Who are The Big Four of Metal Music?

Metal music has had many legendary bands who have defined the genre and influenced countless other musicians. However, there are four known as the Big 4 that are well known both in and out of the metal scene. So, who are the big four of metal?

The Big 4 in metal are Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth. Let’s go over each of these so you know who they are and why they are so crucial to metal music, especially the subgenre of thrash metal. 


Metallica was formed in 1981, and their first album, Kill ‘Em All, was released in 1983. Since then, they have released ten studio albums, with an 11th coming in April 2023, 40 years after their debut! 

Their music has been praised for its fast, aggressive, crunchy riffs and intricate guitar solos. Not only did they create frenetic headbangers, but they also displayed musical craftsmanship beyond that commonly found in metal

Their first four albums, Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice For All, could easily be described as thrash metal. In 1991, however, they broke into the mainstream with their self-titled, or Black album. The album is still metal but has a cleaner, more polished sound than their previous releases and a somewhat “lighter” tone. 


Like Metallica, Slayer was also formed in 1981, and their debut album, Show No Mercy, came out a few months after Metallica’s debut in 1983. They released 12 studio albums and broke up following their final tour in 2019. 

Slayer rose to prominence with high-speed riffs and lead guitar frenzies, tackling lyrical themes that many considered politically incorrect. They have induced fear in new listeners with their dark, menacing sound. Their drummer is known for being a leader in double bass drumming. 

Slayer’s logo has become a mainstream pop culture symbol, and the font used for their band name is often reproduced and is meant as a symbol of danger and “badassness.” 


Anthrax, like Slayer and Metallica, was formed in 1981 and released their first album, Fistful of Metal, in 1984. Their sound might be one of the Big Four that has varied the most over the years due to the number of lineup changes they had, including vocalists and lead guitarists. They have released 11 studio albums in total, with their most recent release in 2016. 

The band provided true thrash metal, although they deviated from this for a few albums, one of which is 1993’s Sound of White Noise. The album was a response to the grunge movement that was so popular in the 1990s. 

They are known for high tempo, heavy riffs, and similarly fast lead guitar sections. 


Megadeth was formed in 1983, and their first album, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! came out in 1985. Since then, they have released 16 studio albums, with their most recent record released in 2022. 

The frontman, Dave Mustaine, was originally the lead guitarist of Metallica but was fired due to drug abuse. After this, he formed his band, and thus Megadeth was born. Not to be outdone by his former bandmates, Megadeth led with heavy thrash and shows of musicianship that even delved into unique territory (like a cover of Nancy Sinatra). Fans could expect to hear furious guitar riffs and lead sections just as they could with the other members of the Big 4. 

Like Anthrax, Megadeth has endured many lineup changes. The only original member is the frontman, Mustaine himself. Despite this, Megadeth has produced a lengthy metal discography, with most of their albums being held in high acclaim. 

The Big Four of Metal’s Subgenres

In the realm of metal, the ‘Big Four’ epitomizes a cadre of bands that have not only defined a subgenre, but have become the beacons of influence and success within their realms. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax, the leaders of the metal movement, deeply rooted the concept of the ‘Big Four’.

However, this notion also resonates across other metal subgenres, with each subgenre having its own quartet of influential bands. Although some of these are completely subjective, here are the big four of other genres based on the internet’s (and our) opinion:


Metalcore is a fusion genre combining elements from punk and metal. With its relative newness, few bands can claim ownership of being a genre definer. After all, the genre is still be defined by many musicians.

Some on the internet have dubbed these bands as the Big Four of Metalcore:

  1. Killswitch Engage: With a melodic yet aggressive style, Killswitch Engage has played a pivotal role in bringing metalcore to the masses.
  2. Unearth: Known for their energetic live performances and relentless touring schedule, Unearth has firmly established their place within the metalcore realm.
  3. August Burns Red: Through a blend of technical proficiency and emotive delivery, August Burns Red has contributed to the evolution of metalcore.
  4. All That Remains: All That Remains has garnered a dedicated following with their blend of melodic and heavy-hitting metalcore sounds.

Of course, you might have a different opinion that could include bands like Attack Attack, Woe Is Me, or Bullet for My Valentine.

Doom Metal:

A forum post suggests that the ‘Big Four’ of doom metal could be these options:

  1. Black Sabbath: As the progenitors of doom metal, Black Sabbath’s slow tempos and ominous ambiance laid the foundation for the genre.
  2. Saint Vitus: Embodying the essence of doom with their melancholic sound, Saint Vitus has been a torchbearer for the traditional doom metal style.
  3. Pentagram: With a career spanning decades, Pentagram has become synonymous with doom metal, influencing countless bands within the subgenre.
  4. Trouble: Known for their distinct, riff-centric sound, Trouble has played a significant role in shaping the doom metal landscape.

We credit Black Sabbath as the pioneer of doom metal, characterized by slow tempos, ominous ambiance, and low-pitched rhythms​.

Doom metal covers some very dark themes, which is part of Black Sabbath’s style. Although modern themes have gotten darker, the spirit of doom metal has persisted.

Hair Metal:

Hair Metal isn’t as popular as some of these genres, so there are fewer people commenting on this. Still, here are the potential ‘Big Four’ of Hair Metal based on their legendary status.

  1. Mötley Crüe: Known for their classic album “Dr. Feelgood” and their notorious off-stage antics, Mötley Crüe epitomizes the glam and grit of hair metal​​.
  2. Guns N’ Roses: With their “Appetite for Destruction” album, Guns N’ Roses brought a rougher edge to the hair metal scene​​.
  3. Poison: Their commercial success and anthems like “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” helped Poison become one of the defining bands of the hair metal era​​.
  4. Van Halen: Though earlier than others, Van Halen’s flamboyant style and Eddie Van Halen’s guitar techniques were influential in paving the way for hair metal bands that followed​​.

Many of these Hair Metal bands date back to the late 1970s and early 80s. These bands have outlasted the genre popularized by the outlandish styles of the 80s.

Black Metal:

Black metal dates back to the early 1980s, making it almost as old as Hair Metal. What makes it unique is its focus on anti-Christian themes. Here are four major Black Metal bands that have helped establish the genre:

  1. Bathory: Pioneering a fusion of black metal and Viking themes, Bathory’s influence is foundational within the black metal subgenre​​.
  2. Mayhem: Their pioneering status and controversial history place Mayhem among the most influential black metal bands​.
  3. Darkthrone: Known for changing of black metal with their raw, lo-fi sound, Darkthrone’s influence on the genre is paramount​​.
  4. Emperor: With a discography that’s as critically acclaimed as it is influential, Emperor helped shape the symphonic style within black metal​.

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