Guest Post by Michael Grant
The 20 greatest Heavy Metal songs ever recorded
OK, here are the rules. This list is about great songs and why they are great due to their recording and production values. There are so many songs out there that others might think are better, but have you ever said to your self; “Ya know there is a good song here but I wish they did not use that drum sound, or, it’s not that tight, or, the production sucks.” Even the performances can be off.
The criteria for rating these songs is simple: The immediate visceral response I experienced from the aural assault presented.
You will notice that vocals are taken into account quite a bit cuz I’m a singer. No two bands are repeated but there are some same people who performed in different bands. Ballads are not included (because I said so – my list, my rules) and I do include 2 runner ups for each entry. Now, let the count down begin!!
20. BURNING BRIDGES Crimson Glory/Transcendence
This is one of my favorite metal records. Yes they looked silly with their masks and all but this disk is so rich with classic sounding material. Burning Bridges is so interestingly constructed. I love how the pre chorus is the extended main chorus riff sans vocals. They know how good their music is to pull a trick like that. It’s these little things that are why it is so special. I also love the beginning with that otherworldly melody. The drum sound is quite processed (they are real and played by a human contrary to belief) and the topic is a bit schmaltzy (Regret of abandoning a true love), but Midnight sings with such conviction that all the shortcomings are obliterated. This one is truly transcendent. Runner ups: Lady Of Winter, In Dark Places
19. FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK…WE SALUTE YOU AC/DC/For Those About To Rock
AC/DC is a rock band and this is their Metal song! The beginning itself commands that you pay attention. Brian Johnson’s vocals are so searing and true you believe the message even if you don’t like rock. The riff is so simple yet so complete. Add cannon fire to the mix and you got a song for the Metal ages! I salute you AC/DC! Runner ups: Who Made Who, Back In Black
18. THE DAWN OF BATTLE Manowar/The Dawn Of Battle EP
This is taken from a three song EP that makes me wonder why this song was not just put on a record. I guess they wanted to make more easy money or they thought that the song was good enough to stand alone. I think it is the latter. New Manowar listeners get the true essence of the band in a nice neat package. It has all the staples… Gut wrenching verses, grandiose choruses with giant hooks, a quiet “if I should fall in battle” middle, and a blistering solo. Erik Adams really sings like a king here showing his full range. Also, Joey uses a regular bass instead of that somewhat annoying piccolo bass. A real winner! Runner ups: Blood Of My Enemies, Hail And Kill
17. DETROIT ROCK CITY Kiss/Destroyer
This was the first Metal song I ever listened to. Yes, it is a Metal song! I was 5 years old and was blown away by Paul Stanley’s white hot screams. Since then I have never looked back. It comes from a landmark album. I liked the effects drenched “God of Thunder” too but this is a pure song. Wonderfully produced by Bob Erzin and some of the hardest hitting drums from Peter Criss. Even that piano is heavy! It’s also cool how the lyrics turn suddenly frightening at the end and the car crash bit still brings chills. It really is a stand alone and I’m glad it broke my cherry. Runner ups: Do You Love Me, Larger Than Life
16. BLACK HORSEMAN King Diamond/Abigail
Abigail is regarded as King Diamond’s finest record. Everybody is right. He could never seem to get that once in a lifetime sound and production again. I choose “Black Horseman” because it is one of his most unique numbers. A labyrinth of styles that so seamlessly flow together as one. King sings with so much passion and genuine emotion. Every voice style he has he showcases here. It also has some of the most beautiful melodies he has ever composed. The lyrics are cool too. It all comes together with a climatic awe that ends with one of the best closing lines. The drumming is mesmerizing and the guitars saturate the soul. A real one of a kind. Runner ups: A Broken spell, Into The Convent
15. THE LEARNING Nevermore/The Politics Of Ecstasy
I’ll never forget how deeply involved I got into this song just after the first listen. I replayed it about 30 more times and almost forgot about the rest of the album. The possibility of A.I. is a subject I will always find fascinating. (Screaming In Digital and NM 156 from Queensryche also dabble in this….see below) Nevermore’s crushing score and Warrel Dane’s mind numbing lyrics give this subject a 9 minute plus workout. The record itself is the most sonically assaultive from the band. Warrel’s performance is that of bliss. From the heartfelt opening plea to the stabbing pre choruses to the de-resonating scream that caps the song, it is a journey that leaves no questions left to ask. This truly pierces the carbon soul. Runner ups: Dreaming Neon Black, The Sanity Assassin
14. HEADING FOR TOMORROW Gamma Ray/Heading For Tomorrow
Ralph Sheepers only sang on two Gamma Ray records before forming Primal Fear. I just love this song for the sheer scope of epic-ness. It is one of the most serious performances from Ralph who is a giant in the industry. I love how composer Kai Hansen (a less able but totally charming singer in later albums) gives us a full 16 minute unedited, unapologetic odyssey. Even the beginning tells the listener…”this is a huge song, your going on a journey!” At the end you might feel exhausted but so satisfied you are glad you went for the ride. Runner ups: Rebellion In Dreamland, All Of The Dammed
13. NICE DAY FOR A FUNERAL Overkill/Horrorscope
What? No “Wrecking Crew”, no “Elimination”, no “Rotten To The Core”?? No. It is this. This forgotten triumph from the Virgin Killers themselves! This is Overkill’s darkest moment. This song burns in you as if Blitz branded it to your brain! The riffs are straight forward, simple and unrelenting. The vocals come from the surface of the sun. The lyrics are so spot on disturbing that it’s like Blitz went into the mind of every suicidal soul and took the best lines of despair and futility. And that fucking solo! It still makes me weep. Dare if you will to take a dive into this dangerous and gut wrenching piece. You will never be the same. Runner ups: Who Tends The Fire, End Of The Line
12. SCREAMING IN DIGITAL Queensryche/Rage For Order
Rage For Order is my favorite Queensryche album. It is just so ahead of it’s time and it is Geoff Tate’s best performance. The world can go Mindcrime all it wants but the mold was broken here. I chose “Screaming” because it has personally influenced me big time on how I structure my vocals. The overlapping, the different characters with different voices and how Tate really sings across the riffs and not just with them. Again, I love the subject matter (A.I.’s again) and the buildup is very gripping. Also the use of different effects and sounds make this a true original. Runner ups: The Mission, Roads To Madness
11. MARCH OF TIME Helloween/Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 2
The drummer I play with said it best…” This song is the template on witch every other power metal song is built from.” I couldn’t agree more. It is a glorious song. Filled with speed and souring vocals from the great Michael Kiske. (So what if he is a douche bag) I love how epic the presentation is and how each member gets a little moment in the sun with carefully placed “mini solos”. Cool topic, lyrics and tight as a drum. Oh how I miss the old Helloween days! Runner Ups: Twilight Of The Gods, How Many Tears
10. BEYOND THE BLACK Metal Church/Metal Church
And how black it is. This chugger literally broods with darkness. The production is astounding because it is so “wet” and cryptic, yet clear. I don’t think I’ll ever hear such a crisp, sweet drum sound again. The late David Wayne had to have recorded his vocals from some deep dark catacomb or something. The tom/guitar harmony at the beginning is worth the song alone. The song drips metal good enough to destroy any church! And that is why their Metal always conquers! Runner ups: We Watch The Children Prey, Battalions
9. THE SENTINEL Judas Priest/Defenders Of The Faith
This is one of Judas Priest’s best songs hands down. Defenders is my favorite disk from Priest. It’s not crooney like the early stuff or cheesy like the albums that came soon after. The obvious choice from this one would have been “Freewheel Burning” but that has a few bits that borderline on silliness. The Sentinel has a wonderful structure. I love how the story is told and how the title character is described. It has sophistication and maturity. The middle section is nice and moody and Rob Halford does some of his most spine tingling screams (Especially at the end.) It is played live quite often and never disappoints. One for the ages! Runner Ups: Painkiller, Sinner
8. LAST IN LINE Dio/Last In Line
I guess you could call this one “Dio’s Number Of The Beast.” It’s his perfect song. It has a great thoughtful intro that bursts into a riff that instantly tattoos to your brain. The lyrics, (classic Dio scribe that always makes one go… “I’m not quite sure what he really means by that”) is so much fun to sing along to. It is wrapped up in a perfect package. The guitar solo by Vivian Campbell is also fabulous. While “Rainbow In The Dark” and “Hungry For Heaven” were ultimately the product of producers, Last In Line remains one of his most respected songs that is considered by the record executives “a hit.” Runner ups: Don’t Talk to Strangers, Strange Highways
7. EDEN LIES OBSCURED Sanctuary/Into The Mirror Black
Definitely the most obscure song on the list (no pun intended). Bathed in one of the most melancholy yet progressive riffs ever, this song still makes me shudder in awe. Warrel Dane is one of the greatest lyricists in metal. His ideas and words are spellbinding. The album itself is so devoid of comic relief and this is a showcase true to it’s words of human double standards. It’s pinnacle of sadness and raw anger. The emotions conveyed are so real you can almost see his veins bulging and tears flowing. But nowhere is a false feeling found. This is the real deal. Runner Ups: Long Since Dark, Veil Of Disguise
6. DOOMSDAY FOR THE DECEIVER Flotsam And Jetsam/Doomsday For The Deceiver
There is a reason this song is also the album title, it is so worthy for the metal hall of fame! A crushing power thrasher! It’s almost like a movement from some dark opera. The topic has to be one of the most bizarre twists on clichéd standard metal themes. In short, it is the battle of Satan and his “marked” human survivors vs. the masses of followers of the heavy metal created creature called “Flotzilla” after a nuclear war. Oh and it is fought on some street with weapons consisting of “Thrashing jaws, slashing claws and, yes,POWER METAL!!” Before Jason Newsted became lobotomized in Metallica, he had the most fun doing this band. He has no fear bringing his F+J masterpiece to the public. The intro is patient, the riffs unstoppable, the singing is stratospheric and the bass playing is on par to Steve Harris. The listener has to be an expert to sing along to this beast. If the Deceiver dooms this day…then we have won it! Runner ups: I Live You Die, Metal Shock
5. THROUGH EYES OF GLASS Forbidden/Forbidden Evil
One of Metal’s most thrilling songs! On the first listen I said to myself, “I will never tire of this….EVER!” Too bad Forbidden was always relegated to being second banana to all the other thrash bands who rose to stardom. There is an ocean of talent in this band. Even though these days they are starting to be credited as a true pioneer of new thrash metal ideas, they still remain one of Metal’s most underrated acts. They were also a farm band to lots of musicians who went on to storied careers. Matt, Russ and Craig never got out though. This song is the absolute standout on what is a cool yet somewhat chaotic record. The rather standard topic of clairvoyance is met by smooth verses that are so well sung by the unlikely singer Russ Anderson who looks like your local back of the store butcher but sings with an otherworldly voice. The riffs are very advanced yet very accessible. The solo’s are something to behold! 2 ½ min of pure axe perfection. They sound shred filled but are actually very pre composed. I’ll never get bored of this over the top, out of this world thrash classic! Runner ups: Hypnotized By The Rhythm, Infinite
4. STARGAZER Rainbow/Rising
Rainbow have never really been a metal band. More of a rock band. But they just so happened to write and record one of metal’s greatest songs! This is due to the fact that Dio was involved. Seems like wherever Dio goes, the magic follows. The fine materiel recorded by Rainbow during the Dio years were mostly Renaissance Faire-esce or straight ahead pool hall rockers. They did manage to cut three Metalers though. The other two are “Kill The King” (a close second) and “Gates Of Babylon” (A bit too progressive yet still cool.) “Stargazer” is a wonder and a winner. The lyrics and the performance is so mystical. The riff is very hard hitting and deadly infectious. It stays the course the entire time only to climax to an ending that will literally give you the power to fly. It’s nearly a perfect song. To this day I can still see the slaves of the now fallen wizard rising with the Rainbow. Pure magic! Runner ups: Gates Of Babylon, Kill The King
3. MASTER OF PUPPETS Metallica/Master Of Puppets
Metallica’s greatest song. It’s their “Ninth Symphony”. Every riff is perfect. A difficult song to play and one that is so easy to ingest. James’ vocal performance is one we will sadly never hear again. This is also their best record. It is so well produced. The sound still shatters my every bone even after 25 years of listening to it. The chorus is designed for concerts. The solo from Kirk is haunting and gum scraping. The bridge sections, count em…four, are so memorable you can hum them note for note even if you haven’t given the song a spin in say, two years. The lyrics are masterfully written that it will remove every ounce of hope you can muster. (“Chomp your breakfast on a mirror!”) The song ends with one of metal’s heaviest riffs (a simple variation on the main verse riff)…EVER! Too bad that in these days this has been demoted to being partially played live in god awful medleys. Please guys! Treat this as if it were your son who is worthy of the crown. It is the only level it deserves. Runner ups: Ride The Lightning, Disposable Heroes
2. THE MOB RULES Black Sabbath/Mob Rules
I first heard this song while watching the movie “Heavy Metal.” The first thing I asked myself is…”Who is that band and where can I find the record?!” Well, I got the soundtrack and the Black Sabbath record at the same time! There are actually two different recordings. The Proper album version wins hands down. It is much tighter and just fucking rocks! I have studied the lyrics for years and I still don’t know what Dio is really talking about. I guess it has to do with anarchy or something like that but who cares! This song is so Metal and just fills one’s head with such unique imagery. Not just the lyrics but the whole sound of it all. It is one of the best live songs performed. When I heard the boys crank this show opener at the Beacon Theater in New York during the “Dehumanizer” tour I was in Heaven and Hell!! The assaulting riff is so simple and so perfect. I just love the part when Dio screams “The Mob Rules” at the beginning of the solo. A metal classic that will forever be written in stone! Runner ups: Falling Off The Edge Of the World, Children Of The Sea
1. THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST Iron Maiden/The Number Of The Beast
The greatest heavy Metal song ever recorded. Perfected perfection. Perfect. It will never be championed. It is an enigma unto itself. I still don’t know how they did it. Every second of this song rules. From the moment the voice over starts reciting the passage of Revelations you know you are in for the experience of a lifetime and producer Martin Birch made sure of that. The guitars begin followed quickly by the first chilling lines of Bruce’s intense yet restrained singing. It builds and builds with perspiring caged madness. Then it explodes with Bruce’s most chilling scream ever. From there you are given the most unforgettable three minutes of such focused intensity. The lyrics are only matched by Bruce’s fiery singing that keeps you in a chokehold. The chorus hammers the listener with the three sixes with deadly precision. The solos weave in and out to the cannon fire drumming of Clive Burr. Steve’s Bass solo is so famous that it is regarded as his best. This song is even better that Run To the Hills. (I love that to death too.) As it gets scarier with each passing phrase, you, like Bruce get mesmerized. I still cower when the line “Can’t avoid their eyes” is sung. I must have listened to this song over 30,000 times in my life and I’m still not used to it. It’s that fucking good. Funny thing is (and I hear this has happened to many people) is that I thought this was the album opener. The weird labeling on the record confused many. Another great aspect is the added “warning verse” at the end. What ballsy songwriting. The prose lyrics also come at you without blinking an eye. I can still crank this today and be out of breath at the end. The only bad thing is when it is performed live. It doesn’t even come close to the recorded version. The price for perfection I guess. Maiden can die knowing that they have created the greatest Metal song ever recorded. One that will never fall from the throne. Runner ups: Run To The Hills, The Trooper
10 HONORABLE MENTIONS They almost made it! In no order.
- Angel Of Death- Slayer… Venom invented it, Slayer refined it. A classic thrasher.
- Misery Loves Company- Anthrax… This is a Thrax song that nobody else cares about.
- I Am A Viking- Yngwie Malmsteen… The Best song from Yngwie EVER!
- Mastermind- Vicious Rumors… No one knew these guys. I did and I’m glad!
- Hall Of The Mountain King- Savatage… Their masterpiece. So dramatic and Metal!
- Komaniac- Artillery… Fleming Rassmussan produced this. Their only good record.
- In Mourning- Megadeth… This is without a doubt their heaviest song. Black Friday!
- Night Of The Unborn- Merciful Fate… Blood wet production and scary!
- Gettysburg- Iced Earth… I have always had a soft spot for Ripper. He is awesome.
- Heaven Is Hell- Accept… Udo sounds like he is slowly driving a screw into your skull.
Metal doth RULE!
Mike is the singer for Crescent Shield, a killer melodic metal band!
Another list of great heavy metal tunes: The 10 Best Epic Heavy Metal Songs