There are a lot of great metalcore guitarists active in the scene today, so I wanted to put together a list of ten of the most unique and creative players I regularly listen to.
Here’s the list:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these guitarists and I’ll explain my reasoning for including them in my top ten:
Marc Okubo of Veil of Maya
Marc goes at the top of my list as a player who combines incredible technical ability alongside a clear talent for catchy, hooky songwriting. The character of his guitar playing ranges from mechanically precise binary djent to soaring poppy choruses which, accompanied by the band, sound like they wouldn’t be out of place on Broadway.
Marc’s an unassuming, yet incredibly exciting player who consistently brings new life to Veil of Maya’s sound. Standout examples of his playing are the wolf whistle whammy work in the opener to Fracture and the bangers Mikasa and Members Only as demonstrations of his contagiously uplifting songwriting.
Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring of Between the Buried and Me
You’ll have noticed in my list of ten players that certain entries include multiple players. Since my experience of each of these players is through their band’s music rather than through any solo guitar projects, I’ve included all of each respective band’s guitarists.
Like Marc, Paul and Dustie share the same aptitude for technical playing ability, but their songwriting talent is of a different variety. Although certain parts of Between The Buried And Me’s guitar work is unbelievably catchy and triumphant (think Selkies (5:21 to close) and Ants of the Sky (12:19 to close)), their overall songwriting talent lies in crafting the epic overall story comprised of multiple connected but often completely incongruous pieces (consider the hootenanny out of the blue in Ants of the Sky between 11:30 and 12:18).
This songwriting mastery is what sets Between The Buried And Me apart from other bands in the metal/metalcore scene. Although their songs are incredible in isolation, they’re the kind of band who require a full playthrough of their albums from start to finish on good headphones or speakers when you have the time to dedicate. Much like setting aside the time to appreciate a nice whiskey or rewatch the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Graham Pinney and Dan Weller of Sikth
Sikth’s songwriting is some of the most creative in the metalcore genre. The technical ability of every member is self evident, but the transportive theatre of their music is what really shines about this band. I think the core reason for their excellence in storytelling and immersion is a combination of Graham and Dan’s wild guitar work and the two vocalists, Mikee Goodman and Joe Rosser, who have a histrionic style and tend to duel rather than duet.
Flogging the Horses has to be the standout example of this. The structured chaos of this song seems to be more closely related to a stage show than a conventional metal song and the circus is fuelled by the guitar work of Graham and Dan.
Within a genre pool which has such a high technical ability bar for entry for guitarists, it’s the creativity of Graham and Dan that really give Sikth their will-o-the-wisp glow.
Luke Hoskin and Tim MacMillar of Protest the Hero
Protest the Hero’s songwriting style also places heavy emphasis on excellent storytelling while also glorifying the virtuosity of their members’ musicianship.
Luke and Tim’s songwriting for the guitar combines playfulness and complexity as they seamlessly hop between legato noodlery and giddy two hand tapping sequences without breaking a sweat.
Much like Sikth, Luke and Tim’s songwriting employs chaotic swings of emotion and timbre yet delivers this in an entirely polished and calculated package. From triumph to despair and back again, this band is amazing.
Misha Mansoor, Mark Holcomb and Jake Bowen of Periphery
Misha, Mark and Jake are the true pioneers of the “djent” sound. Although other bands are put forward as the chronological originators of this tight, metallic, tone-driven sound, Periphery are clearly the band who are associated with the term – and for good reason.
Even now, the guitar work of P1 is leaps and bounds ahead of 99% of current releases and will likely continue to be for some time. The craft and care that has clearly gone into sculpting the guitar lines of Periphery’s music is what keeps them way out in front in the metalcore realm, both in terms of the music on the page and the thoughtfulness in the tone delivering that music.
Misha, Mark and Jake’s appreciation for gear and their search for the best equipment to deliver the most cutting, glossy overall sound is evidence that they don’t just settle for mediocrity.
From their game changer original tracks like Icarus Lives, later tracks like The Bad Thing and more recent tracks like It’s Only Smiles, Periphery are consistent in their songwriting quality.
Stephen Rutishauser of Chelsea Grin
For a band that occupies the darker end of the metalcore spectrum, Chelsea Grin’s music retains its tonal clarity thanks to awesome musicianship and producing. Stephen’s guitar work is a big contributor to this, with his machine-precise playing skill.
On tracks like Bleeding Sun, Stephen’s foreboding songwriting produces amphitheatrical scale to Chelsea Grin’s sound. The synchronised chug and kick drum groove coupled with that droning tremolo picking is disquieting, yet incredibly satisfying.
Kellen McGregor of Memphis May Fire
Kellen has to make my list for his insanely moreish guitar work on The Hollow album and the Memphis May Fire EP.
Taking the EP for starters, this is super early Memphis, but still shines today as evidence of Kellen’s killer creativity and range of songwriting ability. Take Cowbell’s Making a Comeback, for instance. This song starts out with a hooky Country riff, transitions into soaring emotional turmoil, back to the south with the cowbell and then closes out in glorious power chord poppy style.
The Hollow showed the next level to Kellen’s capabilities given that all the music on this one was his work. Let’s go for The Victim as the example here as it’s a 10 in my book. The song explores the full range of the emotional spectrum with its machine-like aggressive bass string grooves which build into a triumphant, sparkling and melancholy chorus line.
Josh Middleton and Adam Christianson of Architects
Although some of my favourite guitar work from Architects was from Tom Searle (my favourite albums being Hollow Crown and All Our Gods), the band continues to make solid anthemic metalcore tracks with awesome guitar lines from Josh Middleton and Adam Christianson.
There has definitely been a softening of their sound as of late which is more reminiscent of recent Bring Me The Horizon or older Linkin Park, but tracks like Black Lungs still show a focus on hefty and catchy guitar lines to drive the songs.
Guitar-wise, my highlights from Tom, Josh and Adam are the complex guitar lines of Numbers Count For Nothing (and its super satisfying breakdown) as well as the massive Gone With The Wind with its contrasting ferocity and delicacy.
Michael Stringer of Spiritbox
Michael’s songwriting style is a little less technical than some of the other players on this list, but the creativity of his playing provides the perfect scene setting accompaniment to vocalist Courtney’s huge, doleful vocal lines.
The Mara Effect Part 3 is a perfect example of this. Take the intro – Michael’s simple picked chords over Bill Crooks’ driving bass line and Courtney’s largely monotone vocals creates an immense fog of unease and suspense.
Drummer Zev Rose briefly drops out here for a moment of repose and then introduces (with a fantastic fill) the song into cathedral scale with Michael’s guitar work and Courtney’s repeated melody lines guiding this next chapter in the story.
Spiritbox are a very exciting band who bring storytelling and emotion to the forefront in their songwriting and Michael’s writing for the guitar is the perfect accompaniment to Courtney’s theatre.
Connor Sweeney and Eric Bickerstaffe of Loathe
Connor and Eric occupy similar territory to Michael of Spiritbox in my view, with an evident focus on the overall sound being produced rather than sparing much thought to overcomplicating their songwriting for the sake of unnecessary frills.
Take their fantastic track Two-Way Mirror for instance – this is a slow, chord based track that has no complicated guitar work, but it works perfectly as the cinematic accompaniment to vocalist Kadeem France’s trance-inducing lament.
Connor and Eric’s baritone bass guitars give Loathe a unique, deep sound which is quite unlike any other metalcore band on the scene. This defiance of convention and willingness to bleed into other (arbitrary but inevitable) genre categories makes Connor, Eric and Loathe as a whole musicians to watch to see how their sound continues to evolve.
If you’re into your gear and you’re interested in the guitars Connor and Eric are using, I did a post titled “What Guitars Do Loathe Use?” a couple weeks back.