The 50 Best Album Openers In Metal
The first song on an album is almost the most important. It’s the listener’s gateway into who a musician is at that point in time. Are they building slowly into a powerful overture, or throwing you head first into a meat grinder? Even using intro track says a lot about a band — sometimes that that they like performing skits, other times that they dislike throwing out fun but unnecessary riffs. And especially in metal, where gut reaction is cultural currency, instantly sinking your hooks in a listener is of the utmost importance (especially given that metal was born in the age of vinyl and 8-track, when you had to listen to the whole album every time).
In the spoken-word tradition of sketchy cousins in basement rumpus rooms, we decided to rank the best opening tracks in metal. But we laid down rules first:
The bands have to be discernibly metal. Just for specificity’s sake. Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Guns N’ Roses all rule, but they’re arguably not metal
No intro tracks. The songs we’re ranking are side one, track one, not the first song proper after the intro track. Sorry, Type O Negative; sorry, Celtic Frost.
This has to be the generally-accepted first track. For example, some vinyl versions of classic albums have the orders switched around. These have to be definitively the first tracks of their albums.
Here are the 50 best starting guns in the metal arms race…
50. The Black Dahlia Murder – A Shrine To Madness (2010)
Only a band from Michigan — home of the arson-fueled Devil’s Night — could make Halloween sound this hardcore. Not only that, but the first track of The Black Dahlia Murder’s 2010 album Ritual shows the band embracing their sense of scope, shifting away from catchy melodeath to a gradiose mixture of infectiousness and sheer viciousness. Frontman Trevor Strnad’s lyrics are on point, too, referencing the Misfits while celebrating All Hallow’s Eve as the ultimate indulgence of the metalhead’s favorite diabolical passtimes: ‘Here, in the season of the dead / Sanity hangs by a thread/We’re descendents of the dark / Give us back our one true love!’ Always check your candy.
49. Destruction – Invincible Force (1985)
Though their previous openers like Total Desaster (sic) and Mad Butcher were more traditional horror-thrash, it’s Invincible Force from 1985’s Infernal Overkill that really drives home Destruction’s icy teutonic sound. The track’s first riffs sound like a handful of electric gravel being ground together, and the track’s lyrics focus more on an indistinct force of evil and might rather than, say, a crazy meat cleaver man. As toxic and harsh as the pink mushroom cloud on the album’s cover, this one is as no-holds-barred a thrash classic as you can find.
48. Conjurer – Choke (2018)
Not only did Conjurer take the metal world by storm with their debut album — they did it by the end of the first track. Choke, the opener of 2018’s phenomenal Mire, looms and crushes without a hint of cliche, merging the major keys of bands like Torche with the bog-drowned doom of Arkansas acts like Rwake. Overlaid on this are the band’s haunting group vocals, which sound like the voice of Legion and make the listener feel perfectly overwhelmed and screamed into submission. Together, these form a track that feel like a slow slice along the belly that lets spill the album’s rancid guts.
47. Dismember – Override The Overture (1991)
The title of the first song on Dismember’s debut Like An Everflowing Stream feels like a joke — the album starts off with the echoing sounds of torture, before the searing opening riff kicks in and cuts it off at the knees. It’s almost like Dismember were midway through recording their intro track before they said ‘Fuck it’ and just launched right into the track. Gag or not, this song is an absolute annihilator, with a guitar tone that cauterizes as it cuts play riffs that feel like balm on the extreme metal soul. Who needs an intro track when your first song rules this hard?
Read this: The United States of Metal
46. Slipknot – Prelude 3.0 (2004)
Far be it for Kerrang! to place Slipknot so low on a list of any sort, but the truth is that Iowa’s greatest export are all about intro tracks, be it self-titled’s 742617000027 or We Are Not Your Kind’s harrowing Insert Coin. But while Prelude 3.0 from 2004’s Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses feels like a lead-in, it’s also a solid goth-rock song, with Corey Taylor moaning over lilting guitars and bare-bones drumming. The track’s placement on the album, and steady build of its foot-dragging overtones into the crashing, harmonized crescendo that edges into The Blister Exists somehow makes it both intro track and album-opening tune, and sounds like the background music to the nine shattered forms of Slipknot being electrocuted back to life.
45. Testament – Practice What You Preach (1989)
The title-track and opener of Testament’s third full-length album is, more than anything, a grand display of thrash metal’s maturity by the end of the ’80s. The song is still fast and crunchy, but it clocks in at almost five minutes, giving the band room for a catchy chorus, some awesome guitar solos, and the occasional change in temp. Chuck Billy’s lyrics are also more thoughtful than the usual devil-worship and atomic fear that dominated the genre’s early days, instead focusing on hypocrisy and being true to one’s self. While Testament are these days synonymous with wide cap brims and high-top sneakers.
44. Immortal – Withstand The Fall Of Time (1999)
1999’s At The Heart Of Winter saw Norwegian black metal wrestlers Immortal smack dab between their icy kvlt phase and their bitchin’ thrash phase. Withstand The Fall Of Time incorporates the best elements of both — the song’s riffs and pacing is feel killer and sharp, while Abbath’s vocals and guitar tone remain steeped in the misanthropic fantasy of Scandinavia that the band’s music dwells in. Even though Heart Of Winter isn’t their most hailed album, Withstand is most certainly the band’s best opener, embodying Immortal’s unique sound while also standing out amongst their storied back catalog.
43. Possessed – The Exorcist (1985)
In many ways, The Exorcist is the track that launched death metal as a whole. Possessed’s 1985 rager Seven Churches definitely introduced the world to the tipping point where thrash got too harsh and satanic to stay within that genre label; the fact that it ends with a song titled Death Metal on drives that home. But the opening track’s hurricane of frantic percussion and shredding, yearning riffs embodies death metal’s need for speed, fear, and most of all extremity. More than anything, it introduced metalheads to something new that challenged the established notion that Slayer was as loud and heavy as you could possibly get.
42. Triptykon – Goetia (2010)
‘SATAN. SAVIOR. FATHER.’ All of this, of course, comes after Tom G. Warrior’s inimitable ‘OUGH!’ that kicks off the debut album by his post-Celtic Frost outfit Triptykon. Truthfully, Goetia truly needed to be good — the band was Warrior’s display to the world that he could create new, powerful music even late into his career. And it did, with flying shades of black, from the opening invocation of the dark lord to the snarled chorus of, ‘Lord! Have mercy upon me!’ With just one song, Tom made it clear that this wasn’t an experiment side project, but a powerful new chapter in his already sterling musical legacy.
41. Soilwork – Follow The Hollow (2002)
It’s easy to forget that Soilwork were kings of metal after the release of 2002’s pretty much perfect Natural Born Chaos. Follow The Hollow is an excellent display of why — the track shows off the Helsingborg sextet’s electronic elements and prog leanings, but never stops being anything other than a ripping melodeath classic (that bounce riff in the second part of the chorus, damn…). In that respect, much like their American metalcore brethren, Soilwork were paying homage to old-school heavy metal while showing off all the new things they could do within the genre. Take a look, take a ride.
40. Power Trip – Soul Sacrifice (2017)
It’s Power Trip’s mixture of old-school thrasher chops and modern hardcore production sound that earned them our ranking as the best American metal band of the past decade. Few songs embody that more than Soul Sacrifice, the chain-swingin’ track one of their enormous 2017 release Nightmare Logic. While some of the other songs on the album embrace either metal’s mouthwatering malevolence or hardcore’s mad dash, this one carefully walks the middle road, whipping haunted house riffs into a basement show frenzy that no other band even touches. A fitting introduction to the new face of modern metal.
39. Opeth – The Leper Affinity (2001)
The first cut from Opeth’s 2001 epic Blackwater Park is pretty much a crash course in the band’s entire career. The song opens with rollicking goth-dusted Swedish death metal, but quickly begins to morph over the course of its ten-minute-and-change sprawl. Malmsteen-ian solos bubble to the surface, off-kilter drum breakdowns suddenly realign the riffs, and moments of glimmering acoustic guitar and clear vocals add a natural beauty to the otherwise brooding track. In classic Opeth fashion, the song may be huge, but it’s never boring, with Mikael Åkerfeldt’s gymnastic musicianship enthralling listeners ceaselessly.
38. Dying Fetus – Praise The Lord (Opium Of The Masses) (2000)
Opening up with arguably the most iconic slam riff of all time, the first song on Dying Fetus’ Destroy The Opposition is a vital pieces of death metal’s development after the ’90s. The song’s enraged anti-religious lyrics are all well and good, but the mixture of brutal speed and breakdowns that back them are really the star of this one. Not only that, but the song’s opening also includes arguably the most identifiable pitch harmonic heard in metal music. Every time Dethklok swears, you have this track to thank for the WHIRR you hear over it.
37. High On Fire – Devilution (2005)
For what is basically a thrash song, High On Fire’s Devilution certainly makes the listener wait for the payoff. The song opens with Des Kensel’s trundling drums, then adds Matt Pike’s grumbling guitars… and then, after over a minute in, the song finally kicks. But that build, and the eventually punch it provides, are what makes the first track of 2005’s Blessed Black Wings so powerful and exciting. High On Fire will always bring the ham-fisted metallic crush of Motörhead and Slayer to their music, but they have the patience of a doom metal band, knowing that those giant drops are only as powerful as the time spent leading up to them. Plus, a minute of metal goes by really fast when you’re stoned.
36. Amon Amarth – Twilight Of The Thunder God (2008)
By the late 2000s, Amon Amarth had firmly established themselves as masters of their craft, but 2008’s Twilight Of The Thunder God officially made them the Viking metal band to beat. So much of that is owed to the opening title track, which adds flourishes of melodeath and power metal to the band’s classic churning death metal. More so, the song puts front and center perhaps the most identifiable — and awesome — Norse god of them all, with the chorus screaming, ‘Thor, Odinson / Protector of mankind / Rise to meet your fate / Ragnarok awaits!’ Why Marvel never used this song is anyone’s guess, but man, they missed the fuck out.
35. Rammstein – Deutschland (2019)
True, Rammstein have some amazing album openers, including 1997’s Sehnsucht and 2001’s Mein Herz brennt. But Deutschland, the lead single from their self-titled album is the entire package: it’s a banging first track, it speaks to the overall one of the album, and it’s a track one that also works as an initial single from the record. More than anything, though, it’s the world-worn Rammstein finally looking inwards, turning away from Moskow and Amerika and focusing on the land that made them — and which they embody for most of the music-loving public. If you think the fact that the first words to this one are ‘Du hast’ is a coincidence, you’re lying to yourself.
34. Electric Wizard – Eko Eko Azarak: Invocation/Ritual (2006)
God, the fucking weight of it. For the harsh indica high of 2006’s We Live, Dorset stoner doom gods Electric Wizard provide a believable soundtrack to the kind of satanic love-in that Dennis Wheatley soiled his pants over in the ’60s. The song’s thrumming riffs rest in a web of feedback and guitar howls, while Jus Osborn’s vocals sound somewhere between chanted and spat. Unlike some of their other material, this track forsakes the Wizard’s tendency towards grindhouse smut worship and sounds, for all intents and purposes, like a doorway to another world being breached.
33. Dark Angel – Darkness Descends (1986)
Though Darkness Descends was Dark Angel’s second full-length album, it’s widely regarded as the one which truly put them on the map. The opening title track proves why — frantic and furious, the song takes the listener outside of metal’s soaring, high-pitched comfort zone or punk’s jaunty, skate-able bounce, instead blasting the listener with a sound that is thrash incarnate. The chorus — most of which is the mantra of the Dark Judges from the underground comics phenomenon Judge Dredd — communicates that sense of unhindered darkness with blistering gusto. A band so harsh, you’d think they were German.
32. Kreator – Reconquering The Throne (2001)
Old-school metal purists are no doubt chapped finding the opener of Kreator’s 2001 comeback album Violent Revolution on here rather than one from their classic ’80s albums. But while the first tracks of those albums sometimes feel like rushed declarations of extremity, Reconquering The Throne is a beautiful mixture of modern groove metal production and artistic confidence, announcing to the world that Germany’s kings of thrash metal are here once more. It also happens to be a ripping thrash track with a killer scream-along title chorus, which is always a good look with a thrash comeback.
31. Dio – Stand Up And Shout (1983)
Dio’s groundbreaking Holy Diver album is best known for its title track and the single Rainbow In The Dark, but its other songs are just as crucial and awesome. One of those songs is kick-off Stand Up And Show, which leans far harder in the direction of speed metal than most would think Dio was inclined to do. Agitated and driven, the track bubbles with punkish anger even as it retains RJD’s ever-positive brand of inspirational overkill. Even the master of sword-and-wizard metal can be fast, loose, and out of control.
30. Marilyn Manson – Irresponsible Hate Anthem (1996)
Can one song embody an entire movement in its title alone? The opener of Marilyn Manson’s career-defining 1996 album Antichrist Superstar is the ultimate declaration to America at large of what the God Of Fuck’s persona was about. From his questionable but analytic use of the N-bomb to his declaration of ‘I wasn’t born with enough middle fingers!’ the track is a righteous war cry against propriety, hypocrisy, and all of the other American virtues that Manson would come and stand against. A song that shoves the ugliness of society right in your stupid face.
29. Anthrax – Among The Living (1987)
How do you make the world respect you as a serious force of metal when you rock neon green skater trunks? Among The Living, the opener and title track of Anthrax’s third full-length album, is the ultimate instruction manual for just that. The track opens eerily, but kicks right into the band’s inimitable mosh-stop. It’s about a Stephen King novel, sure, but it’s the most hefty, topical one of the bunch. All that, and they reference the title of their previous album in the opening lyrics — but somehow turn that record’s goofy play of Anthrax’s name into a frightening apocalyptic concept. Instantly, Anthrax went from being just thrash’s good ol’ boys to being serious champions of metal’s future… and thrash’s good ol’ boys. Why write either a fun pit-starter or a harrowing tale of doom when you can do both at once?
28. Lamb Of God – Ruin (2003)
Choosing a Lamb Of God opening track to add to this list was a tough one, as the band’s career is littered with mind-blowing album openers (Black Label, and Laid To Rest, and Walk With Me In Hell to name a few). But Ruin is Lamb Of God at their gnarliest, one step away from their debut but not yet the polished arena behemoth they’ve (rightly) become. From the roar of the opening riffs to Randy Blythe’s bellow/shriek combination to the Latin-tinged breakdown that rips through the album’s middle, the opener of the band’s Devin Townsend-produced sophomore album leaves a crater after it lands. Thankfully, it’s not left hanging — but we’ll save that diatribe for our 50 Best Track-Twos list.
27. Ghost – Spirit (2015)
Swedish occult metallers Ghost had come a long way between 2013’s Infestissumam and 2015’s Meliora, and the band need to make that growth clear from the get-go. They did just that with Spirit, a mixture of haunted-house spookiness, prog-rock rhythms, and a classic rock hook overlaid with catchy riffs and choral wails. The track feels as grand and self-involved as Ghost’s art and public persona, vindicating the band’s Catholic-Church-meets-House-Of-Hammer vibe with its skyscraping atmosphere. Instant proof that the kids are all right, and that Satan lives.
26. White Zombie – Electric Head pt. 1 (The Agony) (1995)
‘Perhaps you’d better start from the beginning…’ A sample from Curse Of Frankenstein — because hey, it’s a White Zombie album — start off the ultimate ’90s metal album. Soon after, there’s hypnotic carny soundscape, a clockwork industrial rhythm, and finally the sound of a haunted circus rising out of the ground, before a jaunty bounce riff slams the listener. The track also shows off Rob Zombie’s lifelong talent of yelling ‘Turn me on!’ and ‘Yeah!’ at intervals which turn even a diesel-powered metal behemoth into a jock jam for creeps and weirdos. Somehow a B-side on the incredible album that it kicks off.
25. Meshuggah – Future Breed Machine (1995)
REE REE REE REE… with the first track of Meshuggah’s 1995 epic Destroy Erase Improve, the band showed the world just what they’re made of. Not only is Future Breed Machine one of the band’s most exciting songs, it also walks the line between Meshuggah’s trademark experimental rhythms and their ability to write catchy rippers that metal fans can mosh to. The fact that they led this vital and album with this kind of track is a statement: either you’re going to like this, or you’re not. And, Jesus, the callback of the opening riff at the very end…
24. Fear Factory – Martyr
Though Fear Factory later became known for their mixture of groove, nu-metal, and industrial, Martyr is a firm reminder that the band started as a brutal death metal band. Make no mistake, there’s still plenty of the band’s trademark sound here — the grinding riffs, the disco-metal rhythms, Burton C. Bell’s echoing clean vocals, it’s all present. But the opening charge of the song, with Dino Cazares’ tremolo-picked riffs and Bell’s screams of, ‘Suffer! Bastard!’ are much more in the vein of acts like Napalm Death or Arise-era Sepultura than bands like Korn or Static-X. A furious rager that will always get a room full of sweaty people moving as one.
23. Mercyful Fate – Evil (1983)
A favorite of young Metallica, the opening track from Mercyful Fate’s 1983 album Melissa is a perfect collision point between black metal’s shadowy theater and the NWOBHM’s acrobatic flare. The song bobs along with a mixture of kickass shred riffs and bizarre, virtuosic Euro-metal experimentalism, all while King Diamond hails himself as Satan’s hitman in a piercing falsetto. While fans of many modern metal genres might get turned off by the King’s ghostly wail, those who can get over it will find this a perfect overture to Mercyful Fate’s elaborate show.
22. Mastodon – Blood And Thunder (2004)
The song that launched a thousand patchy beards. Track one of Mastodon’s 2004 epic Leviathan is the great early 2000s hipster metal track of our time, bringing together stoner rock, thrash, and sludge to create a classic barn burner. The song both launches the listener head-first into Mastodon’s unique sound and introduces them to the general concept behind the entire album (namely Herman Melville’s Moby Dick). More than anything, Blood And Thunder might have the most memorable bridge in all of metal. Look him straight in the… eye!
21. Slayer – War Ensemble (1990)
With 1990’s Seasons In The Abyss, Slayer were showing off their most balanced face, the one for which they’d be most known for eventually. War Ensemble introduced fans to this new side of the band, trading the satanic theatrics of previous openers for a speedy battlefield anthem that’s pure merciless thrash. The sheer speed of the song speaks to Slayer staying true to their classic thrash roots, while Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s grinding hardcore riffage showed their departure from early black metal in favor of more real-world extremity. Metallica were The Four Horsemen, but Slayer proved here that they only needed one.
20. System Of A Down – Prison Song (2001)
How do you open a career-changing heavy metal album? Do so with an intro riff that is immediately identifiable for generations to come. The definitive series of headbanging accents that cue up System Of A Down’s Prison Song are not only easy to place, they remind the listener of the band’s entire career as a whole. The track itself continues this path with its mixture of bubbly riffs, crushing breakdowns, and Serj Tankian’s unhinged vocals singing about the all-too-real issues of the American prison system. A perfect roll-up of zany metal and straight-up social justice — the two things that make System Of A Down great.
19. Gojira – Oroborus (2008)
If only there was a way to write out that opening guitar part. Oroborus wastes no time introducing listeners to the direction Gojira were taking their sound on 2008’s The Way Of All Flesh. Burly yet deliberate, experimental yet hard-hitting, the track’s unpredictable riffs and otherworldly gang vocals make it a rarely satisfying display of how progressive metal could still scratch that sweet hesher itch. A song like this feels like its maker perfectly distilled.
18. Black Sabbath – Sweet Leaf (1971)
Some might argue that at face value, Sweet Leaf is just a song about weed. But this ignores a lot about Sabbath’s stoniest classic. First of all, that central riff is about as rad as it gets. Second, and most importantly concerning this list, it’s a ballsy and awesome way for Sabbath to kick off Master Of Reality, their third album and the one on which they most deeply connected with the mindset of the growing metalhead public. Not only did the band lead into their album with a cough and a killer riff — a far cry from the slow doom intros of their previous records — they had the balls to kick things off with a song specifically about how great it is to get high. This one slaps you like an overzealous bong hit.
17. Metallica – Blackened (1988)
After the death of Cliff Burton and the massive success of Master Of Puppets, Metallica had something to prove right from the get go. And prove it they did: stark yet involved, furious but ominous, Blackened rips into the listener from the moment its opening harmonies fade into your speakers. Full of tank-over-skull double bass drumming and war-torn lyrics delivered in James Hetfield’s most fearsome snarl, the song is as bleak and unforgiving as the ’Tal had ever been, and maybe ever would be. Blackened is the end, but this gem was only the beginning.
16. At The Gates – Blinded By Fear (1995)
‘We are blind to the world within us, waiting to be born.’ And with that, melodic death metal meets its defining album in the form of At The Gates’ 1995 game-changer Slaughter Of The Soul. Without a moment’s pause, Blinded By Fear makes you an At The Gates believer, using minor chords, jaunty rhythms, and a giant, tasty solo to pull in fans of both classic thrash and contemporary death metal. No-one had any idea that all of metalcore would someday do their damnedest to ape this album, which seems ridiculous in hindsight given how good the very first track is.
15. Megadeth – Holy Wars… The Punishment Due (1990)
The metal history books like to rewrite the ’90s as the era where thrash gave way to death metal, but anyone who put on Megadeth’s Rust In Peace in 1990 wouldn’t agree. If anything, the first track of the album seemed like a declarative statement that the movement wasn’t just alive and well, it was thriving more than ever before. Opening with an exquisitely chuggy riff with a toxic guitar tone, and featuring some of Dave Mustaine’s most ambitious and effective vocals from across his entire career, Holy Wars… The Punishment Due instantly reminds the listener why Megadeth deserve their spot among the Big Four.
14. Machine Head – Clenching The Fists Of Dissent (2007)
‘DIE FOR AMERICA!’ Sure, Machine Head’s early albums have some great openers — no-one’s casting shade on Davidian — but Clenching The Fists Of Dissent is in many ways the birth of the band as we now know them. The song’s opening, full of oil-slick shimmer and post-apocalyptic calm, gives way to an impassioned call to revolution that brims with muscular riffs and just the right level of mature self-awareness. With The Blackening, Robb Flynn and co. retaught the metal scene who they were, and this song is the first and perhaps most important lesson of that new truth.
13. Venom – Black Metal (1982)
Venom frontman Cronos credits the creation of the term ‘black metal’ to an interview he did back in the day, but it was the title-track from the band’s second full-length album that truly bound the term to the metal-loving public’s psyche. While Black Metal possesses Venom’s signature fast-and-loose playing, it has a distinctly catchy structure, and its echoing production is that which the movement it spawned would imitate for decades to come. And, well… fuck, man, it just rules, doesn’t it? It sounds like the song every parent clutches their crucifix too. Seriously: ‘Lay down your souls to the gods Rock and Roll’ — how fucking cool is that?
12. Sepultura – Refuse/Resist (1993)
While Roots is the album Sepultura will most likely be remembered by, 1993’s Chaos A.D. is the record on which the Brazilian thrash band coined the sound that will forever be associated with their name. Refuse/Resist immediately throws fans headfirst into this novel mixture of thrash, groove, and hardcore, presenting listeners with a stomping protest rally that isn’t afraid to add a circle-pit moment smack-dab in the middle. All of that, and the opening and closing riff paired with the band’s tribal drum accents make this the track one of entire movement within heavy metal.
11. Tool – The Grudge (2001)
That scream, though. 2001’s Lateralus is Tool at a beautiful middle ground, already rubbing the crumbs of their third eye but still deeply steeped in California’s roiling metal. Maybe that’s why The Grudge is such an excellent track — it’s long-form Tool taking interesting risks while always sounding like they survive on radioactive industrial run-off. Unlike his crooning on later albums, Maynard spits, rasps, and shouts through the track, and Danny Carey’s drums never dip below a shamanic ritual rhythm. For an album so sprawling and thoughtful to open with a song as discontented says something very special about the band that wrote it.
10. Arch Enemy – Enemy Within (2002)
For Sweden’s Arch Enemy, 2002’s Wages Of Sin was a historic benchmark, both introducing the world to new vocalist Angela Gossow and beginning their ascent to heavy metal royalty. And it all started with this, one of the greatest combinations of ferocity and pure deliciousness ever put to tape. Enemy Within’s opening peels back in layers, from pretty piano intro to powerful accents to bounce riff to kamikazee death-thrash. Even as the tempo changes, the song is never anything short of stampede, maintaining a momentum and catchiness that most metal bands could never hope to accomplish. A startling announcement of the face of extreme music in the new millennium.
9. Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)
For 1990’s Pankiller, Judas Priest were casting off their arena rock status and going hard in the thrash paint, so they had to open the album with a true neck-slicer. The album’s title track is wholly that, with its driving double-bass drum, throbbing riffs, and operatic chorus. Not only does the song thunder forward in a way that the songs from previous albums Ram It Down and Turbo never did, but it also shows fans how committed Priest still were to metal proper, more in tune with the underground than the mainstream hype. It’s a difficult task to beat out The Hellion from 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance for this slot, but Painkiller does it with blazing finesse.
8. Korn – Blind (1994)
Burly yet angsty, empowered yet broken, Korn’s Blind is the ultimate opening track to their 1994 self-titled debut, their career, and indeed nu-metal as a whole. Not only was the song unlike anything else around it when it showed up, it remains outstanding both in its lasting power and its unusual structure. It’s easy to forget that Blind doesn’t have a chorus, and barely has an ending — the whispered bridge simply turns into a massive breakdown that then leads to some hip-hop reminiscent beats. That it’s still a much-loved song within heavy music speaks to why nu-metal captured so many people’s hearts and minds. Three words: Are. You. Ready?
7. Motörhead – Overkill (1979)
Lemmy always insisted that Motörhead weren’t really metal, but this song says otherwise. While the band’s first album may have fallen under the purview of hard rock, 1979’s Overkill immediately shows off a change of style with its opening title track. From its throttling drum intro to the anxious guitar breakdown at the end, Overkill is as killer an early metal track as they come, with a steely tone and concussive attitude would go on to become metal’s two chief virtues. As Lemmy says, ‘Only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud.’ Amen.
6. Cannibal Corpse – Hammer Smashed Face (1992)
Oh look, the greatest death metal song of all time. Between its opening accent hits and its gore-dripping closing riff, Cannibal Corpse’s most famous song is a distillation of the genre of which the band have become the champions. Unlike the opening tracks of their previous records — the charging Shredded Humans of 1990’s Eaten Back To Life and the misanthropic Meat Hook Sodomy of 1991’s Butchered At Birth — Hammer Smashed Face wastes no time with an eerie intro, instead blasting the listener from the minute it begins to the instant it ends. So rarely does a song sound exactly like its title.
5. Iron Maiden – Aces High (1987)
For all of their incredible albums, Iron Maiden have only handful of opening tracks that truly slay, and Aces High is undoubtedly the best of them. Leading with an upbeat weave of guitar harmonies, the song immediately dive-bombs into a swift and acrobatic tune that perfectly transports the listeners into a World War I fighter plane. It also has one of the most inspiring sing-along choruses in metal, the kind of mantra most headbangers can whisper to themselves in their more trying moments. This is the kind of track that makes you stare at the spinning record in disbelief as it kicks in.
4. Pantera – The Great Southern Trendkill (1996)
Jesus. Some fans might grouse at our inclusion of Trendkill on this list over 1992’s Mouth For War. But while the latter song kicks plenty of ass, it doesn’t necessarily feel like a first song — the intro is odd and the chorus isn’t perfect. The Great Southern Trendkill, on the other hand, is the explosion that starts the fire, ripping open with Phil Anselmo’s furious shriek and announcing to the world exactly what kind of beast Pantera will be this album around. For the same reason Trendkill is the ultimate Pantera album, this is the ultimate Pantera opener — it’s louder than most, meaner than most, and not for everyone.
3. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
If only we had a list for genre-openers. Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath, from their 1970 album Black Sabbath, is at the end of the day the first heavy metal song ever, and arguably the purest distillation of the entire genre as a whole. This song truly has everything — a massive central riff, a creepy intro, drums out of an ancient ritual, a freak-out section towards the end, and of course a direct reference to Satan. Not only is Black Sabbath (the track) the blinding crucible of heavy metal as a whole, it’s also a delicious rock song that sounds both menacingly serious and dramatically spooky. One imagines the goosebumps appearing on kids’ arms as they lowered the needle to their records and heard… this.
2. Metallica – Battery (1986)
It’s hard to determine exactly which part of the minute and 15 seconds rules the hardest. Is it the dramatic acoustic intro? The first harmonized blast of electric guitars? The fast riff taking over, or the accent hits lining it? Whatever it is, track one of 1986’s Master Of Puppets leaves the listener dumbstruck with its opening before throwing them face-first into the pit with its remainder. Every second of listening to this song is an agitated headbaanger’s absolute pleasure, reminding one why these four dudes deserves to be the biggest metal band on the whole damn planet. Lunacy has found you.
1. Slayer – Angel Of Death (1986)
As though it would be anything else. From the roar of its intro, to Tom Araya’s pained shriek, to its breakneck tale of historical horror, Angel Of Death is the ultimate first track in all of metal. Not only does the song perfectly rip into Slayer’s 1986 genre-defining masterpiece Reign In Blood, it also immediately shows how the band’s patented brand of ripping thrash had evolved from angry Venom worship to a uniquely vengeful beast. Even more explosive is that unlike many of the tracks on this list, it doesn’t ease the listener in with lilting melody before its kick — it just rips right into it, making it the perfect song with which to shut up anyone telling you to listen to anything other than satanic thrash metal. Against a battle cry like this, there is simply no equal.
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