It's not the best ones or the greatest ones, even if a few of them are undeniable champions. It is the 20 EPIC-er METAL songs to make you raise a sword (or an axe... or a hammer) according to Crystal Logic. There is just ONE RULE: One song per band. We don't want to present a list with 20 songs written by Quorthon or the Shark.
by Andreas Andreou
It is said that there are no specific rules to define Epic Metal and even if the correct term is Epic Heavy Metal, there are still bands, albums and many songs that are simply Epic Metal. A few of them will be found below. So, what's Epic (Heavy) Metal? The number 1 song in the list below sums up everything but it is more. Lyrics are also a part of it. You know them, name it battles, warriors, fantasy, sword & sorcery, mythology (even folklore), historical events, ancient times, mostly things that offer escapism. Epic Metal though has also the deep and academic approach of modern bands such as Atlantean Kodex and their unique lyrical approach that gives to this so-called sub-genre a quality that requests a devotion in order to approach it and understand it. At the end of the day, Epic Metal can be something more than simple "escapism" and it doesn mean of course that you should go out in the streets wielding a sword!
Roots? Many. It is about bands but mainly songs, and also the visual aspect. The roots in the '70s heavy and rock don't have many differences than the ones of Power Metal, so let's just add songs like Rainbow's "Stargazer" and Ronnie James Dio lyrical approach, Black Sabbath's "Supertzar" and the galloping rhythm of "Children of the Grave", Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", a few more '70s songs of Uriah Heep, Judas Priest, Rush and Scorpions, the imagery of cover arts from bands such as Dust (Hard Attack, 1972) and Molly Hatchet (Molly Hatchet, 1978), and this is just the top of the ice cube, since there were more less known bands here and there. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal leading to the '80s and Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell was the foundation upon which bands like Manilla Road and Manowar shaped part of their characteristics.
The first ones? I guess we all agree that bands such as Manilla Road, Manowar and Warlord can claim the "Epic Heavy Metal" term as the leaders without adding any "proto-metal", "proto-epic", "proto-whatever" this thing is, bands. When was this term firstly used? We will discuss it in the last songs of the list below.
A few diverse and controversial choices are a must sometimes, so the list goes like this:
20. BATTLEROAR - Hyrkanian Blades
For us, old fans of Battleroar the debate for the best album was always Age of Chaos or To Death and Beyond... but I was always with the later since there was one of the greatest epic heavy metal openers ever ("The Wrathforge") and songs like "Hyrkanian Blades". Huge band in the underground epic metal scene back then, but it was never the same after the third album. It was just a different act.
Check also: RAVENSIRE - Drawing the Sword
19. SOLSTICE - To Ride with Tyr
I am always trying to find ways so I can add something from Solstice in every list. This wasn't very difficult this time, so Mr. Rich Walker is here, with this epic (doom) metal masterpiece from Halcyon EP. "We die as brothers, and ride with Tyr".
Check also: ISEN TORR - Mighty & Superior
18. TWISTED TOWER DIRE - Axes & Honor
Taken from the third album of one of the best bands of the true new wave of traditional heavy metal movement that took shape a few years before bands like Enforcer led the way, "Axes & Honor" is a glorious anthemic epic heavy metal song. Grab an axe and held it high!
Check also: CRUSH - Kingdom of the Kings
17. DOMINE - The Aquilonia Suite
That song could be higher in the list but having also the music of Basil Poledouris heavily added it would be unfair for all the rest. Conan the Barbarian is the key element here and Domine more or less offer us their epic heavy metal take on the John Milius' film with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the leading role. Perfect from start to finish, the 11-minute epic is a highlight in Domine's impressive catalogue.
Check also: IRONSWORD - Cimmeria
16. CIRITH UNGOL - Nadsokor
"Mighty warrior raise your sword against the seething chaos horde" is the first line and the voice of chaos brings an archaic and mystical aura that only Cirith Ungol had in specific moments of their albums. One Foot in Hell is definitely not the best Ungol album (that one is King of the Dead for all of the older Ungol fans) but "Nadsokor" is one of their epic-er songs that's also has been covered in the debut album of the following band in No.15.
Check also: STONE DAGGER - The Siege of Jerusalem
15. DOOMSWORD - Heathen Assault
DoomSword is one more of the bands that can be labeled simply as "Epic Metal". They have the doom element in their music (and name) but this is just pure epic metal because playing slow metal music doesn't really make you doom metal. "Heathen Assault" sums up the essence of the band. The band's music is forged in tales of steel and battles, the triumph of the conqueror and the blood of the conquered.
Check also: BLOOD COVERED - Memories Through Centuries...
14. WRATHBLADE - God-Defying Typhoeus
Wrathblade is the most underrated epic heavy metal band ever. Everyone, more or less, has taken the credit it deserves but Wrathblade still haven't. Following the band from their early years and having seen them live numerous times (almost everywhere) before even releasing the debut album Into the Netherworld's Realm (2012), I was confident that this album was going to rule. And it did. The opening track "God-Defying Typhoeus" was a live favourite (just like "Reins of Doom") before even the album was released, among the few fanatics of the Athenian legion. A different kind of lyrics, epic but different and unique, the most suitable voice for their epic music, huge riffs and an excellent rhythm section, a lack of guitar solos and keyboards that adds an archaic and barbarian feeling, and the perfect production for their stuff. Wrathblade is the real epic heavy metal deal.
Check also: TALES OF MEDUSA - Bade the Myrmidons
13. ATLANTEAN KODEX - The Atlantean Kodex
There are many songs you can add here from Atlantean Kodex, but this anthemic epic heavy metal track is the hymn of the Kodex battalions and having seen live many times the German epic metal armada, it is also a live favourite. Atlantean Kodex is a very special epic metal band, the greatest one of the new era alongside Eternal Champion, but their approach differs and makes them really unique. It is the overall aesthetic element of the music, the lyrics, and the band's physical products. The band is already considered as one of the greatest in epic heavy metal and in the years to come, the new generations will view them as masters of their game. Still though, don't get fooled, the music of Atlantean Kodex is not a game, it is a form of art and at the same time, pure and regressive metal. Behold the fire, behold the force.
Check also: SCALD - A Tumulus
12. ETERNAL CHAMPION - I Am the Hammer
What Eternal Champion did with The Armor of Ire is bring back the way one album could change the scene instantly. That was the underground metal scene of course, but it really changed. Instantly. It was the moment where people thought "I can do that, too!". No one really did it so far but many tried. Others failed, others came close but still to this day, Eternal Champion stands as the greatest modern epic heavy metal band. A band with a songwriting and sound that influenced many and brought back to the USA a new generation of fans wanting traditional metal. The album's opening track "I Am the Hammer" is a modern totemic epic metal monument.
Check also: SMOULDER - Ilian of Garathorm
11. LORDIAN GUARD - War in Heaven
"And lo, Michael with sword in hand, he leads the Lordian Guard to slay, to damn"... that one, was the line that stuck in my head the first I listened to this song. It was during the pre-internet era where there was a rumor that "Bill Tsamis is coming back with Warlord". It wasn't Warlord though but the shock of listening to that album was one of the biggest in my life. It still has a very special place in my heart and adding blasphemy to the Christian themes Tsamis was dealing with back then in his lyrics, I listened more often to Lordian Guard than Warlord nowadays. Nothing really bothers me in Lordian Guard and I can't imagine those songs with another voice, arrangements, even "drums". "War in Heaven" is one of the greatest songs Tsamis ever wrote. And no, the version in Warlord's Rising Out of the Ashes is not a better one. The way William has added the keyboards in the Lordian Guard version is unmatchable and perfectly suitable with his guitars, plus Vidonne's theatrical voice sounds like descending from the sovereign sky forth God's command.
Check also: BLACK SWORD THUNDER ATTACK - Evil Sorcery
10. YNGWIE J. MALMSTEEN - I Am a Viking
Speaking of the roots of power metal, what Yngwie Malmsteen did with his first two albums, is one more of the most important steps to the evolution of the genre alongside the early years of Europe. And while in Sweden you have Heavy Load standing at the top of what we're talking about here, "I Am a Viking" is just a pure epic heavy metal masterpiece coming from one of the greatest albums ever made. When maestro Malmsteen was writing music for a line like "I'm a Viking, I'll walk all over you and by my sword you will die", he definitely felt like the ruler of this world. He probably still feels like that even if there aren't any vikings in Florida.
Check also: HEAVY LOAD - Singing Swords
9. BROCAS HELM - Fly High
You can't understand Brocas Helm if you weren't raised with underground metal. And if you joined the epic heavy metal wagon and the underground scene in a later age during the social media, you still can't understand the true essence of underground metal. Sorry, but that's true. Brocas Helm is the ultimate underground metal band. It's not the best, but it's the essence of everything underground metal stands for. Among their catalogue, "Fly High" stands as the ultimate anthem of epic heavy metal with the insane opening lead and its galloping riff. The galloping riff, the riff that sounds like horses riding is one of the elements that makes a song "epic heavy metal" as long as it has the suitable lyrics too. There you go! You have another definition too!
Check also: STEEL ASSASSIN - Spartacus
8. RUNNING WILD - Conquistadores
Running Wild are mostly known for their pirate era, often labeled just as a Heavy Metal band but they really have played almost everything between heavy, speed, power and epic metal until the mid '90s with an unmatchable sequence of 10-rated-out-of-10 albums. And while their heavy metal from 1989 up to 1995 is more "power metal" than the majority of American bands labeled as such, they always had a few raise-fisting epic power metal hymns like "Conquistadores" with its anthemic chorus and the powerful leads that put to shame most of your favourite bands. If someone considers bands like Fifth Angel as "power metal", then Running Wild is ultra power metal. So what's our beloved German band? The ultimate soundtrack to hooliganism, one of the few bands that makes you raise your fist (and sword sometimes) in the air all the time and breaking stuff. Any kind of stuff. "Conquistadores" is an epic heavy metal hymn.
Check also: JAG PANZER - The Moors
7. VIRGIN STEELE - The Burning of Rome (Cry for Pompeii)
Often labeled as the bigger rival of Manowar in the '80s, Virgin Steele that decade didn't really have the "total" epic heavy metal album but they definitely had the songs! Released the same year with Manowar's Kings of Metal, Age of Consent didn't even come close but among a few others it had "The Burning of Rome (Cry for Pompeii)", one of the greatest Virgin Steele songs ever, coming from an uneven album that became better with its 1997 re-release and the addition of bonus material such as the "Perfect Mansions (Mountains of the Sun)" song. While David DeFeis' band met its bottom by entering the '90s with the album Life Among the Ruins and its suitable title, the following albums established them as one of the greatest American epic heavy metal bands. Still though, no one can deny that if you'll make a short list with the best Steele songs, there's a strong possibility most of them coming from the '80s, including the one mentioned here in the top.
Check also: BLACK KNIGHT - Warlord's Wrath
6. OMEN - Teeth of the Hydra
The 3-out-of-3-row-of-albums Battle Cry, Warning of Danger and The Curse is one of the greatest in the field of epic heavy and power metal. The excellent songwriting, the A-male voice of J.D. Kimball, the master riffing and the pounding rhythm section pretty much sum up that advert used to promote The Curse writing "Tired of bands that are better looking than your girlfriend? We have the answer: Omen. True Metal returns to L.A." Having once more the term "true metal" used since the '80s already, The Curse is the better sounding Omen album so far including also one of the best metal drum sounds ever, even if most of the people will give to one of the two previous ones the "best Omen album" tag. No argue with that. Still though, "Teeth of the Hydra" is one of the strongest candidates for "best Omen song". And you can't argue with that, too.
Check also: OVERLORDE - Keeper of the Flame
5. WARLORD - Deliver Us from Evil
There weren't so many metal musicians in the '80s so unique and talented like William J Tsamis. Since the early Warlord songs you always had a different kind of approach in melody and lyricism that's weird how it didn't create a legion of bands influenced by that style. A truly ahead-of-its-time guitarist and composer with an unmatchable guitar tone and style recognizable at once. Huge part of the Warlord's music was always drummer Mark Zonder too, something you can easily understand by listening to "Deliver Us from Evil", one of the most iconic Warlord songs, and Epic Heavy Metal in general.
Check also: AGATUS - Perils of the Sea (Pt II)
4. MANILLA ROAD - The Veils of Negative Existence
Mark Shelton is one (if not The One) of the most important key figures of epic heavy metal. The third Manilla Road album Crystal Logic (1983) is one of the cornerstones of this so-called sub-genre and Manilla Road is the band responsible for all those epic (heavy) metal bands formed over the last 20 years. The line "I will never put my sword down, I will never run away" is so effective that stuck in your head for eternity from the very first moment. And every time you're listening to one of those classic '80s Manilla Road albums, you rediscover the essence of epic heavy metal. Mark Shelton was always a person that never stopped following the metal scene and always was listening to new bands and albums. From the early Rush-and-Sabbath influenced albums, to the Angel Witch and NWOBHM influence you can catch in Crystal Logic, the Shark never stopped breathing metal, just like that "Metal is dead so I've heard but not while I'm still above ground" line in "Dig Me No Grave" from 1990's The Courts of Chaos. Most bands that were changing in the history of metal music from 1980 onwards, were just getting "softer" and less aggressive, while Manilla Road (with the addition of drummer Randy Foxe) echoed the changes and were getting more aggressive leading to the almost-thrashy Out of the Abyss album of 1988. "The Veils of Negative Existence" is another mythical song in the band's catalogue, that became extremely influential for many bands, including the one you will see in Number 3...
Check also: THUNDER RIDER - Blackwing
3. CANDLEMASS - A Sorcerer's Pledge
Have you ever thought that the album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is probably the first official time where you see the origin of the term "Epic Metal"? This is definitely the birth of Epic Doom Metal (that wasn't widely used until the '90s) but most likely, it is also the moment when Epic Metal made its first appearance as a term. We're in 1986, Manowar have already started their "Death to False Metal" crusade and since there is "false metal", there's also "true metal" (whatever that means), right? The "true metal" term has also been used in metal magazines and fanzines in the mid '80s but has the term "epic metal" been used before 1986? Is it written anywhere?
We used to keep terms since their first appearance but sometimes this is blurry. For example, Possessed used the "Death Metal" term for their same-titled demo in 1984 and the "Death Metal" song also appears in the Seven Churches album of 1985, so we use to have this as a starting point but already in 1983, editor Bernard Doe of Metal Forces magazine writes, "Hellhammer take the meaning of Death Metal it its extreme" reviewing (burying actually) the Triumph of Death demo of Hellhammer. So, this term is already used. Might happened with Epic Metal too, but it wasn't widely used until Greek Metal Hammer's editor and shady character Charis "Sun Knight" Prasoulas started using that term and later it was spread from Greek metal fans influenced by his texts, around the globe through letters and tape trading, so after a while, you could see this term also used in Italy, Germany and more countries, leading to a whole new underground movement and later, even bands that described their music as "Epic Metal".
Candlemass' Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is the beginning of Epic Doom Metal, but the closing track "A Sorcerer's Pledge" can also be described as one of the greatest epic metal songs ever. A dramatic song separated in three parts. Starting with the acoustic first part that sets the atmosphere, the second epic part of "a tyrant that will conquer, so spoke the wise, of the day when the sorcerer will rise" and the third part that brings the atmosphere of the opening part with the exceptional use of keyboards and the ethereal female anthemic chanting sealing those ancient halls.
Check also: SOLITUDE AETURNUS - Opaque Divinity
2. BATHORY - Song to Hall Up High / Home of Once Brave
There are many Bathory songs you can add here and even if we're talking about two tracks, this will always be one song. Quorthon has managed to shape different metal sub-genres and has been called innovator of both Black Metal and Viking Metal. But his "viking metal" is actually what we can call "Epic Metal" in its purest form. This is not epic heavy metal or epic black metal, this is just Epic Metal. He did it with his albums Hammerheart, Twilight of the Gods, Blood on Ice and both parts of Nordland. So, if viking metal nowadays is something you can call bands such as Amon Amarth, then Bathory is definitely something else, even if Quorthon created this sub-genre.
Music is a form of art. Art has many forms and ways of expression. Art can be a mirror of life, art can be escapism, art can just be the expression and feelings of the artist. The artist's will and/or need to express specific ideas, visions, feelings. And just like there are no boundaries in art, there are also no rules and/or guidelines of how an artist should express its art. Not everyone can understand that a few of the greatest forms of art were created through the feelings and the need the artist wanted to express. Art is not about only following a specific guideline of how you "must" sing, perform, write, paint, act, dance, paint, create. There is not only one way. And Quorthon was a unique artist that never really followed the way you "must" follow, that's why his art will remain forever, creating legions of bands and musicians influenced by him and the sub-genres he shaped. A true artist that surpassed his imperfections with a remarkable epic metal songwriting that breaks the boundaries of simple "songwriting" and becomes a wormhole to an age long gone.
Check also: ZEMIAL - In Monumentum (Stone of the Ages)
1. MANOWAR - Secret of Steel
The epitome of Epic Metal.