Recently I posted a question on the SkullsNBones Facebook page asking who is the best bass player in metal. For total transparency here’s what I asked:
Now for some background. As a bass player I am often asked who my favorite bass players are. My honest answer is that I don’t really have a favorite because I take my inspiration from guitar players. (What??!) It’s totally true, and I know, it’s craziness. While I don’t play guitar, I find there are a lot of elements that guitarists bring to the table that I take as inspiration and it directly affects how I execute parts on bass. So if I am forced to say a bass player’s name, I’ll say something like Victor Wooten or Jeroen Paul Thesseling, but it’s not a totally honest answer.
The truth is that I don’t know who my favorite bass player is because I’ve never focused on it enough to come up with a definitive answer. That changes now.
As expected, my question on Facebook inspired a lot of people to jump in and share their opinions. As you may have guessed by now, the question itself is way too broad and in a way, way too generic. For example, how do we compare a legendary bassist like Lemmy Kilmister to a bassist like Dominic Forest Lapointe? How do we compare bands who play metal like Dillinger Escape Plan to those who play like Opeth?
If we group every bass player in heavy music into one pool, we’re essentially guaranteed to put on a pedestal those who fit only our own personal bias. If we intend to find honest answers in this quest then we need to lay some ground rules on how to pull it off. So, my first idea is to break bands out into three different categories:
Series 1: Legendary Series
The Legendary Series is being created because there are a handful of bassists out there who, without any evaluation or objective consideration, are considered to be best bass players by those who are super-fans. A clear example of someone who fits the criteria for the Legendary Series is Lemmy. I want to recognize these bassists with the level of respect they deserve and compare them to each other.
Series 2: Hard Rock Series
The term ‘metal’ and how it is applied can be a source of argument even larger than the scope of our current quest, but for the sake of this task I’m going to use my own opinion on what is and is not “metal.” Twisted Sister: Hard Rock. Sonata Arctica: Hard Rock. Rage Against The Machine: (borderline) Hard Rock.
None of this is meant to be an insult (in fact, I have a RATM patch on my vest), but I want to be able to focus our efforts properly on metal as I perceive it and anyone with a brain can tell you it’s not possible to compare Twisted Sister to Behemoth in any fair or constructive way. If there are some borderline bassists who fall into this category, I will open it up for debate so feel free to make a case if you feel motivated.
Series 3: Aggressive Series
Death metal, black metal, groove metal, etc., all have their own nuances, but I feel comfortable grouping them into one category. This series is going to be the real meat of the work for our quest in finding the best bass players. If it’s what I consider to be properly metal, it’s going to be here in the Aggressive Series.
In addition to setting up these three series’, I thought it would be important for us to have a way of evaluating the artists in a constructive way. My opinion is most certainly going to be different than the guy standing next to me, and not just based on one single parameter. My thought is to break out the evaluation into several areas that I think are important to me:
- Is the artist an influencer? This is important because I am interested to know if they are inspiring. It’s great if you can wank all day on the bass, but if no one cares and no one gets anything from it, what good is all that wanking?
- Is the artist a performer? This might not be as important to some of you as it is for me, and I will consider the weight of this one based on your feedback. For me, performance is highly important. I want to go see a live show and be entertained. If you just stand there staring at your hands the whole, time I’m fucking bored, even if you’re playing some really impressive stuff.
- Bass sound. Yes, this might be the most subjective item in the list of criteria but I will do my best to approach it as objectively as I can. Maybe the best way to consider bass sound is to break it out into its own sub-categories?
- Bass mix on the record so that it fits with the band but also helps it to shine
- Bass performance on the record being well executed so the bass compliments the music and skill-level of the player
- Does the bassist write their own parts or play stuff that has been given to them? Both have their qualities but it’s definitely an element I am concerned with when on a quest to find ‘the best’.
I know the process is always an area of debate when it comes to lists, and I want to land somewhere we all agree. If there are any additional criteria you think needs to be considered feel free to let me know on the Facebook post, in the comments here on this page, or by messaging me directly through my profile here on SkullsNBones. My next steps are to start researching based on the suggestions you’ve already given me and to review some lists that have come out in the past to find some common ground between them. More soon!