As far as classic albums are concerned, it’s easy to just chalk up every song on the record as an easy 10/10. If you go through all of these songs in one sitting, chances are you wouldn’t have that hard of a time getting into any of them. For all of the anthems though, there tend to be the few gems that slip through the cracks just a little bit.
While these songs might be one part of classic albums, they tend to get a little lost in the shuffle when you talk about the heavy hitters, with most fans glossing them over to get to the heavy stuff. If you just go for the iconic songs though, you’re leaving a lot of great music on the table, with some of these songs standing as some of the best tracks on the album. Since they weren’t designed to be the big singles, this is where you normally get the experimental songs, where bands go outside of their comfort zone and come through with a song that’s either out of their wheelhouse or just goofing around in the studio for a little bit.
They may have been just trying to fill time in the studio, but each of these songs have stood out as something special, grabbing you in a much different way than just hitting you over the head with one classic riff after another. You might need to spend a little more time with some of these songs, but once you take the journey, you’ll see the underrated headbangers that you’ve been missing all these years.
Gematria – Slipknot
Out of all of Slipknot’s records, All Hope is Gone is never mentioned among the highlights all that often for hardcore fans. Although this record does sport some of the band’s best slow material like “Snuff” and “Dead Memories,” fans could tell that they were leaning just a little bit too far into commercial territory, with choruses that felt like they were meant to be sung along to in stadiums. Once you had the record in front of you though, all of that venom came roaring back with a vengeance on “Gematria.”
While Slipknot never really need an excuse to let out their anger, this is one of the first songs where Corey Taylor seems to go political, calling out the sad state of affairs that America has fallen into in the aftermath of the Bush regime. Though some fans may have been talking about it in terms of America wanting to stomp out anyone in their way, the rest of the lyrics tell a different story, talking about the different backwards practices that go on behind closed doors and the horrors that some people have to go through just to live in peace in this country.
There were a lot of patriotic songs going around during these troubling times, but Slipknot didn’t see America as a symbol of hope. This was a parasite looking to bring the rest of the world to its knees if we weren’t careful.
Dyers Eve – Metallica
For all of the albums released during Metallica’s glory years, And Justice For All occupies a bit of a weird space. As much as the band may have still been firing on all cylinders, there was an almost progressive tinge to some of these songs as well, stretching everything out into long drawn out exercises just for the hell of it. Thrash was about more than just heavy riffs though. This was a genre born out of punk, and they saved all that energy for the final song on the record.
Right as we wrap up the touching Cliff Burton tribute “To Live is To Die,” “Dyers Eve” is the fastest that Metallica ever got during the ‘80s, making something that had the same bite as a hardcore punk song with the finesse of a metal track, with Kirk Hammett’s leads stampeding across your brain every time you hear them. Even though the song’s lyrics may have just been about teen angst, the construction of the track is enough to win you over, with James Hetfield reaching superhuman levels of intensity on the breakdown sections of the song, putting all of those years listening to people like Johnny Ramone to use.
And anybody who has ever slightly complained about Lars Ulrich’s drumming needs to hear this track alone, as he practically drives the band along for 5 minutes with the double bass hitting you right in the chest every time you hear it. Metallica may have gone down the more radio friendly road just one album later, but every high energy track that they’d ever made seemed to be preparing us for this.
Don’t Follow – Alice In Chains
During the golden age of grunge, Alice In Chains were always using their music to cleanse themselves of their demons. Layne Staley was never exactly shy about his constant drug fueled behavior, and Dirt was the first time that a lot of us got to see just how far he had started to spiral. The life of excess is by no means a walk in the park, and Jar of Flies is where things started to get painfully real.
Across this entire project, you can practically hear Layne giving into his demons, saying that he will never win this battle and never finding his way back to happiness. It’s hard enough seeing Layne wallow in pain, but “Don’t Follow” is the moment where Jerry Cantrell steps up, with most of the song being carried by his acoustic guitar and singing about how he’s never coming home. For all of the metal credentials that Alice may have had, this song almost feels closer to the kind of country ballads to come out of people like Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, with the protagonist giving in to their sins and encouraging everyone not to go down the same paths that they have.
By the time Layne does show up though, his cries of “TAKE ME HOME” feel much more real, wanting to do anything to get away from his vices. Layne may have stuck around to make one more Alice In Chains album before his demons caught up with him, but it’s not hard to see this as the beginning of his goodbye.
Soldier Side – System of a Down
When System of a Down had started work on their double album Mezmerize/Hypnotize, they had more than just heavy riffs on their mind. The America that they had sung about back on Toxicity had gotten a lot more ugly in the wake of 9/11, and the oncoming war in Iraq was going to leave a lot of destruction in its wake. And while “B.Y.O.B.” might have pointed the finger right at the people in power, the final moments of the “double album” was where everything came full circle.
Picking up right where the intro of Mezmerize left off, “Soldier Side” feels like a real life account of what could have happened to any of those poor souls that were left to die on the battlefield, fighting for a cause that they didn’t even believe in. Compared to the harsh sloganeering that System are known for doing from time to time, this feels closer to reporting than anything else, relating to both the soldiers that have gone overseas to fight and their families that are worrying back home, knowing that there’s a very real chance that they will never see them again.
The whole thing almost feels like a theatrical piece halfway through, with these eager young men finally reaching the battleground and learning the cold truth that they will never see their homes again. You can talk about being patriotic all you want, but there’s also a consequence for fighting an unjust war.
Weenie Beenie – Foo Fighters
From the first time Dave Grohl walked into a studio, the Foo Fighters’ debut record was never supposed to be anything more than a goof. Given how much baggage Dave still had left over from Nirvana, this was just an opportunity for him to blow off steam and make a record totally by himself and see how some of his songs sounded on vinyl. You can hear the foundation of the Foos coming into sharper focus, but you can also hear a wild animal waiting to be unleashed on “Weenie Beenie.”
While Nirvana were already on a bit of a dark slant a few years before on In Utero, this song is pure metal for 3 straight minutes, as Dave spends the whole song screaming his guts out through a distorted speaker. He had already been listening to bands like Kyuss from around this time, and this sounds like the perfect culmination of that stoner rock sound and Dave’s punk roots, borrowing the screams from his hardcore community in DC and making riffs that feel like fast paced versions of what Alice in Chains would have been doing a few years before.
Playing to stadiums of people might be what pays the bills for Dave, but it’s interesting to think about what the Foos would have sounded like if they decided to go in this direction.
Something I Can Never Have – Nine Inch Nails
Around the time that hair metal was still lighting up the charts, Trent Reznor was already planning out his reign of destruction with Pretty Hate Machine. While the waves of industrial were still reserved for the underground most of the time, Trent was already looking to make the musical personification of raw anger, with “Head Like a Hole” actually getting decent rotation amid the Mötley Crüe’s of the world. Every heavy band has to come down to Earth eventually, and Trent had a much more tortured soul underneath all of that noise that he used Nine Inch Nails to channel.
Right in the middle of the record, “Something I Can Never Have” almost feels like you’re listening to Trent’s stream of consciousness as he writes out these lyrics, being transfixed on this person and knowing that there’s no chance that they will ever be together. While heartache has been the basis of a lot of power ballads, you can feel that loneliness through each piano strike, being left in the air and never exactly getting any closure for what happened.
And it wasn’t too far off from reality either, with Trent getting even more self-destructive as he went along until he eventually directed it all onto the tape on The Downward Spiral years later. That was a long way away, but this song is practically an emotional warm up for “Hurt.”
Stagefright – Def Leppard
For all of the hair metal haters, Def Leppard seems to live and die because of the strength of Mutt Lange. Despite having some decent songs under their belt, Mutt was the one who helped flesh out their material into something gigantic, with tracks like Photograph sounding like AC/DC if it were being performed by Queen. There was definitely a pop slant, but Leppard never forgot how to rock either.
Right as you start getting into the groove of Pyromania, “Stagefright” is a much different beast than some of the singles, with the opening riff sounding like something you would have gotten off of an old school Scorpions record, with Joe Elliot screaming his guts out on the verses. Capturing the feeling that comes with the adrenaline of a live show, the chorus practically puts you on stage with the rest of the band, feeling like you’re floating on air and trying to hold everything together every time Joe screams “on with the show.”
Hysteria may have been the first real pop crossover, but you can also hear the germs of that sound as well on this song, with the chorus almost being their way of interpreting power pop. Def Leppard may fit somewhere in the middle between NWOBHM and hair metal, but this song made a case for both subgenres playing nice with each other.
Children of the Grave – Black Sabbath
By the time Black Sabbath had started to receive major airplay on the radio, most of the Flower Children had started to fall by the wayside. The sounds of peace and love wasn’t what was happening on the ground floor, and the age of the Vietnam War cast a shroud over all of the peace movements trying to get off the ground. Sabbath marked a turning point in hard rock, and “Children of the Grave” was the death knell for psychedelic rock.
Although Master of Reality is known more for its stoner rock connotations these days, tracks like “Sweet Leaf” can barely hold a candle to this track, being one of the first songs where Tony Iommi tuned his guitar to unheard of levels to get a much more gnarly sound out of his riffs. As the riff marches along, Ozzy’s lyrics are practically a warning sign for anyone wanting to get involved in any future peace movements, cautioning them to be brave even when the rest of the world seems to turn their back on you.
The whole track might sound uplifting, but the future of rock and roll was being rewritten with the first few throbs of Tony’s riffs. A new rock revolution was now underway, and that guitar line may as well be the marching of the Four Horsemen of Metal.
Metal Gods – Judas Priest
There was always a certain element of fantasy that came with Judas Priest’s lyrics. Rob Halford never wanted to be pigeonholed as a metal band that only wrote about meatheaded topics, and there’s a lot more than just odes to the road on British Steel, from the fiery sounds of “Breaking the Law” to the party rock sounds of “Living After Midnight.” Rob was always a fan of fiction as well, and “Metal Gods” could practically be a soundtrack to the forthcoming apocalypse.
Being inspired by sci-fi films from his youth like Day of the Triffids, the lyrics of this song imagine a world where robots eventually take over society, walking across the world and laying siege to anything in their path. Alongside the NWOBHM bands coming out around the same time, this was the kind of 1984-style scenario that could only come out of metal, where Judas Priest are reigning supreme as masters of the universe on top of their gigantic robots.
The band even got into the theatrical side of the song as well, using knives and forks from the kitchen of the mansion they were recording in to create the sounds of these robots marching across the land. The age of Man had had its time, and it was time for the machines to take over. It might seem dire, but it’s also not the worst way to see the end of the world.
With You – Linkin Park
There was really no business for Linkin Park to become one of the biggest bands in the world in 2000. The nu metal boom had been running for a good decade at that point and was beginning to seem passé, until Hybrid Theory blew the lid off everything with soaring melodies that could actually get played alongside acts like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. These guys were still a metal band though, and “With You” is one of the heavier songs that would come out of that first batch of tracks.
While there isn’t much difference stylistically between this song and everything else on the record, the tone is a lot more lowkey this time around, driven mainly by the keyboards in the verses before giving way to Chester’s screams on the chorus. This wasn’t just throwing in a guitar for the sake of making things sound heavy either. Being one of the first songs to use a 7 string guitar on the record, there’s a much more gutteral sound to this track that hinted at where things would go a few years later on something like “Don’t Stay” off of Meteora.
There’s also the first bit of optimism on the record as well, as Chester counts his blessings and appreciates the road that led to him fronting the band. There’s a lot of wallowing going on in the early days of nu metal, but it’s nice to hear a song that actually seems happy to see tomorrow.