While the stakes may be higher for choosing an album's opening song, the album closer is a trickier art to perfect. The final statement on a record has to simultaneously conclude everything that came before it and stand on its own as a banger track. It's a tough maneuver to pull off in any genre, but especially in metal.
At risk of sounding underwhelming and spoiling an otherwise impeccable run of songs, the album closer either has to outmatch the intensity of every prior track, or swing in the opposite direction and offer something totally distinct that still feels coherent and satisfying within the arc of the record.
It's an easy thing to mess up, so we wanted to celebrate the instances where heavy bands absolutely nailed it. From head-spinning death metal to mind-melting thrash, these are the 15 greatest album closers in metal history.
Many of Lamb of God's most timeless songs have been album openers ("Laid to Rest," "Walk With Me in Hell," motherfucking "Black Label") but holy hell, is "Vigil" not one helluva grand finale. The culminating track on the Virginia groove-metal lords' 2003 standout, As the Palaces Burn, is one of those cuts that makes you second-guess what the best part is the whole way through. Not only does it serve the album well, but its Meshuggah-like precision marks a transformative moment within Lamb of God's sonic arc.
Morbid Angel's Covenant is one of death metal's most outstanding and revolutionary albums, and it's closing cut, "God of Emptiness," resounded so far and wide that, at one point, Korn were planning on recording a cover of it (before a bunch of the band found religion, of course). Trudging and majestic, the song opens with a bellow — "Was that a bear?" Butt-Head exclaimed, hearing David Vincent's opening roar — and builds to a solemn command: "Bow to me faithfully." Yes, Morbid Angel, we will.
The finale of Korn's self-titled debut is hands-down the most disturbing song in their entire freaky-ass catalog. After grunting and groaning while confronting the tortured memories of being sexually abused as a child, we hear frontman Jonathan Davis break down in real time as he's reduced to a blubbering, sobbing mess while the tape's still rolling. More than just a striking way to end an album, it's one of the foremost instances of raw pain captured on a recording.
With their masterful second LP, Ænima, Tool stepped out of the pitch-black darkness of their previous two releases, Opiate and Undertow, and into the light, aiming toward spiritual awakening and psychedelic inspiration. The album culminates in the 13-minute-plus, industrial-tinged epic "Third Eye," titled after the mystical concept of a speculative invisible eye capable of perception beyond ordinary sight. True to that reference, it's a mind-expanding, psychedelic, long, strange trip
How do you wrap up a prog-metal concept album inspired by the literal white whale Moby Dick? If you're Atlantan juggernaut Mastodon, you do so with a near-14-minute thrill ride that swells and crashes like tsunamic ocean waves, evoking …And Justice for All-era Metallica with its ambitious structure and scope. (Technically, the instrumental outro "Joseph Merrick" closes Leviathan, but by our measure, "Hearts Alive" is the last proper song.) We've seen the band open live sets with this show-stopper and it doesn't get much better than that.
Alice in Chains' grunge-sludge classic Dirt plumbs heroin-soaked depths as dark as any explored by their Seattle brethren. Closer "Would?" was inspired by the fatal overdose of Mother Love Bone frontman and early scene figurehead Andrew Wood, and with its rumbling bass line and soaring chorus, the elegiac cut concludes the album in mournful yet triumphant fashion. No wonder such metal heavyweights as James Hetfield and Philip Anselmo have joined AIC onstage to sing the emotionally crushing classic.
While the majority of Metallica's 1988 opus, ...And Justice for All, saw the thrash titans embrace their proggy side with busier songwriting, the track that caps the album off is pure speed-metal bliss. "Dyers Eve" is one of the band's fastest songs and also one of their most lyrically personal and peculiar, as James Hetfield repeats the phrase, "Dear mother, dear father," before each verse while ranting from the perspective of a fuming child with a punkish vocal inflection. It's a total rager, and Lars Ulrich's drumming has never sounded this furious.
Telling the tale of a condemned man facing execution, The Number of Beast's seven-minute concluding track was one of the first songs Maiden recorded with their then-new singer Bruce Dickinson and, holy shit, did they hit paydirt. "Hallowed Be Thy Name" has been a live staple ever since, and the band's bassist and main songwriter Steve Harris may have put it best: "If someone who'd never heard Maiden before — someone from another planet or something — asked you about Maiden, what would you play them? I think 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' is the one."
The lineup Chuck Schuldiner assembled for Death's 1993 opus, Individual Thought Patterns, practically constitutes super-group status. Swedish six-string savant Andy LaRocque, whirlwind drummer Gene Hoglan and fretless bass wizard Steve DiGiorgio joined the mighty Schuldiner to form a squad of death-metal Olympians, but the full breadth of their powers isn't revealed until the album's final track. "The Philosopher" proved how death metal could be virtuosic, melodic and hard-hitting all at once. No one's done it better.
Megadeth's quintessential 1990 LP, Rust in Peace, is a high water mark for the band not just as players, but as songwriters. Its intro track, "Holy Wars," serves punishment with face-melting solos and two separate movements, while its other bookend leaves thrash's most essential traits on the counter — galloping speed and loquacious guitar monologues — and gives the genre new life in the process. Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman use their prowess for melodic purposes, while Nick Menza fires off inspiring drum patterns that are designed to test the strength of steering wheels worldwide. "Polaris!"
Imagine being at a such a high level of artistic expertise that you can save a riff this good for the last song on your album? "Into the Void," the down-tuned knockout at the end of Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, is where every stoner, doom and sludge lick that's been played since can be traced back to. Hell, even Metallica's James Hetfield dubbed this his favorite Sabbath song, so throw the stomping "Black Album" on the list of great things that wouldn't exist without this miracle of metal and mary jane.
Even on their somber power ballads, Pantera couldn't help but slide a couple bone-breaking riffs in there. "Hollow," the soaring send-off to their beastly sophomore album, Vulgar Display of Power, starts with one of the few respites on the entire record, but once Dimebag gets antsy and starts shredding, it's back to the bashing power groove for these rascals. In fact, it's such a savory second half that they'd tack it onto the breakdown from "Domination" when they played it live for seven minutes of utter destruction.
Rage Against the Machine's electrifying 1992 debut is stuffed with mantras delivered like protest chants. "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me." "You gotta take the power back." "Wake up!" However, it's the last word Zack de la Rocha yells — no, screams — that boils all over their political fury into single potent statement. "Freedoooooom," the vocalist roars like he's trying to pop a lung over charging instrumentation. On top of that, for an album with more perfect-10 riffs than most bands would know what to do with, this might be the best one.
On their first album, System of a Down showed how a metal band could balance heavy and wacky. On the bulk of their unexpectedly popular follow-up, Toxicity, they demonstrated how they could do that sound again, but in a way that was even more explicitly political. But on the closing track of that 2001 masterpiece, the alt-metal mad geniuses proved that they could also be downright beautiful. From its hypnotic bass line and palm-muted chugs to Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian's warbly harmonies, "Aerials" is the type of conclusive mic-drop that makes you turn off the stereo afterwards to silently ponder.
You've heard it before. Many times, probably. But does that first lick slicing through the crackling thunder and haunting rainfall ever lose its luster? Slayer's definitive track — arguably the most evil, epic, perfectly crafted thrash song in all of history — arrives at the end of their 1986 classic, Reign in Blood, and it comes loaded with everything a headbanger could ever want or need. Pummeling drums, guitar solos that tear like feasting piranas, the best breakdown of all time, and lyrics about human blood raining down from the fucking sky.