Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rock You To Hell (and 24 of the other greatest metal songs of all time)

Growing up in high school, I was not a U2 guy, even when everyone else was ga-ga over The Joshua Tree.
I distinctly remember sitting in the band room before school and arguing, vehemently, about why Helloween was a better band than U2. (No, I didn't get many dates in high school.)
The thing is, I still believe that, and I'm a reasonably normal human being these days. I just believe that heavy metal is probably the greatest popular music ever created. 
If you agree, you can keep reading. If you don't, you can keep reading, too, if you're looking to expand your horizons. If you think that's just about the funniest thing you've ever heard, you can keep reading, too, only keep your U2 comments to yourself. Here's 25 of the best heavy metal songs ever.
Just like last time — and I'm not gonna link it since all you have to do is scroll down like a few feet to see my last entry — there are some rules:
• I tried to include only one song per group. This was difficult, since honestly I could fill a list of 25 with Metallica, Iron Maiden and, yes, Helloween, but that's not the idea. The idea is to give some pretty great bands their due, and maybe get you to download one or two on iTunes. I had no trouble finding 25 signature songs.
• This is a heavy metal list, so I stayed away from hair metal songs or groups I've previously mentioned in the last list. I plan on doing a thrash list, since that genre holds a special place in my heart, so RELAX SLAYER/ANTHRAX/ETC FANS I WILL GET TO YOU I PROMISE.
• Almost all of these songs are 20 years old. That's sad to me. My last list, the thrash list, will have some new (NOT Nu) metal in it, but in terms of good heavy metal, power metal, whatever, it's just not made much any longer. There are some good bands out there, such as Hammerfall, but they're not producing classics.
• This is MY list, so it's not like some Hall of Fame list of the Greatest Metal Songs Of All Time. It's a geeky, fun list and a chance for me to write about some bands I've loved, OK? These aren't in order either. 
• Seriously, relax, Slayer fans. I know that's hard for you.
Here we go:

• "I'm Alive" — Helloween
Metal bands sure have some stupid band names. Savatage? Leatherwolf? Megadeth? Really? But no name probably misrepresented itself more than Helloween. People snickered in a sort of scared way when I named them among my favorite bands in high school. HELL-o-ween? Can't you just hear SNL's church lady? SATAN? 
Yet Helloween never did take itself too seriously. WAY less seriously than many other heavy metal bands, especially those that leaned to the speed metal side (Slayer, for instance, could not find a spoonful of irony in itself despite the fact that the guitarist wore a wristband with spikes long enough to barbecue a turkey).
No, Helloween was funny. They wrote about Charlie Brown and a prince who couldn't get it up and "Dr. Stein," a scientist who let his funny creatures run into the night. They also wrote this inspiring number. It's the first song I heard from Helloween, an album I bought simply because it got good reviews and there was an advertisement in Hit Parader that made them sound like an Iron Maiden-type band. Their goofiness, just like Anthrax's, never took away from the fact that this band could shred and yet include more catchy melodies than Def Leppard. 
There haven't been many more consistent metal bands in the last 25 years than Helloween. Their last three albums, starting from the mid-2000s, were all outstanding, and I can't even say that about Iron Maiden. 
P.S. I'm making three exceptions to my thrash metal list. Iron Maiden, Metallica and Helloween all could be considered speed or thrash metal bands in one form or another, but in many ways they are also heavy metal bands. Besides, they are so great they deserve to be on two lists.

• "Future World" — Pretty Maids
Remember what I said about stupid band names? 
Anyway, Pretty Maids was even stranger than its name. Their lead singer had two voices, a silky classic rock-kind of voice that was nothing special, and some sort of growl that sounded like Joey Tempest of Europe trying to act tough. He shifted from one to another depending on how aggressive the music was behind him. Somehow it worked, especially on this song, because his vocals matched it perfectly. You had a great piano riff, then a guitar, then piano again, and all together, this mess became a great song, one of my favorites of all time. Their whole album, "Future World," was really pretty good, and against all odds, they had a great song, "Savage Heart," on their next album.
This is exactly the kind of band that would crack non-metal fans up, but you guys thought Erasure was a great group, so that makes us even.

• "Electric Eye" — Judas Priest
Yes, I know "You Got Another Thing Comin'" is a great song. I agree. Yet I love the tone this song sets for "Screaming For Vengeance," Priest's best album (even better than the fantastic "British Steel") and easily one of the best metal albums of all time. "Electric Eye" is fast and hard and driving and ominous, especially with that majestic opener (which the band, for some reason, called "The Hellion" but really is just an extension of this track). "Riding on the Wind" follows, which is a great running song and one of my favorites, too. God this band had some great songs. Why isn't Priest in the Hall of Fame again? Well, at least Depeche Mode isn't either. 

• "Rising Force" — Yngwie Malmsteen
I really wanted to put "You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget" on here, and if you want to switch the two songs around, I'm cool with that. But this is the best track from what I consider to be Yngwie's best album. He had actual songs on this album and an actual singer, Joe Lynn Turner from Rainbow (who was not Rainbow's best singer but still was OK), rather than just an excuse to play scales like really, really fast over and over. To be honest, even "You Don't Remember" is that. I always had a soft spot for guitarists who could play really fast, and so Yngwie makes this list even if he's the Dave Kingman of metal.

• "We Must Carry On" - Chastain
Speaking of flashy guitarists, welcome to my favorite of the 80s. I don't know if I would put him there any longer, but as I said, in high school, I had a serious crush on guitarists who could rip it. I loved instrumental albums too, and so I listened to Tony MacAlpine and Joe Satriani as well as Yngwie. I discovered David T. Chastain by chance.
I bought a ton of tapes in high school, and sometimes I would buy an album because it was in the metal section at Musicland and I liked the cover. That's seriously all it took. That's why I bought this Chastain tape, and I remember popping it in and being blown away.
Chastain, as it turns out, had one of the most aggressive vocalists for a power metal band at the time. A lot of it was screaming, the kind Hetfield did in his "Ride the Lightning" days. It took me a year after wearing out this album, "The 7th of Never," to figure out the vocalist was, in fact, female. She was fantastic and probably responsible for my love for female metal vocalists even to this day (Doro Pesch was another reason).
David T. had another band, CJSS, which was more of a hair metal band, though it was still far heavier than Poison or White Lion. I preferred Chastain because it was almost thrash but not quite and David T. played about as fast and almost as well as even the flashiest guitarists. He also put out a few mediocre instrumental records. I went back in Chastain's catalouge, as was my habit if I loved a record, and found that Chastain put out two other great records. If you want, head to iTunes. I'd also recommend the songs "There Will Be Justice," "Voice of the Cult," "One Day To Live," "Black Knight" and anything off the 7th of Never, including the title track. These songs, surprisingly, have aged well and could hold their own against many of the modern metal bands.
Had you even heard of Chastain? I'm curious.

• "Shot in the Dark" — Ozzy
Was Ozzy a hair metal group or a heavy metal group? I'm not sure. But I didn't give Ozzy his due last time, and so I figure I need to mention him here. "Crazy Train" is too overplayed for me to recommend it any longer, despite its brilliance, and so I'm going with one of Ozzy's lesser-known but still great hits. This one is catchy, far catchier than most of the hair metal hits, and yet it's heavier, too.
It's too bad Ozzy is seen as this goofy guy now, the way most people see Stevie Wonder, or at least those who don't know his earlier catalogue. In this case, it's Ozzy's fault, as the drugs have punched too many holes in his brain. Yet Ozzy, like Stevie, was a badass at his peak and a talented one at that.

• "Rise or Fall" — Leatherwolf
Leatherwolf sounded like a tough metal band. It's a WOLF. In LEATHER. RAWR! But they were a gimmick. They had three guitars. THREE! Wow! Triple the POWER.
OK, seriously. It was a little weird, but it worked, especially since they could really play. Their sound wasn't as crunchy, and it was painfully obvious that at times they just got in each other's way, which was inevitable. But they could also sing, and this was one of those huge, vocal tunes that made them sound like a choir (Metal really has serious roots in classical and opera music), in the "Flight of Icarus" vein. Leatherwolf had a much better career than it deserved. Its follow-up album was solid, too, and in some ways heavier and more consistent than its self-titled debut. They still release songs today, but they're not worth buying, save for one, "Behind The Gun." Unfortunately I don't see them on iTunes, and Amazon sells their CDs for about, oh, $50 for an import. I did love my Leatherwolf, but it's not worth that.

• "The Trooper" — Iron Maiden
A half-dozen Iron Maiden songs could, and really should, make this list. "Hallowed By Thy Name." "Aces High." "Two Minutes To Midnight." "Moonchild." "Wasted Years." On and on and on, as Bruce himself has sang once or twice. "The Trooper" may not even be my favorite track on "Piece of Mind," and "Powerslave" is probably my favorite album by Iron Maiden. But this song is so iconic. And it's the first Iron Maiden song I heard that made me reconsider the band, which I had ignored for some time in high school (I always thought they were a little weird before I realized how amazing they are). Iron Maiden is my second favorite band of all time. If they don't make the Hall of Fame I'm gonna be pissed, and yet I get this feeling that they won't. I don't think enough people took them seriously enough, which is a shame. Iron Maiden probably was hurt by the heavy metal label more than most, if not THE most, since they had one of the best singers in history and really, really great players and longevity and influence. All the pieces are there. I guess people just can't look beyond Eddie.

• "Bring Me To Life" — Evanescence
Remember what I said about female metal vocalists? I know this song probably doesn't deserve to be on the list, and I'll probably take some crap for it, but this is not just a great song, it's a classic. Amy Lee has a powerful voice, one of the best I've heard, male or female, and this song is far heavier than many of the pop metal classics. I think it qualifies, despite the fact that it is a tad overwrought and dramatic.

• "Rock You To Hell" — Grim Reaper
Grim Reaper was a goofy metal band known for one minor (very minor) hit, "See You In Hell," before they released this album. The vocalist, Steve Grimmett, sang in a high pitch, as if he was in a hair band, only it had an edge to it, like a wolf's howl. And the guitarist, Nick Bowcott, was actually a great player. So they were good. And then this album hit the shelves. Wow. The album just DESTROYED my speakers. RCA probably wondered what the hell hit them. Great production turned this into one of the heaviest records that wasn't thrash in the 80s, and this song is probably the best of the bunch, although three or four others come close. It compares well with today's metal too. Give it a try.
Grimmett later sang for Onslaught, a middling speed metal band that got lucky enough to hire him, and as a result, the one album with him as a frontman turned out to be a great one. You'll see a song from that record on my next list.

• "Enter Sandman" — Metallica
There are two Metallicas. There's pre-Black album and post-Black album. I seem to be one of the few who loves both. I prefer pre-Black, of course, like most hardcore metal fans, but the Black album is one of the better metal albums of all time, and this song is one of the best tunes. Great, crunchy, catchy riff from a band that still manages to be heavier than any other mainstream rock act in America.

• "Hall of the Mountain King" — Savatage
Savatage had two lead singers, and both were great, but I prefer the Jon Olivia era, though the song "Edge of Thorns" almost made the list. Why? Well, this album and its title track are classics, the perfecg balance of heavy crunch and melody. Savatage wasn't afraid of the fact that metal bands owe a lot to classical music, and the real "Hall of the Mountain King" plays on guitar as a perfect lead-in to this song, which contains one of the best metal riffs you'll ever hear. This album also had "24 Hours Ago" and "Strange Wings," and the later on band also recorded the classic "Gutter Ballet" and "When The Crowds Are Gone" and the interesting concept album "Streets" before Olivia left.
Fun Fact: Savatage's song based on "Carol of the Bells," Christmas Eve/Sarajevo, on its concept album "Dead Winter Dead," is that song you hear all the time at Christmas by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

• "March of the Saint" — Armored Saint
Before John Bush became Anthrax's lead singer for a time, he led this band (and I believe he does again), and while Bush was overrated and underrated as a metal singer at the same time, his band did produce this whopper, a hard-driving, somewhat underground metal classic. I almost put Anthrax's "Only" here because I wanted a song sang by Bush, but this one wins out, and like others on this list, holds up well today.

• "Pull Me Under" — Dream Theater
Picking my favorite Dream Theater song is really hard. When Dream Theater releases a new album, I'll buy it, no questions asked, and I can say that about only a handful of groups. I love their technical yet melodic songs, even if some are 18 minutes or longer, and their last two albums were outstanding. I have so many other favorites — "In the Name of God," "Panic Attack," "Nightmare To Remember," "Lines in the Sand," plus the whole Metropolis concept album — that picking this one seems almost unfair. It's the band's only real hit, and it's also their least complicated number, something a lot of bands could have done, which you can't say about many other of their songs. But it's also their catchiest and was the reason I discovered Dream Theater, as I heard it on Headbanger's Ball one night.
I would honestly want to hang out with Dream Theater one day, and it would be in the studio, not backstage, to see their sheet music and watch them play it. I guess Dream Theater brings out the band geek in me.

• "Eyes of a Stranger" — Queensryche
Yes, I like "Queen of the Ryche" as well as anyone, but Queensryche had only one truly great album, and it's so great it's one of the best ever, and so I wanted to honor "Operation: Mindcrime," and this is probably the group's best song anyway. Geoff Tate wails on this, and I doubt any other vocalist could have done this song justice, given the highs and lows a singer has to tackle for it to work as well as it does. I refuse to put "Silent Lucidity" on here since it's a great song but also a Pink Floyd ripoff and it's been way, way overplayed.

• "Rainbow in the Dark" — Dio
Speaking of epic vocalists...
I could put 15 Dio songs on here, and a few from his work with Black Sabbath, and no one would blame me for it. Dio would have been a great thrash vocalist, a great hair metal singer and a great hard rock singer, but he did his best work on the kind of grandiose heavy metal songs like the one here. I'm picking this one because it's off his best album, "Holy Diver," and I think it's the best example of how Dio wasn't afraid to use melody almost on a pop music level (this song, after all, has keyboards as a main instrument, not just for flourishes). But he also turned those songs into metal classics because of his fantastic, soaring and sandpaper voice. Dio really needs to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The metal world misses him.

• "Chop Suey!" — System of a Down
System of a Down is one of the few modern metal bands that would fit in fine with many of the bands listed here, and yet they don't sound like any other band I've ever heard. At times speed metal, melodic Nu metal and good 'ole hard rock, this song represents them more than any other, though it may not even be their best. All of their albums were excellent, and Serj, one of the better metal vocalists in recent times, had a nice solo career as well.

• "Rusty Cage" — Soundgarden
I don't hate the grunge era as much as most hardcore metal fans. There was some great music made, and much of it was harder and more ferocious than most of the hair metal era. Nirvana and Pearl Jam were two of my (obvious) favorites, but I can't put them in the metal category, not really even close. Alice in Chains comes closer, and so does Stone Temple Pilots, if for no other reason than Scott Weiland teamed up with Slash and the Guns guys to make a great Velvet Revolver record. But I can't do it. I like the bands, but I can't do it.
Soundgarden, though, seems to fit, and this song, which seems born to inspire, not depress me, hangs just fine with the others in this group. Chris Cornell was a badass singer before he cheesed out. The grunge era was not good for metal, but it did produce some good music.

• "Badlands" — Metal Church
If there was one band that seemed to straddle the line between heavy metal and thrash better than any other, it was Metal Church. The band toured with speed and thrash metal bands, played it (very) occasionally and never recorded a sappy love ballad (in fact much of its subject matter was as thought-provoking or disturbing, depending on who you were, as other thrash bands). But Metal Church was at its core a heavy metal band, not a one-dimensional thrash band. As a result, it released some pretty brilliant albums. The band, like Savatage, didn't lose a step and may have gained a couple when it lost its original lead singer, David Wayne, who was good, for the great Mike Howe. I chose this song because it's catchy, hard and complex, much like the rest of its excellent work.

• "Am I Evil?" — Diamond Head/Metallica
Metallica's remake of this classic is probably why I started to truly love Metallica. I thought they wrote it until I read some interviews about their influences and they mentioned this band called Diamond Head. The original is just as good, though I don't think it's better.

• "Painted Skies" — Crimson Glory
If you can get past the terrible name (which shouldn't be too much of a problem given half the band names on this list) and the fact that the lead singer sounds like a much cheesier version of Geoff Tate, Crimson Glory put out a KILLER album called "Transcendence." The album had this song on it as well as "Lonely," and I honestly had a hard time deciding which one to put on here.

"War Pigs" — Black Sabbath gets on here by default. I probably should put Led Zep on here too but I don't consider them heavy metal per se, just a killer hard rock band, maybe the best band of all time. Black Sabbath, though, is probably the first true metal band and remains an influence for most bands today. Doom Metal, Black Metal, Speed Metal, Heavy Metal and, yes, even hair metal owe their left nuts to Black Sabbath. I think this is their best song but there are many others that could have made the list, both with Ozzy or Dio.

"Highway to Hell" — AC/DC
AC/DC made the hair metal list, but I never really considered them a hair band, just the song I chose. So I'll put them on here, too, with their finest track, though about 20 others could have made it (including a close second, "Long Way To The Top," because they were ballsy enough to use bagpipes). Probably the only band to have lasted as long as they did without really changing one lick of who they were or their sound. This band, like Slayer, never really experimented, but it's proof of the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" cliche. Quite frankly other bands should have followed that lead (ahem, Metallica).

• "Sober" — Tool
Tool's probably the only band that emerged out of the NuMetal/Grunge era that most metal fans respect and even like. Tool seems to attract a different audience. You probably wouldn't find many casual Tool fans at a Slayer concert. But you might find a Slayer fan at a Tool concert. I'm a big Tool fan, both for the musicianship — drummer Danny Carey is one of the best in history, and Maynard's vocals are top-notch — and for the long, complex songs with great lyrics. The album that carries this song is my favorite, though "Aenima" almost made this list for its funny yet fierce lyrics and gut-punching music. Plus no other band sounded like Tool, and that's truly amazing.

• "In The Fallout" — Fifth Angel
Fifth Angel probably had no real shot at big commercial success, given its power metal preference, but that's a big reason I liked this band. Ken Mary, the drummer for Chastain, was the drummer here, too, and Ted Pilot's vocals were as good as many bands. This song was my favorite. The lyrics helped feed my apocalyptic fetish as well.

• "Death to All But Metal" — Steel Panther
No explanation needed.