It almost seems counterintuitive, but if you flip through the big history book of metal, it'll become clear that writing a great short song — specifically one that whizzes by in two minutes or less — is way harder than writing a great longer song. Packing a cohesive motif, an eventful arc, a memorable vocal performance or even just an interesting riff configuration into a sub-two-minute package takes serious songwriting chops.
To wit, bigwigs like Metallica, Pantera, Slipknot and even Black fucking Sabbath haven't pulled it off! (In case you're wondering, Pantera's "Fucking Hostile" and Slipknot's "Eeyore" both top two minutes.) Below are 10 genuinely great metal songs — we said songs, not transitional intros, interludes or outros — that clock in under 120 seconds.
Carcass don't even need to utter a single word on "Genital Grinder" — they let the wince-inducing title and foreboding music speak for itself. The haunting first chords strike like a gallows clock tower, donging with foreboding certainty to signal an early-morning execution is approaching. With gradual, unnerving patience, the beat grows faster, the macabre riff comes more into focus, the howling mood intensifies and then — snap! It's over, like the swift crack of a neck.
Whether it's "Saddest Day" or "Wretched World," Converge are one of few metalcore bands who can actually pull off a seven-minute song. On "Concubine," they do the opposite, cramming all of their wriggling, seething intensity into a brisk minute-and-20-second sprint. Jacob Bannon's vocal shrieks sound like a pterodactyl spitting balls of fire. The guitars gnarl and twist and singe like smoldering car wreckage. The drums are just a teeth-clattering slug to the chin. "Concubine" smacks.
Not surprising to anyone who knows and loves them, mathcore mad men the Dillinger Escape Plan compacted more kaleidoscopic musical ideas into this act of micro aggression than most bands fit into whole albums. If you don't feel like you've been head-walked and balcony-dived on by Greg Puciato by the end of "Party Smasher"'s whirlwind 1:56 runtime, then you probably haven't been playing it loud enough.
On tracks like "Ball Tongue" and "Freak on a Leash," Jonathan Davis found clever ways to incorporate scatting into Korn's rubbery nu-metal bangers. In "Twist," the scatting is the song. On Life Is Peachy's deranged opener, Davis barks mouthfuls of rhythmic gibberish like a rabid dog in a backwards flat-brim. After a few seconds of a capella madness, his bandmates come swinging in, clucking and crackling their instruments to provide a musical backbone to Davis' unhinged freakout. Somehow, it's catchy as hell!
"I got the razor at my wrist/Cause I can't resist." In just the first two seconds of "River Runs Red," Life of Agony have already conjured a vivid picture of an anguished teenager on the brink of suicide. For the next minute-and-50 seconds, Mina Caputo and Co. tear through the most infectious, urgent and visceral song on their 1993 alt-metal classic of the same name. "Oh, I think I'm dyin'," Caputo wails during its chugging, pavement-pounding chorus. Yet we feel so alive singing along.
Like John Cage's "4'33" of silence or Marcel Duchamp's found-toilet art, "Fountain," anyone could've written "You Suffer," but Napalm Death actually did. This one-second exhale — one blast beat, one guitar stroke, one unintelligible lyric — is at once the least interesting and most revolutionary song on their 1987 debut and grindcore ground zero, Scum. Every band in this genre competes for max intensity and ultra-brevity, and "You Suffer" is Napalm Death's delightfully sneering trump card. Beat that. You can't!
When metal and hardcore crossed over in the mid-1980s, the songs got faster but also much longer, to account for all those virtuosic solos. However, Nuclear Assault's eternally underrated 1986 debut, Game Over, retrained hardcore's efficiency while still buffing up the heaviness with metallic force. At a brisk 44 seconds, "Hang the Pope" is basically a primitive grindcore surge that rattles off its blasphemous call-to-action over a dozen times. It's an ass-beater.
1993's Chaos A.D. saw Brazilian riff warriors Sepultura take a massive stylistic leap from thrash to groove metal, but the album's sub-two-minute standout "Biotech Is Godzilla" is "pure hardcore," in the words of founding vocalist-guitarist Max Cavalera. To that end, the full-tilt rager features politically charged lyrics by punk-rock provocateur Jello Biafra, of Dead Kennedys fame — which, like the rapid-fire riffs, pull no punches.
"Necrophobic" is technically the briefest track on the lean, mean Reign in Blood, but it still feels like a fully-formed Slayer song. Tom Araya gasps out morbid visions of rotting flesh, sliced-up skin and cancer-stricken brains. Dave Lombardo pounds away with the groundbreaking force that made him the Godfather of Double Bass. And twin guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King rip this fucker to shreds, and with plenty of time for a gizzard-gagging solo.
System of a Down have several great songs below two minutes ("CUBErt," "DDevil," "X") but none are as fun and instantly memorable as "Bounce!" The Toxicity sprinter does just what its name implies, hiccuping at full force while Serj Tankian yowls like a madman above it all. It's such a riot that, despite its suggestive "pogo stick" lyric, the track was still licensed for the 2016 animated kids movie The Secret Life of Pets.