Here Are The 12 Songs To Get Literally Anyone Into Metal
Want to become a metalhead? Here's the 12-step guide.
Most metal fans get into the genre when they are teenagers, and then never let it go for the rest of their lives. But what if you come to metal late?
After all, the mainstream reputation of the genre isn’t exactly inviting. According to the depictions in the press, metalheads are corpse paint-wearing weirdos who listen to nothing but atonal screams and hideously fast guitars.
Of course, those mainstream myths are exactly that — myths. In actual fact, metal is more diverse, strange and surprising than pretty much any other genre that you can name. To that end, it’s not a disadvantage if you come to metal late. All it means is that you have a lot of very exciting catch-up listening to do.
That said, the beginner’s journey through metal should be a careful one. You don’t want to leap straight from ’80s metal to deathcore, for instance, and it’s worth taking your time to get used to one sub-genre before moving on to the next.
To that end, here are the 12 songs to get literally anyone into metal, a primer on the genre’s niche styles and sounds, and an entrance into one of the most exciting sub-cultures on the planet.
Iron Maiden — ‘The Trooper’
Iron Maiden might be the most accessible metal band on the planet, with their clean vocals, arresting visuals and blistering guitar solos. So what better place to start than with the band’s best song, ‘The Trooper’? An anachronistic ode to those who lost their lives at the Charge of the Light Brigade, the track is a straight-up-and-down pop belter, as close to the mainstream as the genre ever gets. It starts hard and it gets harder. Drink it up.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate
Mastodon — ‘Iron Tusk’
A beginner’s journey through metal shouldn’t be chronological — ’90s death metal is a world in and of itself, and something that most listeners should build their way up to. So skip straight from one of the biggest bands of the ’80s to one of the most important metal acts of the two thousands, Mastodon.
Sometimes dismissively called the “thinking man’s metal band” (to be honest, the lion’s share of metal is smarter than the press understands it to be), the band make lush, orchestral concept records. ‘Iron Tusk’, the lead single off their record Leviathan, is a miniature adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, full of arresting drum rolls and scream-shouted lyrics. But for all its strangeness, ‘Iron Tusk’ is at its heart a direct, simple serve of pure adrenaline — a song that explains its pleasures quickly.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Gojira, Death, Blood Incantation
Chelsea Wolfe — ’16 Psyche’
While you’re still easing yourself into things, take a detour through the music of Chelsea Wolfe. Something of a polymath, Wolfe isn’t strictly a metal act: her songs often bleed into folk and rock. That makes her a perfect musician to devour early on, particularly if you’re not yet ready to dive into the harder stuff.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: High on Fire, Hyperdontia, Lingua Ignota
Baroness — ‘Shock Me’
Contemporary metal act Baroness make slick, polished metal with an emotional core that the genre isn’t always known for. A song about a relationship slowly rattling itself into a series of rusted pieces, ‘Shock Me’ is the distillation of that style — the kind of anthemic banger that you play late at night through headphones, staring out into the gloom of your garden.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Mortuous, Tomb Mold, Corpsessed
Neurosis — ‘The Doorway’
Let’s take it up a notch. Neurosis are one of the most innovative and exciting metal bands of the last fifty years, a group of gamechangers that stripped the genre down to its essential roots, creating something strange and slow in the process. Every one of their albums is a masterpiece, a work of dread intelligence, but Times of Grace is the easiest place to jump in.
‘The Doorway’, an almost eight-minute long march through horror, sees every one of their greatest attributes compressed into clean, horrifying form.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Cult of Luna, Candlemass, Saint Vitus
Emperor — ‘Into The Infinity Of Thoughts’
You can’t really “get” metal until you at least dabble in the genre’s European iterations, and there’s no better way to understand that mess of actual murder, violence and hate than by kicking off with some Emperor. The Norwegian metal pioneers pretty much perfected the form, spawning an endless march of imitators even to this day.
In The Nightside Eclipse, their magnum opus, is big, brash but beautiful, full of strange pockets of melancholy and pain.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Mammoth Grinder, Darkthrone, Funeral Leech
Godflesh — ‘Like Rats’
The story of modern metal is incomplete without an entry on Justin Broadrick. A genre-melding pioneer with fingers in a great deal of pies, Broadrick burst onto the scene with his act Godflesh.
Combining the low thump of industrial with the screamed vocals and intensity of ’90s metal, he created a sound entirely of his own. The easiest way into his work is probably through his gentle, dub remixes of Godflesh songs. But hey, we’re a way through this journey now: why not make things a little harder for ourselves by jumping straight into ‘Like Rats’, a vicious howl against the very act of being born.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Jesu, Swans, Scorn
Boris — ‘Farewell’
None of this been crushing enough for you? Then turn to Boris. The Japanese experimental metal heroes are unequalled when it comes to dropping sonic cars on their audience’s head, shifting from beautiful and gentle shoegaze into pure, unremitting extremity. Fair warning to headphone users — you might want to make sure you have ‘Farewell’ turned all the way down when those drums kick into gear.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Melvins, Sunn 0))), Weedeater
Spirit Adrift — ‘Angel and Abyss’
The experimental contours of ‘Like Rats’ and Boris leaving you a bit dizzied? Then let’s return to metal’s roots — or at least, an updated form of them. Spirit Adrift is the contemporary act that owes the biggest debt to bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, creating massive slabs of noise and cleaned-up howls. It’s metal sung straight from the soul, tear-stained and desperate.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Hawkwind, Bell Witch, King Woman
Eyehategod — ‘Kill Your Boss’
There’s perhaps no band on the planet that sound as downright evil as Eyehategod. Emerging from the American sludge movement, drawing on both politics and downright anarchism, the band come at every song sideways, with their antlers raised. It’s ugly and it’s disturbing, and it’ll strip the skin clean off your ears.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Crowbar, Acid Bath, Grief
Cattle Decapitation — ‘Bring Back The Plague’
Everything we’ve heard so far has been reasonably slow-paced — at least when compared to Cattle Decapitation, one of the pioneering groups of early thousands metal. Combining impossibly fast guitars with screamed vocals and lyrics targeted against the meat production industry (and, to be honest, the human race generally), they’re the most extreme band on this list so far.
To that end, newcomers would do well to start with ‘Bring Back The Plague’, given that its back half slows down into a series of interlocked howls.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Lord Mantis, Cloud Rat, Carcass
Sleep — ‘Dopesmoker’
Now you’ve got this far, you might as well utterly submerge yourself in the genre with some of the most blackened, slow-motion metal in the game: Sleep’s ‘Dopesmoker’. An hour-long serve of unabated sludge metal, it’s proof of the genre’s inventiveness and life, a winding road that slowly builds itself to one of the most shattering crescendos that the genre has ever produced.
Who makes music like Sleep, inside metal or out of it? Listen to the whole thing in one long go, and then spend the rest of your life chasing the high of that first ecstatic moment when it came into your ears.
If this is your jam, you’d also like: Monolord, Conan, Pallbearer
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee and a metal obsessive. He tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.