Fan poll: Top 5 metal bass lines of all time | Revolver

Fan poll: Top 5 metal bass lines of all time

See what low-end lick beat Cliff Burton and "brbr deng"
Justin Chancellor tooll live 2023 1600x900, Steve Thrasher
photograph by Steve Thrasher

A good bass line anchors the band into rhythmic heft and a touch of melody. A great bass line rattles you down to your fucking core.

While the rhythm section sometimes takes a backseat to the likes of the guitar god or a front-and-center vocalist, it's fair to say that metal has also blessed us with countless bass players who aren't afraid of pushing that low-end right in our face. And truly, from formative gloom-blues, to fingertip-trashing thrash, to the smack-and-pop of nu-metal and beyond, some of the choicest riffs of the last 50 years have come out of four-stringers.

With that in mind, we asked our readers to pick the single greatest metal bass line of all time, and the votes rolled in across social media. This was a tough one, with iconic licks from legendary players like Lemmy Kilmister, Peter Steele, Steve Harris and Steve DiGiorgio getting lots of love, but coming up just short of the top five — which you can see below.

Alice in Chains - "Would?"

"Would?" initially landed itself on the soundtrack to grunge-adjacent rom-com Singles, codifying Alice in Chains in most people's minds as major players in the so-called Seattle Sound. But that song is also the movie's gloomiest-sounding outlier.

You can credit much of the moody vibe to the distortion-and-dirt-encrusted fret-climb bassist Mike Starr gave that intro. His hauntingly melodic playing perfectly encapsulates gray-skied, port city depression, and likewise anchors into the totemic grief co-vocalists Layne Stayley and Jerry Cantrell encapsulate as they contemplate the tragic overdose of their friend Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood.

Mudvayne - "Dig"

The slap that launched a million memes.

Ryan Martinie is a wildly funky freak on the whole, but his devilishly punishing and uniquely twonky tone on "Dig" is central to why Mudvayne became fan favorites when they crashed into the nu-metal zeitgeist of the early '00s. And when that brilliantly simple, two-note slap-and-pluck — the brbr deng, if you will — ended up getting co-opted by online culture decades later, "Dig" transcended metal to enter a rarified space normally occupied by earworms like "Smoke on the Water" and Beethoven's 5th.

Black Sabbath - "N.I.B."

If Tony Iommi set the metal guitar template with detuned strings and the devil's tri-tone, Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler leaned into Seventies heaviness with a hypnagogic spliff-cloud of rhythmic heaviness. Even set against countless iconic low-end performances, "N.I.B." is a supreme standout, Butler putting us under his power while balancing dum-dum percussiveness with surprisingly nimble flourishes.

A wah-wah-wobbly masterclass of heavy blues from the Birmingham rhythm-stringer.

Metallica - "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

If anyone's going to catch heat for this pick, it's only because the late Cliff Burton chiseled his way onto metal bass' Mount Rushmore with dozens upon dozens of damned fine rhythm lines.

You could no doubt root for the thrash icon's flashiest solo moment (the all-fuzz freakout "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth") or an achingly melodic bass-bop ("Orion"), but most of you went with the all-timer opening riff of "For Whom the Bell Tolls." It's a great pick, a stately high-string hook that drives one of 'Tallica's earliest and most essential stomp-outs.

TOOL - "Schism"

The top vote-getter by leaps and bounds, and that's because "Schism" is without question one of Tool's most beloved compositions: "A hell of a song," as guitarist Adam Jones described it to Revolver in 2022. A big part of its power comes from Justin Chancellor's hypnotic, deceptively-progressive finger-rolling.

The Lateralus standout and 2002 "Best Metal Performance" Grammy Award winner is a lysergic waterfall that has stained our psyche for decades, and a perfect example of why we all love his low-end theory.