Top 10 Most Complex Riffs Ever

The results of this week's complexity battle are just in.

Top 10 Most Complex Riffs Ever
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For this week's Wednesday Question we've delved into the fascinating domain of intricate guitar riffs. You guys voted for the most complex riff of them all, we summed up the results and the winner is ... Deep Purple and "Smoke on the Water"!

Just kidding, sort of. UG jokers found their way to the top yet again, but on more of a serious side, here's this week's UG Top 10.

10. Led Zeppelin - "Black Dog"

Kicking it off the old-school way, Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" was truly one of the first tunes to introduce complex riffing to the rock realm. The riff itself wasn't written by Jimmy Page as you might assume, but by Mr. John Paul Jones, the bassist. Here's what he had to say:

"I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn't be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until [John] Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there's no turn-around. That was the secret."

9. Cannibal Corpse - "Frantic Disembowelment"

Taking a major turn in terms of heaviness, Cannibal Corpse are up next on No. 9 with "Frantic Disembowelment," a hectic uptempo riff backed by the band's signature gory lyrics about the very thing mentioned in the title. The song is credited to drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz and guitarist Pat O'Brien.

8. Joe Satriani - "Satch Boogie"

Not only is the solo pretty intricate on this one, but the riff itself is equally complex. It's Satch we're talking about, and guitar mastery is simply his thing.

7. Metallica - "Blackened"

Arguably the single greatest riff Jason Newsted has contributed to Metallica, "Blackened" is yet another work of a bassist to make the list. And once again, the song has the word "black" in it. Maybe there's just something to it. Anyhow, here's what Jason said about the whole thing:

"Yeah, the main riff is mine. I wrote it on bass, though. I'd only been in the band for a very short time. I was still in a little one-bedroom rented apartment. And James would come over to the house, like [we were] buddies. He'd come over for dinner. We'd hang out and play guitars on the couch. It's was pretty f--king dreamy for me. Metallica was my favorite band. It was pretty surreal.

"I had a little four-track Tascam set up in the bedroom. So we went in there, and he's got a guitar and I've got a bass. I'm f--king around with this riff. And then he started playing along, and the song started forming right at that time. I'm sitting up in my chair, like, 'Holy s--t, dude. This is something!' That was the first thing we ever constructed together. And him going, 'Dude, that riff's good enough to open our f--king album,' really gave me a feeling of victory, because I looked up to him greatly, and still do to this day."

6. Dream Theater - "The Dark Eternal Night"

This one's just a riff fest, but you guys pointed out a riff kicking off at 5:53, so make sure to check that one as well. The tune's music is attributed to the entire band, but the mid-section part is based around keyboardist Jordan Rudess' riff.

5. Megadeth - "Poison Was the Cure"

Kicking off with an eerie bass line, Megadeth's "Poison Was the Cure" builds up for about a minute just to kick out the jams with that savage riff. And by savage we mean rather intricate. The riff, as well as is the entire song, is the work of frontman Dave Mustaine.

4. Eric Johnson - "Cliffs of Dover"

We have another guitar master here, Mr. Eric Johnson and his staple instrumental "Cliffs of Dover." The melodic riff, along with the rest of the track, was entirely written my Eric, who sort of refuses to take full credit for it.

"I don't even know if I can take credit for writing 'Cliffs of Dover," the guitarist said. "It was just there for me one day ... literally wrote in five minutes ... kind of a gift from a higher place that all of us are eligible for. We just have to listen for it and be available to receive it."

3. Racer X - "Technical Difficulties"

Well the title just says it all here, now doesn't it? Guitar parts recorded by Paul Gilbert, composed by Gilbert and Scott Travis, produced by Gilbert - Racer X - "Technical Difficulties."

2. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Snow (Hey Oh)"

If you just look at the basic chords, this one has the same progression as just about half of the pop industry. But John Frusciante managed to give it a few twists and turns, resulting in a fairly complex riff and a surprisingly high position.

If you want to check out a similar tune with that same bouncy guitar triplet, take a listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Trust." 

1. Animals as Leaders - "CAFO"

The masters of tricky riffs, instrumental prog metallers Animals as Leaders get to claim the complexity throne this week. And it's thanks to one of their most popular tunes, "CAFO." Prog metal and jazz fusion, mellow and crushing, it's all there, and it's No. 1.

259 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    BlackLabel5150
    wow, according this this site I'm a better guitarist than I thought.
    metallica_102
    Snow got 2nd? It's a good song but i think saying it's more complex than Cliffs of Dover is a bit of a stretch. Solid list otherwise.
    PIMO
    Its not complex at all. Its one of the first songs I learned on guitar and it wasn't really difficult once you understood the pattern. Cliffs of Dover definitely should have been ranked higher
    TheRegularJohn
    Where the hell was YELLOW LEDBETTER! No one even voted for it!
    esky15
    Because it really isn't all that hard.
    iommi600
    Black Dog? lel
    sudsypatriarch
    Eh, I'd agree that it's simple, but I dont know. Perhaps it has something to do with "getting it all together", you know? Getting it in the beat, in the line with everything, doing the right bends and stuff.
    cRACk mONKEyTTU
    Ya its simple for people who play guitar, but as far as being an iconic song that everyone has heard, its relatively complicated. I can definitely understand it being on here.
    third(-)eye
    So it deserves to be on the list because people who don't play guitar have trouble playing it?
    MaggaraMarine
    It's the rhythm. It's not hard to play alone but with a band it's at least not that easy to play accurately. It's not the first song I would cover with an inexperienced band. And the riff is more complex than it sounds like. The 4/4 drum beat makes it sound simple but remove the drumbeat and it sounds more complex (especially the second part of the riff). Hard to play and complex are different things. It is a complex riff, not hard to play.
    cheesefries
    Snow the #2 most complex riff ever? Seriously? It's a beginner song and is ranked over Cliffs of Dover and Black Dog. I'm a RHCP fan... but this is a complete garbage list.
    matteo cubano
    i have always been able to play Black Dog easy, but still struggle a little with snow. cant say i cant play it, but its difficult to get your mind around.
    ibanez124
    Agreed, Black Dog is not that difficult to play
    cheesefries
    So Snow with it's 1 hammer on after picking 4 notes is the second most technical riff of all time? /JOKE
    markedwards1
    are you bloody broken? that riff requires you to be able to play triplet hammer-ons / pull-offs and alt pick as well as requiring you to have enough finger strength to play the legato bits and the chord shapes without muting the other strings. Furthermore, the first bit is about 40 bars of playing that riff over and over - that requires stamina. Those are not traits of a 'beginner song', as you put it
    thebigredjj10
    Great sounding riff? Yes. Difficult for beginners to learn? Yes. Is it tricky at first? Yes. Is it musically complex? Not at all. RHCP makes great music. In the band there are great musicians and they are very skill musicians. But funk rock is not a musically complex genre. It is based on funky rhythms and rocking grooves, which are musically simple. Being simple does not make something good or bad. It just makes it simple. Being hard to play doesn't make it complicated.
    matteo cubano
    the discussion was whether or not black dog was easier
    third(-)eye
    That shouldn't even be an argument. Snow is WAY harder. Black Dog was one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar. I still can't play Snow the "right" way.
    Rocknrolla35
    The licks of Black Dog themselves aren't very complex, but the timing. Boy, it ****s your mind!
    MaggaraMarine
    The thing with Snow is that it doesn't sound any complex. But if you play the guitar, you can tell just by listening to it that it's not that easy to play. I think it got so many votes because it sounds a lot easier and simpler than it actually is. Also, Black Dog is not hard to play but it's definitely a complex riff.
    bunnyh0pz
    I guess whoever wrote this had never heard of math rock?
    the_bi99man
    Nobody really "wrote" this. It was voted upon by posters on this site earlier this week. But yeah, the folly is obviously that tons of people voted who don't listen to, or even know about, heavy and/or technical music. So they basically voted for moderately difficult riffs by bands they like, that they had trouble trying to play themselves. Seriously though, if you put aside personal preference, bias, musical taste, etc. and tried to actually put together a realistic list of the most complex riffs ever (just complex , not necessarily melodic or musical or even "good" in any given person's opinion), you'd be a thousand spots down before finding anything by anyone other than math rock, prog, and technical death metal bands.
    third(-)eye
    Don't forget fusion! Crazy stuff in that genre. Although you could maybe lump it in with prog I suppose.
    jddthomas
    I saw Deep Purple's "Smoke on the water" the highest rated comment, but why isn't it in the top 10? I really do not understand...
    Nuclearcrayon
    UG generally don't use sarcastic suggestions in their lists... Unfortunately.
    matteo cubano
    next week: "Lars Ulrich slams UG for excluding Deep Purple from a Top 10 list". probably not though.
    MrTee
    Ostensibly a beginners riff, people do play it wrong all the time according to Blackmore! Can't find any harm in placing it as Number 1 UG