Metal is one of few rock genres where long, complex songs are commonplace, but you'd be surprised to learn how few tracks actually surpass the 10-minute mark — let alone great ones. Iconic Metallica suites like "...And Justice for All" and "To Live is to Die" come just shy of that threshold, and their fellow symphonic thrash maestros Megadeth barely scratch the nine-minute mark with their longest cut (2001's "When").
Even bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Mastodon and TOOL, who you think of as some of metal's most loquacious titans, don't really venture beyond the 10-minute meter all that often. Frankly, that's probably for the best. Extraordinary long compositions usually would've been better if they were broken into individual parts, or just trimmed of excess fat.
Below are 10 songs over 10 minutes that actually justify their ambitious runtimes.
Dream Theater don't write songs, they write goddamn suites, and "Octavarium" is one of their mightiest. Clocking in at 24 minutes, this five-part title track from their 2005 LP — a concept album themed around the musical octave — is a towering spectacle of prog-metal ambition: operatic, psychedelic, heavy, shreddy and dizzyingly complex.
Bruce Dickinson once described this song as "the closest thing you're going to get to an Iron Maiden symphony movement." That's a badass way of putting it. While "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is no longer the lengthiest track in their catalog (that would be 2016's "Empire of the Clouds"), the Powerslave conclusion is, hands down, their greatest flirtation with classical-music magnitude.
After floundering a bit around the turn of the century, Machine Head rediscovered themselves on 2003's Through the Ashes of Empires then followed it with The Blackening, their second bona fide masterpiece (after 1994's Burn My Eyes). The band came out firing on all cylinders with its beastly intro, "Clenching the Fists of Descent." It's ambitiously long for an opener, but Robb Flynn and Co. sound fucking monstrous on this thrashy, pummeling banger. The 10 minutes breeze by!
Mastodon would master longer song lengths on 2009's proggy masterpiece, Crack the Skye, but the titanic closer from 2004's Leviathan was their first foray into truly epic runtimes and, to our minds, still their best. The churning, throttling, sea-sickening "Hearts Alive" sounds like the action-packed battle on the album's cover art personified. A momentous, wide-screen climax to Mastodon's greatest musical achievement.
A mere six-minute Meshuggah song makes your brain feel lobotomized. So what about a 21-minute Meshuggah song? Like some sort of horrifyingly awesome medical procedure that hasn't even been invented yet. Billed as a one-song "EP," the Swedish maestros' 2004 stomper, "I," is possibly their most intense release, just due to the sheer stamina of its battering, extreme-metal savagery.
Perhaps no song better balances the light and dark of Opeth's sound than Ghost Reveries' supersized opener, "Ghosts of Perdition." Bandleader Mikael Åkerfeldt was still showcasing his powerful guttural roar and delivering concussive extreme-metal riffery in 2005, but just when you think you're listening to a death-metal song, the demonic growls give way to an angelic voice, and the music turns positively serene. That said, don't get too comfortable: There are twists and turns aplenty on this rollercoaster ride.
"Dopesmoker" is perhaps the quintessential long metal song. Taking in this 63-minute behemoth (preferably in a dorm room, with plenty of potent smoking material on hand) is a rite of passage for fledging metalheads. Its album-filling length could be just a novelty, but instead, Sleep's legendary drone epic serves as the ideal gateway into the whole universe of stoner metal. A great long song, and an important one at that.
Slipknot don't wander beyond the 10-minute mark too often, but when they do, they make it worth a Maggot's while. Iowa's psychopathic closing track sees Corey Taylor inhabiting the mind of a deranged necrophiliac, writhing and caterwauling into the darkness while his bandmates deal out some of the heaviest, sludgiest, gnarliest noise the 'Knot have ever captured on tape. Brutal.
For a band that's become identified with epic runtimes, TOOL surprisingly don't have all that many compositions that actually top the 10-minute mark — especially if you don't count multi-song suites or their latest album, Fear Inoculum. Every non-interlude track on that 2019 opus breaks into double digits, and our favorite is "7empest," a propulsive rager that brilliantly fuses the in-your-face fury of their alt-metal roots with the trippy prog of their latter days.
Peter Steele didn't give a shit about brevity, which enabled Type O Negative's music to take so many explorative twists and turns in the timeframe of a single song. They have plenty of over-10-minute knockouts, but you can't argue that "Black No. 1" isn't, well, No. 1. At once psychedelic, campy, sincere, tuneful, crushing and progressively structured, Type O's goth-metal landmark earns every minute of its 11-minute runtime.