While tracing the origins of heavy metal, it is hard not to be swept up by the history of the legendary – and unmatched – artists that served as inspiration for the greatest musicians the world has seen (and probably yet to be seen).
Rock ‘n’ Roll legends such as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones have laid the tracks for decades of great music. In the 1960s, the steam engine of the “metal train” took off with musicians like Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne, and Ian Gillan – and it has never stopped since.
The most influential metal singers in history are found in the so-called “unholy trinity” – Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. These bands introduced us to a class of rock that would take the world by storm.
Now, without further ado, here’s a look into the first Twenty metal singers that made screaming cool.
1. Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)
Robert Plant (born in England, 1948) is best known for fronting the heavy metal band Led Zeppelin (1968), along with other rock bands such as Page and Plant (1994), The Honeydrippers (1981), and Band of Joy (1965).
As one of the most successful classic metal bands to date, Led Zeppelin (with Robert Plant on lead vocals) has sold more than a hundred million albums across the globe. In 2005 the band walked away with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.
With such phenomenal achievements, there is no argument that Robert Plant is one of the pioneers of smashing vocals in the metal scene.
2. Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath)
John Micheal Osbourne (born in England, 1948) was the lead vocalist for the heavy metal band Black Sabbath (1968). The band was another roaring success, selling more than seventy million albums worldwide.
After more than ten years with the band, Ozzy ventured out on his own (after being fired from the band due to substance abuse) and had a solo career worth fifty million album sales.
Ozzy landed countless awards, including a couple of Lifetime Achievements from G.Q. Men of the Year (2020) and Revolver Golden Gods Awards (2009). In 2019, his former band, Black Sabbath, received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.
3. Ronnie James Dio (Dio)
If there were ever a decorated musician, it would be Ronnie James Dio (born Ronald James Padavona in New Hampshire, 1942).
His career spanned over 52 years, the most prominent band associations being Rainbow (1975), Black Sabbath (stepping into Ozzy’s vacancy in 1979), and Dio (1982).
4. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
After parting ways with a British rock band (Samson) in 1981, Paul Bruce Dickinson (born in England, 1958) became the second lead vocalist for the heavy metal band Iron Maiden formed in 1975 (Dickinson replaced Paul Di’Anno as the lead vocalist).
Dickison is a highly talented musician, and on top of that, a polymath with a pilot’s license; his interests and passions range across various fields.
Iron Maiden was awarded a Grammy Award in 2010 for the Best Metal Performance (El Dorado).
5. Rob Halford (Judas Priest)
Robert John Arthur Halford (born in England, 1951), also known as “Metal God” and the frontman for the successful heavy metal band Judas Priest (1969). The band has sold more than twelve million albums in the U.S alone.
Rob left the band in 1992 and continued his music career with the formation of other bands, Fight (1992), Two (1996), and Halford (1999).
Rob has since returned as the frontman for Judas Priest and won a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2009 (Dissident Aggressor).
6. James Hetfield (Metallica)
James Alan Hetfield (born California, 1963) is best known for being the lead vocalist for the heavy metal band Metallica (1981). Hetfield was a couple of bands, including Leather Charm (1981).
If albums sales and awards were any indications of a metal singer that made screaming cool, Metallica, and by extension, James Hetfield, would be a prime example.
The band has sold a whopping 56 million albums in the U.S alone, their worldwide total being over 125 million sales. Metallica has also won eight Grammy Awards, the last in 2008 for Best Metal Performance (My Apocalypse).
7. Jinx Dawson (Coven)
Just because the 60s and 70s metal scene didn’t see many female vocalists does not mean they weren’t there. Esther Dawson (born in Indiana, 1950), aka Jinx, was the lead vocalist for the rock band Coven (1967).
Coven didn’t enjoy the same popularity as other metal bands of their time, one of the reasons was the society’s apprehension for the occult.
Jinx claims Coven was the first to introduce the Sign of the Horns gesture and not Gene Simmon’s; others say it was Dio’s granma, who knows?
8. Tom Araya (Slayer)
Tomás Enrique Araya Díaz (born in Chile, 1961) was the frontman for the thrash metal band Slayer (1981 – 2019). The band was very successful under thrash metal fans, selling over 20 million albums across the globe.
With Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth, Slayer, with Tom as lead vocalist, is one of the “big four” thrash metal bands that launched the style into great popularity.
Out of five nominations, the band has won two Grammy Awards for Best Metal Performance (Eyes of the Insane 2006 and Final Six 2007).
9. Phil Anselmo (Pantera)
Philip Hansen Anselmo (born in Louisiana, 1968) is best known for fronting the heavy metal band Pantera (1981 – 2003). Anselmo is still part of the supergroup Down that formed in 1991.
Phil has been part of other bands, including Superjoint (1993), Viking Crown (1994), Necrophagia (1983), and a hardcore punk band formed in 2006, Arson Anthem.
10. Chuck Schuldiner (Death)
Charles Michael Schuldiner (born in Long Island, 1967), the “Godfather” of death metal, was one of the first (amongst other bands, such as Possessed, Venom, and Slayer) to introduce the growling vocals in extreme metal. Sadly, Schuldiner passed away from cancer in 2001.
Chuck was also considered a phenomenal guitarist. Apart from fronting the extreme metal band aptly named Death, Chuck was a guitarist for a metal band called Slaughter (1984), vocalist and guitarist of Control Denied (1996), and a guitarist for the supergroup Voodoocult (1993).
11. Dave Mustaine (Megadeth)
Best known for leading the thrash metal band Megadeth (1983), David Scott Mustaine (born in California, 1961) was also a band member for Metallica for a year after Panic disbanded.
While he might be best known for his roaring vocals, Mustaine is also a talented athlete, holding a black belt in taekwondo and a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Megadeth won a Grammy Award in 2016 for Best Metal Performance (Dystopia).
12. Dan McCafferty (Nazareth)
William Daniel McCafferty (born in Scotland, 1946) is the lead vocalist for Nazareth (1968). Granted, some metal fans might argue that the band is more rock than heavy metal.
Nazareth has sold more than 20 million albums across the globe.
13. Doro Pesch (Warlock)
Dorothee Pesch (born in Germany, 1964) is best known as the lead vocalist for the metal band Warlock (1982 – 1989). After a legal issue with the band’s name rights, the band continued its career under the name Doro.
Fans refer to Doro as the Metal Queen. The nickname stems from the fact that metal has not seen a lot of women throughout the years. However, in recent years this has turned around with vocalists such as Lizzy Hale (Halestorm), Taylor Momsen (The Pretty Reckless), and Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), to name just a few.
14. Dee Snider (Twisted Sister)
Best known for fronting the heavy metal band Twisted Sister (1972), Daniel Snider (born in New York, 1955) is well known for his larger-than-life personality, making him a perfect fit for his other passions, television, and radio.
After Twisted Sister broke up in 1989, Dee formed other heavy metal bands, Desperado (1988 – 1990), followed by Windomaker (1991 – 1994). After the last band dismembered, Dee went solo. He has released four solo albums since the 2000s and is busy with the fifth, Leave a Scar (2021).
15. Klaus Meine (Scorpions)
Klaus Meine (born in Germany in 1948) is the lead vocalist for the very successful band Scorpions (1965). The band has sold more than 110 million albums across the globe, cementing its place as an influential metal band.
Meine’s singing career almost ended in 1981 when he experienced trouble with his voice and his doctor advised him to move onto something with less strain on his vocal cords. Klause did not accept defeat, and the band stuck together throughout the surgeries and the recovery of his voice.
16. Lemmy (Motörhead)
Ian Fraser Kilmister (born in England, 1945) was best known as the lead vocalist for the heavy metal band Motörhead (1975). Before Motörhead, Lemmy’s career took off with an English rock band named The Rockin’ Vickers (1963 – 1968).
He was also the bassist (1971 – 1975) for Hawkwind, a space rock band, and the leading man for the supergroup The Head Cat (1999). Lemmy passed away in 2015 after struggling with various health issues.
Motörhead sold more than 15 million albums and won Best Metal Performance in 2004 (Whiplash).
17. Janis Joplin
Janis Lyn Joplin (born in Texas, 1943) is not considered a heavy metal vocalist; however, she has been an inspiration to so many artists in her short career as a rock ‘n’ roll musician. And we believe she deserves a spot for her powerful voice.
Joplin passed away at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose.
Joplin has sold more than 18 million albums across the globe and won a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 2005.
18. Gene Simmons (Kiss)
Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz in Isreal, 1949) is also known by a string of nicknames such as The Demon, Dr. Love, and so on. Simmons is probably best known for his insanely long tongue that seems to have a life of its own.
However, his fame came from fronting the band Kiss (1973) that has sold more than 100 million albums across the globe.
19. Brian Johnson (AC/DC)
Brian Francis Johnson (born in England, 1947) is best known for being the lead vocalist for the Australian band AC/DC. Brian only joined the band in 1980 when lead vocalist Ben Scott died.
Before AC/DC, and between 1972 and 1980, Johnson was the frontman for Geordie, a British rock band from the 70s. AC/DC sold over 200 million albums worldwide and won Best Metal Performance in 2009 (War Machine).
20. Marilyn Manson (Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids)
Marilyn Manson (born Brian Hugh Warner in Ohio, 1969) is the lead vocalist for the metal band Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids (1989). Despite his startling appearance, Mason is also known for his support of charitable causes around the world.
Manson has sold over 50 million albums internationally, making him quite the influential artist in the metal industry. His solo has earned him great success, and he can be spotted making guest appearances with bands and artists like Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein, and Corey Taylor (Slipknot).
Metal Singers Inspired By the First Twenty Metal Singers That Made Screaming Cool
You might feel that we have left out some of your favorite metal artists. Don’t pout; below, you’ll find a list of some of the best artists that drew inspiration from the heavy metal scene during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
- Corey Taylor from Slipknot, listen to Unsainted
- M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold, listen to Nightmare
- Jonathan Davis from Korn, listen to Coming Undone
- Maynard James Keenan from Tool, listen to Parabola
- Serj Tankian from System of a Down, listen to Chop Suey!
- Johan Hegg from Amon Amarth, listen to Live for the Kill
- Chester Bennington from Linkin Park, listen to Given Up
- Till Lindemann from Rammstein, listen to Du Hast
- Oliver Sykes from Bring Me The Horizon, listen to Teardrops
- Sam Carter from Architects, lister to Animals
- Petri Lindroos and Sami Hinkka from Ensiferum, listen to In My Sword I Trust