10 classic metal albums where the first song is the best

The album covers of Megadeth's Rust In Peace, Black Sabbath's Black Sabbath, Lamb Of God's Ashes Of The Wake and Motörhead's Ace Of Spades
(Image credit: Press)

For a classic album to become a classic album, it has to start strong. You need to get the audience on-side right away, not just understanding the vision you have but also as hyped-up as possible to hear more. The metal masterpieces below did that job so well that their opening song ultimately became their highlight. From Megadeth to Lamb Of God, the bands below have all frontloaded the hell out of their greatest releases in the most glorious way:

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Megadeth – Holy Wars… The Punishment Due (Rust In Peace, 1990)

Holy Wars… represents the thrash metal genre at its most rapid, technical and progressive – all at the same time! After getting Rust In Peace off to an unforgettable start with that iconic riff, it rampages through callous-destroying solos, tempo changes and intricate melodies for six minutes. The song remains Megadeth’s essential hit, closing their every show while also boasting more than 100 million Spotify streams. The rest of Rust… could have been shit but, after this flawless opener, it would have still become a mainstay.

Lamb Of God – Laid To Rest (Ashes Of The Wake, 2004)

Laid To Rest grabs you by the nads and then the rest of Ashes Of The Wake refuses to let go. As an opening gambit, this Lamb Of God anthem is as direct and furious as you can get, instantly demanding attention with its fast-fingered riffing and Randy Blythe’s roars. That rabid yet infectious chorus and those repeated cries of “See who gives a fuck!” make such a savage song far catchier than it has any right to be, too.

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath, 1970)

The heavy metal big bang. By imbuing bluesy rock with a dark heart, Black Sabbath’s first song instantly made them the most evil-sounding men in music. Those ominous lyrics, that crawling riff and the church bells in the background are still spooky in the 2020s, so, 50 years back, this must have seemed like Satan himself had possessed your record player. Sabbath’s self-titled album never outdid the impact of this genre-defining opener – nor did anything else the band released.

Judas Priest – Painkiller (Painkiller, 1990)

Judas Priest needed Painkiller. In 1990, the Metal Gods were coming off two dud albums in Turbo and Ram It Down, and they had to make a statement of renewed focus as heavy music entered a new decade. Fortunately, with its barrelling drum fill and hellfire riffing, this title track was just that. The energy only increases as it goes, peaking with Rob Halford’s falsetto yells of “Pain! Pain! Killer! Killer!” If you’re not hyped up by this song, you’re dead.

Sepultura – Refuse/Resist (Chaos A.D., 1993)

The most prescient metal band of the ’90s, Sepultura began to foresee the nu metal takeover on Chaos A.D., slowing their sprinting thrash to a more primal stomp. Opener Refuse/Resist complements the invigorating march of its music with lyrics that call directly for revolution: “Refuse! Resist!” Max Cavalera authoritatively barks during the chorus. By the time the singer/guitarist is howling “Silence means death! Stand on your feet!”, we’ve already flung our armchair through the window.

Motörhead – Ace Of Spades (Ace Of Spades, 1980)

Ace Of Spades is an anthem of rebellion, gambling and sin that’s as badass now as it was 40 years ago. Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor’s blistering drumming, those screeching riffs from “Fast” Eddie Clarke and, of course, Lemmy Kilmister’s coarse bass and vocals are immortally exciting. Not only did this become the signature Motörhead song as a result but, after the band’s demise, it continues to energise and terrify the mainstream. Trends come and go, yet Ace Of Spades will always be cool.

Mastodon – Blood And Thunder (Leviathan, 2004)

Another endlessly pulse-pounding hit, Blood And Thunder instantly secured Mastodon as made men. Sure, debut album Remission had riffs for days, but the opening track on Leviathan condensed that savagery into a more anthemic form. From those chords at the outset to the technical lead lines and Troy Sanders’ brutal growls of “White wail! Holy grail!”, it’s an appeal to the raw animal in all of us. The album continues in thunderous form, despite never matching the jolt of this banger.

Korn – Blind (Korn, 1994)

“Are you ready?!” With that intense cry, Jonathan Davis and the rest of Korn didn’t just start one of the best debut albums ever with a smack of adrenaline – they marked the origins of nu metal, which would rule the heavy music roost for the decade to follow. Blind’s immense breakdown, seven-string riffing and introspective lyrics – “There’s a place inside my mind, a place I like to hide…” – instigated a sea change in the entire scene, and it still sounds unmatched.

Machine Head – Davidian (Burn My Eyes, 1994)

Thrash was in its dying days in 1994 and Davidian put the nail in its coffin. When ex-Vio-lence man Robb Flynn re-emerged with the more modern Machine Head, he made the genre look even less relevant, flaunting up-to-date themes and a perfect pace for headbanging. Davidian – with its hip-hop-esque music video, pinch harmonics and lyrics about the then-recent Waco siege – was a bold new manifesto for accessible extreme metal. Burn My Eyes became Roadrunner Records’ best-selling debut album pre-Slipknot off the back of it.

At The Gates – Blinded By Fear (Slaughter Of The Soul, 1995)

Following their weirdly proggy death metal origins, At The Gates wanted to make Slaughter Of The Soul “a classic metal album” – and Blinded By Fear instantly telegraphed they’d done it. This barrage of an opener crashed together death metal vocals, thrash metal speed and the flamboyant guitar athletics of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Endowed with Fredrik Nordström’s crystalline production, it was an underground favourite that inspired modern metalcore, and it remains a paragon of brevity and brutality.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.