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

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    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.
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    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.
    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.
    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
    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
    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.
    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)
    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
    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.
    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
    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/)