The 10 Greatest Hard Rock + Metal Collaborations

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No metalhead can bang his head forever. No matter how much you might try to write the ultimate heavy metal masterpiece every time you step up to the plate, there are always those few times when you’re going to want to start exploring, looking for different sounds that you wouldn’t normally think about when you’re with your main gig.

That means getting some fresh blood into the mix, and some of the greatest metal musicians in the world made history when they let someone else into their musical bubble. Although not all of the collaborations necessarily fall under the category of metal every single time, the attitude never changed from the minute the band got started, meeting each other on the same level and creating something that was much more gritty than what we would have gotten with just your average thrashing tune.

Outside of just the confines of metal, musicians from the worlds of pop, hip hop, and even punk territory ended up throwing their hats into the ring on some of these songs, letting the artist breathe a little more and see what else they are capable of outside of metal. Sometimes a part just isn’t working in the studio, and it takes that one outsider to send it over the top. We could have settled with just another heavy tune, but these are the songs that helped remind these musicians why they wanted to play music in the first place.

Passenger – Deftones ft. Maynard James Keenan

When Deftones started work on White Pony, the plan was never to have just a bunch of guests in the studio or anything. This was supposed to be their vision of nu metal, and that was going to involve things getting a lot more aggro than what Korn or Coal Chamber were willing to do at the time. There was also a more aggressive side of the band waiting to get out and that required Maynard James Keenan to come down for a few writing sessions. The idea was to have Maynard come on to help write some of the songs, with “Passenger” being one of the main collaborations between them.

Once the band started working together in the studio, Maynard found himself behind the glass and began to sing the verses that you hear on the final version of the record, which tripped out Chino Moreno when he first heard the playback, instantly thinking that they had made a Tool song. Considering Chino’s smoother delivery, Maynard is the perfect compliment to him on this song, having a lot more bite in his delivery and almost grabbing you by the throat from the minute he starts singing and putting you right in the driver’s seat in this scenario.

It might not have been the song that Deftones necessarily planned to use by any stretch, but when you have a song that has the Maynard seal of approval, you know you’ve got something special on your hands. 

Bring the Noise – Anthrax and Public Enemy

The worlds of hip-hop and metal have never been that far apart. For as many differences as they may have in terms of musical construction, both genres have always relied on how intense the music can be, shaking up the listener and forcing them to pay attention to what’s going on. There was no dividing line in Scott Ian’s mind, and he had one idea that was just crazy enough to work at the tail end of the Persistence of Time sessions.

Being a fan of Public Enemy, Scott had the idea for the band to do their own version of the band’s legendary song “Bring the Noise,” with the horn sample from the original song being replaced with his guitar squeals. Even though they had the basic track, Chuck D almost didn’t take it seriously until he met the rest of the band to cut the track, realizing that it made too much sense to bring these two forces together.

While the original “Bring the Noise” might still be a classic, hearing Anthrax’s muscle behind the track takes it to an entirely different realm, made even more apparent when both acts went out on tour together, with each show ending with a joint performance of the song. This may have just started as a fun experiment between musical friends, but just a few years later, Rage Against the Machine took every lesson this song had to teach and turned it into its own genre of music. 

The Garden – Guns N’ Roses ft. Alice Cooper

Right after the touring wrapped up for Use Your Illusion, Guns N’ Roses seemed to be growing up way too quickly. With just one album under their belt, the next step for Axl Rose was to go even more ambitious, creating a double album of all new material. Though many fans remember this as the album where the piano came into play, songs like “The Garden” were ripped straight out of your nightmares. Picking up from the kind of street rat sounds of a song like “It’s So Easy,” most of this song is about wallowing in your own excess and getting way too strung out.

Just when it should be ramping for Slash to rip out a guitar solo, we instead get an intense breakdown and a spoken word passage from Alice Cooper, almost sounding like he’s holding court in Hell and letting you know just how far you let yourself sink in the process of making it all the way to the top.

The song might be a little bit over the top by Guns N Roses standards, but Alice feels right at home here, really hamming up his performance towards the end of the song as he says “Bye bye” and lets us plummet to our doom on the back half of the song. Considering how out of control the next few years would become for GNR, this is the kind of song that almost signaled what would be going on later down the line. 

Collision Course – Linkin Park and Jay Z

From the first time that he was interested in music, Mike Shinoda was as much a fan of hip-hop as he was a fan of metal. Before Linkin Park had even materialized back in the early ‘00s, Mike was already working with putting mashups of his favorite songs together online, putting hip-hop flows over some of the harshest riffs of all time.

When Linkin Park actually started to gain some traction though, they got a call from one of the greatest rappers of all time for a project. Billed as Collision Course, the collab between Linkin Park and Jay Z was almost too perfect, taking the jagged riffs of Linkin Park’s first few records and interjecting the flows that Hova was using when making The Black Album. As far as Mike was concerned though, this was a walk in the park, being a lifelong Jay Z fan and knowing just the right verse to put onto songs like “Numb,” taking the kind of laid-back flow of “Encore” and putting it right on top of the soft pianos and slamming guitar chords of the verses.

While Chester Bennington takes a back seat on some songs to let Jay do his thing, Jay even was a little surprised by how hard the band was willing to go, playing live with them and being blown away by Chester’s scream on songs like “One Step Closer.” Rap rock may have been reaching the end of its run at the time, but this was about the purest collaboration we could have hoped for. 

Goddamn Electric – Pantera ft. Kerry King

Throughout their entire career, none of the Abbott Brothers were really snobs about the kind of music they liked. Going through their backstage rooms, it wasn’t out of the question to hear everything from ZZ Top to Testament to Van Halen to KISS just before Pantera were ready to put on a show, being just as big of fans as they were when they were little kids jamming in their bedroom.

So when one of the kings of thrash metal agreed to play on their record, Dimebag Darrell was willing to work as fast as he could to make it happen. On the band’s final album Reinventing the Steel, the solo of “Goddamn Electric” is actually played by Slayer’s Kerry King, who was touring with the band when they crossed paths during Ozzfest. Not wanting to wait until they got to the studio, Dime had one of the main tracks of the song and actually ended up setting Kerry’s amp up in the backstage bathroom and having him solo on the spot.

It may have been strange not hearing Dime solo on record, but it was a walk in the park once Kerry got into his groove, with Dime yelling “don’t let him do it again” on one of the first takes because he liked what he was hearing so much. Pantera was always looking to “out heavy” themselves on every single record they made, so when even the major lineup isn’t cutting it, you need to bring in someone like Kerry for the real thunder. 

Sabbra Cadabra – Black Sabbath ft. Rick Wakeman

Up until Master of Reality, Black Sabbath was starting to get a little bit antsy about playing the same kind of tunes over and over again. The blues that they infused into their sound may have given us god’s gift to heavy metal stoners everywhere, but Tony Iommi was looking to stretch his muscles, focusing on the piano for some songs and putting his guitar on the shelf for a bit. The keys were never Tony’s first instrument though, and the band figured they call in a professional to do most of the keyboard work.

While Rick Wakeman may have been the perfect fit for Sabbath, their meeting with the wizard behind Yes happened totally by accident. During a break from the sessions, the band was getting frustrated that the takes weren’t coming together for the keyboards, and met Rick by chance at a pub where they were cooling off. Bringing him back to the studio to give them some advice on what they wanted, Rick just said “you mean like this?” and proceeded to play something not too different than what you hear on the finished version of “Sabbra Cadabra.”

The meeting ended up going so well that the band originally wanted to see if Rick was willing to join the band, but opted to have him stay in Yes while they got a keyboardist on the road. The feeling may have still been black as night, but this was the first time Sabbath seemed to flirt with a bit more prog in their delivery. 

Black Gives Way to Blue – Alice in Chains ft. Elton John

For as dark as Alice in Chains can get, Jerry Cantrell was always far more eclectic than your average metalhead. While you can definitely hear the sounds of Sabbath on half of Dirt, this is also the same guy who contributed songs to tribute records for Willie Nelson, being just as indebted to country music in some spots of his discography.

The one who made him want to pick up a guitar was originally far away from metal though, and the final moments of Black Gives Way to Blue were where everything came full circle. As the band was playing through the final tracks, Jerry was convinced they needed something else to make the title track come alive, working well as just a slower ballad song to close out the record. While the harmonies between Jerry and William DuVall were absolutely perfect, the whole song seemed to shift when the pianos came in, courtesy of Elton John behind the ivories.

Since he was little, Jerry had always mentioned how he was a huge fan of Elton’s music and was even a little taken aback talking to him in the studio, never thinking that his playing on the track would actually happen. Over the course of his career though, chances are Elton has seen some darkness as well, and “Black Gives Way to Blue” sounds like the moment that you find peace at the end of the tunnel.

The Craving – MD 45

Thrash metal never has really been that far away from the world of punk. At the same time that Metallica were jamming on Diamond Head songs when they were first getting things started, there was just as much time playing people like the Ramones and the Misfits, having the same kind of intensity that came from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Dave Mustaine never forgot about his punk roots though, and The Craving was the first time he was able to let his street rat energy out. While most of the music on this record is made by Mustaine, the vocals are courtesy of Lee Ving from the punk band FEAR, which gives a whole different layer of intensity to the record. As much as metalheads have gotten used to Dave’s signature snarling voice, Ving is non-stop energy on these tracks from back to front, sounding like a rabid dog foaming at the mouth as he spits out most of these lyrics.

While this might not have found the same audience as your average Megadeth project, Dave thought of it enough to include it in the remasters of every one of Megadeth’s records, swapping Lee’s vocals with his own for the entire record. This is far from what Megadeth was up to on Rust in Peace, but it’s also a good snapshot of what Deth could have been if they were a little less Iron Maiden and a little more Minor Threat.

I’m Afraid of Americans – David Bowie ft. Trent Reznor

There are probably more than a few of you shaking your heads right now wondering how David Bowie qualifies for a hard rock list like this. Bowie may have been the glam king of the world back in the ‘70s, but he was always reinventing himself, and his ‘90s output on albums like Earthling saw him going into the electronic world, embracing everything from industrial to drum and bass music.

Bowie wasn’t just going to jump in without some help though, and “I’m Afraid of Americans” puts Trent Reznor right in the middle of this digital chaos. Coming off of writing songs that would end up on the soundtrack to Seven, Bowie is far nastier on this track, with parts of the mix glitching in and out the same way they would on a record like The Downward Spiral. Though Reznor’s screaming is kept to a minimum on this track, you can hear his fingerprints all over the instrumentation, making the song surge with energy and almost making you feel claustrophobic when you listen to it while wearing headphones.

Bowie wasn’t just looking to be hip with the kids these days either, collaborating even more later down the line with Reznor and thinking enough of his work to cover “Hurt” during his stage shows around this time. Bowie might not be the first person you think of as a metalhead, but he also never stopped being a fan of other peoples’ music as he got older either. 

Sunday Rain – Foo Fighters ft. Paul McCartney 

Ever since the days of Wasting Light, The Foo Fighters have really been going for something a lot more bombastic on every single record. The entire process going into Sonic Highways was far more ambitious by going to cities across America to record, and it looked like Concrete and Gold was going to be their bid at arena rock, with pop legend Greg Kurstin producing after working magic for Adele.

The Foos weren’t going to get there alone though, and it took some help from a rock legend to make one of the slower tracks come alive. Out of their entire catalog, “Sunday Rain” is a much more morose tune than anything else they’ve made, featuring Taylor Hawkins singing and sounding like a slow version of an acoustic Zeppelin tune. For as detailed a resume as both Dave and Taylor have behind the kit though, the drums on this song are courtesy of Paul McCartney of the Beatles, who had been hanging out with Grohl around the time of this record and Dave coaxing him into playing on the track while he was in town.

For a man that’s focused on the bass most of the time, Paul’s sense of timing is fantastic on this, making the band jump in all the right spots and having a heavy emphasis on the groove. The Beatles did have that one brush with metal on “Helter Skelter,” so it’s good to see that McCartney hasn’t lost that rock fire after all these years either.