Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time – AC/DC vs. Metallica, Part Two: Who’s the Winner?

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We have reached the penultimate battle of our tournament to determine who is the greatest hard rock/metal band of all time. Through the previous 62 contests, we’ve whittled down the competitors to the two veterans that we see here, Australia’s AC/DC versus the States of America’s Metallica. As they used to say on the series Highlander, however, there can be only one. Let’s get to it on that decision!

Just to remind you, there are criteria that we can take into consideration after breaking down the various parts of the band. First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” – that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

Without further ado, let’s see who is going to take the crown!

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Band Breakdown

There are four basic parts here – the vocalist, the guitar section, the rhythm section and miscellaneous. With the first, we look at AC/DC’s front men – the late Bon Scott and Brian Johnson (we will not include Guns ‘N Roses singer W. Axl Rose as he has not officially been added to the band) – and contrast them with Metallica’s face James Hetfield.

It is arguable that there are not two bands with more identifiable or iconic leaders as these three men. Could you imagine an AC/DC song without the readily recognizable sounds of Scott or Johnson drawing you in? Likewise, Hetfield – and, as a result, Metallica – are also known quantities immediately upon hearing Hetfield’s growl. To be honest, none of them are what you’d call great singers but, for the bands they front, they are the perfect fit. Therefore, we’ll have to call this part of the competition a tie.

With the guitarists, Hetfield returns to the equation as rhythm guitarist. Along with first lead guitarist Dave Mustaine and then Kirk Hammett, the power behind Metallica’s sound is undeniable with these two men. AC/DC isn’t lacking for strength themselves with the brother combo of Angus (lead) and Malcolm Young, but they come up just short in this match. The “three bars and a cloud of dust” attack of the Young brothers doesn’t quite measure up to the complexity of the chord progressions of Mustaine and Hammett, nor do they have the ability to play at a virtuoso level (as Hammett does) and include the speed. Thus, we’ve got to give this segment to Metallica.

Finally, there’s the rhythm section, the bass and drums. Cliff Williams (bass) and Phil Rudd (drums) were the longtime base for AC/DC and they did their jobs masterfully but unspectacularly. In basically creating Metallica – and still being the vocal (as in speaking) member of the band – Lars Ulrich (drums) has done something that hasn’t been previously seen, the drummer as a band leader. Along with the late Cliff Burton, Jason Newstead and now Robert Trujillo, Ulrich has been the backbone of the band and created his own distinct style of drumming. This segment goes to Metallica also, giving them the overall win in the segment.

Winner: Metallica

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Longevity

This is one category that will split down the middle with no victor declared.

Since 1973, AC/DC has been pounding out their brand of music, with arguably the apex of their career coming in the late 1970 through the early 1990s. They still are playing today (and drawing arena sized crowds for their tours), although Malcolm Young, Johnson, Rudd, and Williams are no longer a part of the proceedings. Metallica has a slightly shorter career, having “only” been founded in 1981, but it isn’t sacrilege to say they may still be at the best of their game. Sure, the mid 1980s through the late 1990s may have been considered their heyday, but Metallica continues to pump out excellent music (Hardwired…to Self-Destruct is arguably their best album since their …And Justice for All/Metallica days) and they are currently on a stadium tour that is selling out across the States of America. With such performance as this, there’s no way that one is pulling out over the other.

Winner: Push

Influence on The Genre

This is one area where AC/DC could have the edge. Quite honestly, any hard rock/metal band that doesn’t say they were inspired by bands from the late 1960s/70s is being disingenuous. Such bands as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and others were the ones who laid the foundation for those who came later like Metallica. There is one issue where Metallica might outpip AC/DC is their location on the “Mount Rushmore” of thrash metal alongside Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. Still, we’ve got to give credit where credit is due: without AC/DC, there’s no Metallica.

Winner: AC/DC

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Popularity

Another borderline call between two of the most loved bands in the world. You don’t stick around for three or four decades without having a devoted following that will literally follow you to the gates of Hell for a concert. Both bands have monster record sales – AC/DC has sold over 200 million albums worldwide (and 71 million in the States of America, more than Madonna and Mariah Carey) and Metallica has 100 million worldwide – and both bands have been lauded by the critics. Metallica has a bit of an edge on the critical acclaim, which only serves to offset the lead in record sales for the boys from Australia. I certainly hate doing this, but we’re going to have to call this one equal.

Winner: Push

Accolades

AC/DC has been nominated for seven Grammys and won once, while Metallica thrashes them in this category. Metallica has been nominated 21 times for Grammys, walking away with nine. Where AC/DC holds the edge is in platinum albums; 20 of their albums has gone platinum (one million sales) and the legendary Back in Black is a double diamond holder (10 million sales, twice). Metallica can vouch for their own double diamond record (Metallica), but they’ve only had 10 platinum albums because that’s all they’ve released.

They are both in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but under highly different circumstances. Metallica was a first ballot entry when they were inducted in 2009 (an artist or band becomes eligible for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the 25th anniversary of their first official album release) with everyone but Mustaine named on the induction plaque (Metallica wanted Mustaine to perform with them during the induction ceremonies, but Mustaine was touring in Europe with Megadeth at the time). AC/DC took a bit longer to get into the Hall, with their induction in 2003 coming almost 30 years after their debut. It’s a close battle, but the edge here must go:

Winner: Metallica

So, Who Is the Champion?

By the slimmest of margins, Metallica captures the metal ring from AC/DC, earning the accolades of the greatest hard rock/metal band of all time. Individual tastes may vary on this decision, but overall there is a great deal of musicianship, innovation, and musical and lyrical substance to Metallica’s body of work. That isn’t saying that AC/DC’s brand of metal is something to deride; they have blazed their own trail in a very difficult industry and, as an international act from Australia, probably had some more issues to overcome in their early days. For this competition, however, it is the boys from San Francisco – Metallica – ruling supreme in the history of the genre.

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Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time – The Final Battle: AC/DC vs. Metallica, Part One

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Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last week alone, such as his rewriting of the history of the Civil War, not only in interviews but on his own fucking golf course), I’ve decided to do something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball completed the NCAA Basketball Championship in April, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

Here we are – we’ve finally made it to the Final Battle for the right to wear the crown of the greatest hard rock/metal band of all-time. Both bands have slogged through their respective regions – including knocking off the #1 seed in both regions – to meet on this hallowed battleground. Without further ado, here are your two heavyweights vying for the championship, with a brief history of each combatant. In Part Two, we will see how they match up with the criterion we’ve set for determining the victor and crown the champion.

AC/DC vs. Metallica

AC/DC – The True “Thunder” Came From “Down Under”

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AC/DC was founded in the wilds of Sydney, Australia, by the Young brothers, lead guitarist Angus and rhythm guitarist Malcolm, in 1973. In their early years, they tried to perfect the “three chords and thunder” sound that would become their trademark, but they also needed the right personnel to bring that sound to the people. Their first break came in finding their rhythm section in Phil Rudd (drums) and Cliff Williams (bass), but it was the vocals of Bon Scott that started the group on its way to glory and success.

AC/DC received some accolades for their early work, particularly High Voltage in 1975, but it was their 1979 album Highway to Hell that broke them as an international superstar act. With such songs as the title track, “Girls Got Rhythm,” “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” and “Touch Too Much,” AC/DC would eventually sell eight million copies of the record. It would also mark a moment that shook the band to its core.

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As they were in the studio creating their next album, Scott would die of accidental alcohol poisoning. The band briefly considered breaking up but, encouraged by Scott’s father, decided to soldier on with the band. With new lead singer Brian Johnson at the front of the stage, the band released what would arguably be their masterpiece, Back in Black. The record featured no noticeable change in the style of the band and the title track, “Hells Bells,” “Shoot to Thrill“ and the legendary “You Shook Me All Night Long,” became staples of classic rock stations. The success of the album has been seen in its longevity – it is second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in worldwide album sales and been certified double diamond (20 million sales) in the States of America. It is also arguable that AC/DC is now known more for Johnson’s voice than for Scott’s.

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Over the next 30-plus years, AC/DC continued to pound out classic hard rock for its legion of fans around the world. This would eventually lead to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, but they haven’t even come close to slowing down since then. Lately they’ve gone through some issues – in 2014, Rudd was replaced after being charged with a litany of offenses, including “attempting to procure a murder;” also in 2014, Malcolm Young cited his health in departing the band; in 2016, Johnson was replaced (by Guns ‘N Roses singer W. Axl Rose) after doctors said his hearing could be permanently lost if he continued touring; following the final show of their 2016 “Rock or Bust” World Tour, Williams announced his resignation, citing that the loss of Johnson and Rudd made AC/DC “a changed animal.” But the constant of the band has been the sight of Angus Young, in his schoolboy outfit, still doing his modified Chuck Berry “duck walk” to the delight of crowds worldwide.

Metallica – Bay Area Thrashers Fueled by Inner Demons

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Metallica was founded in Los Angeles, CA, in 1981, but for the entirety of its career has called the San Francisco area its home turf. The band’s drummer, Lars Ulrich, put an ad in a local newspaper looking for a singer/guitarist for the band he wanted to found. That band would take on a new form of hard rock/metal, the skate-community inspired “thrash metal” and the pieces of the band had to fit perfectly together. When guitarist James Hetfield– and fellow original members in lead guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist Cliff Burton – all came on board, the band Metallica was born and exploded on the music scene.

“Exploded” is a rather tame term for the power and aggression that Metallica attacked the then-Euro-driven synth pop and “hair metal” of that era. From their first album, Kill ’em All, in 1983, the band’s in-your-face approach was evident:  hard core guitars crashing around machine gun drumming and the angry growl of Hetfield crushing anything in its path. The aural assault also brought something else that hadn’t been a part of the hard rock/metal scene:  lyrics delving into issues such as isolation, religious issues, anger, militaristic thought, drug usage and the damage of such usage, not exactly the thing that the “hair metal” acts were singing about on the Sunset Strip.

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With these demons, however, came changes to the band. Mustaine was ejected from the group allegedly because of his drug usage and would be replaced by Kirk Hammett. As their star was on its ascendance, tragedy would strike the band in the death of Burton while the band was touring in Sweden in 1986. After receiving the blessing of Burton’s family, the remaining members of Metallica decided to keep the band going, replacing Burton with Jason Newstead, at which point they would enter arguably their most creative and successful era of their career.

In 1988, Metallica released …And Justice for All, arguably their most creative work, and the music world responded. The album, driven by such songs as “One“ (it’s video, splicing scenes from the film Johnny Got His Gun in with band performance, is considered one of the Top 100 videos of all-time), “The Frayed Ends of Sanity,” “Harvester of Sorrow“ and the title track, rocketed the band into notoriety. It was also one of the first competitors in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental category at the 1989 Grammy Awards, but was comically bested by Jethro Tull‘s Crest of a Knave for the inaugural honor (something that is recognized as one of the greatest gaffes in the history of the Grammys; it was corrected somewhat the following year when Metallica won the Grammy in the category).

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Not content to sit on that success, Metallica would next release arguably their masterpiece. The entirely black cover – hence many fans and others calling it “The Black Album” but officially an eponymous album – sparked even bigger things for the band. Through such songs as “Enter Sandman,” “Wherever I May Roam,” “The Unforgiven,” “Sad But True,” and others, Metallica solidified its place in the pantheon of “thrash metal” gods (alongside Mustaine’s Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax). It also etched its place in music history; Metallica would be the band’s first #1 album, has sold 16 million in the States of America, and started their consecutive streak of studio albums that have debuted at #1 (six, including their latest Hardwired…to Self-Destruct).

To this day, Metallica continues to pound out their brand of metal to an appreciative audience, even though Newstead left the band in 2001 and was replaced by Robert Trujillo. They have also brought attention to many social issues, including mental illness, often depicting their own struggles with those subjects (mental problems and drug and alcohol abuse) in documentary fashion. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 (first ballot), but Metallica shows absolutely no signs of slowing down as we get deeper into 2017 (and the “Hardwired” tour rolls along with two bands they’ve influenced, Avenged Sevenfold and Volbeat). In fact, if the Hardwired record is any indication, it is possible they still can get better – hard to believe, but potentially true.

Now it is up to you, the voters. We will break the competitors down by the criteria in our final essay and make the decision – who is the greatest hard rock/metal band of all-time? Vote, argue, fight about it (just keep the chains, brass knuckles and knives out of the battle, thank you!)…just let us know who the ultimate champion is going to be!