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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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

    I feel like the 'Top Metal Riffs' has been done to death. Can we do something more interesting next time? Top frontmen or biggest fails or something?
    Can't believe so so so so many people are overlooking Supernaut, how can you not love it?!?!
    pretty ****ed list. **** you ****s are ****in retarded. why dont you bastards all go back in time and tell your ****ing mum to swallow the load your dad accidently loaded into your mums vagina (he was really aiming for her arse).
    Rex Inclitus
    Wow first sighting, seems like with the onset of spring, wigger trolls are migrating to metal forums on UG from YouTube in unison with the geese returning north.
    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.
    why the **** is mastodon on this list **** thaht everything else good but **** them
    ben nixon
    Blood and Thunder is up there Fuck yeah!
    ****, put downvote accidentally cause of my stupid mouse -.- anyways, **** yeah Mastodon!! was very surprised to see them on this list but nonetheless very hype
    Nice list. By the way when I'm listening to Judas Priest, seeing their image, hair and all stuff and especially this video ("Breaking the law") it's cockup, don't you guys think? They're so funny, can't understand how anybody can treat them seriously. Look at 0:38 on the video...
    No Pantera??? I would have voted the "Shedding Skin" riff. Of course, I'm not really a metal fan and my exposure to the genre is limited.
    cant believe this isn't on the list chop suey - system of a down, freakin kids
    I might get flamed for this, but out of all the great riffs in Mastodon's discography, how can Blood and Thunder be voted as the best riff that they ever came up with?
    Great list! My personal favorite Priest riff is definitely Dissident Aggressor. Seems to often get overlooked.
    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.
    Oh boy, here we go again with anooother list again. Wasn't posted before in UG? Is it REALLY necesary to know the best metal guitar riffs?
    It's an opinion poll. If you don't care about it, why take the time to click on the link and type out a comment?
    BIG fan of Am i Evil? Always liked Diamond Head - Lightning To the Nations and Sucking my Love as well...
    IRON MAN! Deau deau, deau deau deau. deau deau deau deau deau deau deau,deau deau deau!! Fuck Yeah!
    What about Racer X...? King of Monsters, Golden God or Dead Man's Shoes for example
    Dream Theater with their songs Constant Motion and Panic Attack really deserve a spot on the list.
    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!"
    I will get downvoted to hell but I'll just say it for ****s sake. Don't care if you are an ignorant ***** and whatnot and don't consider any metalcore banda on here but August Burns Red and Parkway Drive def deserve to be in a top 30 list.
    Howz about Unearth (Grave of Oppritunity is one of my persoanl favorite riffs/leads) Anyway, this list is a mixed bag for me. Mastodon, that was a shocker, but great choice. And I'm glad Maiden and Sabbath got top marks, they really deserve it...Put in "Walk" and "Bleed", and I'll be happy.
    You could probably just put Pantera songs for every number and that would work for me.
    Yeah, I think if UG did a Top Ten Grooviest Riffs (not the hippy definition of groovy) then the list would be filled with Pantera and Sepultura.
    Could have been a worse list, Don't know HOW Mastadon got in there...that riff aint THAT good! Not top 10 EVER good. I guess they just pick the top Megadeth and Metallica riff so they only get 1 in the top 10.
    A boring article with a boring list full of boring riffs in boring songs by boring bands. (with the exception of Mastodon)
    Did you even see the article where the people posted the nominations? Most of these songs had massive amounts of votes.
    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
    Actually, in hindsight, although I didn't vote for it myself, I'm surprised Mercyful Fate (e.g. Curse of the Pharaohs or Into the Coven) didn't make this list, and very surprised (in a good way) Mastodon did.
    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.
    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.
    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
    Personally, i think that Master of Puppets has one of the best metal riffs ever made... It should be 1st... But it's only my opinion
    c'mon mastodon has better riffs than blood and thunder, what about hearts alive?? Amazing song!!
    This list is dumb. The question is what the best riffs are, and you're just listing songs with hardly any mention of specific riffs.
    I prefer Symphony of Destruction riffs than Tornado Of Souls
    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
    My Last Words
    Dude.. The conjuring?
    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
    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.
    Before the crying's a list voted on by us, and no other riff "should be in there". We voted, the list is legit.
    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
    Great list! Though impressed that "Smoke on the water" didn't make it
    Deep Purple isn't metal band. Smoke isn't metal song.
    You clearly have never listened to DP past the aforementioned song... I suggest you listen to In Rock, the rest of Machine Head (Highway star more or less set the definition for the upcoming Priest-y motorcycle trad metal) or Perfect Strangers then come back.