50 of the Best Heavy/Alternative Album Openers
At some point in 2022, Wall Of Sound boss man, Paul ‘Browny’ Brown posted on Facebook that Blink-182’s ‘Feeling This’ was one of the best album openers ever. A stupidly catchy and fun song, for sure. While I do not share the exact same sentiment towards that track, seeing that jogged my brain about 50 of the best album openers.
The key phrasing is 50 of the best. Given how this will span varying genres and artists (mostly) relevant to Wall Of Sound, creating some “objective” list would be silly. This ain’t Rolling Stone (UK) or Pitchfork, I’m not here to farm your engagement by offering contrarian takes to collect your hate clicks. At least not on purpose, anyway. No, what I am here for is to share awesome starters that deserve love. Openers that command attention; songs that begin excellent records; kick-offs that make you want to consume the remaining release immediately. Criteria that I used to help select this list.
There is, of course, only one obvious rule here. In order for a song to count, it has to be the actual opener. Therefore, I can’t count Slipknot’s ‘(Sic)’ as ‘742617000027’ comes first; Thursday’s ‘Understanding In A Car Crash’ won’t appear as ‘A0001’ comes before it; New Found Glory’s ‘All Downhill From Here’ isn’t featured as ‘Intro’ comes in prior; Parkway Drive’s ‘The Siren’s Song’ isn’t here as ‘Begin’ is technically the opener. (Only one entry breaks this rule because the actual “first song” was only heard if you had the correct CD player that supported pregap yet few knew about it, and that “opener” isn’t on streaming.)
As you might imagine, witling this list down to 50 songs was painstaking. So much so that I contemplated doing 100 entries, for my own sanity. However, I cut some initial tied entries out because I couldn’t pick an opening song from certain artists who repeatedly put their best foot forward. So don’t expect to see In Flames, Funeral For A Friend, Every Time I Die, Thrice, and Dillinger Escape Plan won’t make an appearance. (Like, goddamn you five, just chill out.)
There’s various super well-known openers that aren’t on this list but I’d be remiss not to bring up given the topic. Like ‘Battery’ and ‘Angel Of Death’; ‘Only Shallow’ and ‘Tempting Time’; ‘Never Meant’ and ‘My Name Is Jonas’; ‘Loser’ and ‘Clarity‘; ‘At Your Funeral’ and ‘Helena‘ – you get it. All institutions, for their genres and for their respective creators. Now, go do whatever it is you do to get comfortable and settle in for fifty great opening tracks.
Architects – ‘Early Grave’ (Hollow Crown, 2008)
‘Early Grave‘ kicks in your teeth immediately. Thanks to the strong talents of the respective Searle brothers, Dan and Tom (RIP), you’re slammed by an avalanche of riffage, guitar work that feels insanely heavy despite being tuned to C# standard (barring the low C# being dropped to G#), and outright pummeling percussion. Played over various time signatures of 8 and 4, this thing just crushes you. One of the greatest songs from Architects’ early years, following their rather derivative tech-metal beginnings but before finding their current rock-metalcore arena stardom, this is a monstrous opener to Hollow Crown. With one of their more tasteful melodic choruses and that sick-as-hell “an early fucking grave” breakdown finale inducing utter bedlam, this is a metalcore classic.
Rage Against The Machine – ‘People Of The Sun’ (Evil Empire, 1996)
The core components of all the best Rage hits reflect the band’s four individual members, and ‘People Of The Sun’ does exactly that. An iconic Tom Morello riff starts us off, with Tim Commerford’s popping bass locking it down as huge bounces get dished out courtesy of drummer Brad Wilk, as Zach de la Rocha vehemently spits historical, educational truths about the injustices committed against South American peoples. Hands down Evil Empire’s brightest moment next to ‘Vietnow’ and ‘Down Rodeo.’ It’s coming back around again:
Lamb Of God – ‘Laid To Rest’ (Ashes of The Wake, 2004)
With one of the deadliest riff and drumming syncopations of early 2000s metal, led by the most brutal Pterodactyl vocalist around, ‘Laid To Rest’ is a Lamb Of God all-timer. Existing perfectly between metalcore, groove metal, and southern-fried tones, this is the finest song that those white-wine-loving Pantera dorks never wrote. I don’t know what else to say other than: “SEE WHO GIVES A FUCK!”
The Clash – ‘London Calling’ (London Calling, 1979)
A classic Clash number from their most famous record. Joe Strummer’s unmistakable voice shines as he laments a world slowly sliding into an abyss as it entered the ’80s, a cold lyrical atmosphere feeling even more desperate with a Morse code S-O-S crying out in its final moments. Topper Headon’s swinging rolls and triplet hi-hat work propels everything forward, lifting up the song’s organ parts and those striking guitar chords even more so. ‘London Calling‘ sets up an extremely eclectic and daring LP to follow it, one that skirts a wide array of styles competently – a scarily bold punk album from this period. Scarier still, 44 years later, this song still feels as relevant as ever.
Thursday – ‘For The Workforce, Drowning’ (War All The Time, 2003)
With no interlude or preamble, Thursday blew down the door on their 2003 LP with the fierce intensity of ‘For The Workforce, Drowning.’ An evergreen post-hardcore piece about dehumanizing workforce grinds, slave wages, and feeling like mere cogs in a much larger, ultimately broken machine, Thursday’s views are explicitly front and centre. Tucker Rule’s punchy 6/8 drumming stokes the song’s burning flames around erratic riffs as Geoff Rickley’s eager passionate screams spearhead the sonic attack. It’s all so compelling! ‘For The Workforce, Drowning‘ saw Thursday recapturing the spark of ‘Full Collapse‘ (2001), having everything sound larger and more polished without ever losing a shred of integrity.
The Chariot – ‘Teach’ (Wars And Rumours Of Wars, 2009)
Sorry fellow Chariot fans, ‘Evan Perks’ didn’t make the cut. Disappointed, I know you are. And I hear ya, it’s a great first track from one of the best albums of the last decade. However, ‘Teach’, as much as I like ‘Evan Perks,’ is just on some next-level shit. A totally unhinged, violently eruptive slab of discordant heavy music that wields harsh feedback and sweet chaos to an incredible degree. It’s stupidly good, a damn fine example of a band being experts at their songcraft. Like, you’re gonna seriously tell me that that hair-raising “victory is such a lonely word” crescendo and the demented amp-breaking pay-off that follows isn’t one of The Chariot’s best moments? Yeah, righty-o, nerd.
Refused – ‘Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull’ (The Shape of Punk To Come, 1998)
On ‘Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull’, Refused launched a highly pointed statement of intent back in ’98. The larger release that houses this riff-driven cut was an ambitious punk rock touchstone that musically and thematically discussed counter-culture politics, art and its purpose, and what music – whether it’s punk or even jazz – can be a vehicle for. Yet it’s this surprisingly heavy opener, one that fights an ideological war against capitalism, one that takes your damn head off at times, that remains one of this stellar record’s tallest peaks. An impressive Refused song and just a fully arresting introduction to one of my all-time personal favourite albums. The classics do go out of style, sure, but that doesn’t stop them from being phenomenal.
Deafheaven – ‘Dream House’ (Sunbather, 2013)
This might generate ire from various readers but I personally cannot fathom Sunbather being heralded as Deafheaven’s best. No, that crown belongs to New Bermuda. (2021’s wondrous Infinite Granite is a close second.) However, their 2013 blackgaze breakthrough is their most important, containing their best opener to date. Or at least, their most notable: ‘Dream House.’ Put the song and album into perspective: even people who don’t like black metal love this. This is a sweeping, lengthy, beautiful and extreme composition that sounds just as transcendent as this record actually was for heavy music of its kind ten years ago.
Billy Talent – ‘Devil In A Midnight Mass’ (Billy Talent II, 2006)
A dope fuzzy riff from hair master Ian D’Sa, and a full-band explosion that soon follows with Benjamin Kowalewicz’s blood-curdling wail atop it all? Yep, Billy Talent’s second album begins with a universe-starting, and potentially even ending, bang. A detonation of high-octane rock’n’roll energy that, once the dust is settled, delivers unto you a full-pelt banger, written with a grim undertone about child abuse at the hands of the clergy. They don’t make ’em like this anymore. Hell, Billy Talent themselves don’t do it quite like this any longer.
Converge – ‘Dark Horse’ (Axe To Fall, 2009)
Converge’s 2009 face-peeler ‘Axe To Fall‘ is still their peak for me. Driven along by one of Ben Koller’s most insane drum fills, moving around this hectic 5/4 feel with varyingly subtle and obvious tempo shifts, ‘Dark Horse’ cleaves you in half thanks to that delirious pace, its razor-sharp riffs from Kurt Ballou, and frontman Jacob Geller’s always larynx-cracked screams. Converge are the kings for this particular niche of hardcore and metalcore, and ‘Dark Horse’ is irrefutable evidence of this fact. ‘Axe To Fall’ wouldn’t quite be the same album without this demon being first off the ranks.
Glassjaw – ‘Tip Your Bartender’ (Worship & Tribute, 2002)
Justin Beck’s toughest-sounding riff announces an instant adrenaline rush, a prelude to one of the greatest records of the 21st century. So many things that the masterful Worship & Tribute nails are encapsulated within this first movement. The undeniable ‘Tip Your Bartender’ crams so much of the then-young Glassjaw’s musical skills and violent passion into three beautifully intense minutes. And when that chorus hits, it’s not any surprise why Glassjaw were (and still are) such a revered act. Your favourite band’s favourite band.
At The Drive-In – ‘Arcarsenal’ (Relationship Of Command, 2000)
“I MUST HAVE READ A THOUSAND FACES!”
And So I Watch You From Afar – ‘Set Guitars To Kill’ (And So I Watch You From Afar, 2009)
Songs with catchy vocals? Don’t need ’em when you’ve got six-string output this hooky. If you know someone who can’t stand instrumental songs, maybe show them this from one of Northern Ireland’s finest. ASIWYFA weren’t messing around when they called this sucker ‘Set Guitars To Kill‘. An absolute banger. Not since Cave In’s ‘Big Riff‘ – taken from an album with another excellent opener – has a song title been quite so spot on with regards to its killer guitar characteristics and subsequent quality. If this is your first time hearing ASIWYFA, check out this awesome self-titled album, then suss out All Hail Bright Futures. Thank me later.
Bloc Party – ‘Like Eating Glass’ (Silent Alarm, 2005)
With a ringing guitar loop acting as an actual alarm, one of the 2000’s best debuts had one of that decade’s strongest indie-rock and post-punk cuts. There was A LOT of decent stuff in these scenes coming out at this time from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The National, Hot Hot Heat, Metric, and Franz Ferdinand, but this Bloc Party staple wins out. (Liked that new Paramore album? You’ll probably get a kick out of those other bands.) Russell Lissack’s dreamy pedal delays, Matt Tong’s super urgent drumming, to Kele Okereke’s vibrato and heartfelt emotion, all convey this perfectly gloomy, perfectly stunning piece. The first time I heard ‘Like Eating Glass‘ was circa 2007 when playing Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland on my PS2, and it’s stuck with me ever since. Seeing this cap off the first part of their 2018 Melbourne set when they performed Silent Alarm in full (but backward) was a joy to behold.
Touché Amoré – ‘~’ (Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me, 2011)
In just over 20 minutes, Los Angeles’ Touché Amoré rip through one of the finest melodic hardcore albums of the 2010s. In its intro, at about 89 seconds, however, Jeremy Bolm and co. stormed through one of the sweetest tracks from that era. ‘~‘ is a sheer torrent of authentic emotional outpouring and sudden whiplash aggression. It’s a Touché classic, why they’ve played it live ever since its release. (Bolm really was prophetic when he declared: “I’ll be that ringing in your ears, that will stick around for years.”) It’s a very short yet mentally and physically brutal song about the battles of a divided mind and the inner self, but with a push to forge onwards and grow. Just like Touché Amoré have as artists since 2011.
Svalbard – ‘Open Wound’ (When I Die, Will I Get Better?, 2020)
Resting at a wicked intersection between the likes of Deafheaven, Envy, and Alcest, England’s Svalbard hit the ground running on their towering 2020 LP. ‘Open Wound‘ sounds larger than life, paradoxically feeling like it’s floating on clouds but also trapped in a tornado. The gargantuan reverberating toms, the buzzing over-saturated guitars, to Serena Cherry’s screaming and singing performances alike come together to make for a jaw-dropper. A powerful composition that’s as intimate and delicate in its discussion of abuse as its planet-sized heaviness and rage are. A terrific place to start with Svalbard if you’re new to them.
The Wonder Years – ‘There, There’ (The Greatest Generation, 2014)
The best song from the best Wonder Years record. In it, one of the few remaining decent dudes in this genre, Dan “Soupy” Campbell, turns an awkwardly honest and honestly awkward phrase – “I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times” – into a personal battle cry for an entire generation of pop-punk peeps. ‘There, There‘ is the top-tier epitome of this band’s songwriting dynamic and slick hook-writing abilities. All wrapped up in such authentic sentiments that it means so much to so many. This is why I love this band.
Vices – ‘Vices Go!’ (Between My Mind And The World, 2013)
12 seconds. That’s all it took for now-defunct Sydney melodic hardcore outfit Vices, one of the best to ever do it in Australia other than Sierra, to inform everyone it’s time to shut up. A screaming vocalization and just two words – “VICES GO” – is all this short-lived, somewhat humorous bad boy is. I can’t recall the last time an Aussie band had what ultimately, and eventually, amounted to a kind of in-joke, their own meme, with their fans that everyone was in on and loved. It sounds so stupid, I know, but it was a big deal for their crowds. People would actually shout out for them to play this song at their shows – and I went to many of their shows, especially the final one at Rad Bar – if it hadn’t appeared in the first half of the set, and vocalist John McAleer would reassure everyone it was coming. It was like the group’s own theme song, and it was awesome. Vices forever.
Deftones – ‘Hexagram’ (Deftones, 2003)
‘Diamond Eyes,’ ‘My Own Summer,’ ‘Genesis,’ ‘Hole In The Earth‘ – Deftones always began their records with a death blow. Perhaps no bigger and heftier was such a haymaker than the opener of their Terry Date-produced self-titled LP. If these legends had doubts about following up the endlessly lauded ‘White Pony’, it doesn’t show in the final product, especially not on ‘Hexagram.’ Quite possibly one of the most aggro Deftones songs this side of ‘Bloody Cape’ and ‘CMND/CTRL,’ this hits like a speeding freight train. Skillfully, thankfully, it also never once sacrifices the group’s much-needed melodicism and that signature ‘Tones sound that every third band now rips off.
Vein.fm – ‘Virus://Vibrance’ (errorzone, 2018)
Merging drum-and-bass sample breaks with skitz riffs and off-kilter grooves wasn’t anything that new when Vein.fm (simply vein back then) did it in 2018. However, these Americans played it all with such overwhelming skill, force and conviction that it felt brand new. To me, that makes all of the difference. The meeting point of so many influences came together here to create something that felt like a breath of fresh air. Hell, it still does now five years on.
Propagandhi – ‘Mate Ka Moris Ukun Rasik An’ (Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes, 2001)
Bella Galhos is the name you must know when talking about ‘Mate Ka Moris Ukun Rasik An’, more or less English for “life or death; freedom“. The inspiration behind the opener of Propagandhi’s 2001 LP, Galhos, was a young woman who lived under Indonesia’s brutal occupation of East Timor, which was economically and militarily backed by America, Canada (Propagandhi’s home country, where she’d meet them) and Australia, too. Multiple brothers of hers were killed by the Indonesian military, she was forcibly sterilized, became a resistance fighter, and survived the horrific Dili Massacre in Santa Cruz (not that one). Later, she joined the Indonesian youth corps to get a chance to be sent overseas to Canada to represent East Timorese Youth to help spread Indonesian propaganda. She achieved that, and once overseas, completed her sneaky plan by fully defecting to the big Maple Leaf.
A sample of Galhos, of her singing her people’s songs, songs that were banned under the occupation, is what you first hear on this very Propagandhi tune. While the 20th anniversary remaster of this melodic, thrashy belter is a better iteration sonically, it removed this sample from the intro. Undermining the track’s message about her life and activism, I feel; a life that frontman Chris Hannah cleverly contrasts with his own experiences growing up in Canada, tearing down “First world frat boys and prairie skinheads who will never walk a mile” and their simpler/easier lives in comparison to Ghalos’ experience. Thankfully, the original is still available, remaining now as an educational, moving punk track that’s just so damn good.
La Dispute – HUDSONVILLE, MI 1956’ (Rooms Of The House, 2014)
Choosing this over the breakup angst of ‘Such Small Hands’ or the sublime ‘a Departure’ may be blasphemy to some La Dispute fans. In fact, both songs do what ‘HUDSONVILLE, MI 1956’ does: being an interesting intro, preluding later lyrics, setting up a thematic puzzle that completes once each album ends, and running high on raw emotions. For me, ‘HUDSONVILLE’ does this best. A foreboding tale about a dangerous high-pressure system from the ‘50s and the unfortunate family caught up in it, you feel the anxiety and dread throughout thanks to Jordan Dreyer’s vocal delivery and writing chops. The way the guitars drop in and out at the end, like the “house” (read: album) is losing power amidst said storm is just pure genius. So too is how the lyrics from the devastating ‘35‘ seep into this song, like you’re hearing echoes from another room, playing right into this album’s concept. Great stuff!
SikTh – ‘Bland Street Bloom’ (Death Of A Dead Day, 2006)
This first song from Death Of A Dead Day, the second album by this wild U.K. band, is one core release that helped shape how many American prog-metal groups like Periphery would later sound. For ‘Bland Street Bloom’ is a genuine touchstone of technical, efficient and dexterous progressive metal. The absolutely insane guitar work, the mental time signature shifts, and the unhinged rabid vocal performance from Mikee Goodman, there’s just such a killer method to this band’s madness. A proggy, mathy ass-beater through and through. SikTh’s contributions to heavy music are absolutely crucial.
Millencolin – ‘No Cigar’ (Pennybridge Pioneers, 2000)
Look, what else can I say about this one? ‘No Cigar‘ IS one of the best pop-punk tracks ever bloody written. To such a degree, that Millencolin single-handedly made Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 iconic with this anthemic high-school gem. Cue that fucking snare roll:
36 Crazyfists – I’ll Go Until My Heart Stops” (Rest Inside The Flames, 2006)
“Between the seasons we find room” belts out Brock Lindow in the abrupt first few seconds of their 2006 CD. ‘I’ll Go Until My Heart Stops’ is a stupidly well-written marriage of mid-2000s metalcore brutality and melody. As was the style at the time, so many groups had to have two (or more) vocalists to pull off that popular dual-vocal, sing-scream combo. Well, Lindow does both ‘good cop, bad cop’ vocals himself to a great degree. With both gravelly but authentic singing takes that elevate the track and searing screams that could strip the paint right off your walls. And there’s just the song itself, the ear-worming melodies, quick energy and satisfying structure. 36 Crazyfists deserved bigger and better things with music like this.
The Blood Brothers – ‘Set Fire To The Face On Fire’ (Young Machetes, 2006)
A gifted, queer post-hardcore/screamo group that was almost ahead of the curve in some ways, The Blood Brothers were a shining beacon of insanity during the 2000s. The sassy higher-pitched vocals, the feral barrage of screams, the musical diversity, and the on-edge performances sound like everything’s about to fall apart but the band are holding on for dear life – it’s brilliant. Their apocalyptic live performance of ‘Set Fire to the Face on Fire‘ on The Henry Rollins Show was my introduction to them and it changed something deep inside my brain. Recent heavier acts, like for your health and SeeYouSpaceCowboy owe so much to The Blood Brothers and what they did for this style of music. ‘Important’ doesn’t quite begin to cover it.
Jeff Buckley – ‘Mojo Pin’ (Grace, 1994)
I often wonder where Jeff Buckley would’ve gone had he lived past 1997. I often wonder how he would’ve reacted to the success and mass reverence Grace, his only full-length studio album would find years after its release – mostly through a new generation discovering it and adoring it – had he not passed so early. I find it difficult to not feel emotional when hearing the bluesy, folk and jazz-inclined rock sounds of Grace in full or any number of its wonderful tracks. Tracks like the exquisite and heart-rendering opener, ‘Mojo Pin.’
Death From Above 1979 – ‘Turn It Out’ (You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, 2004)
Years before Death From Above 1979 dropped the year from their name and later re-added it, they were one of the most promising noise-rock and dance-punk acts going. That all boiled down to just how loud, fun and irresistible 2004’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine was, built around only (grimy and distorted) heavy bass, hyped shouty vocals, and punchy, lively drumming. Perfectly encapsulating the sound of this nutty 2004 work is its party-starting opener ‘Turn It Out.’ DFA1979 walked so that bands like Royal Blood could run.
Death Grips – ‘Giving Bad People Good Ideas’ (Bottomless Pit, 2016)
With a name that best describes the inane thought process of the three men behind Death Grips, the enigmatic trio’s most-metal album begins with one of their fastest and perhaps busiest pieces of music. After Clementine Creevy (one of the rare times another singer has appeared in their music) announces the track, Death Grips go full helter-skelter. Andy Morin’s distorted synthesisers and insane production wizardry, Zach Hill’s fusillade of undulating blast beats, and MC Ride losing his mind on the mic – it’s bewildering. ‘Giving Bad People Good Ideas‘ is a fantastic example of why this group is almost a genre unto itself.
Arctic Monkeys – ‘Brianstorm’ (Favourite Worst Nightmare, 2007)
One thing I think Arctic Monkeys lost over time was how they could grab your attention so quickly, so effortlessly. That kind of immediate gratification can be perhaps best exemplified by ‘Brianstorm.’ A truly thunderous British rock and roll sound with driving baritone guitars running circles around you, the distorted and delayed unmistakable vocals of Alex Turner crooning away above, and those relentlessly land-sliding tom rolls from Matt Helders shooting straight down the middle. It’s such an easy winner, really, and one of many reasons why Favourite Worst Nightmare is considered one of the band’s strongest body of works.
Enter Shikari – ‘The Appeal & The Mindsweep I’ (The Mindsweep, 2015)
I’m a sucker for a good book-end. Like on Periphery II with ‘Muramasa‘ and ‘Masamune.’ Or here, when Enter Shikari pulled off one such great instance of this back in 2015 with ‘The Appeal & The Mindsweep’. Other intros like ‘Stand Your Ground; This Is Ancient Land’ or ‘System’ are swell, but they’re meant to be heard in the context of the following second song and the wider chronological track-listing. This first iteration of ‘The Appeal & The Mindsweep’ does this but also works terrifically as a standalone piece. Equally representing the quartet’s sense of hope and politics of collectivism, their wicked hybrid blend of hardcore heaviness and hi-fi synths, and their musical hyper-activity brilliantly so. When the kick comes in at 1:18, you can feel that sucker deep in your chest. This was a band at the top of their game.
Alkaline Trio – ‘Time To Waste’ (Crimson, 2005)
I feel like most Alkaline Trio fans would agree that the demanding “Here it is again” call-to-arms on ‘Calling All Skeletons,’ from impeccable career-highlight Agony & Irony (2008), is a terrific opener. Me too! But there’s just something about the insistent pace, tonal darkness and stellar build-up of ‘Time To Waste,’ with the pianos and guitars together, that makes it so undeniable. The opening track from their somewhat overlooked and sometimes misunderstood 2005 rocker, Crimson, ‘Time To Waste’ was, at that point in time, the biggest and boldest this macabre Chicago three-piece had ever sounded. Still holds up well today.
Underoath – ‘In Regards To Myself’ (Define The Great Line, 2006)
‘In Regards To Myself’ is a phenomenal example of Underoath making something mostly simple but expressing it in a way that makes it seem more complex than it actually is. When you break it down, this opener from the seminal Define The Great Line is all in 4/4, played at a rather brisk 170ish BPM, with some noticeable pulse shifts. But it’s all about where drummer/singer Aaron Gillespie and guitarist/songwriter Timothy McTague place their respective accents; where a measure changes into more off-kilter, roaring metalcore madness. That, and the masterful vocal chemistry between Spencer Chamberlain and Gillespie. If there ever was an intro that’d make young and old scenesters alike lose their minds, it’s that opening film-reel sample under McTague’s angular riff. Insanity.
He Is Legend – ‘Dicephalous’ (It Hates You, 2009)
‘Dicephalous’ – meaning to have two heads, a key aspect of this song’s theme – begins what I would forever argue is the finest He Is Legend record, It Hates You. (One of the best rock albums of the 2000s. Big claim but I don’t care.) The whole thing is a dope melting pot between old-school rock and modern alternative, sludge, metalcore, and even psychedelia, whilst showing off their range of influences with utter glee. As for this opener, it’s propped up by one of HIL’s best choruses, their most polished riffs, and threads the needle between their inspirations and their unique quirks perfectly. They never miss; Endless Hallway was also sick.
Delta Sleep – ‘Sultans Of Ping’ (Ghost City, 2018)
Cute reference to Dire Straits aside, Delta Sleep had some earnest things to share with this 2018 conceptual full-length, and it starts with ‘Sultans Of Ping.’ This lovely, almost five-minute track is one of the best examples of tension and release I’ve heard over the last few years. The way ‘Sultans Of Ping‘ slowly rises in tempo and dynamics every eight measures is expertly done, as is the song’s full-blown eruption at 3:29, the kind of musical pay-off that feels like the world was just obliterated in a white-hot glow right before you. Good work, lads.
Nickelback – ‘Feed The Machine’ (Feed The Machine, 2017)
Does Nickelback have bad and corny material? Absolutely! It’s easy to shit on garbage like this, and rightfully so honestly, but it’s far harder to pay praise when it’s due. ‘Feed The Machine‘ is due for some. It felt like a whole other band being revived, beginning one of the better mainstream rock records of the late 2010s, in which Nickelback put together something solid, something that felt and sounded bigger, heavier, than some actual metal bands. (This is the same year that Suicide Silence release their self-titled album.) I don’t care if this ruins the list, this song rules. Backed up by their best production, timely themes, and beefiest guitar tones, Feed The Machine – both song and album – is a grim social commentary, set to some truly powerful choruses. You aren’t too cool for this, trust me.
Greyhaven – ‘Sweet Machine’ (Empty Black, 2018)
Greyhaven’s third album, This Bright And Beautiful World, was one of the best albums of 2022. Rewinding back the clock a few years to their second album, however, the highly impressive Empty Black, its first movement was a no-brainer for this list. ‘Sweet Machine’ displayed in an insane glow-up from their 2014 debut, seeing the Kentucky four-piece merge the best bits of Norma Jean and Every Time I Die, with added hints of Dillinger Escape Plan and He Is Legend for tasty measure. Yet Greyhaven placed their own ornamentation on these very familiar, Southern-fried rock-metalcore styles, whilst taking lethal aim at gun fetishists and 2nd Amendment cultists. One of the best bands going today.
Fall Out Boy – ‘Thriller’ (Infinity On High, 2007)
‘Thriller’ is a top ten Fall Out Boy track any day of the week, month or year. That clean riff before everything kicks in, Andy Hurley’s pounding double kicks, Jay-Z as an MC, that killer “so long live the car crash hearts” refrain from Patrick Stump – so much to enjoy. A blatant reference to Michael Jackson, this was a commentary on their fans supporting them, music used as therapy, and their ever-rising success, which since 2007 has gone gangbusters. Remember: this Infinity On High was the album that shot them into the arena-filling realm. This was also a rare post-breakout moment where the group’s early hardcore roots pre-Stump joining smashed through on the song’s simplistic but very fun final breakdown push. FOB will never go back to this era, not fully anyway, and that’s okay. Because at least we’ve still got the memories. We should be thankful for that.
The Hope Conspiracy – ‘They Know Not’ (Death Knows Your Name, 2006)
This is either the hottest or coldest take, but here goes: Death Knows Your Name is one of, if not the best hardcore album of the 21st century. At the very least, it sits right next to Songs To Scream At The Sun. Anyway, The Hope Conspiracy began said record with one of the most throttling and dynamic pieces of American hardcore around. That dissonant, stabbing-like guitar motif, the crushing tsunami of washed-out cymbals, and that blood-curdling war cry from madman Kevin Baker screaming “Guilty, they’re all fucking guilty pigs.” Just intense all the way through but still with something thoughtful and real resting underneath. Here’s hoping Hope Con return soon.
Meshuggah – ‘Combustion’ (ObZen, 2008)
‘Combustion’ begins with a nifty little riff, one that both Architects and Wage War would jack eight and ten years later respectively in ‘A Match Made In Heaven‘ and ‘Low‘. Truly, much of modern metal is owed to what these nutty Swedish juggernauts did. (Some bands are just far more public about it than others, acting like we don’t notice.) Beyond that riff lies a hulking monster of extreme tech metal, with the Swedes up to their usual bag of tricks. It features all the classics: really weird accent placements, the drums following the guitars, subtle but still head-scratching note shifts, and odd pulse changes – the gang’s all there! And I love it. obZen is still an overwhelming achievement. Outside of Frontierer, Meshuggah is the only metal group that nails the “how it feels to chew 5 Gum” description.
Armor For Sleep – ‘Car Underwater’ (What To Do When You’re Dead, 2005)
Here’s the one exception I mentioned aeons ago in the introduction to this list! Definitely one of the best emo acts of the 2000s, Armor For Sleep, returned last year with fresh material, a wonderfully cosy blanket of nice hooks and sad feelings. But we aren’t here to talk about that; we’re here for ‘Car Underwater,’ the first song off their nostalgic 2005 concept album, What To Do When You’re Dead. (Basically just “Suicide: The Album.”) It’s downright criminal that these guys didn’t get the same recognition as the scene’s biggest names, not when a barn-burner like ‘Car Underwater’ existed. The typical but very effective quiet-then-loud dynamic is put to great work here. As is the deep level of scorn in the lyricism, that uncomplicated but super catchy main riff, and by god as my witness, that chorus.
Comeback Kid – ‘Do Yourself A Favor’ (Symptoms + Cures, 2010)
Canada has produced numerous bands that crush it on their album openers. Riff-lords Cancer Bats, Alexisonfire (literally all five albums start with a banger and I couldn’t pick), and Protest The Hero, another very influential act for modern progressive metal. But this entry goes to the one and only Comeback Kid. No two ways about it, this is one of the most aggressive, head-banging songs Andrew Neufeld and co. have ever recorded. ‘Do Yourself A Favor’ is still, to this day, a set staple of these hardcore legends, and with good reason: it just goes so hard. It’s got high stage-diving energy, it’s got big gang vocal sing-alongs, and it has riffs and grooves aplenty. Almost the perfect CBK tune.
Parkway Drive – ‘Wishing Wells’ (Reverence, 2018)
‘Wishing Wells‘ lures you in and then goes for the kill. The acoustic guitar strums alongside Winston McCall’s depressed rustic-cowboy voiceover settle in before a sudden monstrous rug-pull happens as the instrumental goes universally big, their frontman roaring like a man possessed. It really is one of the largest and heaviest-sounding songs Parkway Drive have ever concocted. Almost like you can feel its weight and rage pressing down on your shoulders. So much so it makes ‘Gimmie AD‘ look like a cute little kitten by contrast. Like, come on, you can not tell me this thing doesn’t go hard. The slick Euro-metal influences are ramped up to 11 (the sweeping lead work that’s all over it) and behind all of this is a brutally emotional song about grief and survivor guilt. Nothing to see here other than Parkway Drive just casually proving why they’ve become the biggest metal band in Australia.
Darkest Hour – ‘With A Thousand Words To Say But One’ (Undoing Ruin, 2005)
Plenty of spectacular metal albums landed in 2005: Kezia, The Poison, Ascendency, Killing With A Smile, Miasma (RIP Trevor Strand), and Alaska. Oh, my sweet, ridiculous Alaska. One such esteemed record from that year was Undoing Ruin by the incredibly sick yet underrated Darkest Hour. The first cut from said banging melodic metalcore LP was ‘With A Thousand Words To Say But One.’ A dying talent of metalcore acts over the years has been the fading ability to write awesome hooks with their instrumentals, instead of just having a band member sing super high yet seldom able to reproduce the high notes live. A great example of writing sweet instrumental hooks is Controller by Misery Signals. Another great example is Darkest Hour and this ripper from them. Hooky yet never forced, technical yet tasteful, and so fast, vicious and riff-loaded. Hell yeah!
Björk – ‘Army Of Me’ (Post, 1995)
Now we arrive at the Icelandic art-pop icon herself. What’s staggering about Björk’s first four or so records, and her music in general, is just how fresh much of it all still sounds. How album’s like Post could literally come out tomorrow and would not only sound modern but would also sound fresh. The reason for this is her ambitious experimental blends of pop, house, electronica, folk, and beyond. You see this on ‘Army Of Me‘ with pulsing looped bass lines and snappy drum beats that hardwire themselves into your DNA. Then, when you put her icy cool vocals over the top, it morphs into something that was ahead of the curve at the time in 1995. All hail the queen.
Heaven Shall Burn – ‘Counterweight’ (Deaf To Our Prayers, 2006)
One of Germany’s maestros of extreme, melodic-death metal and metalcore, Heaven Shall Burn are perhaps one of the sickest groups for 2000s heavy music. I’ll keep it a buck-fifty with you: without them, Parkway Drive would not sound the way they do. (Parkway have even covered Heaven Shall Burn in the past.) HSB are such an influential act for so many bands and it’s not hard to see why. Look at the “holy trinity” of their discography: the wicked Antigone (2004), the gargantuan album that houses this particular entry, Deaf To Our Prayers, and my personal favourite, Iconoclast Part 1: The Final Resistance (2008), which is an insane record all-round. Few sounded as crushing and as lethal as HSB did with cuts like ‘Counterweight.’ Even with their recent weaker outings, they’re still one of the GOATS.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘The Dead Flag Blues’ (F♯ A♯ ∞, 1997)
“We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine. And the machine is bleeding to death.
The sun has fallen down, and the billboards are all leering.
And the flags are all dead, at the top of their poles.”
Pianos Become The Teeth – ‘I’ll Be Damned’ (The Lack Long After, 2011)
Some twelve years later, The Lack Long After remains one of the most emotionally devastating albums I’ve ever heard. Frontman Kyle Durfey quite openly breaks his heart in real time about his father’s MS diagnosis and subsequent passing, kicking off with this utter masterclass of 2010’s melodic post-hardcore, ‘I’ll Be Damned’. Some respect but still ultimately lament Pianos Become The Teeth’s shift from this heavier skramz sound post-2011. But after a song (and album) this good and intense, how would you even top it without watering things down? It was a very smart choice to let this remain the peak of this era of Pianos‘ career, before moving onto new horizons.
Children Of Bodom – ‘Needled 24/7’ (Hate Crew Deathroll, 2003)
With wild, lightning-fast blend of speed, power and melo-death, it’s easy to be taken aback by Children Of Bodom’s 2003 LP. That is all thanks to ‘Needled 24/7.’ Simply due to how it doesn’t mess around, for how hard it goes from a then-young (but very talented) Finnish act, and for just how much damn fun it is. No-frills, no bullshit. Rest in power, Alexi Laiho.
Turnstile – ‘Mystery’ (GLOW ON, 2021)
Turnstile have broken that pesky glass ceiling that many bands reach but cannot crack. The views and streaming numbers for GLOW ON are massive, rare for a band from their muscular hardcore ilk. They’re on a whole other level now, whether it’s supporting Blink-182, or as Hate5Six has captured multiple times, their already extremely engaging live shows have only ramped up tenfold. That’s all thanks to the songs, baby. Songs like ‘Mystery.’ For it is within this straightforward hardcore anthem, one that’s armed with a wickedly good hook, and that when injected with this band’s defined sense of kinetic spirit, something very special occurs. The kind of thing that makes you fall in love with hardcore all over again.
Article by Alex Sievers