13 of the greatest metal songs from late in a band’s career
Often, bands who are still making music after their initial rise to fame are perceived as goodwill projects. There’s a thought that their latest album is just an excuse to hit the road and play the hits, and that it’s “just good to see that they’re still playing”. But that’s an unfair generalisation – especially in the world of metal, a genre that is nothing without a fire in the maker’s belly. For many metal bands, latter-day albums are opportunities to use all the technical skills and life lessons that they’ve learned over the years and were perhaps too young or inexperienced to appreciate during what everyone calls their “heyday”.
Here are 13 examples of classic metal bands writing some of their greatest songs a few decades into their storied careers…
Slayer – Psychopathy Red (2015)
After exhausting almost every political tyranny and serial killer in the world to write about, Slayer combined both with this song from 2015’s massive World Painted Blood. Psychopathy Red is a stark, blistering thrash track about Andrei Chikatilo, the infamous Rostov Ripper who terrorised the countryside of the Soviet Union during the ’80s. The panicked picking of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman not only get across Chikatilo’s frenzied brand of insanity, it also shows off the third wind the band was experiencing as they became metal’s most widely-regarded extreme act.
Slipknot – Nero Forte (2019)
While Unsainted was the much-loved first single from Slipknot’s massive We Are Not Your Kind, it was Nero Forte that showed fans just how much rage and power the band were bringing to the table. Gonzo in its abrupt plunge into extremity and eerie Leatherface-ish whines, the track shows off the side of the band that scared off the fair-weather fans and entrenched the faithful. The song’s directness echoed that of classic ’Knot numbers like Disasterpiece and The Blister Exists, tracks that would never become radio hits but which mean the world to those maggots here for life.
Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)
It speaks to how long Judas Priest has been around that the second leg of their time with frontman Rob Halford has now lasted well over a decade. But Firepower shows just how far they’ve come while still sounding like lords of the wasteland. Not only is the track a ripping opener to the album, it exemplifies the band at their most vital and percussive, reminding listeners of fearsome classics like Leather Rebel and Judas Rising. The faith remains defended.
Behemoth – O Father O Satan O Sun! (2014)
For black metal fans, it’s odd to see Behemoth sold as a “new” band, given that they’ve been around since 1993. But 2014’s The Satanist was where the band truly broke through to widespread audiences, and it was with O Father O Satan O Sun! That the Polish blackened death trio made their grand spiritual declaration. Equal parts thundering anthem and unholy sermon, the track is a summation of Behemoth’s development as a band, brimming with both religious antiquity and the philosophical gravitas behind satanic metal’s core message. Well worth the 20-plus-year wait.
Kreator – Violent Revolution (2001)
During the peak of nu-metal at the turn of the millennium, it felt like Kreator would become one another old-school band playing European festivals and adorning denim jackets. But with 2001’s Violent Revolution, the band not only released one of their must consistently rad albums, they also helped spearhead the thrash revival that eventually blew up in the mid-to-late ’00s. The album’s title-track is a raging mid-paced anthem whose central riff endeared the growing melodeath fanbase to the band and reminded casual listeners how vitally cool Germany’s thrash scene had always been.
Cannibal Corpse – Scourge Of Iron (2012)
By the early 2010s, Cannibal Corpse had already gone from sonic pioneers to underground stars to extreme metal gods. Scourge Of Iron off of 2012’s Torture feels like a distillation of this, the band’s whole history melted down and refined into a marching, bloodthirsty rager. Impossible to hear without headbanging, the track bludgeons with tireless muscle, and became a staple in their live set from almost the moment it dropped. Onward, to death.
Death Angel – Sonic Beatdown (2008)
Of the thrash bands who returned to the fold at the end of the 2000s, Death Angel have fared impressively, and Sonic Beatdown is a testament to why. Not only does the track see the Bay Area five-piece updating their sound to embrace the metal that came after the band’s heyday, but it also takes part in a classic thrash metal tradition: songs about how hard a band goes when they roll into your town. This mixture of modernisation and old-school sensibilities are what earned Death Angel a GRAMMY nomination this year.
Celtic Frost – Os Abysmi Vel Daath (2006)
2006’s Monotheist might have solidified Celtic Frost as the greatest comeback band in metal history. The Swiss black metal pioneers returned with all the raw hatred and esoteric atmosphere they’d championed initially, while also building their sound to incorporate the black and doom metal that albums like Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion once inspired. Os Abysmi Vel Daath is an absolute punisher, groaning and lurching like a crippled god trapped in a vast castle. While the band re-disbanded soon after the album’s release, it only adds to the poetry of this brief period of their perfection in their career.
Rob Zombie – The Life And Times Of A Teenage Rock God (2016)
There’s a beautiful audacity to Rob Zombie calling himself a teenage rock god at the age of 55. But that only adds to this track’s throbbing, sneering highway metal song, which seems him alternating well between his patented mixture of syrupy warbling, shouted choruses, and atmospheric clouds of samples. The video, a visual tribute to S. Clay Wilson, drives home that grindhouse freakout vibe with its snickering Satan and skeletonised mariachis. Because why grow up when demons and skulls are so damn cool?
Anthrax – Evil Twin (2017)
Anthrax have had a storied career, now spanning four decades and three vocalists. But Evil Twin off of 2017’s For All Kings sounds like it could’ve been written during the band’s massive Among The Living era. The song brings the New York quintet’s unique stomp, somehow being both mid-paced and speedy at the same time in a way that only Anthrax can nail. That against Joey Belladonna’s definitive vocal rhythms make this track a perfect example of how a band can return to their signature sound while still sounding powerfully revitalized.
Sleep – Giza Butler (2018)
When it comes to Sleep, regular career rhythms don’t apply. Ever since the stoner doom trio disbanded following the rejection of their epic hour-long track Dopesmoker by its label, the band have made it a point of doing things at their own pace. So of course Sleep’s surprise-dropped 2018 record The Sciences showcases not only a new approach for the band, but some of their best material to date. Giza Butler is one of the album’s standout tracks, telling the tale of a medieval hobo warlord of all her surveys living under an overpass in a weed-fuelled rage. Amen.
Faith No More – Separation Anxiety (2015)
It would’ve been easy for Faith No More to write an album entirely of lounge-influenced stoner rock ballads on 2015’s Sol Invictus, given the projects of its members during their hiatus. But Separation Anxiety was a reminder to fans that the band hadn’t lost their sludgy side, fuelled by a Melvins-ish main riff and gallop. Mike Patton does his part, rhythmically shrieking and whispering with his trademarked rabidity. The result is one of the heavier tracks the band have ever done, and proof that sometimes absence makes the heart grow darker.
Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls (2015)
There’s never been a moment where Iron Maiden truly fell off, but 2015’s The Book Of Souls was an especially huge album for the NWOBHM pioneers. And the title-track proves it, illustrating why Maiden have remained such a driving force in their genre. While the song has all the ambitious, high-flying wonder that Bruce Dickinson has made his calling card, it still relies on the band’s most valuable resource: a central riff that the listener just can’t get out of their head. While plenty of bands have proved that they can still hang later in their careers, only a handful have continued making bangers like this.
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