The 10 heaviest metal riffs ever

Toni Iommi of Black Sabbath
(Image credit: Erica Echenberg/Redferns)

Hey Metal Hammer readers, Nate Garrett from Spirit Adrift here. I’ve been listening to and writing metal for almost 20 years now. Metal is all about the riff, and I’ve always sought out the best and heaviest riffs, both as a listener and a songwriter. These are ten riffs that have stood out to me as the heaviest I’ve heard over the past couple of decades. I think this is a good cross-section of a lot of different types of heavy riffs. Check em out and get your ass kicked.

Spirit Adrift’s new album, Enlightened In Eternity, is out now

10. Oathbreaker – Glimpse Of The Unseen 

Oathbreaker guitarist Lennart Bossu who wrote this riff also writes riffs for Amenra. So clearly the guy knows what he’s doing. When I toured with Oathbreaker years ago, I couldn’t get the main riff that comes in at 1.12 out my head. I learned it and would soundcheck with it every night, and Lennart was kind enough to show me the little subtleties of it.

9. Neurosis – The Doorway

It’s difficult to narrow down which Neurosis riff is the heaviest, but Times Of Grace was the first album of theirs I really fell in love with, and this hits like a ton of bricks. I saw them open with it live once and it was terrifying.

8. Eyehategod – Blank

The riff that comes in at 5:08 is simple but effective, disgusting but catchy, and soul-crushingly heavy. The “suffering from addiction to drugs” sample adds a whole layer of weight to this one. I saw EHG right after Katrina. They opened with this and the whole front row of the crowd was bleeding profusely by the time this part kicked in.

7. Rwake – Leviticus

A lot of the riffs on this list are even heavier in context, especially the one at 6:07. I strongly recommend listening to this whole song. This riff is a reprise of the intro, but the journey Rwake takes you on to get there is powerful beyond words. As real as it gets.

6. Power Trip – Waiting Around To Die

Again, hard to pick a heaviest Power Trip riff, but it’s probably the one at 3:27 for me. Some riffs change me physiologically when I hear them, and produce an uncontrollable adrenaline release. This is one of them.

5. Crowbar – High Rate Extinction

This riff encapsulates what Crowbar is all about. Bludgeoning like a sledgehammer, but angular and almost progressive at times. For as much recognition as he gets, Kirk Windstein is still the most underrated riff writer ever, in my book.

4. Morbid Angel – Nothing Is Not

Twenty-three seconds in, and Trey Azagthoth serves up the heaviest riff in a catalogue of twisted, bizarrely heavy riffs. This showcases his inherent Floridian groove, and also his surreal, atonal approach to guitar harmonies. The apocalyptic lyrics are the perfect counterpart to the reality-shattering power of the riff.

3. High On Fire – 10,000 Years

My high school band covered this song. I’m positive we didn’t do it justice. Matt Pike has written so many perfect riffs it’s hard to even keep track, but this one changed my life at an early age and is still one of my all-time favorites.

2. Cannibal Corpse – Scourge of Iron

Bassist Alex Webster wrote the music and lyrics to this one. It’s about being whipped to shreds in hell, and that’s what it sounds like. Webster is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent, kindest people you could ever meet. But he has written some of the most brutal music ever recorded. My kind of guy.

1. Black Sabbath – Children of the Grave

Like I said earlier, context is important. So think about how heavy the riff at 2:48  still is in the context of 2020. Now imagine hearing it in the context of 1971. It was easily the literal heaviest riff in existence. Had to be. What’s crazy is that’s not the first time Tony Iommi did that, nor was it the last.