The 10 best instrumental album intros in metal

Instrumental album intros
(Image credit: Future)

There’s something extra-special about an album that commences with an instrumental intro, lending a heightened sense of anticipation and class to proceedings. Perhaps it was The Who’s Overture from Tommy that first introduced the phenomenon to the rock world from opera in 1969, but it remained a niche option – and we’re not talking about symphonic, electronic or acoustic intros, we’re looking for full-band instrumentals that function as rousing curtain-raisers for their parent albums, those brief but masterly exemplars of the form that tease us in and bid us welcome to a new world of sound; the ideal playlist for anyone in a hurry who enjoys getting dramatically keyed-up.

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1. Iron Maiden - The Ides Of March (Killers, 1981)

This opening volley of rolling toms and imperial chords was such a good intro it opened not one, but TWO albums from the NWOBHM heyday. Thunderburst, from Samson’s 1980 LP Head On, is exactly the same tune as Iron Maiden's The Ides Of March, remaining a mystery for decades. 

Samson drummer Thunderstick was in Iron Maiden when the intro was written, the gimp-masked scene legend presumably responsible for the track’s signature rollercoaster fills. Evidently, it called to Steve Harris’s mind the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, an appropriate event to launch Iron Maiden's second album Killers.

2. Judas Priest - The Hellion (Screaming For Vengeance, 1982)

A gleaming sci-fi fanfare trumpeting the arrival of the titular robotic bird of prey swooping down on Screaming For Vengeance's colourful sleeve art, Judas Priest's The Hellion remains one of metal’s best-loved and most exciting intros. 

The instrumental tune (segueing masterfully into Electric Eye) even gets a rare few lines of explanatory prose on the back cover; 'From an unknown land and through distant skies came a winged warrior. Nothing remained sacred, no one is safe from the Hellion as it uttered its battle cry... Screaming for vengeance'

3. Celtic Frost - Innocence And Wrath (To Mega Therion, 1985)

A touch of ominous bombast to open Swiss trio Celtic Frost’s beyond-essential debut long-player To Mega Therion, with the unorthodox Wagnerian parp of the French horn (performed by the beautifully-named Wolf Bender) pointing the way to the gothic, avant-garde impulses of 1987’s Into The Pandemonium

The lumbering, doomed majesty of this triumphal opening flourish instantly plunges the listener into a richly decadent atmosphere, Tom G Warrior and chums dispatching the intro in little more than one of our Earth minutes, perfectly teasing us into the world of the album.

4. Megadeth - Into The Lungs Of Hell (So Far, So Good… So What!, 1988)

French horns made a reappearance on a thrash metal intro here, with Dave Mustaine himself tackling the instrument (“I first discovered the French horn from being in school and also hearing it with The Beatles,” the frontman told Loudwire in 2020, explaining his fondness for horn blowing) for the opening track of Megadeth's third record So Far, So Good... So What!

Into The Lungs Of Hell is a definitive opening volley, triumphant chords and literal trumpet parping out a fanfare for Megadave’s wayward genius, developing into a gleeful arpeggio dogfight that’s as defiantly quirky, audacious and brilliant as the man who wrote it.

5. Helloween - Invitation (Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II, 1988)

After a cluster of expressive noises - including a squawk and swish that might feasibly represent the bird of prey we’re about to salute in Eagle Fly Free - Helloween unleash the blazing symphonic samples and epic stirring chords that made Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II so influential, bidding us welcome to the German power metal wunderkind’s best-loved album

Excitement mounts as the melody rises, getting brighter and stronger as Ingo Schwichtenberg hammers out a military tattoo on the snare, ensuring this is an Invitation few can refuse.

6. Carcass - Genital Grinder (Reek Of Putrefaction, 1988)

Genital Grinder is the only comprehensible, foot-tapping tune on Carcass’ insane mess of a debut Reek Of Putrefaction. The faintest traces of eerie synth chords struggling to peep out from that infectious, marauding riff. 

It was re-recorded a year later for the Pathological compilation (renamed Genital Grinder II), extending the opening chug and adding some vocal gurgles. Genital Grinder has been good to Carcass over the years; it’s one of only two debut tracks that the Scousers have dared to play live since their 2007 reunion.

7. Cathedral - Violet Vortex (The Ethereal Mirror, 1993)

Rippling blobs of lava lamp guitar herald a succession of massive Tony Iommi-encrusted riffs from Cathedral riffmaster Gaz Jennings (who was overflowing with them at this point), radiating a newfound pace, polish and punch, bolstered with hammering drums and independent bass (also by Gaz). 

Violet Vortex bids you welcome to the far more animated, playful and lurid sonic realm The Ethereal Mirror inhabits as opposed to the morose extremity of 1991’s Forest Of Equilibrium, betokening Cathedral’s innovative assimilation of woofer-blowing 70s groove into their eccentric doom, helping set the scene for stoner metal.

8. Dissection - At The Fathomless Depths (Storm Of The Light’s Bane, 1995)

A spooky recurring melody in waltz time, wrenched from the guitar of Dissection mastermind Jon Nödtveidt and accompanied by the rolling thunder of the kettledrum, this impeccably-titled curtain-raiser for 1995's Storm Of The Light's Bane is the perfect ominous but low-key way to launch one of the most powerful albums of its era. 

The riff itself, a wisp of nocturnal unease, feels like it’s echoing out of Sweden’s ancient past, a Viking folk leitmotif rendered via the eerie hiss of black metal guitar, anticipation increased dramatically when the twin harmonies kick in.

9. Revocation - Enter The Hall (Existence Is Futile, 2009)

From the ominous opening chords through the string of exuberant twin-guitar arpeggios to the ferocious thrash breakdown on this textbook four-minute instrumental showcase, it was instantly clear that Bostonian tech-death crew Revocation had raised their game dramatically on their second album Existence Is Futile

Revocation were still a trio on this recording, but a second guitarist was fast becoming essential, given the gorgeous duelling axes here compelling instant raised fists. Nifty album title too, so archly nihilistic that Cradle Of Filth borrowed it for their latest release.

10. After Forever - Line Of Thoughts (Exordium, 2003)

Although Nightwish frontwoman Floor Jansen was originally Dutch symphonic metal sextet After Forever’s trump card, on this absorbing nugget of elegant mystique the rest of the band proved they could still convey bucketloads of moody atmos without either singer opening their gobs. 

From the acoustic finger-picking shot through with staccato chops to the swirling string melodies and propulsive drums, Line Of Thoughts ensured that the Exordium EP opened with a sense of urgency and unease, providing a dark, muscular alternative to the standard pretty synth intro.

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.