Here is it, the definitive list of the 17 best guitar solos in all of heavy metal. Before we begin, a few notes of interest:
– What makes a great guitar solo? Is it technical proficiency? Difficulty? Heaviness? Seamless cohesion into a song? I think all of those things are important. But to me, the most important aspect of a guitar solo is it’s lasting impact. Does it stick in your mind long after you’ve heard the song? Does it keep you up at night with its awesome, face-melting delivery? Does it spring to mind like a long-lost friend as soon as the song reaches the appropriate moment? If yes, then it’s a great solo.
– Despite the conviction of my intro, this is not actually a definitive list. There’s a near 100% chance that there exist solos deserving of acclaim that are not on this list due to a combination of writer ignorance, neglect, and creative differences. Like music reviews, ‘best of’ lists are subjective horse slobber, but they are both fun to read and to write, so I figured “Why not…”
– Why 17? Because that’s all I felt like compiling.
Have I answered all your questions? No? Doesn’t matter! On to the list:
17. Under a Glass Moon – Dream Theater
Dream Theater burst onto the progressive metal scene with 1992’s Images and Words, which showcased both their amazing technical ability and creativity. “Under a Glass Moon” is a brilliant song that features not only a great guitar solo, but a fantastic keyboard solo as well.
16. Through the Fire and the Flames – Dragonforce
There’s a reason Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and the Flames” garnered worldwide fame as the hardest song in the hit video game Guitar Hero. It’s blisteringly fast, and the guitar work is so furious and intricate throughout that it’s almost hard to distinguish where the chorus stops and the solo starts (hint: right after the “whoah whoah whaooooh” part). When the solo does hit, strap yourself in for a two minute long, dual guitar sonic assault.
15. Paradise Lost – Symphony X
Sometimes, more is less, as Symphony X shows in “Paradise Lost.” While Symphony X at times showcases technical ability on par with Dream Theater, this solo is far simpler. However, its seamlessly perfect fit and soulful melody land it at number 15 in this list.
14. No More Tears – Ozzy Ozbourne
Zakk Wylde is now a well-known heavy metal guitarist in his own right, but he first rose to prominence as a member of Ozzy Ozbourne’s crew. In “No More Tears”, he produced a near perfect solo – short, sweet, melodic, and heavy. Having it follow a short, mellow musical interlude was a stroke of genius.
13. Rainbow in the Dark – Dio
“Rainbow in the Dark” is often regarded as Dio’s best song, and the solo is an important part of why. It’s fast, has structured layers, and is executed flawlessly. Traditional, early 80’s metal just doesn’t get any better than this.
12. Round and Round – RATT
People don’t often associate hair metal bands with amazing guitar solos, but Ratt’s “Round and Round” is a notable exception. What the solo lacks in technical proficiency, it more than makes up for in brilliant composition. It fits the song like a glove, and if you needed evidence of the band’s technical ability, you need look no further than the song’s second solo, which sadly fades out partway through.
11. Painkiller – Judas Priest
Judas Priest is one of the most influential bands in all of metal, but in the late 80s, a couple of sub-par releases forced the band to reconsider their sound and try something new. The result was 1990’s power/speed metal hybrid Painkiller. Enjoy.
10. Rock Bottom – UFO
Is it metal? Well, I’ll answer that another day, but you can probably guess what my feelings are. Regardless, it features an absolutely brilliant guitar solo by Michael Schenker that just goes on and on and on without losing anything in terms of intensity or precision.
9. Holy Wars…The Punishment Due – Megadeth
Megadeth has always been somewhat underrated in terms of their guitar work, or at least as underrated as one of the most important and successful metal bands of all time can be. In “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” lead guitarist Marty Friedman teases with a few short solo bursts before bringing the pain with a furious solo to finish out the song. Not only is the solo fantastic, but it’s one of Megadeth’s best songs overall.
8. Cemetery Gates – Pantera
Normally, it’s the top ten of any list that really shines, but in my opinion, it’s these top 8 that truly stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first of the best is Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates,” a hauntingly melodic song that I believe is one of the best ever in all of metal, bar none. The solo, which starts at around the five-minute mark, is so powerful and so memorable, that I can recall it’s every note and nuance, despite my complete ignorance of how to play guitar. Yes, really.
7. 2 Minutes to Midnight – Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden, apart from being one of the best metal bands of all time, is also notable for being one of the first bands to reject the idea of a band needing a “lead” guitarist and a “rhythm” guitarist, instead using two simultaneous leads in Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Their ability to weave notes together into layered melodies produced some spectacular results at times, “2 Minutes to Midnight” being one of the best.
6. Lines in the Sand – Dream Theater
John Petrucci, Dream Theater’s lead guitarist, is one of the best guitarists ever in any genre, and he proves it here in 1997’s “Lines in the Sand.” This solo is so good, it makes me want to cry.
3. Fade to Black, Master of Puppets, Orion – Metallica
Forget songs 4 and 5, as the number 3 song is a three-way tie featuring Metallica’s best efforts. Metallica is generally considered the greatest metal band of all time, and part of the reason for that has always been Metallica’s fundamental understanding of the need for balance. Heaviness must be balanced by quiet, and aggression must be balanced by melody. This, in addition to fantastic composition, is what made solos on “Fade to Black”, “Master of Puppets”, and “Orion” so memorable. Enjoy them, as each is a shining beacon of the brilliance of metal.
2. Powerslave – Iron Maiden
As fantastic as Metallica’s solos are, their brilliance still couldn’t land them in the top two. Instead, the runner-up honor goes to Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave.” Though Iron Maiden, as one of the most important bands in the new wave of british heavy metal, is usually pigeonholed as traditional heavy metal, the fact is that in many ways, Iron Maiden was (and still is) a progressive metal band, and Powerslave was their first real progressive metal album. Here, Murray and Smith again weave a radiant sonic tapestry together, rife with classical guitar influences but possessing all the full force of heavy metal. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.
1. Tornado of Souls – Megadeth
Well, we’ve reached number one on my list of the 17 best heavy metal guitar solos, and though I believe Metallica and Iron Maiden to be the two greatest metal bands of all time, the honor of the best guitar solo in metal goes to Marty Friedman of Megadeth. This solo is perfectly crafted. It features everything you could possibly want from a solo: speed, difficulty, flawless composition, fantastic song integration, heaviness, power, and aggression without sacrificing melody, not to mention it features a minute long run-up to boost anticipation before the solo. Sheer perfection. So congrats Megadeth on being number 1. Enjoy!
One final note of interest: of the four bands that landed on my list more than once, three of the four had songs selected from the same album (Iron Maiden’s Powerslave, Megadeth’s Rust in Peace, and Metallica’s Master of Puppets). I have listened to virtually the entire catalog of songs released by all three bands, and yet their best solos, in my opinion, came from singular albums. I guess it just goes to show that when a band is in a zone, it’s capable of masterful music.
Anyway, feel free to lambast me in the comments for omitting your favorite metal solos.
Image credit: Featured image by Lilly M pl.wiki: Lilly M real name: Małgorzata Miłaszewska (Own work) (CC-BY-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.