In a recent clip, Revolver asked a diverse group of rock and metal musicians performing at the Louder Than Life festival to pick the heaviest riff of all time.
If you’re going to take on the controversial topics, it makes sense to go to the authorities, and indeed, the list of players interviewed includes members of everyone from Halestorm, to Baroness and Gwar, right through to punishingly heavy acts like Suicide Silence.
As you might expect, the resulting nominations are as wide-ranging as the musicians that made them. However, one riff comes up repeatedly: Metallica’s Sad But True.
“As far as like heavy, weighty and aggressive – Sad But True,” comments Halestorm’s Arejay Hale, following a prompt from Lzzy Hale. “That is one of the heaviest riffs of all time.”
Orbit Culture’s Niklas Karlsson and Richard Hansson agree. “I’m an old schooler, but I have to go with Sad But True,” says Karlsson. “Hearing that riff 30 years later, it’s like the best riff you can write.” “If Lars can pull it off!” adds Hansson, with a grin.
Aussie hard rockers Airbourne agree on the Metallica side – but cast the net a bit wider: “Fuel’s pretty fucking heavy. Master Of Puppets is heavy. The entire Metallica discography is the heaviest riff of all time. There you go! Except for the whole Lulu thing…”
Other artists involved in the picking felt different, and the likes of In Flames, Spiritbox, We Came As Romans, Wargasm, Bloodywood, Tetrarch, Vended, Crown The Empire, Cherry Bombs, Taipei Houston, and Jose Mangin all throw in their two cents.
Pantera arguably get more overall nods, but the musicians are split on which riff to pick – with Walk, Domination, and Cowboys From Hell all getting shout-outs. Lamb Of God and Gojira get a lot of love, too – as does Meshuggah’s crushing Bleed. Spiritbox vocalist Courtney LaPlante makes an excellent justification for the latter.
“The thing that makes [Bleed] so heavy to me isn't just how fast the double kick is and how low the guitar [is], but it's also the way that the riff speeds up and slows down,” says LaPlante. “The way that the double kick is interfering with the guitar…
“That song has no business being over two minutes long. No human can do that for more than two minutes and there's just like, it's seven minutes of that annihilation!”
The influence of Sad But True, however, remains irrefutable. Royal Blood, St. Vincent and even Jason Isbell have all shared their own covers in recent years, proving just how far it has permeated the mainstream consciousness.
Finally, if you’re tackling it yourself, check out our guide to the tonal secrets behind Sad But True.
To hear the full list of heaviness, check out the clip from Revolver above.