Earlier this year, a new study revealed that heavy metal was the fastest-growing genre in terms of streams and downloads from 2017 to 2018. It would be no surprise if that trend continued in 2019, another banner year for heavy music.
Metal and hard rock thrived once again this year, with a vast array of artists delivering stellar songs throughout 2019. The past 12 months have seen the return of bands like Tool and Rammstein, who had both been long dormant when it came to new music. Heavy hitters like Slipknot and Korn also came through with a number of strong tracks.
Black Sabbath legend Tony Iommi teamed up with Swedish doom veterans Candlemass for one of the year’s most memorable tracks, while fellow Sabbath icon Ozzy Osbourne overcame a tough year health-wise to deliver an impressive single from his upcoming solo album.
The year wasn’t all about long-established acts, though, as Devil Master, Gatecreeper, Monolord, and more proved that metal’s new crop of up-and-coming acts continue to prosper.
So, turn the volume to 11, as you scroll through our picks for the Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Songs of 2019.
— Spencer Kaufman
30. Monolord – “The Bastard Son”
Sounds Like: Crushing psychedelic doom metal with riffs for days.
Key Lyric: “Illusions of a world/ Broken but yet so pure”
Why It Matters: Monolord have become a staple in the stoner metal scene for consistently delivering melodic riff fests like “The Bastard Son” — the 10-minute lead track from their Relapse Records debut, No Comfort. The catchy chorus melody and a signature riff make this one particularly memorable among the album’s many head-nodding jams. —Jon Hadusek
29. Spirit Adrift – “Hear Her”
Sounds Like: Timeless melodic heavy metal that unabashedly embraces the classic tones of Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne.
Key Lyric: “Seek the answer in expression/ Transformation will begin”
Why It Matters: Divided by Darkness is an open love letter to metal’s glorious past, and “Hear Her” is the finest example of Spirit Adrift’s tasteful anachronism, proving that a concise pop song structure can always accommodate chugging riffage and soaring vocals, no matter what decade it is.—Jon Hadusek
28. Elder – “Illusory Motion”
Sounds Like: Cruising through a desert expanse as the edible starts to kick in.
Key Lyric: Instrumental
Why It Matters: Resting right under the surface of every great stoner rock band is a churning soup of psychedelic and prog influences. Like most, Elder often only reveals that element in small sips. On this stopgap between proper albums, the Boston band takes a big heaving gulp and recorded three extended jams that blissfully wander with no endgame in mind. The opening track on The Gold and Silver Sessions is nearly 10 minutes of third eye polishing that doesn’t resist the urge to get nasty and heavy. —Robert Ham
27. Hammerfall – “Dominion”
Sounds Like: Biblical sagas depicted as brutal power metal.
Key Lyric: “Serve in heaven or reign in hell/ Find your paradise lost/ Rise, awake or forever be/ Fallen in the abyss”
Why It Matters: Hammerfall deliver epic power metal with all the right thematic content: swords, castles, Satan, etc. “Dominion” is arguably the heaviest the prolific Swedish metallers have ever sounded, with a boisterous Motörhead-like aggression that’s befitting of the band. —Jon Hadusek
26. Bad Religion – “Chaos From Within”
Sounds Like: Aggressively intelligent So Cal punk rock punching you in the face.
Key Lyric: “Threat is urgent! Existential!/ Omnipresent like a skin/ But the danger’s purely mental/ It’s chaos from within”
Why It Matters: Bad Religion are pissed off again and it shows. “Chaos From Within” off of Age of Unreason is quintessentially So Cal punk. It’s fast and in your face, but remarkably memorable. As a noticeable influence on so many younger bands, it’s awesome to hear the innovators themselves show the kids how it’s done on their 17th studio album. — Colette Claire
25. Death Angel – “Humanicide”
Sounds Like: Pure thrashing Bay Area speed metal at its finest.
Key Lyric: “This is who I am/ That’s who I’ll always be/ The dark horse, black plague, anti-god/ That lives in you and me”
Why It Matters: The riffs. Rob Cavestany and Ted Aguilar lay down some of their strongest guitar-work in years on 2019’s Humanicide, and the title track highlights the duo’s interplay. Meanwhile, frontman Mark Osegueda barks and shouts about the psychological downfall of man. It all makes for choice thrash metal as Death Angel continue their unrelenting resurgence since reforming in 2004. —Jon Hadusek
24. Blood Incantation – “Inner Paths (To Outer Space)”
Sounds Like: The experience of smoking DMT in audio form.
Key Lyric: Instrumental.
Why It Matters: Further proof that regular doses of psychedelics doesn’t only result in meandering jam rock (Blood Incantation allegedly constructed this track from improvisations played while they were tripping on consciousness-altering drugs). The death metal quartet from Colorado throws in their arsenal at this track: glittery post-rock, creeping ambient, splashy blast beats fighting against granulated guitar riffs. — Robert Ham
23. Alter Bridge, “Native Son”
Sounds Like: A classic Alter Bridge anthem, with towering guitars and lyrics that make you feel like you can conquer anything.
Key Lyric: “Marching forward brings a slow and cruel decay/ As I fight/ For the heritage so many died to save/ Now nothing remains”
Why It Matters: With its combination of instrumental chops and powerhouse vocals, Walk the Sky offers one of the strongest albums in Alter Bridge’s growing catalog, and “Native Son” is a standout track. The song starts with a Middle Eastern-influenced instrumental that explodes into fiery riffing. From there, Alter Bridge suck the listener in with a tight, heavy wall of sound that backs Myles Kennedy’s unmistakable tenor. — Anne Erickson
22. Devil Master — “Black Flame Candle”
Sounds Like: The darkest, fastest, and utterly evilest version of Motörhead.
Key Lyric: “My ultimate goal is to satisfy my own obsession and love/ And I’m slave to a flame”
Why It Matters: Devil Master delivered their proper full-length debut this year with Satan Spits on Children of Light, and have proven they’re a demonic force that will be inhabiting this earth for years and years to come. “Black Flame Candle” finds vocalist Disembody channeling his inner Kilmister, while the band crafts a nightmare-inducing blend of black metal and dirty punk rock. There aren’t many heavy acts out there like Devil Master … and that might be because they’ve killed them all with their evil—evil—rock and roll. —Chuck Armstrong
21. Amon Amarth – “Mjölner, Hammer of Thor”
Sounds Like: A horde of power metal Vikings heading into battle ready to kill things.
Key Lyric: “But finest of them all/ The Crusher it is called/ Mjölner! Hammer of Thor”
Why It Matters: Swedish melodic death metal veterans Amon Amarth head in a more power thrash direction on their 11th studio album Berserker with songs like “Mjölner, Hammer of Thor.” The band is not shy about their love of Norse mythology and Viking culture and this song is no exception. Johan Hegg’s death metal vocals on top of the epic lead guitar riffs certainly make this track worthy of swilling Mead in Valhalla. — Colette Claire
20. Fever 333 — “One of Us”
Sounds Like: A children’s sing-a-long with a big middle finger to society, followed by a ruthless, hardcore sing-a-long with an even bigger middle finger to society.
Key Lyric: “Another policy, yeah, to keep you on your knees/ Another one in jail, another young black male, he kinda look like me”
Why It Matters: The lyrics are powerful in and of themselves, but when they’re screamed with brutal force by Fever 333 frontman Jason Aalon Butler, they take on a life of their own. Butler takes aim at the broken system that runs rampant in this country, and he does so with the utmost fearlessness and boldness as he proclaims for the entire world to hear: “Stand up or die on your knees.” —Chuck Armstrong
19. Chelsea Wolfe – “Deranged for Rock & Roll”
Sounds Like: A dreary hungover morning of reflection and self-acceptance.
Key Lyric: “I’m deranged for rock ‘n roll/ Drink my dreams and sell my soul”
Why It Matters: Chelsea Wolfe’s Birth of Violence is the songwriter’s sparsest work to date, but the doomed vibe and ominous sentiments of “Deranged for Rock & Roll” are definitely metal. The song is an admission of sorts, with the eponymous phrase sung in a wry confidence that obscures its poetic intent behind tasteful sarcasm. —Jon Hadusek
18. Korn – “Cold”
Sounds Like: A late-’90s Korn track on steroids, pumped full of groovy beats and growling vocals that take the band to a new place.
Key Lyric: “Inside lying deep, the father of hate/ The endless nightmare I can never escape”
Why It Matters: A lot of things have changed in the past 20-plus years since Korn have been a band, but one thing that hasn’t is the California group’s penchant for low tuning and hip-hop-fueled rhythms. That’s a good thing, since it’s the sound that made Korn, well, Korn. On “Cold,” which appears on The Nothing, the band adds a catchy, groovy beat, plus barking vocals that are fresh and new for Korn. –Anne Erickson
17. Life of Agony – “Scars”
The Sound of Scars
Sounds Like: A hook-filled return to form for the New York alt-metal band
Key Lyric: “Look around/ All I see is a soul/ Is a soul not worth saving”
Why It Matters: Life of Agony returned in 2019 with The Sound of Scars, the sequel to their classic 1994 debut, River Runs Red. The lead single “Scars” conjures the joyous sense of rebellion that made River such a cherished recording, fusing tight riffs with Mina Caputo’s passionate melodic vocals. It finds the perfect middleground between the band’s hardcore punk and groove metal influences.—Jon Hadusek
16. Ozzy Osbourne – “Under the Graveyard”
Sounds Like: A modern-day solo Ozzy Osbourne track, but with a glorious vintage-sounding Sabbath doom boogie riff that rears its head around the last third of the tune.
Key Lyric: “Under the graveyard/ We’re all rotting bones / Everything you are/ Can’t take it when you go”
Why It Matters: Despite the Prince of Darkness’ recent health mishaps, he sounds surprisingly in fine voice here. And at 71 years of age, we should be delighted that one of metal’s all-time great voices is still with us, and still sounding so, well, Ozzy-like. –Greg Prato
15. Pallbearer – “Atlantis”
Sounds Like: The last gasps of a broken man, shouting out to a stormy sea at the ship that has just left him behind on a deserted landscape.
Key Lyric: “So when the angels bury me/ And themselves are swallowed by the sea/ My restless soul will fight for/ All that came before”
Why It Matters: As the world waits for a follow up to Pallbearer’s 2017 masterwork Heartless, Pallbearer has only teased its fans with little tidbits of new material, including this studio track, released as part of Sub Pop’s revamped Singles Club. As such, it is a song that is meant to stand alone, free of conceptual weight as it burbles and churns like a restless sea full of nasty creatures and mythical beasts threatening the shoreline. — Robert Ham
14. Killswitch Engage – “The Signal Fire”
Sounds Like: A nonstop metal assault that jumps from melodic guitars and vocals to brutal screaming in a split-second.
Key Lyric: “Nowhere to hide, strength realigned/ The signal fire’s alight/ Given to fight, there’s hope just in sight/ The signal fire’s alight”
Why It Matters: Killswitch Engage returned with their eighth studio album, Atonement, this year, and the album’s heaviest track, “The Signal Fire”, is a triumphant mix of brutality and the band’s classic melodic sound. What makes this song extra special for Killswitch fans is that it features former vocalist Howard Jones, who sings and growls alongside current singer Jesse Leach, which is certainly a treat. — Anne Erickson
13. Gatecreeper – “From the Ashes”
Sounds Like: A sweaty mosh pit of death metal thrashers.
Key Lyric: “Liberated/ Accelerating forward/ Shedding weight that brings us down/ Rising slowly from the ashes”
Why It Matters: Like their contemporaries Power Trip, Arizona’s Gatecreeper make metal that is downright fun, lending itself to a good circle pit and a wider audience than some of the gorier and more abstract death metal bands. “From the Ashes” boasts some serious headbanging breakdowns, and its tones channel the sweet nostalgia of early ’90s Swedish “death ‘n roll.” — Jon Hadusek
12. Darkthrone – “The Hardship of the Scots”
Sounds Like: Two metal lifers trudging toward the future by dipping into the past.
Key Lyric: “You buy your home/ And follow a dream/ No politics here/ Just self-esteem”
Why It Matters: After 30 years, Darkthrone thought leaders Fenriz and Nocturno Culto continue to avoid easy categorization, refusing to stick with one sound for very long. On “The Hardship of the Scots”, the centerpiece of their 18th studio album, the duo stakes its ground in doom territory, albeit with a surprising nod to AC/DC in the song’s main riff and with lyrics that warmly speak of seeking the comfort of one’s chosen family. — Robert Ham
11. Deafheaven – “Black Brick”
Sounds Like: Fast and ugly — the antithesis of everything you think of when you think of Deafheaven.
Key Lyric: “A gaunt fashion/ Pulled tight over peaking bone.”
Why It Matters: Deafheaven continue to show their intense agnosticism toward any box we critics or listeners might want to put them in without sacrificing any punch. This stand-alone new track (a “B-side” from last year’s stellar Ordinary Corrupt Human Love album) isn’t just one of the best songs of the year, it’s destined to become a setlist staple for Deadheaven from here on out. — Langdon Hickman
10. Refused — “Violent Reaction”
Sounds Like: A heavy, violent reaction to 2015’s Freedom, reminiscent of the early days of the Swedish hardcore punkers.
Key Lyric: “A prison to me you can’t ever leave/ Complete sacrifice, where nothing’s for free/ Tethered by the thought, this is all that we need”
Why It Matters: Regardless of how you felt about the previous Refused album, Freedom, there is no arguing that the band is performing in true form all over War Music. An album that lives up to its name, Refused crafted 10 songs that hearken back to their Songs to Flame the Fans of Discontent era, and “Violent Reaction” is among the LP’s mightiest tracks. — Chuck Armstrong
09. BABYMETAL – “PA PA YA!”
Sounds Like: The triumphant battle song for an army of bloodthirsty worshipers of the Fox God as they lay waste to Candy Land.
Key Lyric: “Burn yourself with your whole body and spirit”
Why It Matters: As with everything BABYMETAL have released to date, trying to connect their combination of cute (kawaii) and evil to anything logical is a fool’s errand. Take the glorious slab of fuzzy pink heavy rock that is “Pa Pa YA!” Are they offering up praises to the papaya? Why are they singing about “spicy summer songs”? There are no satisfactory answers to be had. Just sore necks from headbanging and sore jaws from grinning wildly at their sensory assault. — Robert Ham
08. Mayhem – “Worthless Abominations Destroyed”
Sounds Like: Spiraling controlled chaos that evokes the absurd terrors of a fever dream
Key Lyric: “Absu and Tiamat sleeps/ Dreaming their darkest dreams/ Spawning the cosmic gods”
Why It Matters: “Worthless Abominations Destroyed” is the best song on our top metal album of 2019, perfectly encapsulating the black metal mastery the Norwegian legends honed on Daemon. The song’s musical intensity verges on abstract, creating an artistic portal to Mayhem’s macabre world of vitriol while pushing black metal to its conceptual and sonic extremes.—Jon Hadusek
07. Baroness — “Throw Me an Anchor”
Sounds Like: A melodic and relentlessly heavy track that keeps turning corners when you least expect.
Key Lyric: “You’d throw me an anchor and hope I’d learn/ When you hold me to fire you’d think I’d burn/ When you bathe in fire I’d throw you an anchor I know you learned/ When you hand me a lighter I will make it burn”
Why It Matters: “Throw Me an Anchor”, a standout track on Baroness’ stellar Gold & Grey album, highlights just how far the band has matured and grown over the last 12 years. Frontman John Baizley, the band’s only remaining original member, burns like an unquenchable fire throughout the track as he fills the earth with his timeless vocals, keeping pace with the breakneck speed of the rest of the group, including new guitarist Gina Gleason and her impossible-to-imitate musicianship. —Chuck Armstrong
06. Opeth – “Dignity”
Sounds Like: Everything fans love about modern-day Opeth wrapped into one song.
Key Lyric: “Prince of lies is on his knees/ Holy rites, spreading the disease”
Why It Matters: A highlight of Opeth’s In Cauda Venenum album, “Dignity” bursts with a flavor of melody and pumping bass. The rhythm unravels in a playful manner, springing into wild guitar solos, all while emitting a joyful energy. After a couple minutes, the track shifts into a gentle guitar progression, allowing beautiful singing to come through. This song is frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt pushing the boundaries of what defines heavy music. — Michael Pementel
05. Candlemass feat. Tony Iommi – “Astorolus – The Great Octopus”
Sounds Like: A beautifully sludgy, riff-heavy doom metal concoction with powerful, operatic pipes, and a killer solo from a metal godfather.
Key Lyric: “Octopus, the point of no return/ You’re the hunger, the one/There you wait, for moon and man to fall/From the wall of the world”
Why It Matters: When Swedish doom rockers Candlemass unleashed The Door to Doom, their first record with vocalist Johan Längquist in more than three decades, there was lots of excitement within the heavy music world. The band certainly delivered, especially on the Grammy-nominated “Astorolus – The Great Octopus”, which showcases Längquist’s vocal abilities and Black Sabbath icon Tony Iommi’s unique guitar tone and style. –Anne Erickson
04. Rammstein – “Deutschland”
Sounds Like: The dark, intense, catchy industrial metal bravado one deserves from Rammstein.
Key Lyric: “Deutschland, mein herz in flammen/ Will dich lieben und verdammen” (Translation: “Germany, my heart in flames/ Want to love and damn you”)
Why It Matters: Industrial metal aficionados Rammstein signaled their return after a nearly 10-year hiatus with this hard-hitting and melodic masterpiece about their homeland, and proved that they are still one of the best heavy bands out there. “Deutschland” makes it clear, worthwhile side projects aside, that guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe and vocalist Till Lindemann are still best when paired up together. — Colette Claire
03. Cattle Decapitation – “Death Atlas”
Sounds Like: An apocalyptic manifesto of misanthropy and frustration
Key Lyric: “Alas, the deed is done/ Mankind has come and gone/ Carbon-based life forms reset to day one”
Why It Matters: Cattle Decapitation make brutal heavy metal about enlightened topics such as climate change and animal rights, and they’ve never shied from expressing their bleak world view. In light of recent world events, the nine-minute “Death Atlas” is their most direct and acerbic statement of belief, and their grim soothsaying feels particularly poignant in 2019. — Jon Hadusek
02. Tool – “7empest”
Sounds Like: An alternation between King Crimson’s chromatic repetition and Adam Jones’ trademark “rubber riffing.”
Key Lyric: “Blame it all on the bastards when you’re blowing out/ Shame on you, Shame on you, now / No amount of wind could begin to cover up your petulant stench and demeanor”
Why It Matters: The album that this ditty is plucked from, Fear Inoculum, was Tool’s first full-length studio offering in 13 years. And this standout track proves that there are still sturdy metal riffs to be discovered, courtesy of Mr. Jones (specifically the one unveiled at the 1:18 mark). Throw in some pummeling drums from Danny Carey, and angry vocals from Maynard James Keenan, and you have an instant Tool classic. — Greg Prato
01. Slipknot – “Solway Firth”
Sounds Like: An unhinged Corey Taylor leading you on a disturbing journey through a heavy assault of down-tuned guitar chugging and double bass beats.
Key Lyric: “While I was learning to live/ You taught me how to die”
Why It Matters: Five years in the making, Slipknot took their time perfecting songs on We Are Not Your Kind. Ranging from hauntingly beautiful to absolutely brutal, “Solway Firth” ranks among Slipknot’s greatest tracks. Fans of the band’s Iowa era sound should love this evolved and heavy gem which harkens back to the energy of classic songs like “People = Shit” but with a more mature take in the songwriting. — Colette Claire