At this point in heavy-music history, the breakdown is as much a building block of metal as the thrash gallop, the blast beat and the rippin' solo. Many of the biggest and most influential bands of the last 25 years have sections in their songs that elicit violent mosh moves, and in fact there are entire subgenres dedicated to crafting the heaviest, gnarliest breakdowns imaginable.
With so many epic chugs to choose from, narrowing down the 11 greatest of all time is no easy task. That's why we turned to breakdown guru, prolific producer and Fit for an Autopsy guitarist Will Putney for assistance in narrowing down the finest fist-swinging parts in heavy-music history. From Slayer's pioneering plods to the masterful mosh parts of contemporary pit leaders Knocked Loose, these are Putney's picks for the 11 best back-breaking, face-smacking, neck-snapping breakdowns of all time.
Excluding the classic-rock, intro-metal, Black Sabbath-style projects, I feel like the original breakdown is "Raining Blood" by Slayer. To me, that is the first time a metal band incorporated [what's] now known as a breakdown today in our world. So No. 1 on my list — that's in no particular order of my favorites — but I have to start at the beginning with "Raining Blood" because I think that is where it started in this genre. That was 1986 — that's 30 something years ago. That's the first one for me.
Then a couple years later comes ...And Justice for All by Metallica. This is the first double-bass breakdown, the "One" breakdown. Here's this whole ballad song and then it takes this turn and then you get this double-bass breakdown. I mean, there were other thrash bands at the time, and other bands that were incorporating that kind of stuff, but that was the one that put it on the map. Where it's like, Oh cool, we just do start-and-stop chugs with this double-bass pattern. And it was such an iconic part for the band at the time, too. That breakdown's still being played today by metalcore bands and hardcore bands.
Pantera would have to show up shortly after that. I think you could pick a few songs on Vulgar Display of Power, and the breakdowns could be interchangeable as being iconic, but the slow-down breakdown on "This Love" [is my selection]. It's another ballad song, which is funny because maybe they were following the Metallica formula, who knows. They give you the breakdown where the whole tempo of the song slows down. And that is a super common move and has been forever. It's worked its way into hardcore and metalcore bands all the time. You slow the song down for the breakdown. To me, that was the first one.
The point where I think the bar got set for breakdowns [is] Sepultura's "Propaganda." The end of that song is like the masterclass of all the things you do with a breakdown. You have the palm-muted chug groove. You have the creepy dissonant lead that goes over it. You have the China [cymbal], you have the bass break, you have the double bass under the chugging pattern. They did a series of transitions and grooves that changed where it's like, all of that became 20 years of metalcore bands stealing from. So it's potentially the No. 1 breakdown — and it's not the heaviest breakdown, but because of all the [influence it had].
Around that same time Machine Head had "Davidian," which is the triplet breakdown. It's also the hi-hat breakdown. It was also one of the first ones on this list where they threw a weird time signature kind of thing in. There's the extra beat on it. That kind of messed me up as a kid. I wasn't ready to receive that, I don't think yet. Because I was like, Oh, they're doing math in a breakdown. It's very simple math, adding a bar. But I was like, Oh this is cool. It's crazier. It does one other thing I didn't think it was going to do. And then that one has the lyric, too. Of course, a lot of these classic bands had memorable lyrics and stuff, but the vocal before the breakdown ... this one has its moment.
In 1995 was the entrance of Meshuggah. I know they had material before this, but the song that hit at least in America, my first experience with Meshuggah, would have been "Future Breed Machine." That song was everywhere here, and "Future Breed Machine" at that point was the craziest song I had ever heard in my life. Nineties Meshuggah was a different beast. They had incorporated this polyrhythm, China-breakdown into "Future Breed Machine," and it was the part and, I'm sure, it's the song that put them on the map. It's got the dissonant chords too that start to show up there that were just copied and done to death by every band for the next 20 years after that.
Hatebreed would have to be on this list. Satisfaction Is the Death of Desire, that whole record, it changed what hardcore was going to sound like for 25 years. I'd pick "Not One Truth" probably because that might be my favorite Hatebreed breakdown. It's the hi-hat breakdown. It's the hard lyrics. The tone, the aesthetic of the whole thing. That made hardcore bands go, Oh, we got to sound like Hatebreed now. They defined the genre. They have to be on this list.
Same genre-defining music, just in a completely different place, which is the New Jersey-born and -bred Dillinger Escape Plan with "43% Burnt." Dillinger's brilliant, and their music is incomprehensible, but at the time they gave you this terrifying breakdown part. People would just go to their shows and just wait for this one breakdown and just get punished with the strobe lights and all the chaos and the jazz parts and things that they just weren't into. But that breakdown was that good that they were just packing shows with people waiting for it. I had tons of friends that couldn't understand Dillinger, but were going for that part.
Crowbar took the Southern influence and the down-tuned stuff and the focus on the sludgy riff, and incorporated breakdowns into that. ... My favorite Crowbar breakdown is "To Carry the Load." Because of how they fake you out. If you go to the end of that song, if you don't know who Crowbar is — which is insane, you should — but if you don't, go to the end of that song and they kind of spin you around a little bit. You think you're getting sort of a stonery riff, fake you out with the breakdown, do it again a little longer, fake you out, do it again. Then they deliver it. That particular song, I think, will forever be cemented as the scary part at a Crowbar show.
Terror has to be mentioned because, after Hatebreed, the genre changed, hardcore changed, and there were different types of scary bands and different types of punk-influenced stuff and a lot of melodic-influence hardcore. But the straight-up, we-are-mean band that showed up out of the ashes of all that stuff that's still around and still killing it, has to be Terror. And "Out of My Face," the beginning and the lyrical content, how aggressive that song is, how hard it hits live. It's so simple. It's delivered perfectly. You literally couldn't write a harder part.
The best one today out of everybody who's doing it is Knocked Loose. The band that has perfected the art form of wearing their influences on their sleeves, borrowing from all the stuff that I just mentioned, plus some of the darker, hardcore stuff like Disembodied and Martyr A.D., that era of bands and all the newer, current hardcore bands that they're just sort of in bed with and connected to. They really are the sponge of everything that's cool about aggressive, scary music. You can't be heavier than them. If we're talking about breakdowns and stuff, they are the kings of it right now. They'll write a breakdown. They'll go, Let's just do another one. They can keep it interesting.