Closer and closer we draw to the best heavy metal song of all time, but indeed there is much in between and none of it has been come to lightly. I actually have spent a lot of time mulling over this list since its creation and I am pleased, thus far I can’t think of anything major that I’ve left out, which must mean that they are not indeed ‘top songs’ at all. But let me get to one note of concern that people have raised. They say that one of the reasons that a list like Gibson’s travesty is valid is because “it’s hard to know if these songs can stand the test of time!” I just want to take a minute to call bullshit.
Bullshit. First, even by that logic, tracks from At The Gates and Blind Guardian, having been released in the mid-90s could easily have made that list. But I think the other thing that people forget is how metal is no longer as unified then and therefore it’s much harder to come up with newer songs that unify large buying publics. There’s a reason that it’s Korn and Tool that make those lists and not Opeth or Primordial (though arguably Opeth is one of the most popular metal bands in the world today), and it’s because metal doesn’t have the same kind of commercial power that it maybe once did. But does that mean that we should cloister ourselves in stupidity and only pay attention to records that went gold and songs that even people who don’t like metal have heard? This Angry Metal Guy says “Hell no!” And thus I have presented this list (here’s: 50-41 and 40-31) parallel to Steel Druhm’s lists (50-41 and 40-31) with an eye to what has happened in metal since then. Of course not everyone is going to agree, but that is simply because we live in a post-modern metal world, where not everyone is able to get the same metal.
But ask yourself this; which of these bands will be looked back upon fondly, and which of them will be looked back upon with shame. There’s a reason that Warrant and Stryper didn’t make Gibson’s list, and it’s the same reason that Korn shouldn’t have and Papa Roach wasn’t anywhere near it: because these were trends, they were bad, they were cheesy and they are to be looked upon with proper contempt and shame for having ever existed. The same cannot be said of Ulver or Opeth or Primordial or Vintersorg. These are united in excellence and artistic expression, even if they don’t all reach the same listeners.
So my goal here is not to construct the list of the most accessible stuff, it’s the stuff that I see as the best. That means when it comes to songwriting, presentation and, of course, memorability. And now, 30-21.
#30: Manowar – Kings of Metal – “Hail and Kill” – This, my friends, is fucking heavy metal. While Manowar‘s discography is choppy (at best) and I’m pretty sure that Joey DeMaio is a high-functioning psychopath (from everything I’ve read and given his history of fucking bands who work for him in the ass), that doesn’t mean that these guys didn’t write one of the best heavy metal songs of all time. Because man, they really did. This is a song that I would love to see live just so I could chant along with it in the chorus and headbang like mad. This track and “Thor” are pretty much the best thing the band ever did, but when they hit the ball they really hit it out of the park. Extra points for the line “May your sword stay wet like a young girl in her prime.” Ha! — Also, RIP Scott Columbus.
#29: Bloodbath – Nightmares Made Flesh – “Eaten” – The first time I heard this song, I just had to laugh. And then I had to listen to it again. This is everything that old school death metal should be, except being done with an amazing sensibility that I think is hard to find in the death metal scene. The riffs here are amazing, the chorus here is hilariously awesome (“Eaten! My one desire, my only wish is to be eaten! The longer I live the more I’m dying to feel the pain!”) and the feeling is extreme, heavy and creepy. This song is total win and I love it. When turning people onto more traditional death metal I actually think that starting with Bloodbath is a good way to go because they’re oddly “poppy” for a death metal band. As has been made abundantly clear with this song.
#28: Morbid Angel – Covenant – “God of Emptiness” – Morbid Angel is a band that has an undeniable legacy in death metal and “God of Emptiness” was a bit of a gateway record for dudes like myself who were exposed to it and went “Whoa. That was fucking evil.” The final clean vocals are great, the video is awesome and the song is just crushingly heavy. Some may debate whether or not this is Morbid Angel‘s best stuff, but I think it definitely ranks up there and it’s got added nostalgic value. In fact, I think it’s one of the best death metal tracks ever and it puts into perspective how much thrash metal changed death metal over the years, doesn’t it? This shit was sloooow. Oh, and Azagthoth is a ridiculous guitar player.
#27: Taake – Over Bjoergvin Graater Himmerik – “IV” – Probably the best Norwegian black metal band since early Ulver, Taake‘s first three records are fucking phenomenal, but one track just stands out of me on this one. With its icy cold riffing and its intelligent melody, while having great bass work and feel, this song gets stuck in my head whenever I listen to it. So there isn’t a ton more to say, but the writing is magnificent, the riffing is outstanding and the mix of extremity and melody with sort of a NWoBHM sensibility makes for what is one of the most enjoyable metal songs ever written. The riff that starts at 4:07 is largely why this record stands out for me. Two of the best minutes of black metal ever written.
#26: Blind Guardian – A Night at the Opera – “Battlefield” – So, when A Night at the Opera I fucking hated it. I really did. Even all these years later, I don’t like it as well as the band’s earlier stuff. But there is one song on this record that has stuck with me since then and has never let go and that is the track “Battlefield,” which is just epic in proportions that I cannot even begin to express. You just need to listen to this song to get a sense of how huge it is. And at the same time, it’s got this Celtic Riverdance kinda feel to it and it.. fucking works. The guitar solo is excellent, the arrangements, too, are awesome and this is just a powerhouse of a song. “Battlefield” stood heads and shoulders over the other songs on that record, and earns a well-deserved place on this list.
#25: Faith No More – Angel Dust – “Land of Sunshine” – I guess it’s hard to choose when it comes to the record Angel Dust, but one thing that shouldn’t be denied is that these guys had a sound all their own that was kind of post-metal but oh-so-metal at the same time and Mike Patton is such a unique and cool vocalist and the whole “self-help” talk that goes through this song makes it awesome. I love the maniacal laughter and the guitar solo, the bass heavy approach, and.. well.. ALL of it! These guys were really ahead of their time and really underrated, despite having had some big hits and having been pretty popular. And this is my favorite FNM track and one of the best metal tracks ever written.
#24: Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. II – “I Want Out” – Actually, I probably should’ve gone with something else from Helloween but I can’t help myself. I love this song (and I love Sonata Arctica‘s cover of it a hell of a lot, too ’cause it’s faster), and despite the band having other great tracks, it’s important to remember that Helloween is basically entirely at fault for what we think of as Europower in its modern form. Now you can debate whether or not that’s good, but you can’t debate that these guys have had a massive influence on that movement and bands like the aforementioned Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, Nocturnal Rites and so forth. Let the mid-paced catchiness seep into your soul. [Also, while it’s not a part of this list, you should definitely check out their overlooked and mightily awesome, but heinously cheesy, Mr. Torture.]
#23: Lost Horizon – Awakening the World – “Sworn in the Metal Wind” – “Hey man what is this? Sounds like wail of a wimp. Did you let loser side take command? Where’s the warrior in you and the spirit he got? You say lost? No! It’s somewhere inside. And you know there’s a force that unites all of us, leave the wasteland we, together, will! If you’re broken remember you have with us! Take now your next deep breath, and revive your old strength!” What more do I actually have to say than this? How about this? “Don’t forget you are metal, not some ass kissing whore!”
#22: Slayer – Reign in Blood – “Angel of Death” – Oh holy fuck did this record change my life. I mean, you can’t argue with Slayer. And for me “Angel of Death” was always one of the songs that did it for me. The riffing is awesome, the chorus is great and the track really manages to piss a lot of people off. And actually, for Slayer this song even shows a remarkable amount of sophistication, given that the rest of their stuff on this record wasn’t quite as… techy. It’s actually funny to go back and listen to this and think about how blown away I was by the extremity of this record, and how now it seems kinda tame when I compare it to other bands that I love now. But “Angel of Death” is a song loaded with great riffs, an awesome sound and maybe two of the least painfully shitty solos that the band ever wrote. Someone should’ve confiscated Kerry King’s fucking whammy bar years ago.
#21: Opeth – Still Life – “Godhead’s Lament” – Well, this song probably needs little introduction from me. Anyone who has listened to metal since forever knows that Opeth is pretty much one of the best bands ever and anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m a pretty die-hard fan. But coming in at number 21 and very deserving of doing so is “Godhead’s Lament,” which I think is the finest track from this record. Unfortunately, the only copy I could find on YouTube is peaking so I’m assuming that this is a remaster. In any case, the whole song is amazing: the riff at 1:43, the solo and the cleans that follow (at 3:27), actually I’m just going to stop. This entire song is just goddamned incredible.
Oh yeah, that’s pretty rad, innit? I thought so. But wait: there’s more! Coming soon!