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The 100 greatest metal songs of the 21st century

Metal hammer 100 Greatest Songs Of The 21st century
(Image credit: Future)

Metal post-2000 has been on a fascinating journey, from conquering the planet in the early 2000s to expanding and evolving more than ever in recent years. Who could have predicted Limp Bizkit becoming the biggest band in the world for a moment, or three young girls from Japan named Babymetal becoming the biggest thing in metal for a generation?

More than anything else, though, 21st century metal has provided us with a shit-ton of amazing, genre-defining anthems. Two decades into the century, we thought we’d try to give ourselves a headache by counting down the 100 greatest songs of the last 21 years. The only rules? One song per band, songs from 2000 onwards only. That’s it. So, without further ado, here’s the best playlist you’ll see this year - as picked by us, you guys and some of metal’s biggest and best names…

 

Metal Hammer line break

100. Atreyu Bleeding Mascara (2004)

‘Goooooooooooooooooo!’ raged Alex Varkatzas over a screaming guitar, opening the love/hate song that captured a moment. US metalcore was invading Britain and edging out nu metal, and Orange County’s Atreyu were serving up just the right amount of gothic lyricism on top of a scene-friendly melodic chorus.


99. Solstafir - Ótta (2014)

‘Metalheads destroyed by banjo’ wasn’t the most predictable headline of 2014. Emerging from a tapestry of lush, searchlight guitars, that forlorn orbital riff waxed and waned like it had been abandoned by time immemorial. But it wove together the year’s most magical and transformative experience, imprinting itself into the deepest crevices of the heart.


98. Electric Wizard – Funeralopolis (2000)

“The song slowly gathers force and escalates like a storm. From desperation towards rage and destruction. It has given a lot of meaning to me in its nihilism, and reflects my darker feelings towards our society very accurately. The climax is definitely the end part where you can literally hear an electromagnetic pulse caused by nuclear warheads passing through the band.” Jun-His, Oranssi Pazuzu


97. Nine Inch Nails – The Hand That Feeds (2000)

Trent Reznor was out of rehab and going… disco? His first new music after Nine Inch Nails’ delicate and distorted The Fragile might have been a surprise, but this upbeat industrial dancefloor filler – complete with a synth solo – became his biggest hit single, leading into the fertile second act of his career.


96. Twin Temple –  Sex Magick (2018)

Sex Magick was the irresistibly seductive centrepiece of one of the most unlikely breakout albums of the decade. A subtly subversive, dreamy bop built around the hypnotic vocals of Alexandra James, Twin Temple proved that A) The Devil really does have the best tunes and B) Doo-wop could be metal as fuck.


95. Sikth – Bland Street Bloom (2006)

Just how big would Sikth be if they’d released Death Of A Dead Day in 2016 instead of 2006? We’ll never know, but one of 21st century UK metal’s most influential bands assured their moment in the sun all the same, not least courtesy of this scattershot, frenetic, genre-mashing banger. It still sounds huge.


94. Body Count - No Lives Matter (2017)

Preceded by an impassioned monologue by Ice T, No Lives Matter offered incisive takes on the issues of racism, police brutality and civil unrest. Of course, the lyrics were helped along by some seriously monstrous riffs, proving that Body Count were still sitting on top of the rap metal pile.


93. Kvelertak – Blodtørst (2010)

Blodtørst highlights Kvelertak’s explosive ferocity, combining 100-proof Scandinavian metal, huge classic rock choruses and the energy of an out-of-control party. It’s inspiring for Norway to see Kvelertak succeed internationally while singing most songs in Norwegian. They kicked a game-winning goal on album one and they’ve kept scoring.” Jo Fleischer, Metal Hammer reader


92. Dimmu Borgir –  Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse (2013)

“Sven and Galder’s thunderous, riffing madness mixed with the orchestral score and Shagrath’s distinctive vocals made you pay attention right away; they crafted the future of today’s symphonic death metal bands and more. The video was a first of its kind with a high budget and intricate cinematography, which influenced a flurry of bands to follow suit. Not to mention the crazy ending of the song: ‘ONCE AND FOR AAAALL!’ Progenies… is a true classic!” Maurizio Iacono, Kataklysm


91. Arch Enemy – We Will Rise (2003)

While Arch Enemy had already established themselves as one of the most solid names in melodic death metal, the arrival of Angela Gossow in 2000, replacing departing vocalist Johan Liiva, undoubtedly pushed them further up metal’s proverbial ladder. Her first album with the band, 2001’s Wages Of Sin, was an ambitious step forward, mixing catchy, shreddy death metal with arena-sized hooks, all led by Angela’s guttural roar. It brought the band legions of new fans - and created instant pressure for a follow-up.

“When Angela joined the band for Wages Of Sin, it made a big impact and a huge difference to what we were doing,” recalls guitarist and band founder Michael Amott. “We had a heavy touring schedule for the first time in our career, so it was a shock when management told us that we needed to start thinking about making a new album. We were like, ‘OK… we don’t have any songs!’ We wrote in breaks between tours – that’s where We Will Rise came in.” 

Come 2003, Arch Enemy were on the verge of an unlikely breakthrough into metal’s upper tiers. As they set about writing the follow-up to Wages Of Sin, they needed a song that would firmly and loudly plant their flag for the next era. Plus, given that the crowds were growing, they needed an anthem that’d be guaranteed to go off live.

“When you go out on tour and play a lot of shows, you start noticing what goes down well and what doesn’t, and so we wanted an anthem that would be a good track for the set,” Michael notes. “Chris [Amott, Michael’s brother and former Arch Enemy guitarist] brought in the basic riff, the main theme for the song, and a couple of the other riffs as well. I added a few bits and pieces and we all arranged it together. It felt pretty sparse and very straightforward, but we were very interested in doing something like that because we had a lot of very busy tracks. The busier songs were not going down as well as the more mid-tempo anthemic songs, so We Will Rise was perfect.”

Unusually for Michael - whose mixture of flamboyant melodies and fretboard-sizzling shredding has made him one of extreme metal’s foremost guitar heroes - We Will Rise represented a learning curve in how to show restraint to make the most out of a great song.

“We had much more confidence after touring so much, and particularly with Angela in the band. We were excited to do something new and We Will Rise was just that. There was a bit more air in the song. It had a lot more dynamics than we’d had previously. We’d always been totally full-on before! We’d always hidden behind the full-on attack, playing a lot, all the time. You’re more vulnerable when you just stop and let the song breathe. For half of the verse in We Will Rise, I’m not actually playing anything!” 

Despite the bold new song structure, the band’s label were confident in We Will Rise’s potential for big things, launching it as the lead single from Anthems Of Rebellion. Its video, featuring hordes of metalheads sprinting across a beach, flags in hand, made a huge impact, receiving regular airplay on hallmark rock channels like Scuzz, MTV and Kerrang! TV, and getting featured on the revived Headbangers Ball show on MTV2 (it was also included in an official Headbangers Ball compilation album later that year). While the song’s catchy, (relatively) simplistic nature made it perfect single fodder to begin with, its lyrics, portraying ideals of unity, rebellion and rising up against oppression, evidently hit the mark with metal lovers the world over.

“They are pretty anthemic, aren’t they?” admits Michael. “To be honest, my lyrics are always the same. I’ve been writing the same song for 25 years! Ha ha ha! It’s just variations on how I feel about things. I just nailed it on that one, a bit better than on some others. It’s one of those songs, it brings everyone in the room together. The song is about being an outsider so it resonates and I think it applies to metalheads or any kind of subculture. I guess we’re stuck with it now!” 

The track paved the way for Anthems Of Rebellion to earn Arch Enemy a newfound level of success. It gave the band’s label, Century Media, its then-highest first-week US SoundScan sales ever, eventually becoming one of the label’s top 10 best-selling albums. While the band have gone on to have even more success since, We Will Rise still endures as one of their - and, indeed, one of metal’s - all-time classic anthems. 

“I don’t think we’ve played a show without playing it since we made Anthems, and I don’t think we ever will,” says Michael. “We’ve played it all over the world. Sometimes we’ll play it somewhere like China and it feels really powerful, because some countries don’t have the same kind of freedoms that we have. From the stage, I can see people mouthing the lyrics and it obviously means a great deal to people.”