of the few bands in the industry that has never changed its lineup, which consists of lead vocalist Till Lindemann, lead guitarist Richard Kruspe, rhythm guitarist Paul Landers, bassist Oliver Riedel, drummer Christoph Schneider, and Christian “Flake” Lorenz on keyboard.
“Rammstein’s music is a powerful strain of brutally intense rock… bringing gale-force music and spectacular theatrics together”.
The New York Times
They have instigated controversy throughout their entire career, and have always been considered one of the greatest live show bands – two key ingredients of heavy metal.
Germany has given birth to many great heavy metal bands that have achieved global popularity, like Kreator and Accept, but no one is even close to the impact Rammstein has had on the international music scene.
Together with the fact that they have sold millions of records worldwide, these factors make Rammstein one of the most prominent metal acts in the last 30 years, securing their place in the very top of the genre’s most important, and influential groups.
They have released 7 studio albums, and have started recording their eighth during the Covid pandemic in 2020, and as for my part, I can’t wait to hear their new material.
The Heaviness from Eastern Europe
In recent years many ex-Soviet Union countries have developed very rich metal scenes, but the one band that has managed to capture worldwide attention is Jinjer from Ukraine.
There are two things that everyone who hears or sees them for the first time notices. First, of course, is Tatiana’s incredible vocal range. I just couldn’t believe how this small sexy girl could growl, shout, scream in such a brutal, yet controlled way.
After the initial shock caused by Tatiana’s voice transformations wears off, the second thing that sticks out is the band’s musicianship and virtuosity. These guys are just killers. It’s obvious that they could easily be an incredible jazz band if they chose to, or any other genre for that matter.
Jinjer is a metalcore, progressive metal act, and was formed in 2009 in Donetsk. The original lineup consisted of Maksym Fatullaiev (vocals), Dmitriy Oksen (rhythm guitar), and Vyacheslav Okhrimenko (drums). However, the band considers 2010 as the official year of their formation when Tatiana Shmailyuk replaced Fatullaiev on vocals and Roman Ibramkhalilov joined on lead guitar.
Jinjer’s success story is a special one. They had released their first studio album “Cloud Factory” in 2014 and had been touring relentlessly before that all over the world, so they already had established their name as an incredible heavy metal band.
But, in 2015, the power of technology gave them a push towards worldwide notoriety. Their single video “Pisces” went viral, and their life changed forever. Not that they would have not gotten noticed without the help of YouTube, because a band that is that good has to come on top sooner or later. But, the social media success just accelerated what was bound to happen anyway.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jinjer were forced to postpone events taking place in 2020 and early 2021, such as their tours in Latin America. The band released their first full live album titled “Alive in Melbourne” on 20 November 2020, streaming the whole album online on release day.
Jinjer is a great and original heavy metal band, that has not yet reached the peak of their career, and I hope we will all witness the full potential of this awesome Ukrainian group.
Boys from Brazil
Brazil has always been known for its beaches, the carnival, and some of the best footballers in history. If there are musical genres that we associate with Brazil, it would have to be Bossanova and samba, certainly not heavy metal. That all changed in 1989, with the release of the album “Beneath the Remains” by a band from Bello Horizonte called Sepultura.
Sepultura was formed in 1984 and went through various lineup changes before solidifying in a thrash metal quartet that would rock millions across the world. The lineup that recorded “Beneath the Remains” consisted of the Cavalera brothers Max, and Igor, respectively on vocals and rhythm guitar and drums, Andreas Kisser on lead guitar, and Paulo Pinto on bass.
The band had released 2 albums prior to Beneath the remains, but only after they started touring and promoting their third studio album did the stars align and their popularity spread like wildfire.
Three more iconic albums followed: Arise in 1991, Chaos A.D. in 1993, and Roots in 1996, which is the last album with Max Cavalera with the group.
That same year there was a dispute between Max, and Gloria Cavalera on one side, and the rest of the band on the other.
Gloria was Max’s wife and band manager, and the rest of the band didn’t want to renew her contract. While Kisser stated that she interfered too much with the music, Max has said that the real reason is in the fact that Kisser and his wife tried to organize the funeral of Gloria’s son Dana, tragically killed in a car accident, while his mother and Max were away.
The true definite version of what had occurred is still unclear, but the bottom line is that MazCavalera left Sepultura and went on to form Soulfly, which became popular globally, but not like Sepultura.
After hearing a demo tape, Sepultura hired Derrick Leon Green as the new vocalist and would release 9 more albums, but the new lineup never reached the levels of popularity they had with Cavalera as the singer. Their fan base suffered after the departure of Max, as many fans felt disillusioned, and felt the band will never be the same – I included.
Sepultura still remains an iconic heavy metal band, which was catapulted towards stardom in the early 90s, and reigns supreme as the biggest selling, and most popular South American band in the genre.
The Norwegian Darkness
I had difficulties with this last segment of the article. I was going to talk only about bands, but in this instance, I feel like that would be a incomplete take on things.
This last, one-of-a-kind phenomenon is the story of a group of friends, that started like so many other stories in rock and heavy metal music but ended up being a sensationalistic and terrible story that became known worldwide.
It is a story about Mayhem, Norwegian Black metal, speculation, betrayal, and death.
Black metal originated in the 80s in different parts of Europe somehow simultaneously. The name of the genre was coined by the British band Venom and taken from their homonymous album, but there were other bands that were just as influential.
Switzerland’s Celtic Frost and Hellhammer, Denmark’s Merciful Fate, and Sweden’s Bathory, together with Venom, are considered to be the very first bands whose sound evolved from thrash and death metal and would become what we today call the first wave of black metal.
The second wave of black metal arose in the early 90s spearheaded by Norwegian bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Emperor, Satyricon, and Gorgoroth.
Soon, the scene became a proper subgenre known as Norwegian Black Metal. If there was one kind of extreme metal that I would have to choose that has created the most controversy it would have to be Norwegian Black metal.
Mayhem is not the only prominent band of the subgenre, but it is the focal point of the movement and the cult-like “Black Circle” in Oslo.
At the center of the whole controversy is Mayhem’s founder and guitarist Euronymous.
Mayhem was building a solid reputation and following in the underground with their dark riffs, and fast, brutal tempos. Their live shows were famous for brutality and gore, as the singer and lyricist under the pseudonym Per Yngve Ohlin called “Dead” would cut himself on stage.
But, what most sets this band apart was the quality of their music. I was never into black metal because of the imagery, satanism, and extreme, often racist ideology, and probably because I grew up in a completely different environment in the Balkans, but I know creativity, originality, and quality – 3 key factors very prominent in early Norwegian Black Metal.
In 1991, Dead took his own life in a horrible way. He had slit his wrists, throat, and ended his life with a gunshot. He was only 22.
Ohlin’s body was found by Euronymous, who decided to take advantage of his friend’s tragic death and use it to promote Mayhem and the Norwegian scene. Before calling the police, he arranged some details and took photographs of the body that would later be used for the cover of their bootleg live album “Dawn of the Black Hearts”.
Euronymous stated that Dead had taken his own life because black metal had become too commercialized, and stories emerged that he had made necklaces with parts of his friend’s skull that the band members wore.
His actions and attitude after Dead’s passing were met with disgust from many other members of the scene, but he had reached his goal: people became aware and intrigued by the Norwegian black metal scene.
Shortly after Dead’s tragic death, Euronymous opened a record shop in Oslo called Helvete, which would become a gathering place for the scene, and he founded the Deathlike Silence record label. His influence in the scene was growing and the “Black Circle”, the group that would meet in the basement of the record shop became a sort of cult.
In 1992, members of the Norwegian black metal scene began a wave of arson attacks on Christian churches, and by 1996, there had been at least 50 attacks in Norway. In the years to come, they would be responsible for the murder of a homosexual man, and they were trying to spread fear in the community using mainstream media.
But, the tragic event that sprouted the most controversy occurred on August 10th of 1993. Vikernes went to Euronymous’s apartment and stabbed him 23 times killing him. The reasons behind this murder among friends have been the subject of countless speculations, but we will leave that for another time.
It is my belief that Norwegian Black Metal had everything it needed to become a well-known genre without all the violence and the tragic events that marked it. I have the impression that many lives were needlessly lost and ruined. After all, it’s supposed to be just music.
Asia and Africa
When it comes to Africa and Asia, although there are thousands of great heavy metal bands, none are acclaimed internationally on the level as the ones we already talked about. None of the bands from these 2 continents have reached similar record sales, or achieved the iconic status like the others from this list.
Some would maybe mention Japan’s Baby Metal, but I personally think that it is not a real band that built their career through the struggles and tribulations that every true metal act has to go through, but rather a project, and certainly not one with iconic status among real heavy metal fans, so I will not consider it.
So, this was a list of the most iconic and relevant heavy metal bands outside of the US and UK. Each one has left a mark on global music in their respective timeframe, and is established as an important part of the rock and metal heritage. We can only hope that the future will bring many more to the forefront, and that many other countries and regions will give to the world new bands that will carry the heavy metal flag high.
Thanks for reading this article and please feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section.