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The 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time

Devil horns up! From Sabbath to Scorpions to Slipknot, from the Sunset Strip to Scandinavia

The 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time


THOUSANDS OF YEARS after the Bronze and Iron Ages, the true Metal Age dawned half a century ago. In 1970, Black Sabbath convincingly evoked the true essence of evil with the lumbering, three-chord opening guitar riff to the song “Black Sabbath,” consecrating the first pure heavy-metal crusher, and the ripples have been spreading virulently ever since. Judas Priest tuned into Sabbath’s darkly jagged melodies to create their own intricate, law-breaking mini-epics, Metallica revved up Priest’s tempos to give headbangers cases of whiplash, hair bands like Mötley Crüe and Quiet Riot spruced up the music for MTV, and nu-metal mutants like Korn and Slipknot gave it a bleak post-alt-rock and hip-hop edge. At the same time, its true believers have created extreme global offshoots like death metal, doom metal, and black metal.

In those five-plus decades, fans of metal have embraced the genre’s songs as intense declarations of individuality. To be a metalhead, you’re rejecting normalcy, you’re willing to believe in yourself and visit your dark side because you know the eardrum-slaughtering decibels and aggressive lyrics are the crucible in which you feel something new and unique. Years removed from its initial rumbles, metal is now a cultural force. Over time, heavy metal has topped the pop charts, served as the basis of hit movies, saved the day in TV shows, and even signaled prosperity around the world.

What millions of fans around the world have realized is that a good metal song transports you. Amid the deafening drums and growling vocals, the ideal metal tune relates power, resilience, and even hope. Where less cultured ears hear only noise and rage, metalheads recognize nuance. A song like Metallica’s “Fade to Black,” for instance, actually helps you escape your personal darkness rather than encouraging it. Metal has always been about overcoming fear and finding community among like-minded outcasts. It’s about togetherness.

The group of headbangers that Rolling Stone gathered to rank the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time debated the merits of more than 300 worthy songs over several months. These people include writers and critics who have been writing for Rolling Stone for decades and contributors to metal-focused publications. Many list voters contributed to RS’Greatest Metal Albums list a few years back.

This time, we discussed the earliest metal songs going back to Blue Cheer’s deafening cover of “Summertime Blues” through recent instant classics like Power Trip’s “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe).” And while keeping our minds open to the basic definition of metal (weighty riffs turned up to 11), we debated the fine lines between hard rock and metal: Motörhead and AC/DC, hard-rock bands who recorded awe-inspiring statements of fury that cross over into metal, are here, while Guns N’ Roses and Kiss, whose music bears more of an overall hard-rock swagger, are not. Similarly, you’ll find songs by Def Leppard, Lita Ford, and Ratt, bands who defined a metal ethos for the time they came out even if their songs don’t sound as intense as, say, Emperor. In the cases of metal’s forebears, like Led Zeppelin and even Black Sabbath, who have shunned the “metal” tag, we picked the most metal songs in their catalogs. Our contributors submitted ballots of their personal picks for the top metal songs, we tallied them up, and we spotted a few pleasant surprises in how the ranking shook out.

So don your battle vests, raise your horns, and keep a neck brace handy as Rolling Stone counts down the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time.

Hear this playlist on Spotify.

From Rolling Stone US


‘Slaughter of the Soul,’ At the Gates

At the Gates rose out of Gothenburg, Sweden, summing up the port city’s melodic death-metal revolution with their 1995 masterwork Slaughter of the Soul. Frontman Tomas Lindberg’s tormented shriek never hit so hard as in the title track. “There was something a lot more hardcore about what I wrote as compared to before,” Lindberg told Revolver. “All mention of dragons and Vikings went out. I concentrated on real life and social issues. It was more down to earth and less mythical.” Less than a year later, At the Gates shocked everyone by breaking up at their artistic peak. But their influence remains vast — you can hear “Slaughter of the Soul”” in the roar of American metalcore bands from Lamb of God to As I Lay Dying. —R.S.


’21st Century Schizoid Man,’ King Crimson

The central motif of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the opening track from King Crimson’s classic 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King, is a strong contender for the title of greatest proto-metal riff. It’s a doomy, swaggering figure, enhanced by the swinging savvy of guitarist Robert Fripp and drummer Michael Giles, that inspired Pete Townshend to dub it, in a contemporary label ad, “the heaviest riff that has been middle frequencied onto that black vinyl disc since Mahler’s 8th.” Peter Sinfield’s poetic yet disturbingly graphic anti-war lyrics (containing lines like “Blood rack, barbed wire/Politicians’ funeral pyre/Innocents raped with napalm fire”) and an overdriven effect on Greg Lake’s voice heighten the song’s forbidding mood, making even the classical- and jazz-inspired instrumental excursions in the song’s midsection feel like expressions of pure apocalyptic terror. —H.S. 


‘There Goes the Neighborhood,’ Body Count

In between recording as a pioneering gangsta rapper and playing a cop on TV, Ice-T was briefly the most controversial metal artist in the world, thanks to Body Count’s widely banned “Cop Killer.” But in some ways, “There Goes the Neighborhood” (from the same album) was a more blatant challenge because it was a metal song, played by Black musicians, that vocally challenged racist attitudes among metal fans. “Don’t they know rock is just for whites?” Ice-T sings mockingly, before the rest of Body Count shows off its mastery of metal styles, from slow-grinding, Sabbath-style riffage to full-throttle thrash to Van Halen-esque shred. Sometimes, playing well is the best revenge. —J.D.C.


‘Thunder Kiss ’65,’ White Zombie

“It was our most normal song,” Rob Zombie said of White Zombie’s mainstream entrée. “A song that a normal person might enjoy.” Even in grunge-addled 1992, “Thunder Kiss” was an uncanny hit, its unapologetically simple groove caked with the plangent squeal that betrayed the band’s New York noise-scene roots. Above police sirens and B-movie samples, Zombie grunts and stammers his creation myth, an art-school outcast — born in ’65, natch — who gets off on Harleys, horror, and lusty Satanism. “Demon-warp is coming alive,” he coughs in the chorus, presciently announcing his arrival as one of the last metal dudes to become a pop culture mainstay. —G.H.C.


‘World Eater,’ Bolt Thrower

A sober depiction of the horrors of war that nonetheless feels like a triumphant call to arms, Bolt Thrower’s “World Eater” is driven forward by the band’s trademark hard-charging gallop, meaty riffage, and Karl Willetts’ subterranean growl. A squealing midsong solo and pitiless blast beats only add to the chaos. It’s a primary example of the British death metal band’s heroically uncompromising attitude. “Pride is the most important,” guitarist Gavin Ward told an interviewer in 2002. “We knew early on Bolt Thrower would never be a big band, ’cause we’d never have commercial vocals. We’d never play the game. We’d never bow.” —K.K.


‘Spit,’ Kittie

When Kittie burst onto the metal scene in 2000, the young Canadians (all of whom were between 15–18 years old at the time) were immediately placed on a spiky pedestal due to their status as a “girl band,” a label they despised. Their debut album, Spit, was an endearingly rough-edged blend of thrash, grunge, death metal, alt-rock, and pure adolescent rage. Its title track is a murderously heavy proto-feminist anthem that takes aim at misogynists and lands a kill shot in under three minutes. More than anyone else at the time, Kittie understood the power they wielded. “There’s something magical about Spit in general,” Lander reflected in 2021. “You can feel our youth, our anger, all these emotions that made Kittie who we were back then.” —K.K.


‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ Twisted Sister

It took Twisted Sister a decade of gigging around New York City in the Seventies for them to arrive at “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” which features the catchiest drum intro since Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” and one of metal’s most phenomenal hooks. “I’m from the Alice Cooper school of ‘School’s Out,’ ‘I’m Eighteen,’ ” Snider told NPR. “And Alice was very big on these anthemic songs. So I wanted to write an anthem for the audience to raise their fists in the air in righteous anger.” Snider and Co. drove their message home in an unforgettable music video that quickly became an MTV mainstay thanks to its sense of humor and the band’s New York Dolls–on-steroids look. Snider soon started hosting MTV’s Headbangers Ball predecessor, Heavy Metal Mania, but the bubble burst after he testified at the PMRC hearings, softening his public image, even though standing up to Tipper Gore was the ultimate act of questioning authority. —A.B.


‘My Own Summer (Shove It),’ Deftones

“My Own Summer (Shove It)” served as the lead single from Deftones’ sophomore album, Around the Fur, and would not only become the band’s breakthrough hit but also come to define the sound of nu metal for decades to come. It’s a master class in tension building, with a pulsing guitar underneath vocalist Chino Moreno’s quiet-loud performance. And at a time of raw anger in the genre, Deftones led the pack with smart, complex lyrics (“The shade is a tool, a device, a savior/See, I try and look up to the sky/But my eyes burn (cloud)”) that made songs like this as dynamic and revelatory as they were just deeply appealing to play at full volume. —B.S.


‘Balls to the Wall,’ Accept

Metal bands are not known for admitting vulnerability, but in the early Eighties, the members of West Germany’s Accept were smart enough to recognize their limitations, so they asked their manager, Gaby Hauke, who spoke English better than her clients, to write lyrics for them. She ended up writing shocking visions of toxic masculinity — sex, violence, dystopia — for their Balls to the Wall album, and the title track is a seething Cold War-era anthem. The twin lead guitars are razor-sharp; camo-clad Udo Dirkschneider leads the charge with his gravel-gargling voice and creepily grinding teeth; the production evokes leather, chrome, and steel; and Hauke’s lyrics are rife with provocative images of torture, sodomy, piles of dead bodies, and revolt. Thanks to a memorable video and some of the best riffs this side of AC/DC, the song became an instant classic. —A.B.


‘Concubine,’ Converge

Converge burst into taboo territory in “Concubine,” making brutalist metalcore noise from the wreckage of a dysfunctional relationship. The song is only 80 seconds long, yet that’s all Converge need to make “Concubine” a blueprint for the raging emotional catharsis of their 2001 classic Jane Doe. The band started in the Massachusetts hardcore punk scene, but evolved into metallic math-core, with Jacob Bannon screaming his tonsil-frying poetic angst over the off-kilter polyrhythms. Bizarrely, when Converge recorded it, they were in the same studio as a certain Seventies soft-rock legend. “James Taylor was across the hall from us,” bassist Nate Newton told Decibel. “And he kept sending his engineer over to tell us to be quiet. ‘Mr. Taylor is trying to record vocal tracks, and you guys are goofing off and being way too loud over here.’ ” But “Concubine” still brings the fire and rain. —R.S.


‘Jesus Christ Pose,’ Soundgarden

Opening with a swirl of feedback over thrumming bass and pounding tom-toms, “Jesus Christ Pose” is first and foremost a sonic assault, Soundgarden at their most brutally intense. But it had the words “Jesus Christ” in the title, so of course some folks were eager to be offended. Although singer Chris Cornell explained to Spin that the song was actually a criticism of celebrities claiming victimhood — “It’s pretty much a song that is nonreligious but expressing being irritated by seeing that” — its crucifix-filled music video was nonetheless pulled by MTV. But you don’t need visuals when you’ve got sounds as expressive as Kim Thayil’s stabbing guitar behind Cornell’s shrieks of “Saved! Saved! Saved!” —J.D.C.


‘A Fine Day to Die,’ Bathory

Bathory were trailblazers of the Swedish black-metal scene, and  “A Fine Day to Die” from 1988’s Blood Fire Death shines darkly as their finest moment. The lo-fi bloodthirstiness and shivery solos that defined the band’s early sound are front and center, and yet you can already hear them pushing past the style they just invented to create the bombastic Valhalla-bound sound known as Viking metal. It’s a hybrid beast that spins together the best of Bathory into an eight-ish minute epic that manages to transcend a genre it’s only just defined. —K.K.


‘Youth Gone Wild,’ Skid Row

The Bon Jovi-esque power ballads “18 and Life” and “I Remember You” catapulted Skid Row to mainstream success in 1989, but “Youth Gone Wild” had already won over much of the metal crowd. Although written by band leaders guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo and bassist Rachel Bolan, it was Skid Row’s loudmouthed, charismatic vocalist, Sebastian Bach, who turned “Wild” into an anthem for rebellion. He sang couplets like “I never played by the rules, I never really cared/My nasty reputation takes me everywhere” with such ferocity, as he strutted and snarled, that it became a star-making performance. “When I joined the band, I got the tattoo of ‘Youth Gone Wild’ on my arm before we had a record deal, before we had a manager,” Bach told Guitar International. “I believed in that song with all my heart before anybody else did.” —A.B.


‘Chopped in Half,’ Obituary

Obituary delivered peak death metal in its true warts ‘n’ all glory. On their second album, 1990’s Cause of Death, the swamp-grown Floridians refined their sound (a little) from their earliest splatters, but kept the oozing grooves, Southern swagger, sporadic speed, and pummeling riffs. Vocalist Donald Tardy has said, “It was the album that really started kids to realize what the two words mean when they say ‘death metal,’” and its crowning jewel, the bloodily anthemic “Chopped in Half,” is the platonic ideal of Nineties death metal — an impossibly heavy, bass-driven, thrash-infested ode to literally chopping a guy in half. Bleed! —K.K.


‘Du Hast,’ Rammstein

Thudding and dance-y, Rammstein’s 1997 single was an unlikely global breakthrough in the nu metal era. It would lead to millions of teens learning at least one German phrase, if they didn’t sprechen ze Deutsch already. The industrial jam has a goth rave edge to it, with its stomping beat and a couple of techno breakdowns in the back half. Guitarist Richard Kruspe would note that the song is about loyalty, specifically the type of matrimony-like commitment the band made to one another. It’s as catchy as it is hard, with a shocking mass appeal that would lead to a pop superstar like Lizzo gleefully covering it this year. —B.S.


‘You Suffer,’ Napalm Death

Napalm Death’s “You Suffer” boiled grindcore down to it primordial, unrestrained id. The track comes off the British band’s 1987 debut, Scum, and its Guinness record-setting 1.316 second runtime started as a joke but became a perfect distillation of the nihilistic jumble of sneering hardcore punk fury and manic thrash speed that animate grind’s best moments, while its four-word lyrics are a quicksilver paean to the heartbreaking futility of existence. As Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt— himself no stranger to a lyrical flourish — commented after his band took on the tune during a 2017 festival appearance, “It’s so spot on: ‘You suffer/But why?’ You don’t need to be Bob Dylan.” —K.K.


‘Blood and Thunder,’ Mastodon

Mastodon had already decided they wanted to do a concept album about water — in contrast to their debut LP, Remission, which centered around fire — when drummer Brann Dailor picked up a copy of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick en route to meet the rest of the band for a series of gigs in Europe. He quickly wrote the bulk of the song based on Captain Ahab’s quest for aquatic vengeance, even borrowing several seafaring-madness lines directly from the book; the central riff and the bridge, he says, are partially based on Egyptian pop music from the 1990s. “I was just a few pages in when [the characters] start referring to the whale as ‘the sea-salt mastodon,’ ” Dailor says, interpreting the mention as a sign. “By the time I got to the U.K., I had my elevator pitch worked out for the guys.” They would end up with a driving, pummeling breakthrough hit. —D.F.


‘Flying Whales,’ Gojira

Even though Gojira’s  “Flying Whales” contains samples of whales moaning in and around Joe Duplantier’s moody riffs, the singer-guitarist claims he had never even seen one of the great mammals before writing the tune. Nevertheless, this highlight from the band’s breakthrough LP From Mars to Sirius became one of metal’s great environmentalist anthems. As if ripped from some climatological-futurist manifesto, “Flying Whales” finds Duplantier imagining our largest animals after they’ve fled to space’s relative safety, “looming out of the dark.” The song’s dizzying dynamics and rhythm maneuvers spotlight the stakes of survival involved. “It may seem paradoxical to have a message of hope,” Duplantier later said, “and play this violent music.” But the bands created a pathway out of abject despair. —G.H.C.


‘Evil,’ Mercyful Fate

“I was born on the cemetery under the sign of the moon,” King Diamond belts at the top of “Evil,” the opening salvo of Mercyful Fate’s first LP, Melissa. With those lyrics, King’s glass-shattering screams, and the band’s assertive riffing, the tune lived up to all the rumors that surrounded the band: King’s mic stand was a cross of human femurs, he sang to a skull named Melissa, and scariest of all, his richly Satanic lyrics were delivered with liturgical solemnity. “Evil” proved Mercyful Fate were a band that could compose as skillfully as they could shock, showcasing groove, ornate melodies, and masterfully timed dynamics that complemented King’s terrifying tale of necrophilia. “We were serious about what we were doing,” King Diamond once told author Martin Popoff. “It’s never been just an image. Playing, writing music was just by candlelight. … In the studio I would have two candles so I would just see the lyric.” —A.B.


‘Runnin’ With the Devil,’ Van Halen

With its foreboding thump and dramatic chords, the opening track of Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 debut skews considerably darker than the good-time hard rock that they would become best known for. Eddie Van Halen keeps the lead-guitar heroics to a minimum, as if he’s conserving ammo for a bigger battle yet to come, while the grim lyrics David Lee Roth delivers over his bandmates’ expert tension-and-release dynamics espouse a street-hardened worldview at odds with his Louis-Prima-in-assless-chaps persona. And when the song’s mighty chorus kicks in, its message of Satanic solidarity sounds serious enough to scare pious churchgoers right out of their pews. —D.E.


‘Blind,’ Korn

Originally written for Jonathan Davis’ band Sexart, “Blind” would not only introduce the world to Korn but also help usher in the reign of nu metal. The lead single off the band’s debut album is full of twists and turns — each musical and vocal choice feels like a shock. Davis’ tense vocals veer wildly between strained restraint to feral screams. Beneath his vocals is a sound that is both groovy and full-sludge heavy but informed by the grunge and rap that were dominating music at the time. No “Are you ready?” in music has ever been asked with more necessity and intensity. —B.S.


‘Bang Your Head (Metal Health),’ Quiet Riot

Quiet Riot spent nearly a decade gigging around Hollywood’s clubs by the time they released their right time/right place third album, Metal Heath, in 1983, securing their legacy. If the album’s Top Five-charting cover of Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” was the bait, its title anthem was the trap, clinching the band’s place in headbangers’ hearts and propelling the album to become the first metal LP to hit Number One on the Billboard 200. “It felt like a runner that’s running up a mountain and is so busy huffing and puffing that you don’t lift your head to look at the beautiful scenery of what you reach,” bassist Rudy Sarzo told Rolling Stone. “It wasn’t just a long, steady climb, but long and hard.” Boasting a monster riff by guitarist Carlos Cavazo, skull-rattling drums by Frankie Banali, and a deliriously bombastic performance by lovable loudmouth Kevin DuBrow, “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)” is still enough to drive you mad. —A.B.


‘Over My Head,’ King’s X

“Over My Head” is a song about two other songs. As the lyrics make clear, it’s partly inspired by bassist dUg Pinnick’s memories of his grandmother singing the gospel song “Over My Head” while praying. (Weirdly, “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps also references that spiritual.) But as he told Greg Prato, Pinnick was also thinking of Lenny Kravitz’s “Let Love Rule” when writing the song, particularly the way Kravitz pulls back when he gets to the chorus. “That was the first time I ever heard a chorus that was anticlimactic, but it works.” As it does here, where King’s X goes for the groove instead of plumping for an anthemic refrain with delightfully ethereal results. —J.D.C.


‘Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All),’ Type O Negative

Despite the pitch-black nature of their doom-powered compositions, Brooklyn mope metal kings Type O Negative and their towering vocalist, Pete Steele, loved a good joke. Their first major single, 1993’s “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All),” is a classic case in point: Narrated by Steele in his rich, velvety baritone purr, it sends up all the schlockiest goth tropes with studied seriousness, from Nosferatu to Lily Munster, set to a grandiose soundtrack of harpsichord, thrumming bass, and rollicking rock riffs. “Type O Negative took it to the nth degree. You had to take everything with a pinch of salt,” recalled Greg Mackintosh of Type O tour mates Paradise Lost. “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare All),” which began as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to an ex-girlfriend, ended up as an iconic moment in American gothic metal. —K.K.


‘Summertime Blues,’ Blue Cheer

Often credited as America’s (and quite possibly the world’s) first heavy metal band, Bay Area biker faves Blue Cheer beat Black Sabbath to the charts by two years with this bludgeoning and brutally distorted cover of Eddie Cochran’s teen alienation anthem, blazing an eardrum-busting trail for countless stoner, doom, and other earthquaking bands in the process. “Blue Cheer made an enduring impression on this once-young drummer,” the late Neil Peart told Rolling Stone in 2009, “and definitely played their part in shaping Rush’s beginnings — a loud power trio with a fortress of amps, cannonades of drums, and a bass player’s high voice trying to pierce the darkness.” —D.E.


‘Dragonaut,’ Sleep

This San Jose, California band may be best known for crafting Dopesmoker, a concept album that consisted of a single 63-minute song. But it’s the glorious, doomier-than-thou opener of 1993’s Sleep’s Holy Mountain that holds the distinction of featuring the purest strain of their pot-fueled sound. Kicking off with Matt Pike’s straight-outta-“Into the Void” guitar riff, this paean to cosmic warriors who “ride the dragon toward the crimson eye/flap their wings under Mars’ red sky” is a bong load of both sludge metal and sci-fi and fantasy tropes — imagine a character in a Frank Frazetta painting coming to life and grabbing a drop-tuned Gibson Les Paul in between monster hits. “There was obvious worship for Black Sabbath,” Pike admits, with regard to the song’s sonic template. “But we were also listening to a whole lot of dub … and smoking endless amounts of pot.” —D.F.


‘We Will Rise,’ Arch Enemy

This highlight from Arch Enemy’s breakthrough 2003 album Anthems of Rebellion is a thrilling artifact of the early-aughts melodic death-metal boom. Daniel Erlandsson’s pummeling drums, Michael and Christopher Amott’s thickly layered guitars, and (especially) Angela Gossow’s venom-spitting vocals combine to deliver equal parts uplift and menace, encouraging the listener to empower themselves and seriously fuck shit up at the same time. On paper, a line like “In this sea of mediocrity/I can be anything/Anything I want to be” might read like a bland self-affirmation platitude — but launched from Gossow’s hell-scorched larynx, it sounds like a goddamn threat. —D.E.


‘People = Shit,’ Slipknot

“I’m in this band because of everything that I hate about everything in the world,” Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison told Rolling Stone in 2000. Actual children of the corn, the nine mutants of Slipknot came out of Iowa in the late Nineties with their scary masks and bone-breaking live shows, and made their eye-popping extremism the most explosive attraction on Ozzfest. They summed up their hate-everything worldview with succinct fury on the nu-metal maelstrom “People = Shit,” an undeniable statement of tribal misanthropy and outcast self-determination. —J.D.


‘Freezing Moon,’ Mayhem

“Freezing Moon,” one of black metal’s defining anthems, went through serious growing pains before its official release in 1994. The band’s frontman, Dead, a Swede who joined Norwegian black-metal innovators Mayhem in 1988, wrote its lyrics from the perspective of a vengeful ghost, but he died by suicide in 1991 before the band could record it in the studio. So Euronymous enlisted one of Dead’s favorite singers, Hungarian black-metal O.G. Attila Csihar from Tormentor, to attempt it. The result — with its funereal riff, cryospheric poetry, and seesawing drums — made for a grindcore monument that black-metal groups have aspired to copy ever since. Best yet: Euronymous’ gratuitous solo is a wonderful paroxysm over drummer Hellhammer’s swinging rhythms, an unsentimental celebration of the very suffering Mayhem had already and would continue to endure. —G.H.C.


‘Refuse/Resist,’ Sepultura

In the mid Eighties, thrash was already slightly subversive, but in Brazil — just emerging from 21 years of military dictatorship — thrash bands like Sepultura were downright subversive. Sepultura, though, not only thrived in their environment but managed to suggest a sense of national pride by bolstering their thrash-guitar style with a percussive groove derived from traditional Brazilian music. Still, when guitarist Max Cavalera saw the phrase “Refuse/Resist” on a Black Panther’s leather jacket, a sound immediately came to mind. “It reminded me of a riot,” he told Kerrang! “Cars burning and upside down, shit spread out all over the place, chaos everywhere. When I listen to it and close my eyes, I can see a riot even now.” —J.D.C.


‘The Cry of Mankind,’ My Dying Bride

An 11th-hour miracle, “The Cry of Mankind” evolved from guitarist Calvin Robertshaw finger-tapping the song’s eerie opening melody (which runs forever through the 12-minute song) and building out each part as the gloomsters of My Dying Bride divined them. Even after the “song” part of the doom-metal epic devolves into heavy atmospherics, they tried new things as singer Aaron Stainthorpe played the bottom string of a five-string violin to evoke a mournful ship’s horn. The effect is both bleak and romantic, as Stainthorpe — drunk on Byron, Keats, and Shakespere — moans like a lonely vampire over his bandmates’ crushing riffs. “I thought, ‘Rather than write about the typical heavy-metal subjects — the devil, blood, guts and mistreating women — why don’t I write about something more thought-provoking?’” he told Decibel. “I’m sure some people thought my lyrics were shit and not very heavy metal, but … I wanted to write about powerfully emotive subjects.” —K.G.


‘Bark at the Moon,’ Ozzy Osbourne

In the aftermath of fleet-fingered guitarist Randy Rhoads’ tragic death in 1982, it was imperative that Ozzy Osbourne find a player who could deliver the same flash, and he found a perfect foil in Jake E. Lee as heard on the title track of their first album together, Bark at the Moon. “The title for this song came from a joke I used to tell where the punch line was, ‘Eat shit and bark at the moon,’ ” Osbourne recalled in his The Ozzman Cometh liner notes. “It was the first song [Jake and I] wrote together.” Built around a distinct, staccato riff that combined muscle and melody with shocking dexterity, “Bark at the Moon” brilliantly played up Osbourne’s “Prince of Darkness” moniker with lyrics that read like a Hammer Horror movie, and its werewolf-themed music video won over a new generation of metalheads. —A.B.


‘Caffeine,’ Faith No More

“Caffeine” is the heaviest and most hair-raising song from Angel Dust — Faith No More’s masterful 1992 album about, as drummer Mike Bordin put it, “the beautiful and the sick.” Musically, it deploys a metal version of the old Holland-Dozier-Holland trick of pairing an upbeat sound with a sad message. “Caffeine” is slightly more depraved than Motown. “Pour shame all over us/ harden into a crust,” Mike Patton slur-screams. As the song progresses on the back of Jim Martin’s pulverizing blues-rock guitar and Roddy Bottum’s theatrical synths, Patton spirals Hamlet-style into madness. He allegedly wrote the song amid a sleep deprivation exercise that, in a kind of Method-acting way, let him embody the object of his contempt: society on autopilot. “Coffee shops and white-trash diner places were great for inspiration,” Patton told Circus in 1992. —S.G.


‘Photograph,’ Def Leppard

Def Leppard came out of the N.W.O.B.H.M., but they didn’t stay in that world very long. As physically presentable as any New Wave band, with hooks as big as their riffs, riding the teflon glide of Mutt Lange’s production on their 1983 breakthrough, Pyromania, these rock & roll clowns became the quintessential Eighties pop-metal band, extending the music’s reach to people who wouldn’t have come within a country mile of a Motörhead song. “Photograph” was their big, lip-smacking U.S. breakthrough, with its strutting cowbell thwunk, Joe Elliott’s comely spin on the standard metal-guy shriek, and a wistful, pretty melody on the chorus. No one ever got the fluff-dog formula down better. —J.D.


‘Forty Six & 2,’ Tool

By the time Tool were starting to put together their second full-length, Ænima, singer Maynard James Keenan was looking for ways to change up his cathartic, primal-scream way of writing. That involved him doing “a lot of esoteric research, reading a lot of mathematical and psychological books.” The result was a standout track that touches on the Jungian idea of the shadow self and New Age philosopher Drunvalo Melchizedek’s concept of a genetic mutation that would signal a more “unified” humankind. How better to evolve than with a song about a literal evolution? “‘Forty Six & 2” also features some killer stop-start syncopation, and one of their most rhythmic bass lines, courtesy of the band’s fresh blood: new bassist Justin Chancellor. “He wrote the most of the riffs on ‘Forty Six & 2,’ ” drummer Danny Carey says, “and if you go back listen to the takes, you could tell there’s a lot of spontaneous energy there.” —D.F


‘Deliverance,’ Opeth

A sprawling, 13-minute epic, “Deliverance” neatly encapsulates the various musical impulses that find a home in this Swedish quartet’s sound. First, there’s the suite-like, multipart structure in which the band changes moods, textures, and meters every minute or so; then there’s the contrast between the band’s prog impulses and its death-metal side, neatly mirrored by Mikael Åkerfeldt’s Jekyll and Hyde vocals — on one hand, a sweet Greg Lake tenor, on the other, a growling Cookie Monster. As powered by the double-kick attack of drummer Martin Lopez, the band sounds like a monster, but don’t be fooled. As Åkerfeldt admitted, “English rock bands, they could probably beat us up any day.” —J.D.C.


‘Slateman,’ Godflesh

“I’m basically a weak person,” Godflesh’s Justin K. Broadrick once said, “generally quite nervous and very, very weak.” The Birmingham, England, industrial-metal band perfectly captured that internal turmoil — and offered a blueprint for metal’s impressionistic potential — on “Slateman.” The drum machine on the track is like a mechanical animal showing no mercy, and the savage, weirdly suffocated-feeling guitars are just as vicious. But it’s Broadrick’s far-away voice, and buried by loam, blurred by wind, that’s most striking, seeming more and more wounded as the song goes on. “Slateman” is the rare metal song that overcomes you with its vulnerability, rather than its power. —G.H.C.