They say a picture's worth a thousand words. Similarly, at their best, an instrumental metal song can be just as captivating as one with 1,000 screams, croons, grunts or howls. For bands who have singers, this isn't an easy feat to pull off. On many metal records, instrumentals end up being throwaway tracks that either serve as unnecessary interludes or fruitless, overly sentimental acoustic ballads that are meant to convey emotion through contrast, but usually end up sounding forced and uninspired.
The best metal bands are able to employ instrumental songs in a way that feels purposeful, while still managing to impress with displays of musical showmanship and skill. Below are the 11 greatest instrumentals by non-instrumental metal bands. We'd say get ready to sing along — but you can't. So just bang your head and grimace intently.
If you title a song "The Flames of the End," then it better sound like the whole fucking world being engulfed in a blazing inferno of apocalyptic proportions. That's exactly what At the Gates achieved on the outro to 1995's trailblazing Slaughter of the Soul. After ripping through some of the most crucial riffs in metal history, the Swedish troupe capped their album with a synth-and-drum-machine dirge that was originally created for Day of Blood, a low-budget horror movie made by guitarist Anders Björler. It has all the poignant detail and sinister overtones of a John Carpenter theme.
A lot of the instrumentals on this list arrive near the end of their respective albums, either serving as end-caps or brief reprieves before a vocal-heavy finish. Of course, like almost all things metal, Black Sabbath did it first. The penultimate track on 1970's Paranoid, "Rat Salad," is a skronky little slice of racket featuring some ace Iommi shredding, a dose of Geezer Butler bass strutting, and then a wildly entertaining trip around the drum kit from Bill Ward. Heavy Metal: in two-and-a-half minutes.
Only Chuck Schuldiner could make acoustic guitars sound this great on a death-metal album. Appearing on the latter half of Death's masterful swan song, The Sound of Perseverance, "Voice of the Soul" conjures a feeling from within that, like its title implies, couldn't be expressed in mere corporeal tongue. With not a single beat of percussion, the late guitar visionary created a pulmonary momentum with passionate, acoustic strums, and then adorns it with a smoldering guitar solo that dances like smoke at a Viking funeral. Divine.
Good god. Even if you don't care for the mathematical technicality of most prog metal, you can't help but marvel at what Dream Theater can do on a song like "Dance of Eternity." Taken from their 1999 LP, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, this six-minute number jumps between time signatures at a dizzying pace, with each new passage only increasing in virtuosic intensity. The keyboards sound like 50 fingers playing at once. The sweeping guitars are like aural equivalent of seeing double. It's staggering and maybe even vertigo-inducing, but undeniably badass.
Tobias Forge is the voice and vision of Ghost, but on "Miasma," he lets the music do the haunting. This synth-heavy cut, the first of two instrumental jams on 2018's Prequelle, has all the glam-metal exuberance of Ghost's catchiest sing-alongs, except here it's a saxophone that's given the chance to croon. The brassy woodwind instrument comes blazing through during the track's outro, and in typical Ghost fashion, the decidedly un-metal instrument sounds right at home amid the pop-metal pomp.
Gojira would perfect the art of the chant-along anthem on later albums like Magma and Fortitude, but "Dawn" speaks more to their talents than a screamed chorus ever could. The eight-and-a-half-minute closer on 2003's The Link centers what might be the most delicate breakdown of all time, as the French metallers dole out syncopated chugs with the precise brushstrokes of a Philharmonic violinist. It brings to mind the image of a suited conductor tracing shapes in the air while simultaneously banging their head like a feral hesher.
Iron Maiden's Killers is packed with tales of bloodshed, but the NWOBHM pioneers didn't need verbal language to soundtrack the exploits of "Genghis Khan" — a man whose estimated body count is north of 40 million(!) people. This song's militant riff is the perfect marching tune for a barbarous warmonger to lead his troops into battle with, and the rest of the composition brings to life scenes of combat with sword-slashing guitar heroics and clobbering, proto-blast-beat drumming from the mighty Clive Burr.
Even Dave Mustaine himself knows that his voice isn't his strong suit. "I wasn't born to sing," he admitted last fall. So if the thrash pioneer's nasally wail has always been a deterrent to your Megadeth fandom, then "Into the Lungs of Hell" is the antidote. The intro cut from the band's 1988 album, So Far, So Good... So What!, is just Mustaine and Co. shredding away for three-and-a-half minutes straight. It's got all the rising-falling drama of a Megadeth song, sans the polarizing vocals.
We could've gone with "Call of Kthulu" or "To Live Is to Die" and neither would've been wrong, but "Orion" just has to be here. The penultimate cut on Master of Puppets is one of Metallica's all-time greatest feats, a multi-part thrash symphony that centers Cliff Burton's Louvre-worthy bass playing and revolutionary ear for compositional structure. Even without a single word, "Orion" captures Metallica's unmatched synthesis of rage and beauty, delivering a heart-on-chest emotional punch that never fails to resonate all these years later.
While they'd lean even further into their tribal, ah-hem, roots on their next record, Sepultura played with those non-Western soundscapes on "Kaiowas," an acoustic yet ominous ditty that serves as the centerpiece of Chaos A.D. What's even cooler is that this song was actually recorded in an actual ancient castle, Chepstow Castle — the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortress in Britain. Hear those feint seagull squawks at the beginning? Yeah, those are real. The castle didn't have a ceiling!
If you've ever struggled to understand why TOOL fans talk about this band in awed tones like they're in a cult-like trance, give "Triad" a go. By the end of this hypnotizing jam from Lateralus, you might also be stumbling around slack-jawed, mumbling about Fibonacci sequences and bowing down to Adam Jones riffs. This song really does have a mystical aura about it, and even though there's technically a single screamed vocal buried deep in the mix during its beginning sequence, TOOL prove that they can make magic happen even without Maynard upfront.