The 100 greatest metal songs of the 21st century

Code Orange

Code Orange: “I’ve never seen a band with so much talent that’s democratically spread out,” says C (Image credit: Press)

40. Converge – Concubine (2001)

Concubine is an enigma. The deeply poetic and evocative printed lyrics seem to be only reference points for Jacob’s existential screams of anguish. Converge traverse a wide range of ideas, approaches and tempos in a tight and compact one minute and 19 seconds. I love the way the blastbeats give way to the harmonic mid-tempo break and that slow lurch that only happens once at the end before the loose, deconstructed final chord.” Steve Von Till, Neurosis

39. Baroness – Chlorine & Wine (2015)

The emotional centrepiece of Baroness’s masterful Purple record, Chlorine & Wine is just under seven minutes of searing, heartbreaking melancholy, written in the aftermath of the bus crash that almost finished the band for good. At once both life-affirming and utterly devastating, it flexes John Baizley’s uniquely poetic way with words and his penchant for writing riffs that will stick in your brain and make your heart sing. Thank fuck we still have this band with us. 

38. Code Orange – Bleeding In The Blur (2017)

“Extreme bands making catchy songs? I got four words for ya: Bleeding In The Blur. It’s genius, and it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. You listen to it, it fits so well on that album, and it feels like them. Even though you can hear their influences, you can tell it’s them, and there’s no other band like them. I’ve never seen a band with so much talent that’s democratically spread out. It’s inspiring.” Corey Taylor, Slipknot

37. Bloodywood – Ari Ari (2018)

This was the song that turned the Indian metallers into internet sensations. Bloodywood had already dabbled in covers of pop songs, getting clicks for their unique fusion of nu metal and traditional percussion, but Ari Ari took their music to the next level. It was a test: a cover of a song by duo Bombay Rockers, which was itself a version of a folk song called Baari Barsi, barely known outside India. By doing a spin on something less well known, they could see whether it had been their song choices or their sound that was garnering all the attention. Turns out, it was their sound.

“We had gotten numbers before that on a couple of videos, but what really changed was when people said that this is something that they’ve never heard before,” smiles founder and guitarist Karan Katiyar.

There was also the small matter of their joyful video, featuring Karan hitching a lift with a camel, singer Jayant Bhadula riding a horse through the streets, a monkey clambering over power lines, some wedding preparation crashing and lots of dancing. Bollywood actress Ileana D’Cruz shared it online, giving them the kind of publicity most bands can only dream of. “Honestly, I don’t know a lot about Bollywood myself,” confesses Karan. “But when she posted that video, I got messages from everyone. I’d heard her name, but I’ve not seen a lot of her movies, and I think she’s got 12 million followers on Instagram. If you can put a number to popularity, I think that’s quite up there!”

Ari Ari is propelled by chugging riffs and the constant rhythm of the dhol (a double-sided barrel drum), as Raoul Kerr’s rapping and Jayant’s singing vie for attention. The tin whistle, which also features in the Bombay Rockers song, has a surprisingly central role too. It’s not the most common of metal instruments, but Karan managed to invest it with heart and passion – even if he’d never tried playing it before.

“I didn’t know how to play a tin whistle, so I asked an acquaintance who did, and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll play it for you and I’ll record it for you, and I’m gonna charge you about $500.’ And I said, ‘I don’t have that kind of money, I would rather just learn it myself and play it myself’, and thankfully I had a couple lying around, because I just love collecting instruments!”

Lyrically, Ari Ari is an anthem for togetherness. The lyrics of the chorus, sung in Punjabi, are: ‘Besides all differences, we are one.’ “We’re not talking about Indian mythology or singing about how our culture is different or something, it’s more about how everything is connected, and things are not very different,” says Karan. “But of course we love embracing where we come from; that’s also very important, I feel. So our instruments are traditional, our attire is traditional, but we want to keep the spirit of the message universal.”

36. In Flames - Only For The Weak (2000)

“We played this song in Gothenburg and earthquake alarms started ringing,” In Flames frontman Anders Fridén told us last year. It’s hardly surprising; Only For The Weak isn’t just the biggest melodeath song ever written, but an all-time classic metal anthem that firmly took In Flames into metal’s big leagues where they belonged. “It’s a song that has a heavy tone to it, but it’s not difficult to like,” Anders would add humbly. “It brings everyone together!”

35. Bullet For My Valentine – Tears Don’t Fall (2005)

It might have been the album that introduced Bullet For My Valentine as metal’s new poster boys for elitist sneering, but you’d have to be daft to deny that The Poison was one of the most effectively written, anthem-stacked albums of its time. Tears Don’t Fall was catnip for a rock scene where emo and metal were battling it out for supremacy - metal fans dug the galloping basslines and big riffs, and emo lovers went doolally for that big-ass, embittered chorus. 

34. Watain – Malfeitor (2010)

“I think that Malfeitor is one of the best Watain songs and one of the best tracks in general in the last decades of the black dark death metal scene. The reason for that? For me, a song that combines aggressiveness, darkness, mysticism and melody together will stick in my heart forever. These are the feelings we are seeking in metal and I think that Malfeitor includes those at its best. And not to forget, I have ‘felt’ this song live many times – I can guarantee its dignity!” Sakis Tolis, Rotting Christ

33. Metallica – Moth Into Flame (2016)

Inspired by James Hetfield watching the emotional Amy documentary exploring the tragic life of Amy Winehouse, Moth Into Flame wasn’t just a cautionary tale about the perils of fame and drug abuse - it was the best song Metallica had written in decades. An insanely catchy chorus, riffs galore and a powerful vocal performance from Papa Het, it instantly consolidated itself as a modern Metallica classic. Lady Gaga would even join the band to play it at the Grammys. 

32. Slayer – Disciple (2001)

During the back end of the 90s, Slayer were struggling to find their place in a shifting scene. The thrash explosion of the 80s had subsided, and heavy music was fragmenting into a multitude of subgenres from groove metal to grunge and skate-punk. Seventh album Undisputed Attitude, released in 1996, was Slayer’s ‘fuck you’ to the bands who weren’t meeting their standards of heavy.

“We did that as a rebellion to Green Day and The Offspring,” says guitarist Kerry King. “It’s not their fault, but everybody called them punk bands, and me and Jeff [Hanneman, late guitarist] were like, ‘This isn’t punk, guys.’ And we just took offence to it.”

And then, along came another trend: nu metal. Bands were ditching guitar solos, downtuning their guitars and appealing to a new generation. Largely written by Jeff, 1998 album Diabolus In Musica was an attempt to take some of that moshpit-fresh sound onboard, but Kerry admitted his heart hadn’t been in it. He felt so jaded about where metal was heading that he felt like sacking it all off. Luckily, Disciple reignited his fire. Packing the cry ‘God hates us all!’, it was their catchiest song ever, but didn’t sacrifice any of their face-flaying force. It was thrash dragged kicking and screaming into the new millennium.

“That whole Limp Bizkit and… I can’t even think of the other ones anymore… all of that had just got me really bored and uninspired,” Kerry says. “I felt like I had to be me again or just stop, and I think Disciple was a big step to rediscovering that, you know? We’re doing it our way or no way at all!”

Inspiration had struck in the most mundane of places – a traffic jam in LA. Kerry looked up and saw a billboard that said, ‘God loves you all.’ “I remember thinking, ‘What? He sure as hell doesn’t love me right now!’ It stuck with me. I already had the ‘I never said I wanted to be God’s disciple’ line, but I didn’t know it was going to link up with the ‘God hates us all’ lyric initially. They fit together so well, though, that I knew I had to.”

Kerry finished the words and Jeff wrote the music, in one of their last great team-ups. Completed by Tom Araya’s fiery delivery and polished by producer Matt Hyde, it became a scathing diatribe about blind faith and the evils of humanity. “When I write a song, I hear how I want it in my head, but I never get to actually hear whether it’s a great song until Tom adds his vocals to it,” Kerry explains. “When I see Tom in the vocal booth is the first time I get to hear it. I remember hearing him sing that line and a big smile just broke out across my face like, ‘That is exactly what I wanted to hear!’”

Slayer have long drawn the ire of religious groups, yet Tom is Catholic, and to him a song like Disciple was merely a piece of cathartic theatre. In a 2006, he explained to the Edmonton Sun newspaper: “Kerry’s written some really far-out shit. If it’s a good song, I’m not one that’s going to go, ‘This sucks because it’s contrary to my beliefs.’ To me it’s more like, ‘This is really good stuff. You’re going to piss people off with this.’ I’m well-rounded, I have a really strong belief system and these are just words; they’ll never interfere with what I believe and how I feel.”

In a horribly prescient turn of events, Disciple was released on ninth album God Hates Us All, which came out on 9/11. As the world melted down, Pantera cancelled their appearance on Europe’s Tattoo The Planet tour, but Slayer pushed ahead, stating: “We simply refuse to play into the hands of these terrorists.” An explosive set – featuring Disciple – proved they had redefined their identity, and could still set metal’s agenda. Despite the timing and explicit content, Disciple was nominated for Best Metal Performance at the Grammys, and although it lost to Tool’s Schism, its place in history remains secure.

“It’s a pretty unique song for Slayer, in that we don’t really usually have these big chant-along moments. That’s not really the type of thing that we trade on,” reflected Kerry. “But I know people like to be stood in a festival environment and have that hook, and that groove, and Disciple has both of those things. That, along with this really grinding outro, set it apart from the rest of our back catalogue.”

31. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Milk Lizard (2007)

“Having seen and heard this song played live before, when we were opening up for The Dillinger Escape Plan on their farewell UK tour in 2017, I have the utmost respect for anyone who can scream and wail on a track so aggressively with pure anger, then cut straight into melodic singing with such gracefulness while obtaining the vocal notes. This song shows that level of diversity a lot of lead singers cannot reach.” Yeti Bones, Ho99o9

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