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10 Best Metal Riffs of the 1980s

Slash, Jeff Hanneman, Randy Rhoads
Mary Ouellette, / Kevin Winter, Getty Images, Paul Natkin, Getty Images

The 1980s: the glory days of metal. What can we say about a decade of heavy music that hasn’t already been said? We’ve all spent time arguing about the best metal bands, songs, guitarists, and just about anything from this hallmark decade. With this list, we’re breaking things down even further. Let’s talk about the almighty riff.In a list that could easily stretch to over 100 instantly recognizable riffs, we labored to narrow it down to the best of the best. The ’80s saw heavy metal at its peak with bands dominating the global stage. Sure, the decade brought us cheesy pop music and even saw some heavy bands jump the shark, but we’ll take the good with the bad. Speaking of the good, it’s about time we dive into the 10 Best Riffs of the 1980s!


'Heaven and Hell'

Black Sabbath

What list of riffs would be complete without featuring at least one from Tony Iommi? The man is a perpetual riff machine and naturally he has one that qualifies for this list. We can argue until we're all blue in the face what the best Iommi riff of the 1980s is, or we can just listen to 'Heaven and Hell' and agree that this riff is the most mighty. Masterfully simple, this titanic riff is one of many that epitomizes Iommi's guitar playing that nobody can seem to match.


'Rock You Like a Hurricane'


There's no shortage of riffs when it comes to the Scorpions catalog, especially on the album 'Blackout.' An album many fans deem the best, it's difficult to choose which riff reigns supreme. It's hard to argue that the beginning of 'Rock You Like a Hurricane' isn't the best of the best when it comes to the legendary German band, which is why, of all the guitar playing gems, this one made it on the list.


'Breaking the Law'

Judas Priest

'British Steel' was Judas Priest's breakthrough album that really put them on the heavy metal map. One of their most straightforward releases also boasts one of the band's best riffs in the simple, but oh so catchy 'Breaking the Law.' Within a couple days of picking up a guitar, almost anyone should be able to play this riff, but that doesn't undermine the power it holds. This riff helped Priest thrust into the '80s and sit atop of the decade.


'Ace of Spades'


In 1980, Motorhead went all-in and all-out with their biggest hit, 'Ace of Spades.' Lemmy Kilmister's maxed out bass distortion and Fast Eddie Clarke's riffing have a synergistic effect, creating one of the greatest riffs of all time. The song gets down to business, clocking in at under three minutes, but there's more riffing here than most songs twice as long. The familiar introductory riff is forever etched into the minds of metalheads everywhere.


'Welcome to the Jungle'

Guns N' Roses

The opening riff of 'Welcome to the Jungle' is almost as synonymous with the kickoff at American football games as it is with metal. This Guns N' Roses classic permeates arenas, airwaves, and just about anywhere human ears are in radius. The riff gets the blood boiling and the body pumped up for whatever you're about to do. There's no doubt that when you hear this opening riff, everything in the world is perfect for just a few minutes.


'The Trooper'

By: Iron Maiden

'The Trooper' is a classic case of "you can't have one without the other." The one-two punch of the introduction riff and the hammer-on laden lead work that follows it sends Iron Maiden fans into uproar any time this song comes on. This song and the riffing within it have transcended music, serving as one of metal's most glorious anthems with a literal and figurative flag waving ever-high.


'Holy Diver'


Following a lengthy intro of wind blowing, the 'Hoy Diver' riff comes pouring out of your speakers with a violent, stomping rage, kicking off what is arguably the best Dio song. It might have seemed like a sin for Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath to part ways after two fantastic album, but we can all be grateful because of 'Holy Diver.' Guitarist Vivian Campbell committed some savage guitar playing to tape during his tenure in Dio, and this riff tops his highlight reel.


'Master of Puppets'


One of Metallica's songwriting hallmarks gets started in traditional 'Tallica fashion: a pummeling riff delivered straight to the gut. A crowd favorite for obvious reasons, as soon as 'Master of Puppets' opens up, so does the pit as fists fly from fans swaying to Metallica's beat. The song commands to "obey your master" and as heavy metal disciples, we will.


'Crazy Train'

By: Ozzy Osbourne

Randy Rhoads can be credited with defining the traditional heavy metal guitar playing of the '80s. After Ozzy Osbourne's termination from Black Sabbath, he came back with a vengeance. 'Crazy Train' opens Ozzy's debut solo album, 'Blizzard of Ozz,' in wild fashion with one of metal's most memorable leads. Whether being heard at sporting events or sampled in Top 40 songs, this is a household riff. Any young metalhead who picks up a guitar immediately gravitates to wanting to learn to play this riff, and for good reason.


'Raining Blood'


One of the most sinister riffs ever laid down, the iconic moment that comes after the thunder breaks in 'Raining Blood' is one of metal's most hair-raising, fist-pumping surge of guitar power. Dave Lombardo's thunderous tom strikes connect the feeling as the riffing plays the part of the lightning that opens up the skies to crimson damnation. This riff is the most palpable of Slayer's evil, as it brought heavy metal to a new level and cemented Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King as a dynamic metal duo.


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