Top 10 Heavy Metal Songs of the 80s and 90s

heavy metal songs 80s 90s

No matter the genre or song style, metal songs have one thing in common: they unite listeners. Even though metal may offend some listeners sometimes, its creators never set out to cause offence intentionally.

However, although ’80s hair metal bands often embodied images of sinister women and sexually aroused men, their musical talent made them stand out.


Godflesh haven’t released an album since 2003’s A World Lit Only By Fire – 13 years have gone by since their last – yet this comeback sounds exactly how comebacks should sound like: caustic songcraft that is both oppressive and soul crushing all at the same time.

Fall of Because was initially formed in 1982 under the name Fall of Because; later they reformed under G.C Green and pioneered an industrial metal style with programmed drum beats and heavy guitar riffs that has gone on to influence many post-metal and noise acts. Streetcleaner would become particularly influential.

Purge is Godflesh at its core – chest-pounding heavy music with layers of Foley-esque samples and percussion. Even as their key members age, Broadrick and Green’s music never sounds weak or decrepit on this, their most brutal album. This truly stands as an ultimate metalcore record!

Morbid Angel

Morbid Angel was one of the founding bands in death metal music, formed in 1983 by guitarist Trey Azagthoth and bassist Dallas Ward who had previously performed in ICE and Heretic respectively. They signed with Earache records in England in 1988 before releasing their debut album Altars of Madness two years later.

It featured some incredible double kick drum work and created an atmospheric dark atmosphere, garnering rave reviews and quickly garnering them an audience.

The band quickly followed this album up with their 1991 release Blessed are the Sick. This release featured more musical-leaning compositions that also had classical overtones. Tucker fully contributed to composing, showing yet another side of his band. To promote their release they embarked on an impressive tour which made their mark even further on stage.


GN’R perfectly captured the mood of their time with their iconic song about a girl with “sleazy grin and black leather jacket.” Even if GN’R may never become one of the greatest bands ever to emerge from metal music, their story remains captivating and entertaining to study.

Chuck Schuldiner did not invent death metal, but his 1990 album revealed its maturing from its earlier adolescent lyrics. A prime example is its title track – an intense explosion of noise combined with tribal drumbeats to produce an effect which had an immense influence across many genres, from industrial through grunge and blackened death metal – ultimately becoming one of metal music’s most influential tracks ever released.


The German band released two milestone albums within 15 months of each other in 1987 and 1988 that epitomize modern power metal: Michael Kiske’s operatic theatricality combined with Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath’s searing riffage as well as Ingo Schwichtenberg’s explosive percussion galvanised an entire scene that didn’t realize they needed revitalizing.

Helloween found their footing once more after the failures of Pink Bubbles Go Ape and Chameleon with this frantic collection of headbangers from Helloween. Unfortunately, however, it also marked Kai Hansen’s departure and formation of Gamma Ray shortly thereafter.

Helloween’s 1994 Master of the Rings marked their return to metal music that they helped pioneer, while 1996’s Time of the Oath upped the pace and gave the album its signature concept (Nostradamus’ prophecies). Time of the Oath showcases Helloween at its finest.

Mercyful Fate

Mercyful Fate was one of the most celebrated icons in heavy metal music, exploring Satanism, occultism and other dark subjects with unwavering conviction. Their Danish group’s music mirrored Black Sabbath’s thematic interests while providing its own distinctive aesthetic of intuitive composition.

King Diamond’s theatrical vocal antics – from his signature falsetto to more subdued intonations – and the band’s ability with guitar and keyboard were essential elements in their success.

Remastered version of Mercyful Fate album should be required listening for any fan of heavy metal. On songs like “Nightmare,” Mercyful Fate expanded their sonic palette with booming bass, church organ and thunder to provide an ominous backdrop for King’s vocals – an effect which inspired bands such as Cradle of Filth to follow suit! Mercyful Fate were at their finest during these recordings!


Terrorizer were one of the pioneers of California grindcore. Led by future members of Napalm Death and Morbid Angel, Terrorizer created World Downfall; an album which set an unprecedented standard in thrash and metalcore albums while inspiring generations of bands with its aggressive sound.

While most metal fans had at least some interest in rock, pre-grunge Seattle superstars GN’R had one foot firmly planted in hardcore. Roaming amongst blow-dried poodles of Sunset Strip like feral cats with screaming windows and power metal, their performances were an irresistibly powerful force of nature.

Jourgensen’s sinister growls over jackhammer drums and warped guitars were pure malevolence; as such, their final opus became an incomprehensible demented classic that foresaw ultimate destruction. Jesse always retained that trademark Terrorizer-ish droning-riff style in subsequent bands even after joining Napalm Death; thus making their final opus an absolute cult masterpiece. Terrorizer also featured London-based Satanic metal group Akercocke on their cover as well as heavy coverage given to hardcore heroes Cradle of Filth; Knuckledust as well as emerging British black metal acts such as Anaal Nathrakh.

Rob Zombie

Heavy metal will always have an offensive aesthetic, but this Massachusetts-born singer-songwriter introduced an even darker side. Through ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ and its sequel, he proved there was an audience for gory horror mixed with rock muscle.

Sci-fi-obsessed Canadians Morbid Angel quickly transitioned from antisocial funk metal to prog metal with Mike Patton as their frontman, creating an amorphous prog metal sound and an appealing frontman in Mike Patton. Their version of “Once More, With Feeling” seemed like it came straight out of another universe and helped spark the “crossover” movement that later saw Guns N’ Roses reign supreme on Sunset Strip. Morbid Angel’s crypt-raped racket pushed death metal further into madness while bands such as Obituary and Cannibal Corpse were all affected. Their debut album Altars of Madness became an instant classic that captured what felt like the entire city lifting off its feet only then dropping back down again with each step taken against another step taken against each step taken along its journey – like it was an orchestra of urban voices trying to gain ground as much needed support or lack thereof from all corners.


Heavy metal musicians and fans were subjected to considerable hostility in the 1980s from critics, with charges that their music caused violence, crime, depression and suicide. Yet this mosh pit anthem’s jackhammer assault, neck-snapping time changes and yearning chorus demonstrate how this genre’s exploration of madness and horror could also inspire transcendence.

Fistful of Metal may not be considered one of Anthrax’s top albums, but its powerful display of early thrash shows they could stand up against some of the genre’s titans – drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Frank Bello and singer Joey Belladonna would continue producing riff-driven metal in similar vein until their careers ended.

Pour Some Sugar On Me

Too much emphasis should not be placed on the coifs and spandex worn by hair metal bands such as Def Leppard, Montrose, or Blue Oyster Cult is misguided; rather they were more effective at injecting pop music with powerful musicality that more than made up for lyrics about girls, drums, or rock and roll. Producers such as Mutt Lange were adept at pushing boundaries beyond what was considered possible by creating an ingenious push-pull between muscular heavy metal riffs and pop sensibility that made both girls want to emulate these groups while boys wanted to love them.

Candlemass from Sweden took the Sabbath template and elevated it into something greater with Solitude, their epic of doom that still provides metallic droners something to enjoy. Their skin-flaying guitars and grunted “Whooaaa-ohs” have become legendary.


Anytime an old timer who witnessed metal’s rise during the 1980s boasts that he only ever bought classic underground albums, Slayer’s debut should come up in conversation. Its powerful, volatile, and groundbreaking track set the foundation for what would soon follow.

Sarf London hellcats Girlschool made waves in the NWOBHM with this punk-infused banger off their brilliant debut album – Girlschool has perfected combining heavy, riff-oriented metal with pop sensibilities in this fantastic debut single from their brilliant debut record!

Trouble set the standard for thrash metal in Illinois in 1977 when they released their debut record replete with Old Testament-esque fire and brimstone, giving their fans a sense that they were part of something larger than themselves – an experience many metalheads find deeply liberating; their decibel-shredding decibels and aggressive lyrics offering catharsis for decades afterward.