Because all good stories come to an end, a great record needs a solid final song to sew up the entire sonic journey. Here are the ten best closing tracks in the history of metal:
Slayer – “Raining Blood” (Reign In Blood)
Sure, you’ve probably heard those opening floor tom hits more times than you can count, but the day the drums of war no longer give you goosebumps is the day you should hand in your headbanger union card. Closing out their classic Reign In Blood album is the definitive Slayer track and one of the most perfectly crafted thrash songs in history. Complete with frantic guitar solos, earth shattering percussion, an iconic riff, terrifying lyrics and the single greatest breakdown in heavy metal history; it’s the ultimate summation of the kind of metal that your parents were afraid of.
Morbid Angel – “God Of Emptiness” (Covenant)
The closing track of one of death metal’s most iconic albums, “God of Emptiness” helped propel Morbid Angel and the entire genre to new critical and commercial heights through regular rotation on Headbangers Ball and the approving nods of Beavis and Butthead. It’s a song that has become so entrenched in popular extreme metal culture that Korn were planning on recording a cover of it at one point. Equal parts plodding and chaotic, majestic and hideous; “God Of Emptiness” caps off the Covenant journey with terrifying solemnity.
Alice In Chains – “Would?” (Dirt)
Arguably the greatest grunge record of all time, Dirt is a journey through the darkest depths of drug addiction the likes of which could have come straight out of Dante. Inspired by the overdose death of close friend and Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood, the album’s closing track “Would?” encapsulates the mournful rage of the hopeless and helpless. With its bone-chilling bass line and blisteringly cathartic chorus, it is the perfect bookend to Alice In Chains’ singular masterpiece.
Iron Maiden – “Hallowed Be Thy Name” (The Number Of The Beast)
One of the very first songs that Iron Maiden recorded with newly hired frontman Bruce Dickinson, the seven-minute epic that concludes their classic The Number Of The Beast album has gone down as one of the most important and beloved tracks in the band’s entire catalog. Chronicling the life of a man condemned to death by execution, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is a soaring odyssey that bassist and lead creative force Steve Harris once said: “If someone who’d never heard Maiden before — someone from another planet or something — asked you about Maiden, what would you play them? I think ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ is the one.”
Metallica – “Dyers Eve” (…And Justice For All)
Setting itself apart from the prog complexities of Metallica‘s colossal 1988 album …And Justice for All, the song that drives the final nail home on the record off is a no-frills thrash epic. Besides being one of the band’s fastest tracks, “Dyers Eve” is also one of their most lyrically potent and personal numbers, as frontman James Hetfield introduces each verse by addressing a mother and father before launching into furious rants from the perspective of an enraged child. It’s a blistering condemnation of irresponsible parental control that fires on all cylinders with righteous passion.
Pantera – “Hollow” (Vulgar Display Of Power)
Few metal bands understand the dynamics of tension and release quite like Pantera. Take a cursory glance at their catalog and you’ll quickly realize that their power ballads often morph into gut-churning monoliths when they inevitably get to the head-splitting heavy part. Wrapping up their monumental Vulgar Display Of Power album, the first half of “Hollow” strikes a suitably somber tone that matches its mournful lyrical themes. Once sadness gives way to anger and confusion, the band find themselves back in horrifying scorched-earth territory. Could one of the heaviest albums of all time end any other way? I think not.
System Of A Down – “Aerials” (Toxicity)
While their first album was an exercise in acrobatics between the heavy and the playful, System Of A Down took a more explicitly earnest and political course on their breakthrough sophomore record, Toxicity. For the closing track of their 2001 masterpiece, the band eschewed gimmicks and proved that they could create a work of captivating beauty. The sweeping string arrangement that serves as the intro breaks away as the hypnotic main melody kicks in with devastating effect. Universally regarded as one of System Of A Down’s greatest songs, “Aerials” is a suitable punctuation mark for one of this century’s most important albums.
Queensrÿche – “Eyes Of A Stranger” (Operation: Mindcrime)
The final track on their 1988 opus Operation: Mindcrime is the perfect encapsulation of the grandiose beauty and technical mastery of Queensrÿche at their peak. Stunning guitar harmonies over the driving rhythm section provide an impeccable canvas for Geoff Tate’s heartbreaking lyrics and towering vocals. Operas, rock or otherwise, rarely end on a happy note and Operation: Mindcrime is no exception. The tragic conclusion of Nikki’s harrowing journey hits with the devastating grace of a seasoned assassin.
Nine Inch Nails – “Hurt” (The Downward Spiral)
Although the breakthrough success of Pretty Hate Machine certainly shook up the budding alt-metal scene, Nine Inch Nails didn’t truly become a worldwide phenomenon until the 1994 release of their second album, The Downward Spiral. Arguably the most emotionally potent moment on this odyssey of longing, self-hatred, and failure comes from its final anguished testament, “Hurt.” A detuned, forlorn piano line weeps along as Trent Reznor dictates the agonized inner dialogue of a self-harming drug addict. It is heart-wrenching material whose success during its initial run was eclipsed by Johnny Cash’s masterful cover of the song on his American IV: The Man Comes Around album in 2002.
Black Sabbath – “Into The Void” (Master Of Reality)
By and large, stoner rock as a genre is reliant on one thing and one thing only: the big riff. Well friends, this right here is the ultimate big stoner riff and the template for every big stoner riff to follow until the end of time. “Into the Void” is the ultimate down-tuned hit from the bong at the end of Black Sabbath‘s Master of Reality, effortlessly merging the giant sludge licks of the first half with fast, pummeling energy in its concluding moments. Guitar luminaries from James Hetfield to Eddie Van Halen have praised that main riff as one of the best moments in metal. Who are any of us to say that they’re wrong?