To some people heavy metal songs may all sound the same, but real aficionados know the intricacies of the sound from the bridge to the breakdown. Building off of the heavy sound of late 60s bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, heavy metal has continued to grow and evolve, over time contributing tracks like these, five of the best.
5. Master of Puppets (1986) by Metallica
When the crux of a musical genre rests in the power of guitar riffs there’s something to be said for a song like “Master of Puppets” which wastes no time by opening with one of the hardest riffs ever created.
The rest of the song, extending over an epic eight minutes, never backs down from that initial jolt. The song was a staple of the band’s live sets.
4. Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1984) by Iron Maiden
Some may be of the opinion that heavy metal is just plain loud and totally detached from high culture. But it doesn’t get more badass or academic than adapting a nearly century old Taylor Coleridge poem to song.
The resulting 13-minute song with all of its power and masterful craft breaks open the potential of heavy metal to more than riffs (though don’t get me wrong those are present and fully appreciated). In “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” it seems that we truly achieve the epic delivery that the poem deserves.
3. Iron Man (1970) by Black Sabbath
When you see Ozzy Osbourne in his reality TV show of the mid 2000’s he is a slow, out of it, broken down man. And this song is why. Well, not this song specifically, but the ferocity of Ozzy’s performance surrounded by one of the most recognizable riffs in rock history certainly gives us an understanding as to how someone could end up that way.
Indeed, on “Iron Man” Ozzy is at his sharpest, his loudest, and the whole band is at their most powerful.
2. The Sentinel (1984) by Judas Priest
The greatest heavy metal songs are not only masterful constructs of sound but equally great examples of narrative. This Judas Priest song is one of the best examples of how the two can support one another in a truly great song.
The bare bones lyrics are full of pathos and imagery-potent enough-but the details are filled in by the riffs, the solos, and the listener’s imagination. And that is an accomplishment in any form.
1. For Those about to Rock, We Salute You (1981) by AC/DC
This song is important for the elements of heavy metal that it contains. AC/DC may not have been a metal band through and through, but they represent a sound on the edge, straddling the line between mainstream rock and what heavy metal would become.
The essentials of the genre can be heard to emerge in Brian Johnson’s gritty near scream of a vocal, in the epic build of the structure, and, of course, the incessant pound of Phil Rudd’s drums and Angus Young’s chords.
Maybe this list isn’t hardcore enough to earn the approval of a true metal fan like yourself. Let the list have it in the comments. Or, you know, you could just politely agree.