The 100 greatest metal songs of the 21st century

Wardruna press shot

(Image credit: Wardruna)

50. Wardruna - Helvegen (2013)

Opening with cawing crows, a steady drumbeat and low vocals, Helvegen puts you in a state of solemnity and awe. Wardruna mastermind and Norse scholar Einar Selvik had been ruminating on old oral traditions: songs sung to welcome babies to the world, songs sung during work and songs sung to guide somebody across to the other side after death. This last one had been playing on his mind, as heard in the first line of the song: ‘Who shall sing me?’

“That phrase was with me for quite a while before the song came to me,” he explains. “Some songs take years to write, some are done in an instant. This just came through. It was an intense three days [of writing and recording] – it was the only thing I did. A trance condition.”

Movies might portray Valhalla as the dominant idea of the afterlife, but it wasn’t spoken about much during the Viking Age, as it was mainly a tradition of the aristocracy in the later period. Hel was seen as the underworld, and Helvegen translates as ‘The Path To Hel’. Einar also notes that the Vikings had a polytheistic belief system – with multiple gods involved, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single way of viewing what happened after death. But details don’t matter when a song resonates this profoundly, cutting to the heart of mortality and grief.

“The song isn’t about geography or details, it’s about something much broader… universal. That applies whether you’re spiritual or religious or not,” says Einar. “It’s not only for the dead, it’s also for the singers in that process. It’s about dealing with sorrow. It speaks to something that’s timeless.”

For Einar, singing is a form of healing. The song features the lyric ‘you are released from the bonds that bound you’, and that sense of letting go applies to the singers as much as it does to the person who’s passed away. In a day and age where we rarely acknowledge death, the band have noticed Helvegen elicits intense, visceral reactions from people.

“I’ve received so many letters and mails and messages and handshakes from people who have had a really strong experience with the song, and a lot of people use it as a tool for handling sorrow, or for letting go, or for singing someone across – even playing it to dying people,” says Einar. “I’ve heard probably six or seven translations of the song. People have made their own version in their own language, even. So, it speaks to something that goes beyond what you can call Norse. It speaks to a part of our culture that is sort of completely disregarded. It’s very special to see that it lives its own life.”

49. Judas Priest – Lightning Strike (2018)

Judas Priest had had a solid run since Rob Halford made his return for 2005’s Angel Of Retribution. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the pure thunderous might of Firepower. It was Priest’s best album in almost 30 years, and its lead single, the cunningly titled Lightning Strike, was a jolt of precise heavy metal perfection. Andy Sneap’s production lent the track an added sense of urgency and vibrancy. Priest suddenly felt more relevant than ever. 

48. Disturbed - The Sickness (2000)

“I believe I was around 13 years old when I first heard Down With The Sickness, and from that point it instantly became one of my all-time favourite songs. It just has such an infectious groove, and the way the vocals complement the rhythm of the guitars and drums really drives it home. You just can’t listen to that song without wanting to get hyped and have a good time!” Diamond Rowe, Tetrarch

47. Within Temptation – Angels (2004)

They may have evolved in myriad ways over the last two decades, but in truth, Within Temptation will always be most strongly associated with their bombastic, symphonic early years - and with good reason. Streamlining the power of tracks like Ice Queen and Mother Earth into something pure, potent and catchy as fuck, Angels was the band’s first true breakout anthem. It helped put symphonic metal on the map in a big way. And it still sounds colossal.

46. Five Finger Death Punch – The Bleeding (2007)

Five Finger Death Punch aren’t known for their subtlety, but they sure as heck can write a ballad. On their first-ever single, frontman Ivan Moody crooned his way through the verses before letting rip on the choruses, all his feelings tumbling out as he sang about the pain of a relationship gone bad. To this day, it’s still a set highlight, as thousands of fans belt out the words and hold their lighters aloft.

45. Testament – More Than Meets The Eye (2008)

Not only was The Formation Of Damnation Testament’s first proper album in almost a decade, but it marked the band’s return after frontman Chuck Billy’s cancer battle. It needed a leading anthem to put any doubts firmly to the sword, and holy shit did they produce. More Than Meets The Eye has become rightly regarded as an all-time great Testament track – a thunderous thrash metal crusher that set the scene for a glorious second golden age.

44. Volbeat – Still Counting (2008)

Volbeat remain a true one-off in the metal scene. Their mash-up of rock’n’roll swagger and metallic-as-fuck guitar tones has seen them become one of Europe’s biggest bands, and this humdinger of a track from 2008 still best represents their irrepressible mix of styles. Part barn-storming hoedown, part Metallica-esque thrash metal assault, all parts fun as hell, it remains one of their most beloved songs, and an absolute setlist staple. 

43. At The Drive-In – One Armed Scissor (2000)

In the year 2000, people thought At The Drive-In were about to do for post-hardcore what Nirvana had done for grunge. It didn’t quite happen, but in One Armed Scissor they left behind a frantic, giddy, mutant banger that managed to tap into Fugazi’s angular punk fury, Frank Zappa’s shamanic, psychedelic ramblings and the free verse, abstract jazz poetry of Allen Ginsberg. It’s no shock mainstream success eluded the band, but artistically they remain peerless.

42. Satyricon - K.I.N.G (2006)

Few bands record a career- defining track 15 years in, but Satyricon managed it. K.I.N.G. heralded yet another sonic shift for black metal’s most orthodoxy-defying band, stripped down to a staccato, razor-wire riff and a stomping chassis of a groove. Satyr and Frost cast a gristly, anthemic spell that imprinted itself into your brain with brazen, clinical efficiency.

41. Halestorm – I Miss The Misery (2012)

Love Bites (So Do I) may have been the song that brought Halestorm to the world stage, but I Miss The Misery is the jam that confirmed Lzzy Hale as one of the best rock vocalists of her generation. A great voice can only do so much without a great song behind it, though, and I Miss The Misery is three minutes of pure, adrenalised, stomping rock’n’roll anthemia. It marked Halestorm out as a band destined for big stages… which they now command. 

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