The 10 best metal guitarists in the world in 2022, according to you

Manuel Gagneux and Tiziano Volante (Zeal & Ardor)
(Image credit: Per Ole Hagen / Getty)

Best of 2022: Metal guitar is a broad church in 2022, an art form pulled in all different directions. Some resort to primitivism, the power of the riff compels them as they place faith in the power of the groove. Others chase down new extremes with ever more spectacular expressions of technical excellence.

This year’s Top 10 players, as voted for by you, is populated by players from both camps, and those who land somewhere between. But what’s interesting is how we take metal guitar as a team sport. This list is dominated by partnerships, double acts whose styles converge, hardening into alloy, or those whose complementary approaches to electric guitar expand their band’s sound. 

No more is that more noticeable than on your number one pick, a pair whose iconoclasm has torched the orthodoxy of metal’s most uncompromising sub-genres and rebirthed it as something altogether new…

1. Manuel Gagneux and Tiziano Volante (Zeal & Ardor)

Manuel Gagneux’s vision for black metal was never going to be constrained by the established aesthetics of blast beats and an open Em to Cm chord progression on over-the-top, fuzzed-out guitar, nor by the absolutist credo trumpeted by its most unholy.

Instead he seized upon black metal radicalism to build a hypnotic sound that encompassed the African-American spiritual, elements of soul and folk, that restlessly augmented metal until it was a sound that was his own.

On Zeal & Ardor, released 11 February through MVKA, Gagneux and rhythm guitarist Tiziano Volante create volatile textures to establish mood, only leaning into the physical power of metal when its called for, as on Death To The Holy, which comprises a patchwork of staccato metal riff progressions, gnawing melodies, the occasional synth skronk and a disorientating structure.

Gagneux likes it that way. It puts more distance between Zeal & Ardor’s sound and the established canon of black metal. It keeps the audience on edge. It keeps us thinking. And it frees up Gagneux and Volante to explore new sounds, new ideas, new provocations. Come to think of it, that is pretty black metal.

2. Dave Mustaine and Kiko Loureiro (Megadeth)

The Dave Mustaine and Kiko Loureiro partnership is arguably the greatest in Megadeth’s history. 

It may not have borne fruit with an album that can top the front-to-back diamantine perfection of Rust In Peace, in which Marty Friedman was the technically audacious foil Mustaine needed to tease the best work out of him, but as a tag team of state-of-the-art metal guitar, it’s unbeatable. 

The evidence to support this endorsement of Team Mustaine/Loureiro is writ large over The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead! You could look to Night Stalkers, a high-speed metal anthem featuring Ice-T that is composed as though each part were accelerating. The clock hit 190bpm on that track, supposedly the fastest they’ve ever written.

Or you could look to Dogs Of Chernobyl or Life In Hell, and so on, where Mustaine’s animalistic style contrasts with Loureiro’s booksmarts and taste for scalar patterns found far beyond the beaten track. It is consistently spectacular. 

3. Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera)

Zakk Wylde has had an eventful year. Once more, the Prince of Darkness hit him up on WhatsApp and corralled the hirsute shred warrior into the studio to join the likes of Tony Iommi, Mike McCready, Jeff Beck and, y’know, Eric “See you if you can spot this one” Clapton in the studio for the triumphant all-star album, Patient Number 9.

That in itself is worthy of a podium finish in this or any other year. But then Wylde’s calendar also started filling up as the surviving members of Pantera, vocalist Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown, enlisted Wylde as guitarist for a reunion tour, Wylde filling the spot of his friend, the late Dimebag Darrell

Oh, and he also launched his own online guitar lessons platform, the Berzerker Guitar Camp. No rest for the wicked, to borrow a phrase…

4. Mårten Hagström and Fredrik Thordendal (Meshuggah)

Fredrik Thordendal’s 100 per cent return to the Meshuggah camp was always going to be spectacular. 

It’s simple mathematics; when he and Mårten Hagström put their headstocks together in the writing room to realise a polyrhythmic eight-string metal jam, the Earth’s tectonic plates creak a little, and you suspect that the San Andreas fault sleeps with one eye open.

Immutable is a work of brutal physics, underpinned by Tomas Haake’s unerring rhythms. Austere melodies abut atonal breeze-block riffs. Lead guitar in Meshuggah’s language is often a languid noise in the upper registers, a piece of elastic that winds the clock together. 

But there is something rubbery about the rhythm guitar, too, with Thordendal and  Hagström manipulating the tow-rope strings on their extended-range guitars for an chastening, alien sound – the sound of metal as imagined by a future iteration of the human race.

5. Josh Middleton (Sylosis / Architects)

Josh Middleton

(Image credit: Andrea Friedrich / Getty)

Pulling shifts in Architects and Sylosis, balancing solo work with a cottage industry of signature guitar Kemper profiles, Josh Middleton is one of metal’s most restless players. 

Sharing co-production duties on Architects’ 2022 album, The Classic Symptoms of a Broken Spirit, Middleton makes space for the electronic elements to effectively hot-wire the English metalcore stalwarts’ sound. 

Furthermore, Sylosis made a tentative return this year, releasing the single Heavy Is The Crown a few months back – a not-so-gentle reminder that Middleton is operating at the sharp edge of contemporary metal playing with super-tight riffs, big melodies, and the discipline to let the latter command the mix when the time is right.

6. Mark Morton and Willie Adler (Lamb Of God)

The ability to write a riff that twists and turns and holds a groove down is gift that keeps on giving for the bruise brothers of metal Willie Adler and Mark Morton. 

Lamb Of God’s latest  pit-starting studio album, Omens, is juiced with dark energy and venom, Adler and Morton pinning you to the wall from the get-go with the squawk and grind of Nevermore, a nasty, volatile guitar accompaniment for vocalist Randy Blythe’s sandpaper sweet nothings.

There is something freeing about the way Adler and Morton compose a track, as though they are undertaking an exercise in automatic writing. You can often second guess their dynamics, where one will start off, where the other will pick up, and where they might take the riff next – and yet this only makes it more exhilarating. 

Metal players should pay close attention to what they do. From their unfailing precision to their super-aggro tones, there are many teachable moments. But whatever you take from their playing, let’s all agree that the energy they put into each composition is non-negotiable.

7. Munky and Head (Korn)

Pioneers of 7-string guitar, nu-metal godfathers, James ‘Munky’ Shaffer and Brian ‘Head’ Welch are often credited with changing the way guitarists approach the instrument, in how they almost occupy a bass player’s role by mediating between rhythm and melody. 

That style, with riffs too big too be complex, has withstood the evolutionary headwinds that all bands face over the years. It has stood the test of time. But there’s another side to the Korn duo’s playing that is less examined, and that’s the textures they will give a track. The dynamics of Korn’s songwriting are not all quiet then loud, as was first the case as they emerged out of a ‘90s scene incandescent with enthusiasm for Rage Against The Machine’s newly minted brand of agitprop. 

It’s one thing tuning down and writing something fundamental to the jam; it’s quite the other knowing when to dial it back and to atomise the guitar’s role, as Munky and Head do on the pre-chorus action on Start The Healing, or on the fidgety, anxious, tense, nervous headache of Penance To Sorrow, the squelch of pitch-shifting vibrato making us all want to phone in sick. 

Requiem is an album that should bury the idea that Munky and Head’s guitars are just there to rough up the track and offer a launchpad for a massive chorus.


Any player who is looking to take their sound into fresh extremes, outside or rock, outside of metal, and yet adjacent to both, would do well to check out the latest LP from Russian Circles, Gnosis, on which guitarist Mike Sullivan offers up a master class in tone, tension and release.

It might be instrumental post-metal but you’d swear there were lyrics to it. Guitars were tracked at God City in the company of Kurt Ballou, whose pedalboard arsenal was pressed into service. Sullivan took a more is more approach. There were the Boss classic distortion pedals, the HM-2, the Metal Zone. Walrus Audio’s Swiss Army Knife distortion, the Ages, was one among many others; perhaps the lesson here is to look upon gain and the world of overdrive, distortion and fuzz, as textural elements to the sound, something the audience can reach out and touch. 

Listen to Conduit below, that riff, the tone, it comes over as though it were sampled from the animal kingdom, massive, unresponsive to appeal, just moving forward at its own tempo. But then Sullivan sublimates this uncompromising physicality in a greyed-out palette of melodic choices. This is metal – or post-metal – for mind, body and soul.

9. Adam De Micco and Andrew O'Connor (Lorna Shore)

Lorna Shore jimmied open a new frontier for deathcore with the epic Pain Remains. If the genre has forever been given to urgent, kinetic arrangements, so be it. That was the terrain. But why not stretch it out into something truly huge and monstrous?

That’s what Adam De Micco and Andrew O’ Connor are doing here. It’s deathcore as viewed in a funhouse mirror, carnival melodies, quicksilver tempo, a supernova of musical ideas all executed with no delay. 

Indeed, for those allergic to deathcore, Pain Remains is worthy of study; it’s structurally fascinating, calling to mind the maximalism of Devin Townsend in his more fevered early days, the underground hellfire of Anaal Nathrakh, all with a box-office production that is going to emerge triumphant in the loudness wars whether you like it or not.

And De Micco really does split the atom with those solos, a display of technical excellence perfectly in tune with an album that sounds almost like the gamification of metal, each verse, each section upping the levels, to infinity and beyond.

10. Abbath

Abbath is like underground metal’s Gene Simmons, Lemmy and King Diamond’s wayward nephew all in one larger-than-life persona. There is no one on this Earth quite like the former Immortal guitarist and frontman, and this voluminous personality gives his playing style a feral, on-the-edge quality, as though its trying to chew itself free from the mix.

His third solo album, Dread Reaver, found him working once more with lyricist Simon Dancaster – think of them as a black metal Elton and Bernie – with lead guitarist 

Ole André Farstad handling the fancy stuff, which leaves Abbath free to hold court on the mic and dispense riff after riff. There is an animal power to his rhythm guitar, something elemental. His all-in commitment gives you the impression that when Abbath puts on his corpsepaint to take to the stage, that’s him taking off his mask and showing us all who he really is.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.