Celebrating Black History Month: 7 Black Artists Who Kill it in Heavy Metal and Hard Rock

When you think of heavy metal and hard rock, ‘diverse’ isn’t the first descriptor that comes to mind; the genre is primarily-dominated by white men, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t talented black and POC musicians putting out excellent music. In celebration of Black History Month, writer Matthew Williams shines a light on 7 black artists who makes waves in heavy metal and hard rock.

Derrick Green – Sepultura

After Max Cavalera quit the band back in 1996, African American singer Derrick Green has been handling vocals. Despite Green now celebrating two decades with the band, many fans stay rooted in the Cavalera era. Green’s time with the band has made Sepultura a completely different beast to the point where most fans consider the two different eras as two different bands entirely. With their latest release Machine Messiah (2017) being possibly their best effort with Green on vocals, the band show no sign of slowing down, and coming from personal experience, they still absolutely crush it live.

Ice-T, Ill Will, Vincent Price, Ernie C – Body Count

Did you even know legendary rapper Ice-T had a metal band? Body Count stormed onto the Metal scene back in 1992 with their unique mixture of Punk, Speed Metal and, of course, Ice-T’s poignant hip-hop lyrics. Ice-T has stated that the band was created as a vehicle for his friend Ernie C to show off his guitar abilities. The band caused quite the riot with the release of their controversial hit ‘Cop Killer’, which left the metal community confused with what to do with a rap-metal band making sudden waves. This was the predecessor for the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit who blew up with similar sonic fusions. After an extended hiatus whilst Ice-T focused on other projects, the band returned in the early 2010s putting out their best material to date on their album Bloodlust (2017), which is more relevant than ever due to it’s unforgiving attitude and political messages.

Mike Smith, Terrance Hobbs – Suffocation

New York Technical Death Metal band Suffocation are one the most influential Extreme Metal bands of all time. Founding member and drummer Mike Smith helped perfect and push the boundaries of Metal drumming by building on the “blastbeat” style created by the likes of Dave Lombardo of Slayer Gene Hoglan and Mick Harris of Napalm Death, and whilst he is no longer in the band, his impact on the genre is still profound. Guitarist Terrance Hobbs has been with the band since 1990 and remains one of the most influential musicians in the Extreme Metal scene. He is renowned for his combination of fast and repetitive barred riffing accompanied by other swept and technical patterns and melodies, laying down the basics of the Technical/Brutal Death Metal we know today.

Corey Glover, Vernon Reid, Doug Wimbish, Will Calhoun – Living Colour

What is there to say about Living Colour that hasn’t already been said? They’re one of the most diverse and innovative Rock bands of all time, displaying superlative musicianship and still giving one of the best live Rock performances today. They brilliantly fused their wide range of influences from black music and culture such as Jazz, Funk and Hip-Hop with classic Rock at a time when the genre was lacking creativity to create a truly unique sound, spawning classic releases such as Vivid (1988) and Time’s Up (1990). After releasing their new album Shade last year, which includes an awesome cover of The Notorious B.I.G.’s track ‘Who Shot Ya?’, the band seems to be as hungry as ever.

Howard Jones – Ex-Killswitch Engage, Devil You Know/Light the Torch

Howard Jones gained huge fame in the Metal scene when he replaced singer Jesse Leach in Metalcore giants Killswitch Engage. Growing up, Killswitch Engage was one of the bands that got me into Metal, and unlike a lot of other bands I listened to back then, they’ve stuck with me. After leaving the band, he went on to form Metalcore supergroup Light the Torch (formerly Devil You Know), and just released their debut album Revival (2018) back in March. With Jesse singing with Killswitch again, they’ve all put their differences aside and are now great friends, so much so that Jones recently joined the band onstage to sing ‘The End of Heartache’. Metalheads do cry.

William Duvall – Alice in Chains

Filling the shoes of the late Layne Staley is no easy task, but it was obvious after Duvall’s first shows with Alice in Chains that he was the right man for the job. He has a very similar vocal tone to Staley and pulls off the signature harmonies with guitarist and singer Jerry Cantrell with ease. The band just released their third album with Duvall called Rainier Fog, and whilst the band is more low-key these days, you can still catch Duvall singing in supergroup Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, which features members of The Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon.

Tosin Abasi – Animals as Leaders

A true artist when it comes to musicianship. The Nigerian-American virtuoso guitarist Tosin Abasi has been making waves in Progressive Metal with his band Animals as Leaders. The band has made quite the impact considering they are a purely instrumental band, but they have wowed fans with an unprecedented level of musicianship. Abasi’s talent has been widely recognised and has already toured with guitar greats Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen and Zakk Wylde on the Generation Axe and G4 tours.

Matthew Williams

Header image via Buda Mendes, Getty Images