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Dissecting the Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time

Rachael is both an avid writer and music enthusiast, with a passion for metal. She enjoys researching and dissecting lyrics.


Heavy metal first pierced the ears of listeners in the 1970s with bands like Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper. The sound has since progressed, becoming louder and faster, while gathering a following of dedicated headbangers. It's hard to find fans who agree on the greatest song; however, these tracks are at the top of every greatest metal list.

Metallica: "Master of Puppets"

Metallica: "Master of Puppets"

Metallica: "Master of Puppets"

Metallica was creeping in on the metal watch list when in 1986 they released their absolute voice of intent with "Master of Puppets". It is the second song and title track on Metallica's third studio album. At over 8 minutes long (8:36), "Master of Puppets" encompasses the enslaving power of drug addiction. Singing the repeating chorus of this elemental song has somehow become a rite of passage to becoming a true metal head.

"Master of Puppets" was ranked number 1 on Total Guitar magazine's 100 greatest riffs poll. It was also ranked the third greatest heavy metal song ever by VH1.

"Master of Puppets" - Official Music Video

Metal never goes away. It drifts in and out, but the true fans are always there for it.

— Eddie Trunk, Music Historian

Ozzy Osbourne (right) with Black Sabbath in 1970.

Ozzy Osbourne (right) with Black Sabbath in 1970.

Black Sabbath: "War Pigs"

Black Sabbath unleashed "War Pigs" in 1970 as their opening track on the "Paranoid" album. This is understood to be a Vietnam War protest song; however, the band played live in the mid 70s and projected World War II scenes during their performance. The band later noted that the song was originally entitled "Walpurgis", and is really about a Witches Sabbath. "War Pigs" is ranked number two on Digital Dream Door's 100 greatest metal songs list.

"War Pigs" (Live) - Paris, 1970

Iron Maiden: "Hallowed Be Thy Name"

In 1982, Steve Harris wrote "Hallowed Be Thy Name" for Iron Maiden. This progressive eighth track closes out the "Number of the Beast" album with its prime musical quality and lyrics. Told from the perspective of a marked man on the brinks of execution, this song breaths in his fear and exhales a lengthy instrumental at his death leaving only his final words, hallowed be thy name. Every metal historian rates this dark composition at or near the top of their greatest all-time list.

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"Hallowed Be Thy Name" (Live)

Metallica: "And Justice for All"

Metallica: "And Justice for All"

Metallica: "One"

The third single on the 1988 "And Justice for All" album, "One", displays Metallica at the top of their colossal metal reign. Encompassed by dark melodic lyrics, this power baled is based on a 1939 war novel where a soldier is maimed and his arms, legs, ears, nose, mouth and eyes are taken leaving only his torturous thoughts. With this song, Metallica made their first music video which disturbed many viewers, and thrilled rockers around the globe.

"One" (Official Music Video)

Pantera From left to right: Vinnie Paul, Phil Anselmo, Rex Brown and Dimebag Darrell

Pantera From left to right: Vinnie Paul, Phil Anselmo, Rex Brown and Dimebag Darrell

Pantera: Walk

Walk is Pantera's fourth and last single on their 1993 Vulgar Display of Power album. This song was written following the Cowboys from Hell tour after the band returned home and friends treated them incongruously. The forceful lyrics demand "stay away from me". Pantera has remade and remixed this song numerous times under names such as Walk Biomechanical and Walk Cervical. Many bands have covered this song including Disturbed, Seether, Avenged Sevenfold and Sevendust.

Walk (Official)

How This List was Calculated

All of these songs were compiled from the top five of several greatest metal lists, and a number of factors were used including impact, influence, popularity, lyrical quality and musical quality and composition to determine their ranking on this list.

What Heavy Metal Song Do You Think Is The Best?

© 2013 Rachael Ryhn - Jones


Rachael Ryhn - Jones (author) from Forest Lake, MN on July 21, 2013:

Thanks! I put a lot of effort into it. I looked at a lot of factors and many lists to come up with them.

Sean McGavin from Bowling Green, Ohio on July 21, 2013:

Wow that is a tough call. Good list.

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