Top 10 Metal Guitar Riffs

What are the greatest metal riffs of all time? See the results of our most popular poll of all time right here.

Ultimate Guitar

What is the greatest metal riff of all time?

That's what we asked UG readers this week, and it ended up being our most hotly-debated poll of all time. Hundreds of nominations were posted, thousands of votes were registered, and there was some heated debate on what the word "riff" really means.

In our opinion, a good metal riff acts like a call-to-arms for metal heads, making you raise a fist and cheer. It's going to be heavy, catchy, and flat-out awesome when you hear it looping.

We've been through your votes, and can safely say that you've done a sterling job of picking out a great top 10. Good work, soldiers.

But not everyone will agree, and we'd love to hear about your reaction to the list and how you would change it. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Meanwhile, here's your top 10 metal riffs of all time. Enjoy!

10. Diamond Head "Am I Evil?"

A dramatic Sabbath-inspired riff which could well be the sound of dark clouds racing at you from the horizon. The song has been a classic in metal circles winces its release in 1980, but it was Metallica's cover on 1998 album "Garage Inc." that brought it to international fame.

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9. Judas Priest "Breaking the Law"

K.K. Downing's intro is a classic moment in heavy metal. The band have been playing this song live for so long that it's evolved over time and has additional solos added and taken away - and new guitarist Richie Faulkner has ditched Downing's original solo completely.

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8. Ozzy Osbourne "Crazy Train"

Ozzy's debut single from his first solo album had to be really damn good to prove he could have a stand-alone career. It worked, and Randy Rhoads' riffage was essential in getting him to the finish line of success.

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7. Pantera "Cowboys from Hell"

Not every anthem needs a sing-along vocal line (though Phil Anselmo does a stellar job at the front). No, this anthem is all about that opening riff which may as well spell out P-A-R-T-Y in morse code to metal heads.

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6. Megadeth "Tornado of Souls"

It's not clear exactly what riff the original nomination was referring to, because this song is packed with guitar hooks worth head banging to. Let's pretend the whole song is a riff, then put it on repeat and rock out forever. Who's with us?

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5. Slayer "Angel of Death"

Even today, 27 years after its original releasen in 1986, the sheer pace of this intro gets your heart racing and blood boiling. It's on another level, and always will be.

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4. Mastodon "Blood and Thunder"

At the time their awesome "Leviathan" album was released, the band said that writing this opening riff was the moment the album was born and guided the sound of the entire record - and perhaps the rest of their career.

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3. Metallica "Master of Puppets"

There are so many damn good riffs in this song that we're just going to have to leave it to you to pick your favorite. The only way to solve this is to run a "Best Riff in Master of Puppets" poll - nominations in the comments! (And we're only half joking, because that would actually be rad).

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2. Iron Maiden "The Trooper"

One of the few Maiden songs to get lots of airplay on US radio, making it one of their best known songs - and when you put a monster metal riff like this on the airwaves, you get thousands of young minds hooked on metal in an instant.

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1. Black Sabbath "Iron Man"

Tony Iommi is, and always will be, the real-life Iron Man for writing this riff (which your poll proves is the greatest metal riff in history). Ozzy Osbourne gets credit for coming up with the name, though; upon hearing it he said "it sounds like a big iron bloke walking about." Good point, Ozzy. You're surprisingly good with words sometimes.

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That's the end of your official UG top 10 metal riffs. What do you think of the final list? Share your reaction and improvements in the comments.

319 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Not bad, UG. I can think of worse lists.
    Of course, all of these are great riffs! But I want to mention another great riffs by the bands which are not included in the list (maybe not greatest (most of them are almost unknown bands), but memorable - and my personal favourites - I hope you'll check them out): Gojira - "Flying Whales" Summoning - "Long Lost To Where No Pathway Goes" Burnt By The Sun "Forlani" (or "Battleship") Callisto - "Worlds Collide" Electric Wizard "Vinum Sabbathi" Converge - "Heartless" Sepultura - "Refuse/Resist" Meshuggah - "Rational Gaze" Children Of Bodom - "Downfall" Opeth - "Blackwater Park" Rabies Caste - "Out Of The Solar System" Darkthrone - "Transylvanian Hunger" Cradle Of Filth - "Summer Dying Fast" Death "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow" Cannibal Corpse - "Hammer Smashed Face" Sodom - "Sodomy And Lust" Tiamat - "Whatever That Hurts" Rorcal - "Ataraxia" Manes - "Maanes Natt" Pain - "It's Only Them" Brutal Truth - "Dead Smart" Impaled Nazarene - "Armageddon Death Squad" (or "Blood Is Thicker Than Water") Neurosis - "Souls At Zero" Raging Speedhorn - "How Much Can A Man Take" Solace - "King Alcohol" (or "Loving Sickness / Burning Fuel")
    I literally know only 1 song on that list.
    ))) But believe me, these riffs are really great - no matter that the bands are not well known.
    Sure, I'll check them out. I'd put Heaviest matter of the Universe by Gojira in place of Flying Whales though.
    Yes, the riff in "Heaviest Matter Of The Universe" is so awesome too - as well as many from "From Mars To Sirius")
    Better than me. I know none of the songs on there, but I heard the bands before on here. Then again, I don't really listen to much metal, so that may be why I never heard those songs.
    Founded in 1921, Gucci UK is one of the world's most famous fashion outlet Under the creative directorship of Ms Frida Giannini, the men's collections remain true to the brand's original sense of glossy luxury, updated with a rockn'roll outlet The bags and accessories are superb.
    I don't understand why you got downvoted so much. You never said that the list was bad, or that these riffs were any better, you were just stating your opinion. Cool list, by the way.
    I know quite a few of these and I don't think any of them are my favourites from that band, or even the album (Opeth, Meshuggah, Electric Wizard etc.) However, good list IMO
    Why is this getting downvotes??? He's not arguing with the list he's just adding some lesser known riffs that we might enjoy. What's wrong with that?? N-D, Thanks Man, I'm gonna check these out!
    Thank you very much! I hope you (and some other music lovers) will appreciate at least some of them
    Wizard in black or Dopethrone - Electric Wizard Living after midnight -Judas Priest Disposable heros - metallica These should be honorable mentions. (Or at least Living after midnight)
    this list is an abomination. there is no way riffs 8, 9 and 10 got onto this list. Really average guys.
    Most of them are mainstream (insert subgenre)metalbands you mean... cannibal corpse, children of bodom, sepultura, meshuggah, pain, cradle,opeth, gojira.... xD
    They were not mainstream when they were written. The greatness of the riff has made it mainstream. Maybe Gojira will have a riff played in every sporting arena in 25 years, it will then become mainstream.
    For whatever reason, I feel that "Bleed" by Meshuggah should be here. I realize that they have one on your list, but it's still pretty awesome. Especially that it uses rhythm to distinguish itself as opposed to simply melody.
    "Especially that it uses rhythm to distinguish itself as opposed to simply melody." As opposed to the rest of their music?
    Awesome list dude. The riffs in this article are great but it's always nice when more obscure forms of metal get a mention from someone.
    very impressed with the mention of FLYING WHALES and scavenger of human sorrow there! also master of puppets is number one for me!!
    Bodom has got some of the best riffs ive ever heard pick almost any song
    As much as I love Vinum Sabbathi (and Funeralopolis) I'd say Electric Wizard's best riff was in either Son Of Nothing, Demon Lung, or Supercoven.
    (heaviest band on the planet)
    Yes, Electric Wizard have a lot of wonderful riffs! That's just my favourite from them - but I really like their music)
    So many bands you missed. Dying Fetus, Cattle Decapitation, Cynic, Exodus, Atheist, Between the Buried and Me, Blotted Science, Bonded by Blood, Buckethead, Cryptopsy, Devin Townsend and Strapping Young Lad, Exhorder, Gorguts, King Diamond, Macabre, Mercyful Fate, Nile, Obscura, Powermad, Racer X, Sadus, Suffocation, System of a Down, Tenet, Testament, Warbringer, Watchtower, Vektor, 3 Inches of Blood. The list of great metal riffs is endless.
    I wish Converge made it, but of course UG is all about thrash metal.
    there are literally only 3 thrash songs in the list what are you on about?
    They are mostly all thrash, besides Mastodon. Needs more credit for other bands, like in the grunge or hardcore genres. Thats all Im saying and thats what makes this list so boring to me.
    but it's a top 10 metal riff list and you can't really have grunge or hardcore on there. As for the entries: Iron man, The Trooper,Crazy train, breaking the law and am i evil? are considered classic metal not thrash (5/10 songs). Angel of Death, Tornado of souls and Master of puppets are thrash. cowboys from hell is considered groove metal. Blood and thunder is considered sludge metal. I agree with you about having more variety on the list but it's a popularity contest at the end of the day and most people find common ground with the more classic songs
    Thrash metal has some of the best riffs, so what, and let's see, the first 2 are classic metal and heavy metal(\m/ UP THE IRONS \m/)
    A lot of those are brilliant riffs, but to be the greatest of all time they really need to have a massive impact on a sound or genre. All of the ones that made the list did and while a few of yours did, I think you could only really argue a case for Rational Gaze and Refuse/Resist in that they had an equally important impact on metal as a whole. Particularly Rational Gaze.
    Of course, I agree with you! But this is not a list of the greatest riffs of all time - this is just my personal favorites
    A great list and I'm surprised Mastodon made the Top 5. Unexpected but...good. And I prefer Painkiller to Breaking The Law, but at least Priest made it.
    black sabbath being first predictable...glad to see tornado of souls made it
    Predictable? Maybe. Well deserved? Damn straight! After all if it wasn't for Sabbath, and especially Tony Iommi, we wouldn't have all these bands/riffs to argue about.
    But Sabbath have like 25 riffs at least as good or better (yeah yeah yeah just my opinion) but we can never get past "Iron Man" for some reason.
    Agreed....I was expecting Sabbath at 1 but was also expecting a different song. No complaints though
    its a really great list, i was expecting gojira-flying whales and orion is imo metallicas best riff (it deserved top 10 just as much as mop), but still great list
    Damn... Forgot about Orion... Well, when there comes a poll about best bass riff, then it'll probably get the credit it deserves - Or at least I hope so...
    Good mention on Orion, but I prefer to live is to die for some reason. Dunno why but that main riff just does it for me
    I think with a list with so many great options a top 20 would have been good, or at least an "honourable mentions" section. That aside good list of great riffs.
    im glad enter sandman didnt win lol good song but nowhere near the best metal riff ever
    It seriously doesnt desirve to since its stolen from 'Tapping into the emotional void', you can find it on youtube
    Anyone else notice that only one song on here is from this century? I like classic metal as much as the next guy, but there are a lot of bands like As I Lay Dying, Killswitch Engage, Trivium, and Lamb of God, to name a few, all of whom have riffs that could rival any of the ones on this list.
    It's almost like people voted on it, and that's just how honest preferences worked out, but nah. None of those bands rival 'classic metal' because they forgot the old bands were also innovating as they went along. The majority of the best metal bands this century aren't the ones aping Pantera or Slayer. Those kinds of bands are hot for awhile, grace the covers of Revolver and such and then die down for the new trend, whether it's metalcore, djent, etc. Meanwhile the metal bands that are actually pushing the genre forward keep on trucking without losing a sweat and fans are left wondering where metal went every time it 'comes back'. That's just how opinions work. To you, all those bands are vital, to me, they're vapid and hollow, and besides Lamb of God, not a single one of them ever stood out to me. Lamb of God wore off on me the more I got into thrash, death metal and hardcore. They're barely on my radar now.
    It's weird because I think all the bands on this list are vapid and hollow. I really don't see the appeal of all this uninteresting dadrock any more. Sure, it would have been interesting in 1970, but we have more music now and a majority of it is superior (in my opinion, obviously). Each to their own though. I don't mean to be hostile, just remember that there are people, such as myself, that have the same opinion of your music that you do of the guy you're replying to's music.
    Obviously. Your opinion doesn't bother me, although I think people who call music 'dad rock' and act like it has a shelf life are only doing themselves a disservice, but like I said, doesn't bother me. I like death metal, I like prog rock, I like jazz, I like all kinds of music. Motorhead, Diamond Head and Mercyful Fate get me more pumped than a lot of big metal bands from the past 10 years do, and when I want to hear to modern metal, I'm more likely to turn to bands that are doing something different, like Ulcerate or something. Either way, complaining because you don't like a list that people voted on is stupid. I love death metal, but you don't see me knocking Ozzy because something I do like didn't make the bill. That said, 'dad rock' is a pretty stupid term. It'd be like me calling anything new or modern stupid teen metal, or hipster douchecore or something. Do I wait 30 years before I call it dad rock, or do I have to wait til production standards and music change so I can decide if it's expired? I'm only 23 years old for Christ's sake, my parents weren't listening to Diamond Head or Deep Purple, I can tell you that.
    Was expecting "Holy Diver" in there somewhere... The list good, nonetheless!
    Yeah or any Dio.. Rainbow in the dark is rather well known and for heavier and more moshpit-causing riffs you have Jesus, Mary and the holy ghost. Nice list anyway, but kinda expected Sabbath, Zeppelin (no need to have any sense or Metal, this is UG after all...) or Metallica to be in the top place
    It obviously had to be a sabbath riff. While Iron Man is a classic, Symptom of the Universe is my personal fav.
    What I find hilarious is people say things like "Bad list UG" on all these Top 10 articles. They didn't choose these entries, WE did. Us the users. If you don't think Black Sabbath deserved the top slot, tell that to all the 100+ users that voted it. Opinion is a fickle thing.
    Yes, you're absolutely right - it's common users opinion.
    And the common user's opinion tends to pump out ridiculously cliche lists.
    So? Is there a point there or are you just being random? People like what they like, all these bands in the top 10 got popular for a reason
    This list should be named "top 10 popular metal riffs". Seriously, there are millions of riffs out there, it's kinda disappointing to always see the same names over and over.
    Yes, unfortunately popularity is everything - at least the main reason to get more votes.
    One of the greatest riffs ever,that is not on the list is two notes. -0-0-1(b)0--0-1(b)0--0-1(b)0 "Re-spect . . . . Walk!"
    Good list, though I thought "Walk" would have made it.
    Walk is like the 'Smoke on the Water' of metal and it didn't end up on the list. Weird :o
    I highly doubt voters meant the intro to Angel of DEath. I think they were thinking of the crazy hammerpull riff halfway through.
    I was half-expecting an Alice in Chains riff. I know theyre considered grunge technically, but I really see them more as sludge metal. Rain When I Die, anyone? How about the brand new song, Stone
    Pretty good list. I would have picked Painkiller over Breaking the Law and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Heaven and Hell instead of Iron Man, but this is actually good.
    Yea, a decent list. I'd include "The Exorcist" by Possessed, though. EDIT: by "decent", I mean "not cringeworthy".
    Tool, Machine Head, Gojira, Disturbed? but hey, nice picture (Hetfield) lol
    Disturbed ? You are kiddin right ? There are no bands in the list like Children of Bodom,Testament,Overkill,Lamb Of God and a lot of more classy metal bands and you are talking about Disturbed .. lol man .. btw sorry for bad english
    Sorry but I cant name all bands in the world. And its bad to like bands like Disturbed or what?
    Schism could totally be on here, but I don't think Tool is metal enough to get votes on here.
    inb4 someone finds something to complain about
    Whats your profile picture about?
    Just go into the forums and search "Noddincap", "Nodding Cap", or something along those lines. You'll learn about one of the goofiest memes that came out of The Pit. =P
    Any time you see a UG list about metal you know it's all going to be obvious sh~t from 30 years ago.
    You do realize this list was voted on by UG members, right? Collectively, WE compiled it.
    I prefer Symphony of Destruction riffs than Tornado Of Souls
    My Last Words
    Dude.. The conjuring?
    In my opinion Tornado of Souls is the best Megadeth song ever. And what UG wrote about it is just the truth! SoD is dull and overplayed imho
    Countdown to Extinction! The intro bass riff is so epic, yet so simple.
    Yeah, you're right. It's also a long time favourite of me - as well as most from Killing is my business
    I would have put the Wasted Years riff over the Trooper but Maiden have too many Epic riffs!
    Great list! My personal favorite Priest riff is definitely Dissident Aggressor. Seems to often get overlooked.
    I personaly think that holy wars has a better riff than tornado of soul also the peince has a better riff than am i evil
    Great list, but I only disagree with Mastodon. It just doesn't stand out as much compared to the others (in my opinion of course), but whatever. The community made its choice.
    This might seem irrelevant, but I love when people base a band's relevance on how popular they are or whether or not they've heard of them. Newsflash, but pick any genre and chances are what you don't know about it could fill a warehouse, so I have no idea why recommendations get downvoted by 'metalheads' either too young to remember music more than 10 years old or who think a band can't be well known or influential without their tacit approval.
    Most of the bands on this list have better riffs in other songs, and as good as Sabbath are Iron Man is far from their best song and miles away from being the best metal riff. What about sweet leaf, symptom of the universe, children of the grave, the wizard or NIB? I'd rate mouth for war over Cowboys from hell and raining blood or behind the crooked cross over angel of death. Also, its hard to listen to tornado of souls with Mustaine's awful attempt at singing ruining it
    I definitely think this is a solid list, however, in my own personal opinion, I think Raining Blood by Slayer should be on the list, moreso than Angel of Death. Don't get me wrong, Angel of Death is sick, but that riff in Raining Blood is just so evil, it's pure metal.
    Before the crying's a list voted on by us, and no other riff "should be in there". We voted, the list is legit.
    I think Holy Wars should have made the list over Tornado. Also, Freya by The Sword deserves an honorable mention.
    louis van wyk
    Glad to see tornado of souls on there, although take no prisoners is my favourite megadeth riff.
    Mastodon was a surprise... but "Blood And Thunder" is worthy of this list. Anyone who disagrees with me is ugly.
    IRON MAN! Deau deau, deau deau deau. deau deau deau deau deau deau deau,deau deau deau!! Fuck Yeah!
    Rex Inclitus
    Personally I have other picks for this list which is always subjective and I concur with The Sword as previously mentioned in this thread but I would have picked Sea of Spears over Freya although they are both awesome riffs. And Lord of This World over Iron Man. Destruction Overdrive by BLS and Mr.Scary by Lynch and although not entirely metal Stone Cold by Sykes with Thin Lizzy, so many good choices though to each his own.
    Am I Evil? was not first covered by Metallica in 98. It was done in the mid 80's on one of their Garage Days EPs. The song had been a live staple for Metallica long before Garage Inc. came out.
    I'm pretty sure UG is shooting for metal riffs that at least 90% of people know...not metal bands that a select group listens to, i.e. the second poster on these comments
    c'mon mastodon has better riffs than blood and thunder, what about hearts alive?? Amazing song!!