Metal, by nature, is a very guitar-centric and guitar-oriented genre. There is no shortage of blistering solos, groovy riffs and headbanging breakdowns in metal. The bass is the bedrock of the band, and the drums lock in the groove, but it is the guitar that is at the heart and soul of metal. So here is my personal list of the best guitar passages in metal. Note that this list is not restricted to solos only and includes any guitar part played in a song.
Number Five: “Momento” by Intervals. This band. They manage to come up with killer riffs time and again. The song “Momento” is off their second EP In Time released in 2012. The song starts off with a typical Intervals riff that is interesting but also slightly routine. Around the 0:25 mark, however, the band launches into a riff that screams GROOVE. What is so special about the riff is that it is used as both a standalone riff and also as the backing for the solos. The song itself is one of my personal favourites and is chock full of groovy riffs and crazy solos. What is great about the band is that unlike other djent bands ( I’m using the term “djent” here loosely), Intervals’ riffs have a certain characteristic bouncing groove to them that sets them apart from their contemporaries, and this monster of a riff is a perfect example of that.
Number Four: “Lab Monkey” by Alice in Chains. Alice in Chains are not technically metal, but they were always my favourite grunge band (sorry Nirvana). The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is my favourite album by them, though I love most of their stuff. This song in particular starts off slow with a wah-infused (or talk box?) riff and meanders along for some time. Then the pre-chorus riff kicks in around the 2:24 mark and blows all uncertainty away. A haunting melody played with ringing notes, the pre-chorus riff complements the lyrics (We’ll never know, what this is / Till we take a look inside / I’m sure we’ll find what came before it dies) perfectly. A standout riff in an excellent album.
Number Three: “Tornado of Souls” by Megadeth. Whatever you say about Dave Mustaine, the man can write a riff. Although judging by the jazz-influenced nature of the riff, I think Marty Friedman might have had a hand in it too. The song starts with one of the most furious riffs of all time. I used to listen to rock before, until one day my friend came up to me and told me to listen to this song. What I heard blew me away. The riff literally changed my life as I had never heard anything so powerful and so fast in my life. The first riff of the song starts off with a barrage of harmonics and then transitions into a jazzy but metal riff. The song itself is an underrated classic and contains one of the finest solos of all time. However, for me, the riff is the heart of the song- an onslaught to the senses. The song is actually full of some insane riffs, but this one is the best and stands out from the rest.
Number Two: “Ghost of Perdition” by Opeth. Once upon a time, Opeth were a death metal band and would write death metal albums. This was the start of their obsession with prog rock but still contained unmistakable death metal elements. The album opener is an over 10 minute long epic that contains all the things that Opeth do (or did) well. This riff, the 2nd verse riff, starts around the 5:55 mark and has a distinctive Opeth groove to it. What further helps the riff is guest vocalist Steven Wilson’s vocals over it. Maybe it is due to Wilson’s involvement, but this remains one of my favourite riffs by the band.
Number One: “Jaws of Life” by John Petrucci. John Petrucci is hands down the best guitarist in the world today. His technical prowess is evident in Dream Theater, but there had always been accusation that his playing was too robotic and lacked “soul” and “feeling.” However, he put all those doubts to rest with his virtuoso masterclass in his solo album, Suspended Animation. Although all the songs are amazing in their own right, the solo in “Jaws of Life” takes the cake, I think. Starting off around the 3 minute mark, Petrucci embarks on a mesmerising solo that captivates you for close to 2 minutes. Showcasing everything from shredding, fast paced alternate picking, wah-infused licks and soulful melodies, the solo is Petrucci at his finest as he makes the guitar speak, wail, cry and laugh.