Heavy Metal is Way More Popular Than You Think

by | Jan 14, 2022


Heavy Metal is a sub-genre of rock music known for its “distorted guitar ‘power chords’, heavy riffs, wailing vocals and virtuosic solos by guitarists and drummers” (Oxford Music Dictionary).

The origins of Heavy Metal trace to the late 1960s and early 1970s. Steppenwolf, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix birthed the concept but weren’t true Heavy Metal acts — just the appetizer. The lyrics “I like smoke and lightnin’/heavy metal thunder” in “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf is credited as providing the origins for the genre’s name.

While critics disagree on the first true heavy metal band, most think that either Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath was the first metal band. In the 80s and 90s, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden took the genre in a harder direction with more of a thrashing, head-banging style. Heavy Metal now has multiple sub-styles including Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Doom Metal, Black Metal, and Power Metal.

If you don’t listen to Heavy Metal, you might not realize that not only is Heavy Metal alive and well in the 21st Century, but it is one of the most popular genres with the most loyal fans.

In a 2015 study, Spotify found that “from Portugal to the United States to (of course) Norway, metal holds down a spot in the top ten—and usually top five—most listened to genres in every country included in the study. Metal also takes the overall global genre loyalty crown, leaving pop to trail behind as a distant second and folk, country, and hip-hop to founder in the dust.” Source.

Here’s a chart from Spotify showing how loyal listeners of various genres are:


A 2018 study of over 150 streaming services found that Heavy Metal was the fastest-growing genre worldwide. Source.

There are tens of thousands of metal bands worldwide. The U.S. has the most, with 17,557 but Finland has the greatest number of bands per capita with 43 metal bands per 100,000 people! This reflects that Heavy Metal is hugely popular in Europe, especially in Scandinavia. Here’s a great map showing the density of Heavy Metal bands in 2012:


Here’s a similar map of Heavy Metal band density on a global scale:


So, what are the greatest Heavy Metal bands of all-time? According to a poll on Ranker, here’s the top metal bands:

  1. Black Sabbath
  2. Iron Maiden
  3. Metallica
  4. Judas Priest
  5. Megadeth
  6. Pantera
  7. Dio
  8. Ozzy Osbourne
  9. Motorhead
  10. Deep Purple

Have you seen the 1982 cult classic cartoon movie called “Heavy Metal”? It’s fantastic and I’ve seen it about 15 times. It doesn’t really have much to do with the genre heavy metal — it’s about a sentient green orb and various characters who interact with it. Some of the music is heavy metal but a lot of it isn’t. You can find it on Prime Video here. It does contain the outstanding and hard-to-find song “Heavy Metal (Take A Ride) by former Eagles guitarist Don Felder. Interestingly, I don’t think the song is actually heavy metal.


  1. I feel seen.

    Thanks for sharing this interesting fact. I’d like to think my neck muscles are incredibly strong thanks to the countless hours of head banging I’ve done to heavy metal. Will play some power chords in your honor, my friend.


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