At the end of the day, headbanging is the purest expression of love for the rock fan. Sure, singing along is fun, pumping your fist is great, and moshing is a solid way to tenderize your work week away. But that simple, repetitive motion of whipping your head up and down is the most vital, perhaps spiritual way of showing off just how much a song shakes you to the core of your ass. Other physical reactions require some level of thought, but headbanging comes naturally.
But while it’s easy to think that you can headbang to any song with a bitchin’ riff that evokes images of vans in need of oil changes, there’s something magical about those songs that demand it. With those tracks, there’s nothing to think about–heads will bang, whether they belong to diehard metalheads or casual passersby. These are the songs in which fans from all walks of music can come together and act like the unbalanced heshers they secretly are inside. In honor of these classics, we’ve ranked the fifty greatest songs to headbang along to, with the only rule that every artist only gets one entry, except for Black Sabbath, who get two because they’re fucking Black Sabbath.
Here are the 50 tracks most likely to put you in a neck brace…
50. Grand Magus, “Iron Will” (Iron Will, 2008)
These days, Sweden’s Grand Magus are more synonymous with sturdy, wood-lined Viking metal, but on 2008’s Iron Will they channeled that ethos through a kickass biker lens. The album’s title track starts with a series of guitar accents and drum rhythms that make it sinful to do anything but headbang. That, plus the growled chant of the title during the song’s chorus gives “Iron Will” a marching beat that most of the band’s idols would kill to have written. A real bikes-around-the-bonfire jam.
49. The Hell, “Everybody Dies” (Groovehammer, 2014)
It’s not just that The Hell’s big single is a certified djent banger, which it most certainly is. But the track’s nonstop breakdown comes with lyrical themes of living now because you, like every other shmuck, are going to die, probably in a really embarrassing way. Lines like, “Do drugs ‘cause you’re gonna die anyway/Fuck anything that moves ‘cause it’s gonna fuck anyway” are a graphic reminder that life’s too short and being cautious leads to a boring deathbed. Why not sprain your neck to this one?
58. Fit For An Autopsy, “Hydra” (The Great Collapse, 2017)
Beware the drop on “Hydra”–if you’re not ready, it might shatter your eye socket. Fit For An Autopsy have always been more effective than other deathcore bands by using their breakdowns to actually do something, and the opening of the first track from 2017’s The Great Collapse illustrates just how well they pull this move off. The empty space and stark rhythm behind frontman Joe Badolato’s bellows are haunting in their sheer potential energy, and its release upon the howl of, “Cause when you cut off the head, fucking TWO GROW BACK” is nothing short of devastating.
47. Strapping Young Lad, “AAA” (City, 1997)
Most of the time, Strapping Young Lad are synonymous with high-speed cyber-thrash. But after several songs of face-ripping binary code on their ‘97 masterpiece City, the band slows down to a steady, almost danceable spasm with “AAA.” Though still shimmery and atmospheric, the song comes off as a way to get crowds exploding with movement. Even those moments of progressive long-form ambience throughout are tempered by the bone-shattering pound of drummer Gene Hoglan. The listening experience is like being fed through machinery found at the core of a heartless metropolis, making the hot-blooded reaction this song inspires especially powerful.
46. Nightwish, “Wish I Had An Angel” (Once, 2004)
Is there any metal band more European than Finland’s Nightwish? The band’s mixture of surging agro riffs and filigreed opera vocals make the band feel every song is about the ghosts inside the oldest theater in Prague or Ljubjana. But Nightwish’s lasting power comes in large part due to their sheer heaviness, as “Wish I Had An Angel” proves. Sure, the track is Wacken metal at its most corsetted, but the central beat and riff pack a mechanical punch unlike any other. In fact, it’s the track’s melodramatic grandeur that makes it so good for headbanging, allowing the listener to give themselves over to metal at its least self-conscious. Maybe grow a soul patch.
45. Clutch, “Promoter (of Earthbound Causes)” (Blast Tyrant, 2004)
It’s hard to narrow down one Clutch song that bangs harder than the others, but “Promoter (of Earthbound Causes)” wins due not only to its rhythm but also its subject matter. Sure, the track is powered by a big, swaggering riff that shakes tailfeathers from the get go. But it’s the dirtbag rocker themes bellowed by vocalist Neil Fallon–“Ready to rock if you wanna roll/Please step away from the vehicle” being a choice example–that inspires the listener to give themselves over to the song. Best served in a sweaty dive alongside someone else’s beer flying in your face.
44. Sodom, “Ausgebombt” (Agent Orange, 1989)
Though we normally associate headbanging with mid-paced tracks, there’s nothing more unhinged than a thrasher moving along to a punkish speed metal track. Sodom take the often brittle sound of German thrash metal to infectious places with this roaring song about (what else) the horrors of warfare. Fast and mean while still revelling in its romp, “Ausgebombt” is a standing example of why thrash is arguably the most fun subgenre of metal, a diehard take on the classic sound that still feels invested in making you crush a beer can on your head. You might need some Icy Hot after this song.
43. Gatecreeper, “Boiled Over” (Deserted, 2019)
If there’s one thing Gatecreeper’s humid, pockmarked death metal does well, it’s that dependable rhythm. Put on “Boiled Over” in a room full of metal fans and you’ll watch all heads flap at once almost out of obligation. Even as the riffs change up and the vocals take a life of their own, the song is a concrete-boned powerhouse that makes one want to do little other than march high-kneed across the pit. The band’s self-embraced title of “stadium death metal” may sound lofty to some, but one spin of this track and the descriptor feels deserved.
42. Machine Head, “Halo” (The Blackening, 2007)
Though part of the sorrowful lament that is 2007’s The Blackening, “Halo” still brings plenty of the kinetic heaviness with which Machine Head have made history. The squeal that leads to the central riff is an invitation to movement, with the song’s verse guitars moving at a stride that’s tailor-made to throttle heads. But it’s the serpentine axe-work and harmonized vocals of the chorus that truly get listeners losing their minds, channeling old-school metal while peppered with drum accents that beg for bodily recklessness. Not your typical aggro metal track, but without argument an awesome one.
41. The Black Dahlia Murder, “Nightbringers” (Nightbringers, 2017)
Sweet fucking Christ, how bouncy can one riff be? Though the title track of their 2017 release switches up the drum pace here and there, it’s the Black Dahlia Murder’s skipping central guitar part that makes this song a slice of headbanger heaven. The Michigan five-piece have always been hailed for merging European melodeath with American hardcore, and while the former is a little more dominant on “Nightbringers,” it’s the tempo of the latter that gives it its unique buoyancy. Pure satisfaction.
40. Immortal, “Tyrants” (Sons of Northern Darkness, 2002)
When black metal slows down a bit, it becomes the soundtrack to an inevitable march towards death, and no one illustrates that better than Norwegian blackened wrestling metallers Immortal. “Tyrants” has a riff seemingly written for armies overtaking the land, and its rhythm and vocal sound make it feel as though it were being broadcast over loudspeakers during a land campaign. For the leather-swaddled cultist, this is more empowering than futile, making the song a perfect track for lowering one’s head and surviving real life’s little skirmishes, likes a commute on public transportation or a drive to the Grand Canyon with your family. Careful, you might hurt yourself with how hard you’ll headbang to this one.
39. Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir” (Physical Graffiti, 1975)
Like many classic rock bands, Led Zeppelin’s music is often produced in a way that tones down its edges (fans of this sort of hippie rock like to think of themselves as slightly above metal, though maybe they don’t know often just makes them seem like even bigger dirtbags). So it’s understandable that some fans might not hear “Kashmir” and think it deserves its place alongside some of these heavy hitters. But the song’s anchored beat and Jimmy Page’s strutting main riff are where most modern headbanging music stems from, presenting fans before metal’s true boom with a song in which they can physically immerse themselves. Imagine it live, really fucking loud, and you’ll understand.
38. Electric Wizard, “Dunwich” (Witchcult Today, 2007)
Headbanging is rad, sure, but the headbang coupled with the side-to-side bob is a beautiful thing that few bands can nail. But British weed lords Electric Wizard nail this atmosphere on “Dunwich”, the groovy ‘70s-drenched track from their 2007 masterpiece Witchcult Today. Front and center on the track is guitarist Liz Buckingham’s gratifying central riff, which brings all the looming Lovecraftian menace while keeping the track fun and groovy enough to dance to. Though Electric Wizard’s songs are all pretty choice for neck abuse–especially given the number of bong rips that usually accompany them–this one brings the utter fun of it all to an energetic, prancing-satyr boil.
37. At The Gates, “World Of Lies” (Slaughter of the Soul, 1995)
The very balls on this opening riff! At The Gates may have changed the face of music and inspired all of metalcore with the fast, melodic guitars of ‘95’s Slaughter of the Soul, but on “World of Lies” the band wrote one of the more brash, confident riffs in music history. Sure, the track’s breakneck verses and pendulous chorus are killer, but that opening guitar line sounds like it’s flicking hundos at a zombie stripper in Hell. One doesn’t usually think of Swedish melodeath as the music to blast out of your windows when rolling up to the club, but this song taps ass with the lights on.
36. Fear Factory, “Edgecrusher” (Obsolete, 1998)
“Inflict strain upon the structure, collapsing below my pressure”–like a pit put to words. “Edgecrusher” is an nearly-four-minute reduction of what Fear Factory have always done best, combining nu-metal’s increased gravity with death metal’s merciless fury. The track’s ricochet is unbeatable, so that the neck feels spring-loaded the minute it kicks in; even through pace-changes during the bridge, this drive never lets up. How this track alone didn’t inspire the subgenre of “trampoline metal” is beyond us.
35. Styx, “Renegade” (Pieces of Eight, 1978)
Don’t deny it–though it might not be extreme metal, Styx’s “Renegade” is a certified skull-swinger. The drop of the first chorus feels like someone yanking the support pin out of your spine, while the bouncy rhythm that carries the track keeps you moving throughout. All of this comes to a head with the choir-vocal reprise of the first verse, which all but grabs you by the hair and pulls your head forward (usually accompanied by a pointed punching of the air). Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
34. Carcass, “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” (Necroticism – Descanting The Insalubrious, 1991)
Those opening kick drums can only mean one thing: you’re about to get your hair caught in someone’s jacket zipper. Many fans love Carcass for their early guts-bubbling grindcore material, but it’s when the band began to embrace death metal that they struck gold. “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” steamrolls most other tracks like it with its teeth-gnashing riffs and crackling percussion. At the same time, the cut is never bone-headed or basic, shaking up time signatures juuust enough to raise eyebrows. Some of the most fun you’ll ever have listening to a song about dismembered bodies.
33. Mastodon, “Crystal Skull” (Blood Mountain, 2006)
Due to their use of progressive riffs and rhythms, Mastodon aren’t always the easiest band to headbang to. But the opening drums of “Crystal Skull” immediately give the listener something to straddle, and the trundling pace throughout feels suited for bobbing one’s brainpan. Not only that, but the slowed-down guitar harmonies in the middle allow for a moment of more languid banging than the intro, giving one a chance to rest their neck (to a certain extent). Definitely an unorthodox one for this list, but always a satisfying listen none the less.
32. Morbid Angel, “Where The Slime Live” (Domination, 1995)
UGH. Most of the time, Morbid Angel express their Lovecraftian MO via swift, tentacled riffs that sound too slippery to catch. But “Where The Slime Live” revels in the pure hugeness and inevitability of the apocalypse predicted by Providence’s weirdest author. With kaijiu footsteps, the mid-paced song pitches forward, oozing bile and breathing disease; even David Vincent’s masked vocals sound like they’re being ululated through a mouth made of snot. The listener is turned into a mindless thrall, with no option but to flap their trunk at its grotesque beauty.
31. Van Halen, “Panama” (1984, 1984)
“Panama” is like Van Halen’s life philosophy put to sound–why have one beat-drop when you can have one for every verse? Every single time the chorus of the track slams back in, one feels obligated to drop their skull, each catharsis more awesome than the last. As with all Van Halen singles, there’s also a freedom from important or edgy subject matter that releases fans from needing to listen to closely. Is the song about a girl named Panama? A car? The actual Republic of Panama, population 4.1 million? Now’s not the time to give a shit. Let’s dance.
30. White Zombie, “Blood, Milk and Sky” (Astro-Creep: 2000, 1995)
White Zombie’s tendency towards booty-shaking freak-metal makes plenty of their songs worthy of this list, but few inspire the full-body buckle of “Blood, Milk and Sky.” Though 1995’s sizzling Astro-Creep: 2000 is mostly packed with grinding 4-4 riffs and dance beats, the record’s closing track is a psychedelic dirge using samples and sound effects with hypnotic power. That metal Aghori atmosphere is only heightened by Rob Zombie’s gravely rumblings about beauty and shadow flying through the desert night. Sadly, the song now also stands as a tombstone for the band, the last great song by one of metal’s most bombastic acts before they imploded and went their separate ways.
29. Mercyful Fate, “A Dangerous Meeting” (Don’t Break The Oath, 1984)
These days, the concept of ‘satanic metal’ evokes humorless chuds beating you to death with their double bass fills, but back in the day the Devil was all about having a rad fucking time. “A Dangerous Meeting” is certainly a haunting, steely track that celebrates all things unholy and paranormal in its choral refrain and moonlit wailing. But Hank Sherman and Michael Denner’s guitars are as rip-roaring and fun-loving as it gets, even in their more arcane and occult moments. Maybe that’s why Mercyful Fate are truly the most evil band of all time–because they force fans not only to hail Satan, but to have a blast doing it.
28. Black Sabbath, “N.I.B.” (Black Sabbath, 1970)
In the immortal words of Ozzy Osbourne, “Oh yeah!” It’s hard to claim one Sabbath track is more headbangable than the next, given the catchy nature of band’s thick, bluesy doom-stomp. What stands out with “N.I.B.” is its dual launch, the way the opening bass solo gives way to the isolated main riff, followed by the riff giving way to the full band. Something about those releases of tension just get a listener going, making this song a certified banger by physical instinct alone. Listen to your body–it has better taste than you.
27. Accept, “Balls To The Wall” (Balls to the Wall, 1983)
Accept were part of the pre-mosh school of metal, when headbanging was pretty much all there was to do (and maybe a little air guitar on the side). So it’s no shock that “Balls to the Wall” is the kind of track that was written expressly for the motion. Plodding to a beat centered perfectly around its massive chorus, the track doesn’t even bring in the kind of fancy fretwork and singalong sections that would interrupt a continuous up-and-down motion. Though punk was vital to keeping metal cool, this one reminds listeners what drew those first waves of fans to the genre in the first place.
26. Hatebreed, “I Will Be Heard” (Perseverance, 2002)
The opening lyrics of “I Will Be Heard” are the modern equivalent of a war horn being blown in the distance. Even those who don’t know what the sound means understand that something destructive is about to happen. Those familiar with the noise know they have exactly ten seconds from when Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta screams, “Now is the time for me to rise to my feet…” to either run for cover or limber up. There are no time outs.
25. Iron Maiden, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” (The Number of the Beast, 1982)
Weirdly enough, though they’re probably the most iconic metal band of all time, Iron Maiden just don’t have a lot of solid headbanging tracks, due in part to their acrobatic guitars and vocals. But it is pretty much impossible to avoid rocking back and forth when the electric harmonies of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” come smoldering in. Adrian Smith and Dave Murray’s twin guitars are just melt-in-your-mouth sonic candy, and Clive Burr’s percussion has a shuffle and crash to it that feels funkier than the steady footfalls of the band’s peers. As such, this song comes off as more metal than anything else in its solar system, and requires immediate physical tribute.
24. Alice In Chains, “Man In The Box” (Facelift, 1990)
These days, the story goes that grunge’s arrival in the ‘90s instantly buried metal’s bloated corpse, but “Man In The Box” reminds us that the Seattle movement was still solidly invested in heavy music’s chug and slam. The song’s central riff may be groovier than those of, say, Skid Row, but it’s still kinetic enough to keep skulls moving. Even Layne Staley’s desert sex god wails are soaring enough to make one feel they’re listening to a classic shitbox radio jam, albeit a grittier one than most. The ‘90s may have killed a lot of mainstream metal’s glitz and glam, but Alice In Chains were proof that the riff was still alive and well.
23. Sleep, “Dragonaut” (Sleep’s Holy Mountain, 1993)
Perhaps what’s most special about the opener of Sleep’s groundbreaking 1993 album is how it increases the levels of headbanging with each section. First there’s a steady stoner bob to the opening guitar, then there’s the full-body sway when the drums kick in, and finally there’s the complete abandon once the whole thing comes billowing forth. By the end of the track, the listener has explored the full range of body movements, from playful pothead bounce to full-on doom metal reel. As one can imagine with these kings of cannabis worship, weed helps.
22. Megadeth, “Peace Sells” (Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, 1986)
On average, Megadeth are more about those crafty guitar antics and weird thrashy rhythms that set Dave Mustaine apart from the pack. But “Peace Sells” is marked by its steady, headbangable pace, both with its crunchy rhythm guitar and its rubber-footed bass line. Even the speed-up section at the end feels made for movement, with Mustaine’s vocal rhythms working alongside the faster-but-never-fast beat. Rarely does speed metal provide such a perfect soundtrack to never looking up from your veil of hair.
21. Mortician, “Zombie Apocalypse” (Zombie Apocalypse EP, 1998)
Rarely does a track sound as much like its namesake as “Zombie Apocalypse”. With their patented ability to do a whole lot with a shitload of distortion and a horror movie sample, Mortician create a perfect soundtrack to the planet-devouring march of the undead. The central riff is of course what will always keep death’s heads flopping, complete with its wiggly, intestinal whirr midway through. While not a track that’ll get played at every pizza party, this one is an unstoppable force of morbid, misanthropic rhythm that metal’s darker fans will forever cherish. When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will bang the earth.
20. Celtic Frost, “Procreation Of The Wicked” (Morbid Tales, 1984)
With his patented “UGH!”, Celtic Frost frontman Tom G. Warrior kicks off what is arguably the bangingest black metal track in existence. Lead-footed and narrow-eyed, “Procreation Of The Wicked” is an unholy stomp which shows off Celtic Frost’s unique talent for merging primitive darkness with baroque technique. The track’s central riff is a steady bounce of pitch-black ire, and the addition of Warrior’s bizarre psychological lyrics–”If God raised the abyss, you’d procreate your own”–elevate the song to a well-deserved pedestal above many songs by the Swiss band’s peers. Few bands will ever be as outright metal as this.
19. AC/DC, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, 1976)
We can hear readers around the world shouting out other AC/DC songs that they think deserve this slot. And we get it–few bands have a talent for big, raucous hard rock anthems that even touches the boys from Sydney. But why “Dirty Deeds…” gets chosen over, say, “Back In Black” or “Thunderstruck”, is that it’s just meaner, and channels that early hard rock footsoldier-of-society’s-downfall vibe harder. Most of the band’s singles are awesome soundtracks to partying hard or flipping off The Man, but this one’s all switchblades and plastique explosive, powered by a nasty chug and Rat Fink gang vocals. Get dirty.
18. Cannibal Corpse, “Scourge Of Iron” (Torture, 2012)
Twelve albums and over 20 years into their career, Cannibal Corpse went ahead and wrote one of the greatest metal songs of all time. Primal, ugly, and regal in its misanthropy, “Scourge Of Iron” is a sonic lava flow, completely destructive and impossible to stop. Given the Floridan death metal quintet’s grisly subject matter over the years, one might think a track about being a slave in an iron mine would be a day at the playground, and yet Corpse use of stark descriptions and forced-labor trudge to give the track a raw, ghoulish bent. A song during which your head might literally detach.
17. Rage Against The Machine, “Bulls On Parade” (Evil Empire, 1996)
Perhaps the most kickass part of “Bulls On Parade” is the many different ways which one can headbang to it. Are they going with the full-body skull-throttle with the spring of the central riff? Are they doing the double-time thrash-spasm a la Denzel Curry? Or are they just stoner-bobbing to Tom Morello’s snarling, acidic verse guitar? Rage Against The Machine have given you all of these options and more, but have left you with absolutely no chance of standing still. You’re probably already headbanging reading this, aren’t you? That’s okay!
16. Quiet Riot, “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)” (Metal Health, 1983)
How can you not bang your head to the original song about banging one’s head? Quiet Riot proved that they knew their audience with the opening cut from their genre-defining 1983 album Metal Health, celebrating the front-row antics of their fanbase. Even without the directions in the chorus, the songs ceaseless beat and bassline inspire a bodily reaction that’s harder to suppress than give into with utter abandon. But come on, this should be an easy one–the instructions are in the title.
15. Slayer, “Skeletons Of Society” (Seasons In The Abyss, 1990)
While not one of their popular tracks, “Skeletons Of Society” is in many ways the ultimate Slayer song, a firm declaration of the band’s gore-soaked worldview. King and Hanneman’s juggernaut riffs sound like a death march through post-apocalyptic LA. At the same time, the track also shows off the unique talents of the band as a whole; Dave Lombardo’s drumming is straightforward but shows off his delicious accent work, while Tom Araya’s chanted verses and eerie dual-vocaled choruses add a haunting atmosphere that’s uniquely Slayer. The result is a lesser-known anthem over which in-the-know metalheads will happily give themselves migraines.
14. Meshuggah, “New Millennium Cyanide Christ” (Chaosphere, 1998)
Like listmates At The Gates, Meshuggah somehow managed to craft a Swedish death metal track that’s furious, destructive–and sexy as fuck. “New Millennium Cyanide Christ” has a beat/vocal rhythm interplay that one usually finds in the heaviest of hip-hop tracks; applied to the band’s progressive technical thrash (or whatever you want to call them), it’s absolutely deadly. The song immediately calls for crowd response the same way a killer rap tune does, yanking necks and buckling waists. And hey, let’s be honest, it’s also one of the few Meshuggah songs you can headbang to without having to pause and regain your rhythm midway through.
13. Judas Priest, “Metal Gods” (British Steel, 1980)
Picking any one Judas Priest song for this list is truly a Sophie’s Choice situation. But while plenty of Priest tracks crush, slap, and slay, few have the steady pace and leaping riffs of “Metal Gods”, a song that has come to stand for the band themselves even though it’s about being killed by robots. It also has to be admitted that headbanging to a song with ‘metal’ in its title just feels a little more special than doing so to other tracks with wordy, occult-oriented names. It’s obviously not one of the most famous JP tracks, but maybe that’s part of its power–this one’s for the people who know what’s up.
12. The Beatles, “Helter Skelter” (The White Album, 1968)
Could “Helter Skelter” be rock’s first true headbanger? The drop at the end of the opening lines is impossible to ignore, and yanks the listener’s entire upper body forward when it’s unleashed. Meanwhile, the descending guitar part in the chorus adds a metallic bite to the song and makes it a worthy contender with all of the guttural beatdowns listed here (that might also explain why artists including Rob Zombie, Motley Crue, and Pat Benetar have covered the track, though it’s more likely the Manson Family connection that inspired those musicians). The next time an aged hippie complains about heavy metal, remind them: We learned it from you, okay? We learned it from you!
11. Slipknot, “Psychosocial” (All Hope Is Gone, 2008)
To grasp why “Psychosocial” is such a headbanging classic, one only has to look at the maniacs who wrote it it. Performances of this track see Slipknot members like Clown and Sid Wilson acting as though they were born with their heads on hinges. That said, the real credit here must be given to guitarists Jim Root and Mick Thompson (Goth Leatherface and Jason But Scarier to the unfamiliar), whose bulbous bounce riffs are what truly lends “Psychosocial” its throttling momentum. Put this one on and watch a room full of people’s heads murmurate like a flock of birds.
10. Dio, “Holy Diver” (Holy Diver, 1983)
Has any riff been more perfectly adept to headbanging? Regal yet gnarly, galloping yet steady, the opening riff to “Holy Diver” is a reminder of why metal is usually at its coolest when it’s also totally ridiculous. Yeah, this track contains lyrics like, “Between the velvet lies, there’s a truth as hard as steel”, and for a certain type of self-conscious person that might cause a sneer or two. But the whole point of losing your shit to heavy music is to forget what anyone else thinks, and no one gets that concept down better than Dio. Just ride the fucking tiger already.
9. Rammstein, “Du hast” (Sehnsucht, 1997)
In a dystopian future where humans headbang to create electricity like hamsters on wheels, “Du hast” will be the song they play in the background. Rammstein’s biggest single is the sound of a piston pumping in the engine that spins the earth, and as such drives the listener to immediately move in a steady up-and-down motion. Not only that, but its undeniable catchiness has made it a mega-hit, so that even casual fans are down to lurch along to it. The beauty of industrial lies in its mechanized rhythms, which remind the listener that they are meat machines designed for steady, pneumatic movement, and this song embodies that perfectly.
8. Mötley Crüe, “Shout At The Devil” (Shout at the Devil, 1983)
“Shout at the Devil” is somehow both a parody of and master class in heavy metal history. On the one hand, the track’s widespread popularity and gang-vocal refrain unarguably add an aroma of cheese to the whole song. At the same time, the complete earnestness behind its proto-glam power makes it bigger and louder than most singles by bands who take themselves too seriously. For these reasons, this one is as classic and iconic a singalong as heavy music has ever known. Be honest, you started headbanging the minute you heard that first riff.
7. Gojira, “Vacuity” (The Way of All Flesh, 2008)
At the end of the day, Gojira’s twin talents will always be forward-thinking progressiveness couched in solid, grinding groove metal. What makes “Vacuity” so outstanding, and well suited for banging one’s head, is that combination. Obviously, the track’s throbbing pace and groaning riffs are what get the crowd moving, but the introspective and empowering lyrics elevate this song above your usual agro rager, making the listener feel something healthy rather than hostile. Few bands can write a song so heavy and mature, but Gojira are undoubtedly one of them.
6. Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (A Night at the Opera, 1975)
Man, how one movie can change all of rock and roll. Before Wayne’s World, “Bohemian Rhapsody” might not have made it onto this list, but the infamous singalong in the Mirth Mobile has forever made it one of the most headbangable tracks of all time. Most of the song is obviously the band performing a sort of madcap opera full of insane lyrics, but the massive guitar break in the middle, complete with its gigantic riff and snotty lyrics, will have any roomful of drunk people losing their shit in unison. Just remember: If you’re gonna spew, spew into this.
5. Twisted Sister, “I Wanna Rock” (Stay Hungry, 1984)
There are few things greater than rocking out to a a rock song about rocking. “I Wanna Rock” is like “We’re Not Gonna Take It”’s snottier cousin who spent his whole allowance on spiked bracelets, and as such is about as perfect a song to headbang to as any in this world. The track immediately makes one wonder if they’ve accidentally stumbled into an ‘80s hair metal video, and if rather than making dinner and paying taxes they should stand at a railing somewhere and headbang into the camera. As such, both hardened metal fans and your average listener can go all in on “I Wanna Rock,” both of them transported to the same big-haired, spandex-clad paradise.
4. Black Sabbath, “Children Of The Grave” (Master of Reality, 1971)
Headbanging is a pretty warlike gesture of appreciation, a physical oath of loyalty, and few bands grasped this like Black Sabbath. The gallop behind “Children of the Grave” makes moving along with the song feel less like dancing and more like you’re riding into the wasteland at the Reaper’s side. While the lyrics’ subject matter is depressive, that sense of darkness and nihilism only makes “Children” fuck harder, trading the good-timey Diamond Dave attitude of so much mainstream rock for the scowling, smoke-drenched determination of the lifer.
3. Lamb Of God, “Now You’ve Got Something To Die For” (Ashes of the Wake, 2004)
The track that launched a thousand pits. It’s nearly impossible to hear “Now You’ve Got Something To Die For” and stay still. At the very least, the listener will begin nodding along at their desk or on the subway, but the chances that they’ll skip headfirst into the nearest person are also considerably high. Most beautiful about the song is that Lamb Of God give fans a chance to headbang at every speed, from the mid-pace roll of the opening, to the thrash spasms of the verse, to the absolute wrecking-ball lunge of the closing breakdown. A metal classic for the ages, this one’s the most fun anyone will have feeling angrier than they ever have before.
2. Metallica, “For Whom The Bell Tolls” (Ride The Lightning, 1984)
Rarely does a song make one headbang so solemnly. “For Whom The Bell Tolls” uses lyrics about the Hemingway novel of the same name to bring a thoughtful take of warfare to thrashing like a psychopath. Even more so, its central melody is a reminder of the loss of bassist Cliff Burton, the galloping chugs and mischievous leaps of the song paying a burly tribute to metal’s great fallen pioneer. All of this is to say that “For Whom The Bell Tolls” is the meeting of both heavy metal thunder and real-life gravity that has put Metallica on their own level. March on.
1. Pantera, “Walk” (Vulgar Display of Power, 1992)
How many chords does it take to make the entire world bang its collective head? The answer: about one and a half. The finger-licking guitar riff at the heart of Pantera’s “Walk” shows how Dimebag Darrell’s musical brilliance relied on gut instinct rather than flowery technicality. Using a surly-ass chord with a string bend to give the track a mule-faced groove, Darrell made “Walk” sound more like the pulse of the heavy metal world than so many whirlwinds of fretwork. That, coupled with Vinnie Paul’s massive one-two beat and Phil Anselmo’s carefully-paced chest-puffing lyrics, makes this track a piece of simple genius that invites all listeners to give their necks a workout. If it were any more complicated, it’d be a bummer; as it is, it’s a masterpiece.
Words by Chris Krovatin