What do you think of when you hear “heavy metal?” No doubt, you’re picturing heavy guitar riffs, blistering solos, and maybe even lyrics that would make your mom blush. But the truth is, heavy metal encompasses a wide range of sub-genres—everything from power ballads to Norwegian death metal and a whole world in between.
Choosing the best metal songs of all time is a difficult task, but we believe we’re up to it! Read on for our picks for the 25 best heavy metal songs to rock out to.
1. Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne may have first risen to fame as the lead singer for seminal metal masters, Black Sabbath, but his solo work is just as revered. He set off on his own following the release of the band’s 1978 album, Never Say Die. Critics who doubted he could make it as a solo artist were quickly proven wrong when his first solo album, Blizzard Of Ozz, shot up the charts. The album featured the songs “Mr. Crowley” and the soon-to-be classic “Crazy Train” and was quickly followed by an equally successful sophomore album, Diary Of A Madman.
2. Holy Wars… The Punishment Due – Megadeth
Megadeth was formed in 1983 and quickly became the forerunner of a new breed of thrash metal bands. Their music stood in stark contrast to more commercial metal and featured heavy use of technical guitar solos and a sped-up tempo. Despite going through multiple personnel changes through the years, the band has continued to make music since 1983, even earning a Grammy for their 2016 album, Dystopia.
3. Iron Man – Black Sabbath
Formed in the late 60s, Black Sabbath is considered by many metal fans to be the end-all, be-all of the genre. Throughout the 70s, the band pioneered the new heavy metal sound, which was characterized by fantasy and occult lyrics and heavy guitar-fueled riffs. Although the band broke up in 1978, they have played together from time to time and joined up for a well-received comeback album in 2013.
4. Master Of Puppets – Metallica
Thrash metal pioneers, Metallica, burst onto the scene in 1983 with their debut album, Kill ‘Em All. Since then, despite a slight downturn in popularity in the 90s, they have continued to produce head-banging songs that often manage to cross over into pop charts. Their music has garnered them 8 Grammy awards, including several for Best Metal Performance, Hard Rock Performance, and Hard Rock Instrumental Performance.
5. Back In Black – AC/DC
AC/DC’s potent mix of stage shenanigans and hard rock propelled the band to stardom in the late 70s. Despite the tragic death of their first frontman, the band powered through and went on to release “Back In Black,” and the album of the same name became the second highest-selling album of all time.
6. Breaking The Law – Judas Priest
Judas Priest ushered in the era of new British metal, taking inspiration from their American counterparts—bands like Black Sabbath, Queen, and Led Zeppelin. The band combined elements of theatrical stage performance and the avant-garde with undeniably hard-hitting dual lead guitar solos.
7. The Trooper – Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden is best remembered for two things—incredible metal music and their cartoon mascot, Eddie. The skeletal figure has graced the band’s album covers and merchandise for the majority of its long-running career. Formed in East London in 1975, the band released its first album with EMI in 1980. Since then, Iron Maiden has continued to tour and release music regularly, garnering a Grammy along the way.
8. Ace Of Spades – Motörhead
Lead singer Lemmy’s antics, both on and off stage, are the stuff of legend. But it is Motörhead’s music that has stood the test of time. Despite their rough and ready sound, the band has managed to place on the UK music charts multiple times, with “Ace Of Spades” making it all the way to number 15 in 1980.
9. Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin
Despite being together as a band for just short of a decade, Led Zeppelin left an indelible imprint on the worlds of rock and roll and heavy metal. The Viking epic, “Immigrant Song,” was meant as a humorous take on the band’s seemingly endless tour travels. The song became so popular that the band used it to open all of their shows from 1970 to 1972.
10. Shout At The Devil – Mötley Crüe
The 80s were the heyday for a new breed of music—hair metal. Mötley Crüe led the charge with not only their music but also their genre-spanning fashion style, ushering in the era of big hair and eyeliner. “Shout At The Devil” was the song that brought the band to the masses. The band sold over 200,000 copies of the song within its first two weeks and garnered the (unwelcome) attention of censors and parent groups who were concerned about its “occult lyrics.”
11. Welcome To My Nightmare – Alice Cooper
There is nothing quite like Alice Cooper. His theatrical antics, heavy gothic makeup, and occult and horror-tinged lyrics earned him the nickname “Godfather of Shock Rock.” With a career that spans many decades, Cooper has managed to keep things fresh, finding new ways to shock and delight. While his songs “You And Me,” “Poison,” and “School’s Out” placed higher on music charts, “Welcome To My Nightmare” might be the song that best embodies his musical career.
12. Goddamn Electric – Pantera
What began as a glam metal band in the early 90s quickly became the thrash metal sensation, Pantera. It is, in part, the band’s popularity that ushered out the 80s hair metal bands, giving way to harder-edged music. Unfortunately, problems between band members and the bizarre onstage murder of the band’s guitarist led to its demise. But in the band’s relatively short lifespan, they managed to put out three Billboard Top Ten hits, including “Far Beyond Driven,” which went all the way to number one.
13. Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns n’ Roses
The heavy metal ballad “Sweet Child O’ Mine” appeared on Guns N’ Roses’ 1988 debut album, Appetite For Destruction, which hit number one on the Billboard charts and spawned three hit singles: the previously mentioned song, “Welcome To The Jungle,” and “Paradise City.” In spite of several personnel changes through the years, the band has consistently toured and produced music together for several decades.
14. Angel Of Death – Slayer
The California-based thrash metal band Slayer was formed in 1981 and is widely regarded as one of thrash metal’s “Big Four” forefathers, along with Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth. The band played together for several decades before going on a farewell tour in 2018, after which they disbanded, leaving behind a total of 12 albums, four of which were certified gold.
15. Belly Of The Beast – Anthrax
With worldwide sales of more than 10 million albums, there is no denying that Anthrax remains one of the thrash metal genre’s all-time greats. Considered one of the most successful thrash metal bands in the world, their hedonistic lifestyle and often-dangerous offstage antics led many critics to compare them to The Rolling Stones. “Belly Of The Beast” appeared on the band’s fifth album, Persistence of Time.
16. Ritual – Ghost
Swedish rock and heavy metal band, Ghost, burst into the music scene in 2006, when their first album, Opus Eponymous, earned them a Grammy nomination. Ghost is known not only for its hard-hitting, rhythmic music and occult-styled lyrics but also for its onstage presence. The band is headed by a mysterious clerical figure known only as Papa Emeritus, who is backed by “nameless ghoul” band members in matching masks and outfits.
17. Holy Diver – Dio
Heavy metal stalwart, Dio, was formed in 1982 by Ronnie James Dio (born Ronald James Padavona) after leaving Black Sabbath. The band toured together for more than three decades, with Dio himself as the only permanent member. The band disbanded in 2007, following Dio’s death.
18. Rock You Like A Hurricane – Scorpions
The Scorpions are best remembered for their 1982 hit, “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” But by the time it hit the charts, the band had already been playing together for 13 years and had gone through several incarnations. Their style evolved with the times, and after many years of success in Japan, they finally landed their big American hit in the early 80s hair band resurgence.
19. Eyes Of A Stranger – Queensrÿche
American metal band Queensrÿche was formed in 1980. Since then, they have sold more than 20 million albums worldwide, including 6 million in America alone. Despite a rocky road, including lawsuits from a band member claiming wrongful termination and fights over copyrights, the band has regularly released albums since the early 80s.
20. The Moor – Opeth
Swedish metal band Opeth was formed in 1990 with one goal. In the band’s own words, they have set out to create “the most evil band in the world.” Their deadly lyrics and metal-style guitar licks combine with unique, not-typically-metal musical elements, such as acoustic guitar parts, to make up a sound that is truly unique to Opeth.
21. Black Label – Lamb of God
Richmond, Virginia-based heavy metal band Lamb Of God got their start in 1994. At that time, they played under the band’s original name, Burn The Priest. The band has played together for more than two decades and is considered the vanguard of the new wave of American metal music.
22. Metal Health (Bang Your Head) – Quiet Riot
The band that would become known as Quiet Riot came together in 1973 under the name Mach 1, after which they went by Little Women for a time. In 1975, the band agreed upon the name that would make them famous: Quiet Riot. They are known as the first metal band to make it to number one on the pop charts, thanks to their debut album and hit song, “Metal Health (Bang Your Head).”
23. Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All) – Type-O Negative
Gothic metal band Type-O Negative began as the short-lived band, Fallout, in 1987. The New York natives are known for their over-the-top gothic lyrics and style and their unique musical compositions, which twisted thrash metal into slowed-down guitar dirges. The song “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)” may not have made it to the charts, but it remains a fan favorite.
24. One – Metallica
Metallica’s cult following and prolific recording efforts earned them a second spot on this list. The song “One” from the band’s fourth album, made it all the way to number 35 on the charts, despite its daunting subject matter—the story of a soldier who has lost his limbs and his ability to speak and doesn’t want to go on living. The song also won Metallica the first-ever Grammy award for Best Heavy Metal Performance in 1990.
25. Stargazer – Rainbow
Rainbow was an early pioneer of the genre and left behind some of the best and most innovative, neoclassical heavy metal songs in the history of rock. The British supergroup featured a pre-Black Sabbath Ronnie James Dio on vocals. Rainbow earned itself a place on VH1’s Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.
Heavy metal is a diverse genre, packed with hit songs and crazy off-stage stories that continue to fuel its popularity. There’s no reason to doubt that there’ll be many more songs to add to the “all-time greats” list over the next decade and beyond.