10 legendary metal anthems whose live versions have overshadowed the originals

James Hetfield, Bruce Dickinson, Corey Taylor and Benji Webbe on stage
(Image credit: Getty)

The studio is where songs are born, but the stage is where they come alive. With showmanship and crowd participation being such core tenets of heavy metal music, your favourite song frequently gets even more stunning when the band bust it out live. Not even the genre’s classics are exempt from this. Here are 10 times when iconic metal bands made their greatest hits greater in the heat of the moment.

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Judas Priest – Breaking The Law

Rob Halford and the gang have thought up a host of heavy metal anthems over their 50 years. However, their leather outfits and live theatricality were arguably even more influential. This Live Vengeance ’82 performance of Judas Priest’s signature song summarises everything brilliant about the band, its flamboyance amplified by those clothes, Rob shimmying alongside his two guitarists and those howls of “Breaking the what?!”

Metallica – Creeping Death 

Metallica’s Seattle 1989 performance is often hailed as the greatest metal concert ever, and Creeping Death may be its apex. Every member of the band is oozing intensity, but what lifts this to legendary status is that extended bridge, where Jason Newsted and 18,000 fans chant “Die! Die! Motherfucker, die!” Now that the Four Horsemen do that every time they bust this song out, the studio version almost feels incomplete without it.

Slayer – War Ensemble 

As the opener of Slayer’s second-best album Seasons In The Abyss, War Ensemble has become immortal. The most famous thing about it, though, is the fact that Tom Araya preceded its live performances by screaming the title as threateningly as possible. During this Soundtrack To The Apocalypse version, the frontman interrupts his own banter with the out-of-nowhere cry, before the band rampage through the song even faster than usual.

Black Sabbath – Iron Man

In 1997, Black Sabbath reunited their classic lineup for the first time in five years and performed two celebratory shows in their hometown of Birmingham. The version of Iron Man they recorded at the NEC Arena earned the band their first-ever Grammy in 2000, and rightfully so. This version captures Ozzy’s invigorated and sometimes incoherent banter, then gets rocketed even higher by the sound of 15,000 people singing the riff. 

Iron Maiden – Fear Of The Dark

Iron Maiden were relishing their renaissance in 2001. Bruce Dickinson’s return upped fan intrigue for the first time in a decade, then the band released their best album in 13 years, Brave New World. This Rock In Rio III recording of Fear Of The Dark makes all the hype around The Beast tangible, with a reported 1.2 million Brazilians humming along. Frankly, the original version just doesn't feel the same without them.

Lamb Of God – Redneck

Lamb Of God singer Randy Blythe is well aware that Redneck is his band’s most successful song. Every time the Virginian wrecking crew bust the rager out, he repeatedly demands the biggest pits possible and often yields extraordinary results. That stage banter and the whirlpools of humanity during this Download Festival 2007 performance communicate just how massive Redneck is. Of course, the entire band playing on all cylinders helps.

Slipknot – Spit It Out

If you went to a Slipknot show and The Nine didn’t roar “Jump the fuck up!” during Spit It Out, you’d demand your money back. The 1999 rap metal stampede is made even more formidable by the sight of entire arenas leaping to their feet before its bridge and final chorus. Seeing more than 100,000 people participate at Download 2009 becomes an eye-widening spectacle, for that very reason.

Machine Head – Halo

Machine Head leader Robb Flynn calls himself “The General”, and the command he has over live crowd shows he deserves the nickname. Want a clear example? During his band’s ten-minute magnum opus Halo in the clip below, the frontman incites headbanging and moshpits, then demolishes that twin-lead guitar line in sync with fellow player Phil Demmel. Factor in the tens of thousands of people chanting “And I won’t pray for you” and you have perfect heavy metal pomp.

Rammstein – Du Hast

Rammstein shows are infamously butch, as this Du Hast performance flaunts. A musclebound Till Lindemann holsters his mic like a pistol and leads 10,000-plus Parisians through the first verse, then returns with a shotgun and shoots pyro into the air. All the while, fireballs blast and his bandmates play some uber-burly industrial metal. It’s everything you need to know about this band in one video, and it's why Rammstein's true legacy remains on a stage.

Skindred – Warning

Much like Slipknot’s “Jump the fuck up!”, Skindred’s Newport Helicopter is such a hallmark of their shows that they would feel incomplete without it. In 2018, the Welsh ragga metal crew were able to convince Reading & Leeds to take their tops off and swing them about at the tail end of Warning. Benji Webbe’s wit and the sheer scale of the whipped-around clothing make this even more addictive than the 2011 original.

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.