I love heavy metal! But I especially love EPIC heavy metal. Heavy metal bands that create great epics can take us on journeys to far off times and places or to the deepest inner workings of the human mind. They bring us on musical excursions through wistful acoustic episodes and thunderous explosions of power. And they lead us on emotional adventures of triumph and tragedy. These are ten of my most cherished epic heavy metal songs.
- Song must be over 7 minutes in length (or damn close)
- Song must feel epic
- It helps if it tells a story
- One song per band
10. Judas Priest – Victim of Changes
Judas Priest basically wrote the book on epic metal if not metal itself. Right out of the gate on their first album they presented the brilliant and melancholy epic metal masterpiece Run of the Mill. And this was in 1974! Then they follow it up on the next album with Victim of Changes! Well there you go folks, some of the earliest and best epics of all. It seems Halford’s voice is capable of anything and he certainly knows how to tell a story and take the listener on an emotional journey. And the KK’s guitar solo on this song is a journey in and of itself. A true classic.
9. Enslaved – Lunar Force
Blistering Intensity is natural to Enslaved. They are masterful songwriters skilled in dynamics, melody, primitive fury, and philosophical explorations. They are truly one of metal’s best bands and have produced a string of crushing epics throughout their history. It’s hard to pick a best one but Lunar Force stands out for for its juxtaposition of haunting melodies, otherworldly atmosphere, and bone shattering power. Delving into the sparse lyrics reveals an epic and tragic theme that is both surprising and multidimensional.
8. Queensryche – Suite Sister Mary
Queensryche has two inspired grandiose epic metal songs, Suite Sister Mary and Roads to Madness. Roads is incredible but I give the edge to this one. I just love the arrangement. There are not many riffs in the song but it moves along and captivates. Geoff Tate is exceptional. The main riff is pure metal bliss – deceptively complex and driven by a simple bass (drum) thump by Scott Rockenfield. But what makes the song truly haunting is Chris Degarmo’s stunning clean picked theme. A theatrical masterpiece.
7. Manowar – Bridge of Death
Manowar is one the greatest epic metal bands of all. It’s really hard to choose a best epic from them. You’ve got Mountains which I just love. You’ve got Battle Hymn, Guyana, Gates Of Valhalla, Revelation, and March for Revenge. “For When We March Your Sword Rides With Me” – that’s got be one of the most epic lines in all of metal history! I could really have placed any of these exalted metal classics on the list but, Bridge of Death is so awesome with its superb melodic riffs and imagery. And it’s so evil!
6. Fates Warning – The Ivory Gate of Dreams
Well here’s longest song on the list. A whole side of an album (if that means anything anymore). 21 minutes! And not one second of boredom. This song appeared on ‘No Exit’ which was new vocalist Ray Alder’s debut with Fates Warning. He undoubtedly had some huge shoes to fill and rose to the occasion in a big way. His screams are legendary as is his passionate and melodic delivery. Songwriter Jim Matheos really went all out on this song, piecing together eight distinct parts into an expansive and moving vision. Their previous epic songs with John Arch like Exodus or Prelude to Ruin are arguably better, but this song has a special place in my heart for its sheer ambition, passion, intensity, heaviness, and diversity.
5. Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Ronnie James Dio is responsible for taking metal fans on many epic journeys throughout his career. Heaven and Hell is one of the best. When he teamed up with Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler it was pure magic. It’s a testament to these massively talented guys that they have been involved in so many monumental metal projects. Just listen to classic main riff of this tune! Pure metal through and through. And I love Dio’s majestic yet “open to interpretation” lyrics. Yes you will see Black Sabbath again on this list but I get a pass because this is Dio-Sabbath, and Dio-Sabbath is especially worthy of note to say the least.
4. Mercyful Fate – Satan’s Fall
I’ve always been in awe of the genius of this song. The riffs never fucking repeat for 11+ minutes (until the very end)! But it still sounds like a focused and coherent song. Riff after brilliant riff, a flurry of catchy diverse vocal melodies, superbly creative drumming, one clever transition after another, and a slew of great solos – unbelievable! And it’s all packaged up to propel the listener on a wicked voyage to the depths of hell. The song is a beast that takes few listens to digest but it’s worth it. By the time that intro riff comes back around again you really feel like you’ve witnessed the rescue of Satan from a perilous demise.
3. Black Sabbath – War Pigs
There’s no metal fan who hasn’t heard this song is there? If anyone can claim to have invented metal it’s Sabbath. Well, they invented epic metal too. As soon as the haunting overture of War Pigs hits you, with sirens wailing, you know you’re in for a dark and sinister trip. Then the punch of the simple 2 chord riff and Ozzy’s chant-like vocals take us ever onward into the black oblivion of war and unchecked power. Sabbath has a long career of brilliant epic heavy metal classics. The Writ deserves special mention for its mind-blowing arrangement and shredding vocal performance by Ozzy. But War Pigs is one of metal’s most respected songs for good reason, it’s just brilliant on every level. And you will get little argument with that.
2. Iron Maiden – Hallowed be Thy Name
Here we go again. It’s nearly impossible to pick just one epic metal song from Iron Maiden. They are one band that is known for their epics. And why not? To Tame a Land, Alexander the Great, The Rime (not Rhyme) of the Ancient Mariner. These are some of the best metal tunes of all time. Hail Steve Harris for weaving so many tales into enduring epic heavy metal songs. Hallowed be Thy Name is such a perfect song it seems. It’s so ominous, so filled with catchy riffs, so descriptive in its storytelling, so perfectly arranged, and so expertly performed.
1. Rainbow – Stargazer
This is perhaps the grand daddy of all epics. Towers, wizards, stars, rainbows – this is the textbook of epic metal imagery. But it’s so much more. The tragic nature of the song leaves a lasting impression. And the riff! Ritchie Blackmore has written so many great songs in his long career but this riff is perhaps the most meaningful in that it is the foundation for one of the best songs in the genre. And I can’t forget the magnificent solo which takes you to the brink of the precipice and tearfully nudges you over the edge. Add to that a truly magical performance by Ronnie James Dio and by the time you get to the fade out you never want it to end.
Here are a few runners up that deserve mention:
- Opeth – Godhead’s Lament (Opeth’s best)
- Voivod – Jack Luminous (Not known for epics but they crafted an awesome space epic!)
- Ozzy – Diary of a Madman (too short but massively epic feel)
- Metallica – Master of Puppets (doesn’t feel quite epic enough but a killer song)
- Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1 (a classic epic indeed)
There you have it. There are always dissenting opinions so if you feel compelled, add a comment below! And if you hunger for more, check out my own attempts at epic metal glory (‘The Endurance’ is our 9 minute epic)!