The Valley of the Sun has a lot of musical talent that spans across all genres. However, when it comes to heavy metal, the desert spawns some killer musicians. So we decided to take a look at some of our favorite heavy metal shredders. There's no way to really define the best guitarists -- everyone's a critic, right? -- so we chose this list based on several factors.
Let it be known that this list was difficult to compile; it started with about 35 guitarists and was whittled down to 15. This is about honoring standout local guitarists based on talent, presence in the local scene, background as a musician, and other miscellaneous available information.
So, in no particular order, here are our favorite Valley shredders.
Since age 11, Gibbons has been recorded on more than a dozen albums and shared the stage with more than 40 national acts. Known for his hardcore shredding abilities, infectious grooves, and a style that fuses progressive and old-school rock, Gibbons has a unique mentality about playing music. He's all about breaking the rules within the realms of what's become mainstream and popular. It seems to be working out for him -- he recently won Best Rock Guitarist at L.A. Music Awards. He's toured more than 100,000 miles over the country performing as a one-man show or with a band, teaches and records musicians at the Kompound, and has been endorsed by Krank and Marshall amps.
Lee played his first guitar at age 5 while living in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, and has been developing a unique sound ever since. With influences like Randy Rhoads and Alex Skolnick, Lee discovered old-school methods of distortion all on his own and taught himself guitar tunes after scraping together enough money for Guitar World magazine. The power-metal trio of Sectas has been putting Arizona metal on the map since 2000, with a unique combo of Latin American influence, and a desire to make heavy metal that keeps musicians interested while still being heavy enough for the fans.
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St. Madness (and all its members) is beloved in the Valley. And you won't find a more pleasant group of people in corpse-like bloody face paint. They're kinda like a bunch of rotting outlaws. The band is known for reinvigorating the local metal scene in the '90s with its fun yet heavy and strong musical style. Sid Ripster's energetic stage presence and crunchy, adrenaline-soaked, technically proficient guitar solos and riffs are testament to his longevity in the scene.
Sacred Reich put Arizona thrash metal on the map back in the '80s, and Arnett's authentic style of playing fast and hard, influenced by bands like Ratt and Dokken, is one of the reasons the band still has a cult metal following to this day. In 2000, he went on to form The Human Condition with St. Madness vocalist Prophet, but there's something else he's known around the Valley for: creating some of the best burgers around at his joint Rehab Burger.
Dru "tang" Rome
Tang's aggression and passion on the ax is what makes him invaluable to bands like groove metal act Incite and Fifth Destiny. Formerly with Vivicide, Tang truly strengthens the fabric of any band he's a part of. His playing wavers between crunchy grooves, slick riffs, and clean, rapid-fire leads. Plus, he's got a great power stance and energetic stage presence.
From rocking out alongside Dave Ellefson in F5 to joining Flotsam and Jetsam in 2013, Conley is known for his serious chops. I'm eager to see the flavor he will add to Flotsam and Jetsam's next album, slated for a 2015 release. Conley hails to the Dimebag Darrell days, with the same type of gritty, unexpected -- yet tight and calculated -- thrash metal riffs. If you are a guitarist looking to hone in on what makes an incredible riff, this is the teacher to study.
At age 7, Sterling began playing the guitar. At 10, he released his first album and shared the stage with Alice Cooper. At 14, he already had endorsements with Orange amps and Gibson guitars. And at 18, he began writing a column in Modern Guitars Magazine. He integrates a style of heavy metal soloing and classic rock riffs, and when it comes to speed, he seems to believe that the faster and louder, the better. He's since put out a few more solo albums. He also was fired by Sebastian Bach after they disagreed about songs they'd written together.
Cannella founded Autumn's End more than a decade ago, and the band's musical style remains unique. Why? Because the idea behind the music is no rules -- exorcising each band member's demons via their instruments and vocal cords. There's a bit of everything in the music: guitar picking reminiscent of a Moroccan sacrifice ritual, acoustic moods, screaming and growling vocals that are somehow melodic. Before Autumn's End, Cannella recorded with Geoff Tate in the '80s and '90s, played in N17, and currently works at ESP Guitars, so he's constantly immersed in what he loves all day long: guitars and music.
Randy Davis II
Davis is one of the driving forces behind a brand of metal described as "musical violence." There's a nice balance of speed metal and sludgy doom metal in the mix, and it all comes down to one thing: motivation. And Davis is full of it -- intricate riffs, crushingly heavy solos, harmonious squeals and squeaks -- it's probably why he was sought after by Dean Guitars for an endorsement.
Pelvic Meatloaf is all about the dirty, '80s thrash metal scene. Filson has been a part of the band for more than 20 years. He helped develop the fast-paced groove metal sound with his articulate, razor sharp style, which evokes a ton of energy -- and violent mosh pits -- at the band's live shows. He also owns Villain Recording, and has worked with a ton of local bands (including North Side Kings), which provokes him to bring a different, more hardcore influences to the table when the band is creating new music.
The composition behind the band Animus Complex is just as complex as, well, its name. It's all about the progressive grooves and intelligent composition -- you can be head-banging one minute and then relaxed the next, absorbed into the imagery like blood into milk. The versatility of Davis' guitar stylings is pretty impressive. He moves from heavy, rapid firing riffs to catchy tense bridges, and then onto soaring melodies and fuzzy atmospherics.
Combining influences from classical compositions and metalcore bands like Trivium and As I Lay Dying has made Rush quite the heavy metal composer. Rush is one of the driving forces behind the metal act Abolish the Echelon, which is growing even more creative and technical as each year passes. Rush's proficiency on the seven-string guitar, influenced by a fascination behind multiple-finger taps and odd time signatures on an eight-string guitar (also used by impressive bandmate Alex Wheeler), offers up a mix of modern metal and classical tunes.
Thrash metal outfit Warhead pulls from classic and death metal influences, and have an arsenal of hard-hitting anthems. Castle provides well-timed classic guitar work (as well as vocals and songwriting) that have helped make the band one of the more dynamic acts on the scene. His versatile guitar rhythms are calculated and brutal, whether it's breakdowns to impressive solos -- sometimes exceedingly fast -- that hail to true '80s metal.
What I love about the band Singularity is how the band merges technical death metal and symphonic black metal, resulting in a refined concoction of double bass, classical keyboards and rampant guitar. Fliegler is responsible for that guitar, a machine-gun ascension of intricate chords and staccato. He does a great job at balancing the axe perfectly with all the other elements of the band. When the double bass is firing, the guitar drops low and sludgy; when the keyboards are creating ominous tones, the guitar reaches high for riffs and energetic solos.
Yeii'tsoh is definitely an underrated Valley band. First off, the band's name means "giant monster" in Navajo. They are heavy, fast, blackened, old-school thrash, influenced by bands like Iron Maiden, Pentagram, and Black Sabbath. Hernandez has a concise style that's consistent and strong, and his solos go on relentlessly. You can also truly tell that he loves what he does; hence the falling to the floor and shredding while turning in circles. When he solos, you can't look away.
Correction, November 19, 2:30 p.m.: This blog originally misspelled the name of Alex Wheeler. It also incorrectly stated which bands Dru "tang" Rome plays with.
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