Metallica's Greatest Riffs, As Chosen By Ultimate Guitar

UG picks 15 of the best from the mighty Metallica.

Ultimate Guitar

Last week, to celebrate the release of new Metallica single "Hardwired," we asked what you thought were the greatest riffs the 'Tallica boyz had ever written. You responded in droves, and boy did you respond well!

Ultimate Guitar users, it's fair to say that you know your Metallica. In fact, you motherfuckers should be commended for your in depth grasp of the band's back catalogue.

The fifteen riffs that follow were your top choices and each one is testament to the undeniable might of the 'Tallica riff engine. It's a near flawless list that balances some of the band's most iconic chuggers with deep cuts that are no less impacting in their brilliance.

So let's kick things off. Strap yourself in - we've got fifteen slabs of unrelenting riffarama to get through.

14. "Fight Fire With Fire" (Main Riff)/ "Leper Messiah" (2:40 Riff)

At joint number 14, with 23 votes apiece, you've chosen the main riff from "Ride the Lightning" opener "Fight Fire With Fire" and the riff that drops at the 2:40 mark in "Leper Messiah" from "Master of Puppets."

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13. "Disposable Heroes" (7:37 Riff)

Next up, with 25 votes, it's the outro riff from 1986's "Disposable Heroes." Maiden 95 states that "James's picking patterns took that song to the next level" and we're inclined to agree with him.

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 12. "Broken, Beat and Scarred" (0:59 Riff)

The most recent entry on the list, with 26 votes, is the pre-verse riff from 2008's "Broken, Beat and Scarred." "Death Magnetic" was the record that proved Metallica still had plenty of gas in the tank, something of which that riff is exemplar.

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10. Master of Puppets (Main Riff)/ Trapped Under Ice (1:48 Riff)

 Another tie - with 29 votes a piece we've got the iconic main riff from "Master of Puppets" and the lesser known, but still excellent 1:48 riff from "Trapped Under Ice," which DeaThrash describes as "the epitome of Thrash Metal."

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9. "Sad But True" (Main Riff)

FistOfFury says the main riff from 1991's "Sad But True" is the "heaviest riff known to mankind." Given that the riff got 34 votes, it looks like plenty of you feel the same way.

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7. "Seek and Destroy" (Main Riff)/ "Four Horsemen" (3:27 Riff)

The second-to last tie on our list with two cuts from "Kill 'Em All" - 37 votes apiece for the main riff from "Seek and Destroy" and the 3:27 (faintly "Sweet Home Alabama" sounding) riff from "Four Horsemen." Metallica tend to skip the latter in concert these days. Maybe if they see this list, they'll reconsider...

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5. "Creeping Death" (3:39 Riff)/"Frayed Ends of Sanity" (4:04 Riff)

In joint fifth place, we've got two ends of the Metallica spectrum. While the riff from the "die, by my hand" section of "Creeping Death" is one of the band's simplest riffs, the thrash metal blast that kicks in at the 4:04 section of "Frayed Ends..." is among the most complicated. Both, though, are excellent, proved by the 42 votes they each received.

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4. "Outlaw Torn" (Main Riff)

"I like 'The Outlaw Torn's' main riff. Does that make me a heretic?" No Tauryus, it does not. And, with 46 votes, it's clear that the underrated "Load" epic is a favorite of the Ultimate Guitar community.

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3. "Wherever I May Roam" (Main Riff)

 Hurtling into the top three, 68 of you were championing the massive sounding main riff from "Wherever I May Roam." Clearly one of the finest moments on "The Black Album."

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2. "Blackened" (Main Riff)

Just missing the top spot, the main riff from "And Justice For All" opener "Blackened" was a prime choice for 87 of you, and we can see why. It's an absolute motherfucker - a fist to the face on what might be Metallica's darkest opus. Plenty of you were also championing the 2:35 riff and the 5:33 riff as well. What we can take from this folks is that "Blackened" is a fucking classic full stop.

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1. "Damage, Inc." (3:14 Riff)

It's fitting that the greatest Metallica riff comes from what is probably their greatest album, "Master of Puppets." Closing track "Damage, Inc." is one of the greatest tracks in the 'Tallica back catalogue, and according to a whopping 91 of you folks, the colossal thunder lizard guitar blast that Papa Het drops at 3:14 is the band's finest riff moment ever. And who are we to argue with you. Devastating in its proficiency, it's testament to band's well-earned status among metal's greats.

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75 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Hetfield is literally a riff factory.
    Harvester of Sorrow anyone??
    I love the versions of that song from the "Live Shit" albums. When the band pauses after the solo/before going to the final verse. And James screams an extended "All"
    IIRC, those who mentioned it also mentioned other riffs in the same comment, so it didn't count.
    I still think Shortest Straw's main riff is one of the greatest of all time.
    having heard And Justice For All before Master of Puppets, i always identify the riff from Leper Messiah (the number 14 pic) as the Shortest Straw riff
    Still can't wrap my head round the Damage Inc riff. My wrist just melts. All hail the Het
    greif hammer
    Funnily enough, I believe Kirk wrote that riff, I could be wrong though. I swear I read it somewhere in ol Metallica folklore.
    Kirks first riff ever contributed was Enter Sandman...
    greif hammer
    Incorrect. Riffs like the "Die by my hand" riff are his, which obviously came earlier than Sandman. You might be suprised how many times his name is in the early album's writing credits.
    Diego Carnero
    I've been learning The Frayed Ends of Sanity this summer and that riff is the most difficult thing in that song for me. But man... when I pull it off
    Every second of this song is perfect. Such a good song for any guitarist to take apart and learn. Godspeed, friend.
    Has there been a list like this for Sabbath? Might be a good time to do it while they're on their final tour.
    I didn't really appreciate the Damage Inc. 3:14 riff until I heard Dream Theater's version. I'm glad I checked it out, because now I realize how much the riff fucking slays! I never headbanged so hard to Dream Theater before, so of course I went back and checked out Metallica's original.
    Clearly they are just a riff machine when you start picking exact moments in songs! I can't agree with much of this cause clearly a lot of these riffs have similar feels so would've liked to of seen a wider variety but still fun. Can't go too wrong.
    The intro riff to Justice is one of my faves. Especially the switch between clean and distorted. Just proves the brilliance on the album.
    TO me the 3 that stand out the most are the second riff in master of puppets right after the descending chromatic one, battery main riff and enter sandman (it's iconic love it or hate it) with special mention to the ride the lightning "spider riff" when the speed up
    Only 2 from AJFA? UG members let me down man! That's there best album!
    You guys at UG need to do a second list. 'Tallica has been a riff factory since early 80's. A big percentage of us as guitarists learned how to play from Metallica's riff-o-rama. So, fuckin' please. Do another fuckin' list.
    The MoP riff at 6:19 has got to be my favorite in the whole song, but each riff there is pretty damn amazing.
    I didnt vote but I am glad Broken beat and scarred got on there that song made me think they haven't lost it yet.
    When the article list 'the iconic main riff from "Master of Puppets"', which one are they referring to? Is it the intro riff, the chorus riff or the verse riff?
    i love so much that "fight fire with fire" made the list - one of my favorite riffs of all time. I know that we all hate the overplayed "enter sandman" because it's overplayed but, c'mon, that's an incredible riff
    "Devastating in its proficiency, it's testament to band's well-earned status among metal's greats." With how often I see people misusing apostrophes these days, not just in social media, but in advertising and other such places where you'd think there'd be editors to catch it, I want to thank you guys for writing this sentence without fucking up the apostrophes. Too bad you forgot an "a" and a "the".
    I thought for sure the ending riff of seek and destroy would be on this list