The 100 greatest metal songs of the 21st century

Rammstein 2001 press shots

(Image credit: Olaf Heine)

10. Rammstein – Sonne (2001)

Picking just one Rammstein song gave us brainache so we let one of you guys do it instead. Hammer reader Matt Heeks made a fine choice with Sonne - the biggest single off Mutter and the track that you all voted the greatest Rammstein song ever in our huge readers’ poll last year. “A song that you can’t help but headbang or do the ‘Till hammer’ to. One of the heaviest riffs in metal, and lyrics that 80,000 people can sing along to without understanding 90% of the words. It’s one of the essential songs all metalheads should know - an all-time classic!” Matt Heeks, Metal Hammer reader 

9. Gojira – Stranded (2016)

Working through their mother’s death, the Duplantier brothers launched themselves into making some of their most affecting – and heavy – music yet. With its oft-since-copied chugging riff and pitch-shifting genius, Stranded was a cry in the darkness – a raw expression of the fear of abandonment and death. And just when you thought it had mellowed, it sucked you back into its anguish, a flurry of offbeats communicating a world still thrown off its axis. Gojira had set a new standard for modern metal, and its parent album Magma deservedly topped our 2016 end-of-year poll.

8. Nightwish – Nemo (2004)

“I remember vividly that Nemo is one of the most difficult songs we’ve ever done,” Nightwish composer-in-chief Tuomas Holopainen told us when we interviewed him about the symphonic Finns’ first true breakout hit. “It was really, really difficult to get it to work. We worked with the arrangement for months, just to get the lyrics and melodies completely right. It was originally two minutes longer and the music was faster but it was Tero [Kinnunen], the recording engineer, who said, ‘This part is completely stupid. Take it away, and we need to slow this down by about 10 bpm.’ We rearranged it again and again. I can’t even remember how it went originally. It must be on one of my floppy discs!”

The process to bring the song to life may have been a pain in Tuomas’s ass, but it was certainly worth it: 17 years on from its release, Nemo remains one of the biggest symphonic metal anthems ever written. Serving as the lead single for fifth album Once, it showed off Nightwish’s ability to craft succinct, catchy, pop-metal bangers and quickly established them as leaders in the growing European metal scene. 

“When Tuomas first played it to me, I thought that Nemo was an easy-to-understand song with a beautiful, catchy melody,” recalls former Nightwish singer, Tarja Turunen. “I really loved it. It didn’t immediately become one of my favourites because I generally preferred the longer, more complicated songs in Nightwish, but this song obviously needed to be a single. I always tend to be a little bit more nervous recording a song when you know it’s a single, but the goal is just to get a good take and to make a great song out of it.”

It was clear Nightwish had a hit on their hands, and they didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to make the most of it. Bringing in Finnish director Antti Jokinen, who had already worked with heavyweights like Beyoncé, Korn and Celine Dion, they set about making a video that would do the track justice. Set on a snowy mountaintop, it was suitably dramatic, dark and over the top.

“The video was dark but striking and colourful, and it was very gothic,” says Tarja. “That’s why we got a lot of gothic followers after that video! I was always the weird girl with the weird voice, the operatic vocals, and then I wore this red coat… I still see girls at my shows dressed like me [in that video], so I guess it was really powerful.”

Amazingly, while the video ended up being iconic, not all stations were enamoured with it at first look.

“We had an initial ‘No!’ from MTV at the time, because they didn’t want to show a video that was in the snow!” Tarja laughs. “We thought, ‘Why are you showing beach videos all the year round, but you don’t want to show snow falling?’ But it was a big thing for us. Many new people got to know us through that song.”

7. Lamb Of God – Redneck (2006)

It’d be ridiculous to suggest that Lamb Of God needed any kind of ‘breakthrough’ single by the time they set about recording album number four (five, if you count their self-titled 1999 debut under the moniker Burn The Priest). Their previous opus, 2004’s crushing Ashes Of The Wake, had consolidated the Virginians’ position as American metal’s most vital modern band, courtesy of genre-revitalising anthems like Laid To Rest, Omerta and Now You’ve Got Something To Die For. Still, it never hurts to keep the ol’ momentum going, and in Sacrament, they produced a masterpiece that did exactly that. Its defining moment? Redneck – the firecracker of a single that’d help kick their ascent into overdrive.

“I don’t know that a band like Lamb of God, then or ever, has thought about a ‘single’ in the true sense of the word,” says guitarist Mark Morton today. “But it did get some airplay, and that was exciting. It’s hard to imagine a single with this massive F-bomb in every chorus!”

Carried along on a riff packing so much groove it would make Dimebag glow with pride, and a simplistic but relentlessly driving piece of drumwork from Chris Adler, the song also boasted some of the most incisive, seething lyrics of the band’s career. Randy Blythe’s opening blast of ‘So goddamn easy to write this, you make it spill on the page!’ remains one of Lamb Of God’s most singable lines ever.

“I remember writing the music first and it being written right around the same time that I wrote the song Descending,” reveals Mark. “Famously, in one of our DVDs, the band were a little hesitant about Descending when I presented it, not feeling like it was a particularly ‘exciting’ piece of music to work on. I think that kind of got me a little irritated, a little fired up. As I recall, Redneck was written as a reaction to that – like, ‘Oh yeah? Well how about this?’ And that’s where that main riff of Redneck came from, that emotion.”

Retaining all of their penchant for heavy-as-fuck groove metal while injecting their formula with a new level of catchiness, Redneck established itself as an all-time great Lamb Of God track. It also gave us one of the greatest metal music videos of the mid-00s, as the band gatecrash a children’s birthday party to plug in and cause mayhem.

“I hate shooting music videos, but that one was fun because I thought the treatment was cool and unique,” says Mark. “Our old drummer Chris [Adler] had written that treatment long before. If I recall correctly, he had wanted to use that video treatment for the song Ruin [from 2003’s As The Palaces Burn]. I didn’t think it was a very good fit, [but] for Redneck it seemed like a much more playful spirit for that song. It just seemed to lay over that song a little better. I was impressed with the size of the production at the time. It was a big production with real pro directors and actors.”

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