As metalheads there is one higher power we all worship – the power of the riff. Here we have compiled the best metal riffs of all time and asked the the scene's leading guitarists to pick their favourites. It wasn't easy, but there were some rules to follow...
1. It has to be an actual riff – defined by Collins dictionary as ‘a short repeated tune’.
2. One song per band. No repeats!
3. It has to be heavy.
Let's take a look at the 50 best metal riffs ever! (Playlist at the end.)
50. Artificial Brain – Estranged From Orbit
Ash Gray, Venom Prison: “The chorus riff won’t stop playing in my head; such beautiful yet aggressive guitar work, the chord progression gets me every time. It sucks me into another dimension. I could’ve mentioned some old, typical, classic riff, but it’s about time we all have a new favourite riff.”
49. Savatage – Hall Of The Mountain King
Michael Amott, Arch Enemy: “The intro riff gets my blood flowing. It’s a flawless song, and the main riff has the right balance between heavy and catchy. Sadly, guitarist Criss Oliva passed away, but he left us with a ton of heavy-ass riffs to enjoy forever!”
48. Steve Vai – The Attitude Song
Clint Lowery, Sevendust: “This was right after his Frank Zappa era, and he was just getting into it as a solo artist. The song is really chromatic and progressive all the way through, but that opening riff… it was a badge of honour in my neighbourhood to learn that song all the way through.”
47. Mötley Crüe – Too Young To Fall In Love
Alexi Laiho, Children Of Bodom: “It’s heavy as hell, but not in an obvious way. It’s so brilliantly catchy – you’ll be humming it after only hearing it once. It sounds very simple, but it’s surprisingly tricky if you want it to sound good. And of course, Mick Mars is rad!”
46. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
John Baizley, Baroness: “I grew up in a rural area, pre-internet, so my friends and I digested music on MTV. One of my earliest memories of learning a song for no other reason than I felt compelled to was Smells Like Teen Spirit. Nirvana were a gateway band for me to get into playing music.”
45. Soilwork – Bastard Chain
Michael Weikath, Helloween: “It’s not so much the riff itself, it’s the whole arrangement of the track. It’s all riff. It’s just a super album through and through. Call it ingenuity, or freshness, or whatever it is. I listened to it seven times in a row the first time. The whole track is a mega-riff; it doesn’t stop.”
44. Whitesnake – Still Of The Night
Adam D, Killswitch Engage: “It’s been so overlooked. Oh my god, that fucking riff is unstoppable, the bridge in the middle with the guitar solo over it. And it’s balls-heavy, man! I love it, and the whole fucking song rips your dick off.”
43. Parkway Drive – Romance Is Dead
Sam Kubrick, Shields: “The opening riff has defined how I write music since I was a teenager. It’s both melancholic and aggressive; it tugs on your heartstrings whilst getting your blood pumping at the same time! To this day, I wish I could create a riff that excites me as much as this one.”
42: Dødheimsgard – Traces Of Reality
Mat McNerney, Grave Pleasures: “This song has one of the greatest black metal riffs of all time. It digs its claws in about four minutes in; a snaking, helter-skelter of maniacal evil. Vicotnik has defined and updated a style which has elevated and progressed Norwegian BM to the next level. Underrated genius.”
41. Suffocation – Infecting The Crypts
Jason Mendonca, Akercocke: “My favourite riff is at 1:46. It’s picked out with precision while the rhythm section skank, off the beat for the first phrase. They then up the intensity to a violent crescendo by blasting a repeat of the same riff. It’s visceral, simplistic, emotive, brutal and perfectly executed.”