As counterintuitive as it seems to the genre's fast and heavy conventions, metal bands have historically written some killer ballads (and, let's be honest, a whole ton of stinkers, too). We already rounded up the 10 greatest thrash power ballads and the 16 greatest non-hair-metal power ballads, but this time we wanted to open the floor to the fans and let them weigh in with their pick for the very best slow-burning change-up in heavy-music history — throughout hair-metal, thrash, et al. Below, are the top five vote-getters ranked accordingly. Lighters up.
Testament are thrash OGs who have two utterly iconic power ballads in their repertoire. We chose to include "Return to Serenity" in our power ballads list, so it was cool to see "The Ballad" — a slow-dance jam from the sprightly Practice What You Preach — get some shine from the fans. Like several other thrash ballads before it, "The Ballad" begins as what its title states, but eventually morphs into a straight-up metal ripper with a blazing solo and a hugely distorted return to the main riff. First you sway gently, then you mosh.
Mötley Crüe built their brand on tales of debauched road-dog antics, which is part of makes their ballad about longing for the simple comfort of home so especially affecting. This cut off 1985's Theatre of Pain is one of the quintessential hair-metal ballads, from the fluttery acoustic strumming and steamy atmosphere of the verses, to the way Vince Neil's belt gives the song the jolt it needs to take off into a glorious sunset of guitar soloing. It's undeniable.
Pantera's 1990 reinvention, Cowboys From Hell, was in many ways a revamped version of thrash metal — heavier riffs, gnarlier vocals, more powerful grooves, etc. In that sense, "Cemetery Gates" serves as a sort of tier-two thrash ballad, the smoky dose of tenderness on an album that's otherwise packed with relentlessly nasty and hard-charging metal bangers. Sure, "This Love" topped our list of Pantera's 25 greatest songs, and could eclipse "Cemetary Gates" here, but we're excited to see the band's first (great) ballad get its shine.
As soon as you hear that graceful opening strumming pattern, you know exactly what you're in for. Scorpions' "Still Loving You" is a hair-metal ballad so good that even those who otherwise swear off the genre can unashamedly get down with it. Klaus Meine's soaring vocal delivery is just perfect for the track's heavy-handed romanticism, and the weepy lead riff hits a sonic emotional register that's soaked many a leather pant leg in lovelorn tears.
"Fade to Black" may not have technically been the first thrash ballad, but it was the first one that really mattered. The slow-burning standout from Metallica's otherwise ripping Ride the Lightning was their first dip into balladry, proving that proper heshers could write emotionally charged tear-jerkers that still made room for massively heavy riffery "Fade to Black" gave the power ballad its metallic credibility, and to this day, we'd tend to agree with our readers that it's the idiom's foremost display of lighters-up prowess.