Metal has come a long way across the past two decades. From breaking away from the ’90s nü-metal boom into the new wave of American heavy metal and the shift to metalcore, deathcore and hardcore taking over once that scene started to fizzle out, there have been a ton of developments from bands both old and new.
Head below for the top metal songs of the past 20 years that helped define the genre we hear today.
Disturbed – “Down With The Sickness”
As nü metal reached its peak, Disturbed made their debut and brought one of the most well-known songs of the era to the forefront. Everyone can instantly recall the “ooh-wah-ah-ah-ah” line vocalist David Draiman lays down as soon as the opening drum pounds kick in, and for good reason as it helped define a snippet in time when rap metal was the biggest thing around.
Marilyn Manson – “The Fight Song”
Marilyn Manson became an icon in the ’90s, and he carried his success over in the early 2000s with some of the best albums of his career. Holy Wood continued the dark, abrasive sound of Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals while introducing huge hits for Manson, and nothing captures that album quite as well as “The Fight Song.”
Converge – “Concubine”
Converge defined modern hardcore with their 2001 album Jane Doe. No song is as recognizable from the album as “Concubine.” It may be short and sweet, but its ultra-aggressive, no-frills approach set the bar for countless bands.
Rammstein – “Sonne”
Industrial-metal kings Rammstein have long reigned over the scene, and “Sonne” is a perfect show of how the band capture ominous vibes unlike anyone else. The track’s haunting vocal melodies are unsettling underneath tight, punchy instrumentals. This pushed them to new heights as they became one of the most talked-about acts within and outside of metal.
Slayer – “Disciple”
Slayer’s heyday may have been over for the most part by the time the 2000s hit. But 2001’s God Hates Us All was a huge comeback for them. “Disciple” stands out as a career-best, marking one of the best thrash metal songs of the last 20 years.
System Of A Down – “Chop Suey!”
Metal doesn’t often have cross appeal into the mainstream, but System Of A Down are one of the few bands who achieved that. Particularly with Toxicity, they deliver a straight banger from beginning to end. With “Chop Suey!” employing ridiculous lyrics and incredibly catchy melodies and riffs, everyone latched on to it.
Tool – “Lateralus”
Tool are one of the biggest acts in metal, and their lead over the prog scene can’t be dismissed. They’ve created some of the most complex music throughout their career. Lateralus is arguably their most well-composed record, concisely representing every facet of their music. The title track is a definitive moment of not only their career but also prog as a whole. It will be upheld as a bar for musicians to meet forever.
Killswitch Engage – “My Last Serenade”
Killswitch Engage are early 2000s metalcore leaders, and Alive Or Just Breathing was where they really hit their stride. Few songs in their catalog are as iconic as “My Last Serenade,” and the track’s mix of soaring melodies and heavy riffs made for a winning formula countless others have tried to imitate.
Bleeding Through – “On Wings Of Lead”
Bleeding Through brought forth symphonic elements into the metalcore scene in a huge way, setting themselves apart from the pack. “On Wings Of Lead” and This Is Love, This Is Murderous as a whole is a definitive representation of where metalcore was at in the early 2000s, and the song pushed the heights of melody that could be mixed with brutal beatdowns.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – “Sunshine The Werewolf”
It’s highly unlikely any band will ever touch the chaotic heights the Dillinger Escape Plan hit across their career. And Miss Machine marks the moment an entirely new sound in metal was conceived. By introducing more pop sensibilities with their off-kilter hardcore sound, the band defined mathcore, and “Sunshine The Werewolf” will forever be their anthem.
Lamb Of God – “Laid To Rest”
Few metal bands have achieved as much success as a new act in the 2000s as Lamb Of God, and “Laid To Rest” was the moment they really broke big. The song has a perfect mix of melodies, aggression, riffs and traditional thrash elements, ushering a new level of heaviness in metal’s future.
Mastodon – “Blood And Thunder”
Mastodon shook up the metal world with their sophomore album, Leviathan, as a fairly new band with an album that bested well-established acts in 2004. “Blood And Thunder” was catchy, heavy and complex, offering fans a refreshing new take on sludge and prog, which the band continued to capitalize and refine with each subsequent release.
Slipknot – “Duality”
By the time Slipknot dropped Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), they had already become one of the most talked-about bands through two groundbreaking records and an unmatched live show. “Duality” was primed for success and showed a considerable style shift for the Iowa nine, offering more hooks and melodies while keeping all of the heavy grooves fans had come to expect.
Arch Enemy – “Nemesis”
With Carcass and At The Gates being inactive at the beginning of the 2000s, Arch Enemy were able to step up to the top of the melodic death-metal ranks after recruiting vocalist Angela Gossow. “Nemesis” marked a huge turning point in their career, landing at the forefront of the genre through remarkably technical riffs and a prominent and powerful voice from Gossow.
Avenged Sevenfold – “Bat Country”
Avenged Sevenfold could have turned out like any other 2000s Orange County metalcore act, but they made a drastic change to include more traditional heavy-metal and hard-rock elements on City Of Evil. “Bat Country” cemented their success with a huge chorus and the perfect melding of old-school metal vibes with new-age approaches.
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Korn – “Coming Undone”
Korn managed to keep their momentum from the ’90s going strong, and the band masterfully put together one of their best albums with See You On the Other Side. The midtempo stomp on “Coming Undone” alongside Jonathan Davis’ eerie vocals were a match made in heaven for Korn fans, making it an instant classic.
Trivium – “Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr”
Trivium were a prominent part of heavy metal, particularly in the mid-2000s, and “Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr” is exemplary of how their success came together. They weren’t afraid to try their hand at melodic vocals and displayed a high proficiency to impress any naysayers with a thrash-oriented take on metalcore.
Light This City – “The Unwelcome Savior”
Melodic death metal had a slew of incredible bands across the past 20 years after getting off the ground in the ’90s, and Light This City were one of the best new acts to emerge. “The Unwelcome Savior” sees the band flexing their chops through blast beats, shredding melodic riffs and vocalist Laura Nichol’s fierce growl.
Between The Buried And Me – “White Walls”
Between The Buried And Me are one of the most recognizable bands who mixed prog metal with metalcore, and Colors is easily their most highly regarded release. The record’s complex and lengthy structure saw a major shift in them building intensely structured records as opposed to a collection of songs. “White Walls” takes listeners on a journey through the band’s skills, and it’s still regarded to this day as a staple of their discography.
The Black Dahlia Murder – “What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse”
Few bands are as hard working as the Black Dahlia Murder, and their attitude started to pay off when they saw massive success from Nocturnal. The record has some of the most important songs of their career on it, and nothing from their catalog stands out quite as much as the pummeling chugs on “What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse.”
Every Time I Die – “We’rewolf”
Every Time I Die popularized the whole Southern hardcore sound that took off in metal, and The Big Dirty is where you can really hear it shine. The sleazy rock riffs and cowbell kick off on “We’rewolf” were familiar sounding, bringing a classic-rock approach to metal without letting the song fall into corniness.
Municipal Waste – “Headbanger Face Rip”
Thrash metal seemed to be falling off people’s radar between the nü-metal boom and metalcore takeover, but Municipal Waste turned things around. The band led the massive thrash revival of the mid to late 2000s that saw bands old and new embracing the sound again, and “Headbanger Face Rip” is a perfect snapshot of the speed and aggression bands wanted to achieve all over again.
Suicide Silence – “No Pity For A Coward”
Deathcore cracked itself wide open to mainstream success after Suicide Silence dropped their debut record, The Cleansing. Meshing together hardcore and death-metal elements into a new sound, the band were one of the first and biggest to break, and nothing quite captures the scene at the time as well as the final breakdown, with late singer Mitch Lucker belting out the line “Pull the trigger, bitch.”
Gojira – “TOXIC GARBAGE ISLAND”
When a band capture the attention of the entire metal scene, there’s clearly a winning formula to their sound, and Gojira pulled that off spectacularly. Whether fans are drawn to more mainstream sounds or underground acts, they have cross appeal for any heavy music fan. Despite “TOXIC GARBAGE ISLAND” not particularly introducing new sounds to the genre, the mix of blazing-fast mosh riffs and slow-burning grooves make for one of the best metal songs of all time.
Meshuggah – “Bleed”
Meshuggah went from great to incredible as they made their way into the 2000s, and no song captures their sound as well as “Bleed.” The song’s jarring rhythms were so captivating, they inspired the entire djent movement years after, and the tribal-esque drumming is unmatched within extreme metal.
Whitechapel – “Possession”
Whitechapel helped build deathcore, and no song captures their sound quite as well as “Possession.” The track’s grooves and dense breakdowns with their three-guitar assault are a snapshot of the late 2000s extreme metal scene, and new deathcore acts would try to push their sound for years to come.
Agoraphobic Nosebleed – “Agorapocalypse Now”
No one will quite match the sheer speed and violent approach of Agoraphobic Nosebleed, even within the grindcore scene. The mechanical unhuman drum machine sounds coupled with chaotic guitar solos and abrasive riffs and vocals sets them apart from the pack. “Agorapocalypse Now” marks one of the few and first moments where the band sound more structured than they previously did, with the album offering short songs.
The Devil Wears Prada – “Danger: Wildman”
The shift from Myspace metalcore with goofy synths and nasally clean singing phased itself out right around the time the Devil Wears Prada dropped With Roots Above And Branches Below. The band’s decision to go in a more mature style was followed by countless others, and the heavy riffs on “Danger: Wildman” marked a shift for the band that eventually led to them defining their sound and becoming one of the biggest metalcore bands.
Deftones – “Rocket Skates”
The future of Deftones seemed questionable after late bassist Chi Cheng’s car accident, but nevertheless, the band came out with Diamond Eyes and entered a new era of success. “Rocket Skates” is a perfect showing of how they evolved their sound to become heavier than ever while still being distinctly themselves, with a dense drop-tuned groove, melodic cleans and loose drumwork.
Ghost – “Ritual”
It’s undeniable that Ghost have become one of the biggest bands in metal. Their old-school sensibilities and aesthetic struck a chord with audiences in a way that’s growing without an end in sight. “Ritual” displays their skills in creating a catchy track without a ton of frills while dipping into ’70s metal sounds coated in a thick layer of doom and gloom.
High On Fire – “Snakes For The Divine”
Seeing Matt Pike shift from stoner-worship doom metal in Sleep to sludgy thrash metal in High On Fire proved there was a lot more to the musician than droned-out riffing. Over the course of nearly a decade, the band developed and refined their sound until it all came out perfectly on Snakes For The Divine. The title track succinctly packs together elements of so many different subgenres without falling prey to experimental fumbles.
Periphery – “Icarus Lives”
Periphery introduced the term djent to the world with their Meshuggah-worshipping metalcore sound, and “Icarus Lives” is where they really captured people’s attention. The track’s heavy grooves and tight technicality shaped much of what progressive metal has become since its release, making it one of the most important songs of the past decade.
Trap Them – “Evictionaries”
The influence of Swedish death-metal act Entombed became extremely far reaching and expanded into both the hardcore and grindcore scenes as the 2010s came along, but before then Trap Them were bringing this feedback-heavy energy hard. Their cross between grindcore and hardcore comes through succinctly on the midtempo crush of “Evictionaries” with a harsh vibe built for the underground.
Cattle Decapitation – “A Living, Breathing Piece Of Defecating Meat”
By the 2010s, both death metal and grindcore didn’t seem like it had anymore room for innovation, and Cattle Decapitation shocked the scene by proving that notion wrong. Vocalist Travis Ryan delivers a one-of-a-kind vocal that falls somewhere between clean singing and a harsh shriek for the first time on “A Living, Breathing Piece Of Defecating Meat” that has now become a staple of their sound, setting them apart from every other band.
Napalm Death – “The Wolf I Feed”
Since the turn of the century, Napalm Death have had a near-perfect streak of death-grind albums, but no song stands out quite as much as “The Wolf I Feed.” Abrasive as always, the band bring their usual punk ethos together in a totally different way than the rest of their discography on this song, adding some insanely harsh shrieks in the verses and surprising clean vocals coupled with their typical sound.
Black Sabbath – “God Is Dead?”
The godfathers of metal finally returned to the original lineup with Ozzy Osbourne after decades apart for 13, and the album was everything you could want from them. The riffs felt fresh but simultaneously like throwbacks to their classic songs, and “God Is Dead?” stands above the rest as not only the greatest Black Sabbath track on that album but also the best since their ’80s Dio days.
Carcass – “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”
Comeback records can be hit or miss, but Carcass had one of the best comebacks in metal of all time. Surgical Steel felt like the record fans had been waiting for after some strange style changes on Swansong and almost two decades between releases. “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills” is classic Carcass with some melodic death-metal elements mixed with grind, but the band really shine with modern production and a rejuvenated energy following their return.
Deafheaven – “Dream House”
Metal and shoegaze seemed like a strange pairing before Deafheaven, but the band managed to package black metal and indie rock in such a way that it became normalized. “Dream House” is a career-defining moment for the band and will continue to be an introduction to metal for outsiders for years to come.
Code Orange – “My World”
With I Am King, Code Orange dropped “Kids” from their name and shifted their sound into jarring, industrial-tinged beatdown hardcore. No longer were the band tearing through speedy powerviolence but rather crafting breakdowns built for fights, and “My World” has become an anthem for the self-professed Thinners Of The Herd.
Youth Code – “For I Am Cursed”
Bringing together punk and metal sensibilities through hard and heavy electronics, Youth Code have become the next big thing to watch in electronic-based metal. Their sound calls back to Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy, but their vocals are far more extreme, and “For I Am Cursed” is the kick in the ass the metal world needed again from the electronic world.
Cult Leader – “Sympathetic”
Cult Leader are a newer band, but they managed to put out one of the most talked-about records in the crust and hardcore scenes with Lightless Walk. The entire record was a visceral show of how extreme a band can go with their sound, and “Sympathetic” comes out like a wrecking ball, relentlessly destroying everything in its wake.
iwrestledabearonce – “Green Eyes”
Blurring genre lines became increasingly prevalent as the 2000s wore on, and no one went quite as far into doing so than iwrestledabearonce. The band had some of the furthest-reaching sounds across their early releases before bringing it all back to tightly formed mathcore on their last record with “Green Eyes,” showing their strength in capturing a highly technical deathcore approach.
BABYMETAL – “KARATE”
The ever-confusing subgenre known as kawaii metal was birthed by BABYMETAL. Though it’s strange to many, it’s undeniable that it’s both popular and paying respects to metal. “KARATE” is heavy and brutal, mixed alongside the cutesy vocals of the band’s two (formerly three) teenage vocalists who unexpectedly brought Japanese idol culture to the forefront of metal.
Jinjer – “Captain Clock”
Despite their slow-burning rise to recognition, Jinjer have become a prominent part of metal in the past few years. Their sound is far reaching in tapping into groove metal, prog, death metal, djent and more. “Captain Clock” shows their ability to meld influences into one cohesive sound while navigating a spectrum of tones and moods.
Metallica – “Hardwired”
Metallica went through a lot of growing pains after releasing their self-titled album. From the Load and Reload era to the awful mess that was St. Anger, they dipped into an all-time low, but Hardwired…To Self Destruct saw them embracing their thrash-metal past again and offering fans what they’ve really wanted for decades.
Full Of Hell – “Crawling Back To God”
The introduction of noise elements into grindcore was pushed into popularity through the rising success of Full Of Hell, but the band also managed to put out one of the greatest straight-forward grindcore albums of the past 20 years with Trumpeting Ecstasy. “Crawling Back To God” stands out as a masterpiece within their strong catalog. Mixing elements of multiple extreme-metal subgenres without shoehorning anything, it delivers a tightly packed punch of harsh sounds.
Power Trip – “Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe)”
Straddling the line between hardcore and thrash metal, Power Trip captured the best of both scenes and quickly rose to prominence. Every aspect of their band was brought to new heights on Nightmare Logic, and the swinging grooves found on “Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe)” coupled with the band’s signature raspy vocals caught the attention of self-respecting metalheads who can appreciate the genre’s classic elements.
Suffocation – “Clarity Through Deprivation”
Suffocation’s …Of The Dark Light marked their final album with legendary vocalist Frank Mullen, and they couldn’t have had a better sendoff for their legacy. “Clarity Through Deprivation” has all of the complexity of their early material with just as much passion as they had when they were a young scrappy band. The vibe pushed them back into the limelight before their major vocal shakeup.
Rolo Tomassi – “Rituals”
After getting their start as teenagers, Rolo Tomassi developed and matured their sound from goofy mathcore to serious genre-blending masterpieces. Their experimental nature ended up bringing their most diverse piece yet. With “Rituals” seeing a mix of everything from jazz to black metal and hardcore, it culminates in one concise sound.
Venom Prison – “Uterine Industrialisation”
Death metal as a whole has been stepping back from the violent fantasy lyrics of its early days, and Venom Prison are showing there are plenty of real-life horrors to write about in this day and age. The band have been making waves with their explosive take on grind and traditional death-metal elements. “Uterine Industrialisation” specifically shows off their capabilities in leading the future of the genre.