Much of the early music that helped to either shape the dawn of or define the birth of heavy metal was driven by single-guitar bands. Led Zeppelin. Deep Purple. Cream. Jimi Hendrix. Each of these acts pushed the prologue of the heavy metal story forwards until it burst into its true first chapter in the form of Black Sabbath.
Tony Iommi was — and remains — a one-man metal machine, dishing out punishing riffs and cutting solos with the same ferocity to this day. But eventually, another wave of metal swept through. Characterized by bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, it was a sound built on twin guitars. Perhaps it was just that there were more guitarists around looking for bands. Perhaps it was a striving to take the genre into new areas. Perhaps we'll never know quite why the guitar tag-team idea didn't really take off in metal until the genre's second wind. Certainly the rock harmonies of Thin Lizzy must have been a factor. But I digress: here are some of my personal favorite metal guitar duos. I'm sure you have yours and we'd love to know what they are in the comments.
Mustaine & Friedman
Megadeth's Dave Mustaine has a knack for seeking out great guitar talent. He's always filled the lead guitar chair with players who lit a fire underneath him and pushed his own soloing to new heights. Jazz-influenced Chris Poland, classically-trained Jeff Young, jack-of-all-trades Al Pitrelli, melodic master Glen Drover and current flawless virtuoso Chris Broderick have all made their mark on Megadeth's history but Marty Friedman's five-album tenure with the band was revolutionary. Marty's otherworldly approach to melody and his effortless handling of extremely technical fretboard exploration helped to make Rust In Peace the classic album that it is. Marty left Megadeth in the late '90s to follow his own muse, and Mustaine has gone on to make plenty of great music without Friedman, but neither will ever be able to quite escape the immensity of the music they created together. But that shouldn't be a problem for either of them: I'm sure we'd all love to have a series of undeniably classic albums in our back pocket.
Hetfield & Hammett
On first glance, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett's roles in Metallica seem quite clearly defined: James is the rhythm guy and Kirk is the lead guy. But these roles have often crossed over or been completely subverted. Just listen to James's melodic soloing in "Master Of Puppets" and "Nothing Else Matters." Or dwell for a moment on the fact that Kirk wrote the riff to "Enter Sandman," Metallica's most identifiable song amongst corners of the population that you wouldn't expect to know a Metallica song. We're talking about a track whose sheer weight in the Metallica catalog demanded that when the band decided to play the Black Album in its entirety, they had to do it in reverse order lest "Enter Sandman" tip the whole thing over. See the Gibson Custom Kirk Hammett Flying V here.
Smith & Murray
Look, even I, a dude who only owns a couple of Maiden albums, has to give them some respect and include them in my list! Even though personally Maiden never quite resonated with me in the same way as my favorite metal acts, credit where credit is due! Maiden took the twin-guitar harmony sound of Thin Lizzy and toughened it up considerably, and helped establish the metal tradition of having contrasting lead guitarists, with Dave Murray being more legato-based and Adrian Smith being more melodic.
Heafy & Beaulieu
The Trivium guitar duo of Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu have taken the traditional thrash dynamic established by the likes of Slayer and Megadeth and brought it into the 21st century with a more futuristic approach to rhythm and tone. They've continued to explore the outer edges of their style - a little more metalcore here, a little more melody there, a little more groove over there - and aren't shy about breaking out the seven-string guitars for a little progressive thrash when the mood strikes them. Check out Matt Heafy's signature Epiphone Les Paul models.
Tipton & Downing
My first ever CD was a compilation that was half Black Sabbath, half Judas Priest. I don't know if it was even a legal pressing or if it was some weird grey market thing. All I know is that it taught me a lot about the power of the 8th-note chug, especially on "The Ripper." Another great thing about that song was the way it really made use of the creativity afforded by the studio. Every instrument was clearly separated, there were cool vocal effects… it was really ahead of its time in arrangement and approach, even if the actual sonics might be a little outdated now. And some of that crazy whammy bar work really seemed to pre-date the later Kahler abuse of Slayer's Kerry King and Jeff Hannemann.
King & Hannemann
Of course Kerry King and Jeff Hannemann get their own entry! These two guys were instrumental in solidifying the idea of the Thrash Guitarist, rather than the 'the rhythm guy and the lead guy in a thrash band.' King and Hannemann always sounded like they were on the edge, thanks to their punk and hardcore influences, but their thrash discipline and technique always saved them from going over. Sure, some guitarists make light of the wild, unrestrained nature of their solos and their reliance on the Kahler bridge, but Slayer took that sound and really made it their own, and most importantly it fit the music.
Wilton & DeGarmo
The Queensryche guitar duo of Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo really made the most of the two-guitar format. These guys hardly ever played the same thing as each other unless it was for a particular dramatic effect. If one was playing a chugging, repetitive rhythm, the other would play a series of sustained chords over the top that would put the other guy's riff into melodic context. If one was playing a chord in the open position, the other would play a higher inversion. The band has gone through a succession of guitarists since DeGarmo left, and they've made some undeniably great music in that time (especially the new, self-titled album) but DeGarmo took a key part of the band's sound with him when he departed.
Amott & Amott
Brothers Michael and Christopher Amott helped drive Arch Enemy's melodic death metal sound with another of those classic yin/yang dynamics. Michael took his inspiration from European metal heroes like Michael Schenker, in terms of tone and soulfulness, while Christopher peppers his playing with an aggressive, speedy vibrato and ultra-precise speed picking. Christopher left the band, returned then left again, and recently released a brilliant solo album titled Impulses. And Amott is doing double time in Arch Enemy and his more classic, hard rock-influenced outfit Spiritual Beggars.
Van Halen & Hagar
Okay, we have to tread carefully here if we're going to introduce more hard rock artists, but seriously, did you ever hear Eddie and Sammy going toe-to-toe on Sammy's "One Way To Rock" live with Van Halen? Sammy gets a pass purely for having the balls to go up against Eddie Van Halen with a guitar in hand, and he manages to keep up with King Eddie quite comfortably as the two trade solos. There may be only one way to rock, but the sheer guts of Sammy's playing in the face of such an intimidating musical force is totally metal.