Metalheads like big-picture worldviews—because, firstly, vastness and cosmic law is epic and awesome, and secondly, because it applies a framework of undeniable logic to what are otherwise our jumbled, disappointing lives. We do the same with metal, holding it to broad-stroke standards of trueness and Does or Does Not Rock. But just as Hieronymous Bosch taught us that the sprawling plains of Hell are occupied by a million and one tiny nonsensical acts of violence, metal shows time and time again that its bloated mass of sonic carnage is actually made up of a series of awesome little parts.
Every metalhead remembers the big parts of the great metal songs—the scream at the beginning of "Angel of Death", the kick in "Battery", the bridge of "Ace of Spades". But while these are the parts that define metal to the world, they are not the parts that matter most to metalheads. The important parts of metal are those entrenched, sometimes-forgotten sections of music that inspire knowing glances and index finger drumming between temporary mosh pit friends. They are the passages that make the listener shake his or her head both in reverence of musical power and in shame at having forgotten how killer they are.
Here are thirteen parts in metal that you might have forgotten about, but that you know, deep down in your wretched heart, are the fucking bomb. Also included are the time marks in the song where you can find them. If you're not a metalhead, these are good individual passages to improve your genre shorthand. If you're a metalhead, you should know what I'm talking about.
1. The accent hits in the final verse of Slayer's "Dead Skin Mask". (3:38)
Everyone knows that Slayer's creepiest track is about murderer and necrophiliac Ed Gein, who inspired Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill. Few focus on how the song chronicles Gein's progression from half-conscious ghoul to actual sex killer. The pounding hits after each line of this last verse showcase the crushing intensity of Ed finally deciding it'll take dead warm flesh, not dead cold flesh, to pacify the means.
2. The breakdown at the end of Pantera's "Domination". (3:43)
Steady, bludgeoning breakdowns have become overused in hardcore-influenced metal, but when Pantera released Cowboys From Hell in 1990 this form of crushing hypnotism hadn't yet become very popular. Dimebag's thick, steel-edged chug showed the world just how ugly a breakdown could be, and the writhing solo that cuts through it displayed how you could be both heavy-hitting and dynamic, which is really what metal's about at the end of the day.
3. The speed-up part at the end of Guns 'N' Roses' "Paradise City". (4:34)
When you think of a G'N'R show, a circle pit isn't usually what comes to mind, but "Paradise City", arguably the band's cheesiest arena anthem, closes with a scream, a clap of drums, and then a double-time surge of the song's central riff played to an impromptu punk beat. Axl gibbering the song's chorus over the sudden whirlwind only makes the song that much more frantic.
4. The high vocals behind Celtic Frost's "Necromantical Screams". (0:38)
The part that launched a thousand scowls. Black metal wouldn't exist without Celtic Frost's misanthropic grunts, but it's this moment of atmospheric layering that drives home the genre's odd love of mixing extreme imagery with sweeping gothic romance. Like the hymn sung at the funeral of the sun.
5. The title invocation in Opeth's "Demon of the Fall." (2:16)
Opeth obviously aren't the first metal band to scream a track's title out of nowhere, but the way they frame this moment in their crushing-but-moody anthem to autumn is diabolical, powerful, and indicative of the band's MO of adding folk flourishes to brutal death metal.
6. The reference to West Side Story in Metallica's "Don't Tread On Me." (0:05)
"I like to be in America/OK by me in America…" Yup, "America" from the musical West Side Story gets a shout-out in the opening of Metallica's ode to camo shorts. So the next time some metal bro tries to judge you as false for liking musicals, just remember that even Metallica are Sondheim fans.
7. That little jump in the opening riff of Immortal's "Sons of Northern Darkness" (0:17)
2002's Sons of Northern Darkness is the definitive Immortal album, as catchy as it is punishing and not bogged down by some of the black metal purism of their previous releases. And it's with this little skip to their loo that the band not only showcases its songwriting chops but also reminds the listener that black metal, like any other metal, should be fun.
8. Dio's vocal effect when he references Hell in "Don't Talk To Strangers". (0:46)
Most of the time, Ronnie James Dio is pretty straightforward with his earnest beltings about dragons and stones and dragonstones. But in this single weird little moment, Dio uses a vocal effect to make his voice sound like that of an evil spirit briefly entering our realm through some sort of ectoplasmic breach hanging in the air right behind you. Totally cheesy, but very cool (like all of Dio's music, really).
9. The pinch harmonic midway through the main riff of Dying Fetus' "Praise The Lord (Opium of the Masses)". (0:15)
Nothing says, "I'm sweating the Heineken out" like a pinch harmonic in death metal, and no squealy has ever squealed like the WHIRRR in the second reiteration of the riff at the center of this Dying Fetus song. Slam bands would spend the next eighteen years wondering how they could make their song sound anywhere near as lumbering and eczemic as this.
10. The To The Devil, A Daughter sample in the middle of White Zombie's "Super Charger Heaven".
Midway through the charging desert-bound fuckfest that is "Super Charger Heaven," the listener is treated to a Latin excommunication mass split up by chugging accent notes, all culminating with a voice saying, "It is not heresy…and I will not recant!" The sample comes from 1976's To The Devil, A Daughter, and the voice that refuses to recant is that of Christopher Lee. No one does samples in metal like White Zombie, and no one ever will.
11. The opening of Lamb of God's "The Subtle Arts of Murder and Persuasion."
While Lamb of God are best known for their big Panterrific juds, their albums always show an interesting use of guitar leads and odd rhythms. The opening of "Subtle Arts…", a track from their 2000 debut New American Gospel, features a neurotic solo that gives way to what can only be described as a tango breakdown. Now, you can spend the rest of your day wishing some Latin dancers would perform to a Lamb of God track.
12. Alice Cooper, "Feed My Frankenstein": LUNCH TIME. (3:42)
"Feed My Frankenstein" is Alice's signature song, primarily due to its appearance in Wayne's World. But while that opening rules, it's the song's last full chorus that makes it, with someone doing a solid Screamin' Jay Hawkins impression and summing up in a single moment the entire Alice Cooper allure.
13. The final chorus of Cannibal Corpse's "Hatchet To The Head".
Hat-chet. To the. Head. Hatchet to the head. Hatchet to the head. Hatchet to the head. Hatchet to the head. Chop it off.
Chris Krovatin is howling mockery at the cross on Twitter.
Image design by Lia Kantrowitz.