15 Greatest Title Tracks in Metal History | Page 2 | Revolver

15 Greatest Title Tracks in Metal History

From "Ace of Spades" to "Ænema"
gojira 2012 GETTY joe duplantier, Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns via Getty Images
Gojira, 2013
photograph by Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns via Getty Images

Title tracks are important. For new fans, selecting the song that matches the album's name always feels like a good starting point, given that it's presumably representative of what the whole record sounds like. That's why it's always such a waste when bands slap their album's moniker on the moody, half-baked instrumental intro, and why a genuinely incredible title track is usually the mark of a well-conceived project.

Operating in a genre that places a high value on titles and iconography (a cool song, album and/or band name is crucial to luring in picky metalheads), metal bands are typically pretty good at making sure title tracks stand out, but these are the 15 best of all time — songs that are so amazing that they threaten to overshadow the very albums they appear on.

Avenged Sevenfold - "Nightmare"

"It's your fuckin' nightmare." Avenged Sevenfold had lived through one themselves when founding drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan died in 2009, and the magnificent opener of the album that followed that tragedy set their misery to music. Like any vivid dream that leaves you waking up in a cold sweat, "Nightmare" is fantastically grand, frightful and totally badass, with dueling guitar acrobatics, an evil main riff and vocalist M. Shadows at his most charismatically sinister. 

Black Sabbath - "Black Sabbath"

In the beginning there was "Black Sabbath." Metal's first title track is still just as haunting as it was when it crept out of the blues-rock marshes in 1970, Ozzy's wails reverberating through the sleepy halls of zonked-out hippies, a spooky foretelling of what would become of the wilted flower-power era. "Satan's coming 'round the bend," the shaggy-haired specter howled as the dirge gave way to a cobweb-covered gallop. "The people better go and beware." 

Death - "Symbolic"

Death have plenty of stellar title tracks in their catalog ("Scream Bloody Gore," "Leprosy," "Spiritual Healing," "Individual Thought Patterns," etc.), but the song that shares its name with mastermind Chuck Schuldiner's 1995 opus, Symbolic, is the band's finest. Opening the album, it brilliantly rides the fine line between melodicism and brutality, technicality and accessibility, catchy, crushing, majestic. Simply put, it's as good as death metal gets.

Gojira - "L'Enfant Sauvage"

Gojira took their progressive, environmentally conscious death metal to new heights on their fifth album, 2012's L'enfant Sauvage. Its title track is the LP's clear standout and fan favorite (30 million Spotify streams and counting, nearly double the album's second most-streamed cut), a roiling, seething thrill ride that builds ups to an earth-shattering crescendo around the three-minute mark. As the lyrics say, it's the sound of "righteous anger boiling inside of us."

Iron Maiden - "The Number of the Beast"

It may sound quaint by today's standards, but Iron Maiden's choice to spell out their love of Satan was a bold move in 1982. They plastered their album with an image of a Luciferian beast grinning at the prospective record-sifting teenager, beckoning them with a "pick me!" grin, and then hooking them with a song as devilishly celebratory as its title track. "666, the number of the beast/666, the one for you and me," Bruce Dickinson proclaimed, and the tastiness of that main riff was indeed — and still is — too enticing to pass up. 

Judas Priest - "Painkiller"

Even if you can't stand Rob Halford's holy squeal, even if you don't like metal, even if you're a buttoned-up dorkrod who recoils at the thought of having fun, it's a physiological impossibility to not feel a pinch of dopamine in your noggin when "Painkiller" comes screeching on. The ridiculous opening drum solo, Tipton and Downing's paladin-tier shredding, the way Halford shrieks "THIS. IS. THE PAIN-KILL-ER." Shit should be in the Smithsonian. 

Life of Agony - "River Runs Red"

NYHC-cum-alt-metal titans Life of Agony became instant legends care of their 1993 debut, River Runs Red, a cinematic concept album about abuse, abandonment, depression and, ultimately, suicide. "I got the razor at my wrist 'cause I can't resist," Mina Caputo howls at the opening of the LP's harrowing title track, which faces the last of those themes head-on across an amazingly poignant, power-packed minute and 54 seconds.

Megadeth - "Peace Sells"

"Peace Sells" is essentially a diss track, written by one hesher for all, that's lobbed at the evergreen enemy that is the judgemental normie. Only someone as colorful, sharp and hysterical as Dave Mustaine could pull this kind of track off, and turn a line as pithy as "peace sells, but who's buying?" into a thought-provoking horns-up anthem, signed with a John Hancock of string-bending guitar heroics. 

Metallica - "Master of Puppets"

"Master of Puppets" is everything a title track should be — an encapsulation of the album it resides on, and therefore a one-song mile marker of the band's skill level at that given moment. In the case of Metallica, it positioned them as the single greatest band in heavy metal (arguably, but, let's be real, yes), and to this day, the album that houses this eight-and-a-half-minute masterpiece remains their most perfect creative achievement.

Motörhead - "Ace of Spades"

Gambling may be for fools, but Motörhead's signature song "Ace of Spades" is a stroke of fucking genius. The band's immortal "Three Amigos" power-trio lineup personify the deck's highest card as a sneering mercenary who'll either snatch the seat out from under you or hoist you atop a golden throne. Of course, it's Lemmy's eternal chill — "You win some, lose some, all the same to me" — that makes the rollicking song so goddamn cool. 

Pantera - "Cowboys From Hell"

More than just an exceptional title track and a grand reconfiguration of their sound, "Cowboys From Hell" was a way of life for Pantera. A description of their rascally antics and insurgent takeover of metal that saw them swing open the saloon doors, send the crappy hair-metal burnouts runnin' and ultimately prevail in an epic duel against every reigning thrash band, proclaiming Pantera the baddest, raddest outlaws of the Nineties generation to come. 

Sepultura - "Roots Bloody Roots"

While Sepultura's open-armed embrace of nu-metal caused a lot of nose crinkling at the time, "Roots Bloody Roots" has become their defining song. The Roots opening salvo is a triumphantly ingenious convergence of ancient and modern groove, marrying traditional Brazilian percussion with gut-rumbling guitar tones and Max Cavalera's wooly-mammoth bellow in a way that's somehow not awkward or cheesy, even all these years later. 

Slayer - "Raining Blood"

Yes, technically the album is called Reign in Blood and this song is called "Raining Blood," but Slayer's cheeky pun doesn't prevent this from serving as the record's banner slice of hell. Countless death-metal bands that are much heavier than Slayer have forged their entire creative vision in this song's image, but none of them sound half as diabolical and steeped in pandemonium as "Raining Blood." Also, best riff ever? Best riff ever. 

System of a Down - "Toxicity"

How does one make an intellectually prodding song about primordial disorder and mankind's futile attempts to control the world by way of sowing discord without it sounding like a philosophy lecture awkwardly set to music? Magic, probably, and System of a Down have that touch on the rising, falling, thrilling, lilting, screaming, crooning, idyllic, raging "Toxicity," one of several gratifying high points on their 2001 magnum opus. 

TOOL - "Ænema"

The title track (the slightly different spelling notwithstanding) and emotional peak of TOOL's 1996 prog-metal opus, "Ænema" is a stunning prayer for the apocalypse that boasts some of the band's most dynamic songwriting and some of Maynard James Keenan's most scathing and angelic vocals. It also boils the singer/renaissance man's DIY survivalist philosophy down to a beautifully concise mantra: "Learn to swim."