Best Heavy Metal Songs Of All Time

Heavy metal is associated with aggressive lyrics and unsavory characters. It’s the music our moms warned us about, but that never stopped us.

Loud distorted guitars, vehement rhythms, heavy bass and drums, and passionate vocals are the hallmarks of heavy metal. You’ll find these qualities in this list of the best heavy metal songs ever.

1. “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin

Song year: 1970

“Immigrant Song” is an early heavy metal hit. You wouldn’t guess it by its hard-hitting guitar and vocals, but Led Zeppelin wrote it as a comical homage to the band’s trip to Iceland.

A civil service strike disrupted the trip. So, the song’s references to Norse mythology are meant to be a humorous analogy of the band’s struggles in the land of ice and snow.

2. “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne

Song year: 1980

“Crazy Train” is a heavy metal song starting with one of the most famous guitar riffs. The riff is actually what named the song. Osbourne commented that the guitar “sounds like a train, but nuts.” Hence, “Crazy Train.”

The song’s meaning is more profound, though, as the lyrics ask when humankind will learn to love in a world that has gone insane.

3. “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath

Song year: 1970

“Iron Man” is a hallmark of the heavy metal genre, with its explosive guitar riff and apocalyptic lyrics.

The song is about a man who travels to the future and witnesses the end of the world. On his way back, he gets turned to iron. No one believes Iron Man, and this upsets him. So, he takes it out on the human race, bringing about the end of the world he had witnessed.

4. “Back In Black” by AC/DC

Song year: 1980

While “Back In Back” is a hard-rocking, upbeat tune, it’s actually a tribute to lead singer Bon Scott, who died five months before the song’s release.

Lyrics regarding forgetting about the hearse suggest that Scott will live on through his music.

5. “Breaking The Law” by Judas Preist

Song year: 1980

“Breaking The Law” was one of Jusad Preist’s breakthrough songs and is considered by many to be one of the best heavy metal songs of all time.

The lyrics speak of someone bored with life who decides to shake things up by breaking the law—nothing is more heavy metal than breaking the rules!

6. “Ace Of Spades” by Motörhead

Song year: 1980

Motörhead’s most famous song, “Ace Of Spades,” was originally written as a simple lyrical exercise on gambling. In an interview, lead singer Lemmy Kilmister said that he didn’t know it would be such a hit and even admitted to being sick of playing it.

Nevertheless, Lemmy embraced its popularity by getting an ace of spades tattoo on his forearm. After Lemmy’s death, American musician Dave Grohl got the same tattoo as a tribute.

7. “Shout At The Devil” by Mötley Crüe

Song year: 1983

This song by Mötley Crüe upset parents worldwide with its satanic lyrics. However, they would have been much more upset had the original name for the song, “Shout With The Devil,” stuck.

The band’s bassist, Nikki Sixx, wrote this song when experimenting with Satanism. Two nights after naming the song, Sixx witnessed a knife and fork rise off his dinner table. Frightened he had tapped into something evil, Sixx renamed the song “Shout At The Devil.”

8. “Welcome To My Nightmare” by Alice Cooper

Song year: 1975

“Welcome To My Nightmare” was used to set up the macabre vibe of Alice Cooper’s 1975 tour. It was always the first song played, with lead singer Vince Furnier emerging on stage in a haze of smoke while the rest of the band played off stage.

The rest of the show followed the theme of living your own nightmare. However, the song’s meaning is up to the listener, as the band claims it carries no messages.

9. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses

Song year: 1987

Taking a break from the dystopia found in most heavy metal lyrics, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is a love song. Lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, Axl Rose, wrote the song about his then-girlfriend.

The couple’s relationship turned out to be ill-fated, as they married in 1990 and divorced nine months later. However, the song had more longevity, and you’re likely to hear it played on the radio now and then.

10. “Angel Of Death” by Slayer

Song year: 1986

Shifting back to the grim subject matter of heavy metal music, “Angel Of Death” is a song about Josef Mengele, a German doctor from WWII who performed abhorrent experiments on prisoners during the Holocaust.

This song has led many to believe that Slayer has Neo-Nazi or Satanic values. However, the real reason behind making this song is that Jeff Hanneman’s (bassist) father landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

11. “Belly Of The Beast” by Anthrax

Song year: 1990

“Belly Of The Beast” is another song about the Holocaust. It tackles the subjects of accountability and evil.

The lyrics ask which people are evil and which are blind, referring to the Nazis who thoughtlessly killed millions of innocent people during WWII simply because they were taking orders.

12. “Rock You Like A Hurricane” by Scorpions

Song year: 1984

Scorpions is the most famous German band to make it in the US. By today’s standards, the lyrics to this song wouldn’t pass a politically sensitive test, but things were different in the ’80s!

The song is about sex. It’s lewd and wild, and with its massive hooks, it certainly rocks.

13. “The Trooper” by Iron Maiden

Song year: 1983

Iron Maiden wrote “The Trooper” about the Crimean War. As such, there are multiple references to Russia throughout the song.

It’s an atmospheric song, with the opening meant to recreate the sound of galloping horses at the Charge of the Light Brigade, a famous battle during the war.

14. “Cry Of The Gypsy” by Axel Rudi Pell

Song year: 1994

“Cry Of The Gypsy” opens with a very heavy metal guitar riff reminiscent of Van Halen. The lyrics aren’t overly captivating or profound.

We can assume it’s about drugs and addiction, with references to living for the night and being haunted by demons from the past. Whatever it’s about, the guitar definitely carries this song.

15. “Highway Star” by Deep Purple

Song year: 1972

Another heavy metal love song, “Highway Star,” differs slightly from the rest. The song isn’t about a romance between two people. Instead, it’s about a man in love with his car, which he thinks can beat any vehicle on the road.

This Deep Purple hit is one of the most popular driving songs and has been the cause of many speeding tickets over the years.

16. “The Hand That Feeds” by Nine Inch Nails

Song year: 2005

“The Hand That Feeds” was written to take a jab at former president George W. Bush during the Iraqi War. A lot of the lyrics question the war and religion.

Nine Inch Nails were to play this song at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards. However, when MTV wouldn’t allow them to use a picture of the president during the performance, they backed out of the performance altogether.

17. “Wheels Of Steel” by Saxon

Song year: 1980

“Wheels Of Steel” is another song about driving fast—and living fast! However, this time it’s about a motorcycle rather than a car.

Saxon doesn’t go very deep with this song. There are no hidden meanings or awe-inspiring comments on society—it’s simply about a man and his motorcycle.

18. “No More Tears” by Ozzy Osbourne

Song year: 1991

This rather macabre song by Ozzy Osbourne is about a stalker who harasses women in the red-light district. The lyrics switch between the point of view of the women and the stalker with standard heavy metal distorted guitar sounds bridging the gaps.

“No More Tears” was the title track for Osbourne’s sixth solo album, the first album he released since being sober.

19. “Rooster” by Alice In Chains

"Rooster" by Alice In Chains

Song year: 2009

Judging from the name, you wouldn’t guess this is another song about war. The father of Alice In Chains’ guitarist/songwriter, Jerry Cantrell, had the nickname “Rooster” when he fought in the Vietnam War.

Cantrell’s father would never speak of the experience, so Cantrell decided to write a song about how he thought his father felt. It’s a song about leaving a man leaving his wife, child, and family pet behind to go off to war, but, more importantly, it’s about resilience. 

20. “Am I Evil?” by Diamond Head

Song year: 1980

Diamond Head is a lesser-known British heavy metal band. However, they’ve greatly influenced many more popular heavy metal bands, namely Metallica. You can see the influence in “Am I Evil?” as it’s a song about paranoia and anger, a big theme for Metallica.

The song is about a man out for revenge after his mother is burned for witchcraft. However, he fears that everyone might be right about his mother, and perhaps he is evil too.

21. “Beyond the Realms of Death” by Judas Priest

Song year: 1980

Many heavy metal songs came out around the time subliminal messages were thought to be sent through music to young, impressionable minds—”Beyond the Realms of Death” is one of those songs.

It’s about a depressed man who dies by implied suicide. It became the prime focus of the subliminal message trial of 1990, with the prosecution claiming it was sending pro-suicide messages. Judas Priest vehemently rejected this notion, and so did the judge.

22. “Heaven and Hell” by Black Sabbath

Song year: 1980

Black Sabbath’s song “Heaven and Hell” deals with the popular heavy metal trope of good and evil.

Essentially, it’s about how everyone has the choice to do good or evil. So, every person has heaven and hell inside of them.

23. “Chop Suey” by System Of A Down

Song year: 2001

A lot is going on in this song, so much so that music critics can’t decide what it’s about. Some think it’s about how society views death, while others think it’s about Jesus.

The original title for the song was “Suicide,” but the record asked the band to change it to be more radio-friendly. They went with “Chop Suey,” a play on the word, as in “suey-cide.” So, we can safely assume it’s more about death than Jesus.

24. “Eyes Of A Stranger” by Queensrÿche

Song year: 1988

This song deals with a familiar heavy metal theme — drug addiction. The “eyes of a stranger” in the lyrics refer to the singer’s own eyes as he looks into the mirror.

The song comments on how drugs can change a person so drastically that they don’t even recognize themselves.

25. “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath

Song year: 1970

“Paranoid” is a song about—you guessed it—paranoia. But, more than that, it’s a song with meaning before its years, as it’s about mental health.

Black Sabbath’s bassist, Geezer Butler, wrote the song and later claimed that it was really a song about depression because, back then, he didn’t know the difference between depression and paranoia.

26. “Runnin’ With The Devil” by Van Halen

Song year: 1978

The devil is a hot topic in the heavy metal world. Though, none of the songs named after the King of Darkness are satanic.

While Van Halen has never divulged what “Runnin’ With The Devil” is about, it doesn’t seem to be about evil or the devil. Instead, it’s more of an autobiographical song about a new band learning that traveling around playing music isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

27. “Hallowed Be Thy Name” by Iron Maiden

Song year: 1982

The name of this song is taken from the “Our Father” prayer. However, it’s not about religion.

In this song, Iron Maiden tells the tale of a prisoner on death row waiting for his sentence to be carried out while he contemplates his immortal soul. So, it’s about the meaning of life and our feelings toward death.

28. “Master Of Puppets” by Metallica

Song year: 1986

“Master Of Puppets” is the most performed song in Metallica’s repertoire. It’s a song about the effect of drugs on people’s lives and how we often view it the wrong way.

The song touches on how society believes those indulging in drugs are in control of their actions and can choose to stop. But, in reality, the drug is controlling the person.

29. “Raining Blood” by Slayer

Song year: 1986

This song is about becoming powerful enough to overthrow heaven. The blood raining from the sky comes from the tears of angels.

However, with lyrics stating society needs to destroy rules made of stone, this song is more about abolishing hateful teachings in the bible.

30. “Run To The Hills” by Iron Maiden

Song year: 1982

“Run To The Hills” is about European settlers arriving in America and oppressing indigenous people. This is clear to anyone who listens, as there are no fancy analogies or metaphors.

The song was Iron Maiden’s first top hit in the UK and was covered by Metallica four years later.

31. “Dead Embryonic Cells” by Sepultura

Song year: 1991

With a name like “Dead Embryonic Cells,” this song is sure trying to make a statement. However, it’s not about abortion or unborn babies dying, as you might think.

The embryonic cells mentioned refer to children being born into a dead world, a death caused by their ancestors before them.

32. “Market Demands” by Comeback Kid

Song year: 2007

“Market Demands” is a song about how society is governed by popular opinion, even though it may not be ethically correct.

You’ll hear the words “the masses said” repeatedly throughout the song, contrasted with lyrics about making compromises to keep life easy and convenient.

33. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister

Song year: 1984

This is a great song for anyone who is fed up with authority. It’s about rebellion and standing up for yourself.

Unsurprisingly, this was a smash hit with the younger generation, who typically find the rules of teachers, parents, and society arbitrary and unfair.

34. “Peace Sells” by Megadeth

Song year: 1992

“Peace Sells” was Megadeth’s breakthrough hit. Before the song, they were destitute.

But this isn’t a song about peace. Instead, its lyrics touch on disillusion concerning Cold War politics, which would become a recurring theme for the band. While not about peace, the song certainly made sales!

35. “Lost Not Forgotten” by Dream Theater

Song year: 2011

We’re not sure what this song is about—and neither is the band.

Dream Theater’s guitarist, John Petrucci, said that the song is full of twists and ideas that confused the band while writing. However, with its nearly three-minute intro of heavy guitar, bass, and drums, it can’t be confused with anything other than heavy metal.

36. “Kill As One” by Death Angel

Song year: 1987

Here’s another song with relatively straightforward lyrics. It’s about death and killing, and that’s pretty much it.

Death Angel is often associated with violence, as many of their lyrics play on this theme. They even named one of their albums, Ultra-violence, after a notion in Anthony Burgess’s famously brutal novel A Clockwork Orange.

37. “For Whom The Bell Tolls” by Metallica

Song year: 1984

Ending this list is another song about war, or rather the futility of war. It was named after and based upon Earnest Hemmingway’s novel of the same name.

While it wasn’t a chart-topper, it still makes this list because its heavily distorted intro riff is practically the epitome of heavy metal.

Top Heavy Metal Songs Ever, Final Thoughts

As you can see, the best heavy metal songs deal with, well, heavy topics. The weight of the subject matter is supplemented by dense music and emotional vocals. So, switch on one of these songs next time you’re in the mood to ponder life’s big questions. And remember to turn it up!

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