My Favorite 40 Metal Songs Ever (Don’t @ me, bro!)
I love metal. Few human beings are casual metal fans, and I’m not an exception. I find a wide variety of subgenres appealing, but my tastes tend to skew towards the old school classics. If there’s one thing metal fans are known for, it’s raging over anyone else’s list of their favorite songs when it doesn’t match their own tastes exactly. I wish I could tell you I’m above that. Anyhow, here are my favorite metal songs ever. It should be mentioned that Judas Priest and Helloween are my favorite bands, so they’ll get a few entries a piece. I’ll give specific reasons for why I chose the top 10. Here we go!...
1. Painkiller – Judas Priest
If Priest had chosen to end this track after a mere seventeen seconds, it would still be among the greatest in their catalog. To say that Scott Travis seized his moment on his debut as the band’s new drummer would be a drastic understatement. Painkiller is massive, epic, and extremely heavy. Rob Halford’s pitched screaming vocals never sounded better and the Glenn Tipton guitar solo might be his best, and that’s saying a lot. This is what metal is all about.
2. Halloween – Helloween
Helloween is the best of what a metal band can be: fearsome, ridiculous, and virtuosic. Halloween has all of that in spades. Coming from Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part 1, the first of two albums that legitimately created the subgenre of power metal, Halloween is vicious and absurd. With lyrics about a night of trick-or-treating turning into an encounter with the devil, the entertainment factor is high. But the singing, from a very young Michael Kiske, brilliant guitar playing, and blast-beat drumming make this a musically intricate song that never loses its excitement and intensity or outstays its welcome over the course of nearly 13 minutes. I’ve linked to the live version with both Kiske and his direct replacement (and possible Batman villain) Andy Deris teaming up to deliver something spectacular, maybe even outshining the original studio version.
3. Symptom of the Universe – Black Sabbath
It is often said – fairly – that all metal stems from the mighty tree that is Black Sabbath, but it can feel odd to listen to thrash or its cousin, death metal, and hear the direct connection to, say, The Wizard. One listen to Symptom of the Universe from the Sabotage album draws an undeniable line from Sabbath to Slayer. It’s hard to imagine Reign in Blood or Ride the Lightning had this one song never existed. SOTU is raw and ferocious. Guitarist Tony Iommi found a heavier sound with the aggressive chainsaw attack that has since defined so much metal playing. Similarly, Ozzy gives a career-high vocal performance that washes away the notion that he’s more clownish than terrifying. Even the flower power ending of the song is great, pulled off particularly well because of Ozzy’s commitment to his performance.
4. Stained Class – Judas Priest
I wouldn’t hesitate to call Judas Priest’s Stained Class my favorite album (of any genre) of all time, and the title track is a masterpiece. ‘70s Priest (Rocka Rolla’ aside) is incredible. They were taking the reins of heavy metal (whether offered or not) from fellow Birmingham natives Black Sabbath, and they were determined to create the future of their genre. Thrash arguably begins with this album, as did the leather and studs look that has lasted to this day among even the hardest of metal bands. However, Stained Class the song stands on its own. Laying down some of the most paradoxically vicious and elegant lyrics in metal history, Rob Halford truly finds the greatest part of his voice here. This was also easily one of the heaviest albums/songs yet for the audiences of 1978. It should be noted that Glenn Tipton’s guitar solo on Stained Class is criminally underrated, as is the entire song, really.
5. Millennium Sun – Angra
If this song is new to you, trust me that it turns into a metal song after a minute and a half. The terrific piano/cello-backed intro is beautiful and leads perfectly into the ripping 6/8 that carries the rest of the song. Edu Falaschi’s vocals here are awesome, particularly notable if you’ve heard his more recent Almah albums where he sounds like a parody of himself. Of course it’s hard to ignore the unholy virtuosic guitars. Kiko Loreiro, now of Megadeth, is incapable of playing anything less than a well-conceived, melodically fluid, technically brilliant solo, and Millenium Sun bears the proof as much as you could ask for.
6. I’m Broken – Pantera
I’m Broken, from Pantera’s album Far Beyond Driven, may be melodic, but it just may be the heaviest song ever recorded. Everything works here. Dimebag’s guitar riff is simple enough for a beginning guitar student to play it with basic accuracy, yet his inflection and blistering tone make it awe-inspiring. I’ve always admired how he was able to create such complete solos, such that you don’t miss the standard rhythm guitar backing. Phil Anselmo sings like a wild animal, and I mean that as a compliment. He sings in a way that shows agonizing comprehension of every word. It is a nearly impossible feat to make a listener feel writhing pain and the confident strength of a superhero all at once, but Pantera showed us it can be done.
7. Tornado of Souls – Megadeth
Have you HEARD Marty Friedman’s guitar solo? It’s a candidate for greatest metal guitar solo ever. Dave Mustaine’s singing is extra ridiculous and nasal on this track, but the song is so unbelievably good otherwise, that it’s still an A+.
8. Victim of Changes – Judas Priest
The live version from Unleashed in the East is objectively the best. The studio track, though great, lacks the transition from the eerie guitar triplets into one of the biggest musical punches imaginable. It’s difficult to grasp in 2023 what that live rendition sounded like to record buyers in 1979, but its heaviness is so indisputable that it could’ve been recorded yesterday.
9. Flying High Again – Ozzy Osbourne
See entry number 7 for the whole “candidate for greatest metal guitar solo ever” thing. Randy Rhoads was a guitar phenomenon. At a time when others were doing their very best to imitate Eddie Van Halen, his approach of combining his classical background with such straightforward heavy metal was revelatory. Every note meant something. Nothing was ever wasted, no phrase played carelessly. Diary of a Madman was also an album that heard Ozzy delivering a powerhouse performance on every track.
10. Neon Knights – Black Sabbath
When I was younger, I was so attached to the Ozzy-fronted Sabbath that I blindly assumed for years that I would hate the Dio albums. The first time I heard Neon Knights, I realized how much I’d ben missing. The audio mix alone is a major sonic shift from the Ozzy era. To be clear, Dio brought his A-game. His huge voice undeniably inspires Tony Iommi to push himself to branch out with his guitar solos, playing in a faster, more shred-like style. Helloween are aptly described as the pioneers of power metal, but they surely looked here for inspiration.
11. Battery – Metallica
12. Tooth and Nail – Dokken
13. Skyfall – Helloween
14. Stranger in a Strange Land – Iron Maiden
15. Lack of Comunication – Ratt
16. The Hellion/Electric Eye – Judas Priest
17. Resurrection – Halford
18. Save Us – Helloween
19. Fallen Torches – Mastodon
20. Slave to the Grind – Skid Row
21. Curse of the Pharaoh – Mercyful Fate
22. Power - Helloween
23. Master of Puppets – Metallica
24. Dissident Aggressor – Judas Priest
25. Children of the Grave – Black Sabbath
26. Never Look Away – Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall
27. The Mob Rules – Black Sabbath
28. Soulless – Running Wild
29. Where the Rain Grows – Helloween
30. The Sentinel – Judas Priest
31. Still of the Night – Whitesnake
32. Ancient Kingdom – Mastodon
33. Heart of a Lion – Racer X
34. Square Hammer – Ghost
35. Abyss – Circus Maximus
36. New Order – Testament
37. Spread Your Fire – Angra
38. Eat the Rich – Motorhead
39. AVH – Ozzy Osbourne
40. Powerslave – Iron Maiden