13 songs by punk & indie bands that are metal AF
Heavy metal is more popular than pop music according to 2015 Spotify stats, the fastest-growing music genre in the world according to a 2019 report from TuneCore, and though some people think extreme subgenres like death metal inspire violence, they actually inspire joy, according to science. And yet, metal can seem so niche -- at least in the US -- and it can also feel very tribal. Stereotypes exist that suggest "non-metalheads" never listen to metal, and metalheads only listen to metal, even though that's rarely the case. If you look for it, you'll often find metal in surprising places, like, say, songs by punk and indie rock bands.
It's no surprise to anyone paying attention that punk and indie rock bands would flirt with metal (or vice versa), and especially in punk, there's a long and rich history of cross-pollination with metal. But even outside of obvious punk/metal crossovers like Cro-Mags and Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag's My War, there are a handful of non-metal punk and indie bands that have been known to get metal as fuck, and I've decided to tackle this subject in the form of a list. I picked 13 songs by bands that are generally considered punk/emo or indie rock that find the time to go full-on metal. I stayed away from crossover thrash and metallic hardcore and other subgenres that are already part metal/part punk, as well as bands that used to be punk bands but became metal bands like Neurosis and Corrosion of Conformity, and I also mainly kept it to stuff from the past 20-ish years or so.
13 is a small number (but a metal number!), and there are probably hundreds of other songs that could've made the list, depending on your definitions of punk, indie, and metal. So let us know others that you think fit the bill, and read on for the list in no particular order...
Thrice - "Silhouette"
Thrice have multiple songs that could be considered metal, from the metalcore of "Kill Me Quickly" to the thrash of "Under A Killing Moon" to the sludge of "Firebreather," but they played six Warped Tours and zero Ozzfests, so it makes sense that they were claimed more by emo/post-hardcore than by metalheads. It wasn't easy to pick just one, but I had to go with "Silhouette." It shows off multiple sides of metal Thrice, from its brick-heavy sludge riffage to its earth-shaking breakdowns to its throat-shattering metalcore parts, and it's the most antagonizing song in Thrice's discography. When they play this one live, you feel it in your fucking bones. Truthfully, there are some metal bands who wish they could be this heavy.
Manchester Orchestra - "Pride"
Manchester Orchestra have made a lot of different kinds of music over the years -- indie, folk, emo, art rock, what have you -- and they've also been known to churn out some gut-punching doom and sludge metal, never more so than on "Pride" from their grungy 2009 album Mean Everything To Nothing. The whole album was a louder, rawer departure from I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child, and still underrated, and "Pride" isn't the only song that gets kinda heavy, but it's the most devil horn-worthy. There is a very, very, very oversaturated corner of the metal community that rips off Black Sabbath riffs, and I am here to say that some of the best Iommi worship I've ever heard is on "Pride" by Manchester Orchestra. This song's main guitar riff taps into what made albums like Paranoid and Master of Reality so tasty without imitating Sabbath's entire style, and that's thanks in large part to the ever-distinct voice and songwriting of Andy Hull. And in case one great Iommi-inspired riff isn't enough, the song's second half gets even more evil, before exploding into a wall of hair-raising sludge.
Sum 41 - "88"
Even as they followed in the steps of blink-182 and became one of the biggest pop punk bands in the world, Sum 41 never shied away from their love of metal. They told you that Maiden and Priest were the gods that they praised, and the more their career went on, the more they threw in musical nods to those bands, Metallica, and other heavy heroes. And on the last song of their third album, 2004's Chuck, they went full-on Metallica with a thrashy, shreddy midsection that sounds more than a little like "One." It's basically fan service, but it's also kinda cool that this goofy pop punk band had the chops to pull it off as perfectly as they did. Whether or not you're a thrash aficionado, it's hard to deny that this rips.
The Decemberists - "The Abduction of Margaret" / "The Queen's Rebuke / The Crossing"
The Decemberists: the aughts-era, hipster-approved band with a love of sea shanties, 18th century folk songs, verbose language, and... sludge metal? On their most underrated album, 2009's The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists churned out a folk-rock opera that was like Aqualung for the Mastodon generation, with riffs towering enough for any sludge band. The album has recurring riffs and melodies throughout, and songs that lead directly into each other, so it's hard to pick just one track that proves The Hazards of Love is metal AF, but listening to "The Abduction of Margaret" into "The Queen's Rebuke / The Crossing" gives you a pretty good idea. The ten-ton riffs on "The Abduction of Margaret" land like a boulder crashing into the earth, and it turns out Colin Meloy's high-pitched warble sounds just as great over beefed-up metal riffs as it does over acoustic guitars. As does My Brightest Diamond's Shara Nova, who takes lead vocals on "The Queen's Rebuke," which picks up where the sludgy "Abduction of Margaret" left off before turning into a full-on assault of Zeppelin/Sabbath guitar heroism.
Arctic Monkeys - "Pretty Visitors"
Alex Turner just wanted to be one of The Strokes, but the Arctic Monkeys eventually outgrew their garage rock buzz band roots, and the shift towards something bigger began on their third album, 2009's Humbug, which was co-produced by Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and shared that band's love of psychedelic desert rock. Sabbath and other doom/sludge bands were an influence too, and that was never clearer than on "Pretty Visitors," which remains the heaviest song in Arctic Monkeys' discography. It starts out with an eerie organ melody that sounds like a circus from hell, before a fast-paced punky verse kicks in, and then the chorus brings back that organ melody, but this time on sludgy electric guitars over mindfuck drum fills from Matt Helders. But things really get metal during the instrumental bridge, when they slow it down and bust out some of the most evil Sabbath worship you've ever heard.
Paramore - "Future"
Paramore cited bands like Hum and Failure as influences long before it was common for emo bands to do so, and with "Future" -- the nearly-eight-minute closer of their self-titled 2013 album -- they gave those bands a run for their heavy, riffy money. "Future" starts out soft, quiet, and suspenseful, before building to the heaviest coda in Paramore's discography. The second half of the song is atmospheric post-metal on par with Neurosis or Jesu or Cave In, and it's a sound that suits Paramore just as well as their more popular songs. That they included it on the same album as "Ain't It Fun," their most overtly poppy song, is even more badass. It's a reminder that, when it comes to Paramore, you should always expect the unexpected.
Rise Against - "State of the Union"
As outlined in Dan Ozzi's great book SELLOUT, Rise Against signed to a major in the era when punk fans still turned their noses up at bands that did such a thing, and they hit the studio with a producer who at the time was fresh off making huge records with bands like Chevelle and Trapt, but they didn't let any of that change the way they operated as a band, and they made that very clear by opening their major label debut with one of the heaviest and most angrily political songs they've ever written, "State of the Union." Rise Against had already released straight-up hardcore songs in the past, so "State of the Union" wasn't totally out of left field, but its metallic hardcore rage still remains nearly unparalleled by the rest of Rise Against's discography. It kicks off like a bottle rocket leaving the launchpad, with a riff so badass that Hatebreed must've been kicking themselves for not thinking of it first. Tim McIlrath screams the entire thing, not relying on his usual clean vocal style once, and when they slow it down in the bridge, they give South of Heaven-era Slayer a run for their money.
AFI - "Dancing Through Sunday"
"Dancing Through Sunday" isn't the only metal-friendly AFI song, and it's not even their heaviest song, but it belongs on this list for one reason, and that reason is its guitar solo. Jade Puget had already developed an unmistakable guitar style on his first album with AFI (1999's Black Sails in the Sunset), but AFI are a punk band and he kept his flashiness to a minimum to suit the genre. With the solo on "Dancing Through Sunday," he let his '80s metal freak flag fly with a shredding solo that would fit anywhere from Van Halen to Metallica to Iron Maiden. And he wasn't just imitating his heroes; he took notes from the greats but he made this his own. It's a brief moment on what's otherwise one of the fastest, punkiest songs on AFI's mainstream breakthrough Sing The Sorrow, but it's enough to earn the title of metal AF.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - "Self-Immolate"
Metal sneaking into the garage/psych community is nothing new -- original metal bands like Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer came from that world in the first place, and artists like Osees and Ty Segall have put out their fair share of metal songs -- but I'm not sure I've heard a modern psych band go as full-throttle into the metal realm as King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard did on 2019's Infest The Rats' Nest. Pulling from thrash, speed, and stoner metal all at once, penultimate track "Self-Immolate" sounds like a jam between Sabbath, Motorhead, and Kill 'Em All-era Metallica and it's chock full of riffs that any metalhead would throw devil horns up for. King Gizzard change genres too often to ever truly be considered a "metal band," but even a metal purist would have to admit that when they do play metal, they really know how to do it.
Microwave - "Float to the Top"
Having started out as more of an indie/alternative/emo band, Atlanta's Microwave took a turn for the heavy on their third album, 2019's Death Is A Warm Blanket, which was inspired by bands like Fear Before the March of Flames, Heavy Heavy Low Low, and The Chariot, the latter of whom were the reason Microwave made the album with producer Matt Goldman. And you might not have expected it from their earlier material, but Microwave were total naturals when it came to heavy music, as heard on songs like "Float to the Top," which pulled from sludge and metalcore and found Nathan Hardy raising his voice to a guttural roar over some of the heaviest riffs Microwave have ever written. Their newer singles suggest they may be veering away from heavy music for now, but whether they return to it or not, we'll always have reminders like this one of just how heavy Microwave can get.
Citizen - "Stain"
Citizen have changed their sound every album, moving between emo and alt-rock and dance-punk and more, and on 2015's Everybody Is Going to Heaven, they got heavy and sludgy and caustic like they never have before or since. It's more Jesus Lizard than straight-up metal, but if people consider that new Chat Pile album metal (and they do), then Citizen's "Stain" deserves a spot on this list too. Mat Kerekes' screams on this track are dripping with venom, and those basslines are bone-crushingly heavy... even if they're kind of lifted from The Jesus Lizard's "Then Comes Dudley." That Citizen put this out when so many of their peers were going shoegaze made it feel even more antagonizing, and all these years later it's still got that fire.
Jimmy Eat World - "Pass The Baby"
Jimmy Eat World have flirted with heavier riffs a handful of times in their career ("Get It Faster," "Futures," etc), but that still couldn't have prepared you for how heavy they'd get on "Pass The Baby" off 2016's career-rejuvenating Integrity Blues. The song starts out as a creepy slow-burner, with suspense that builds and builds and builds until Jimmy Eat World deliver a full-on sludge metal attack in the song's coda. For about 80 seconds, these emo lifers sound like they'd fit in on the Relapse catalog, and they're so good at it that it leaves me wishing they'd do this kind of thing way more often.
The Offspring - "Genocide"
Of all the bands that helped bring pop punk to the masses in the '90s, none were more metal-friendly than The Offspring. It was obvious that the California band had a thing for their home state's history of thrash metal, as you could hear on songs like "Genocide" off their 1994 breakthrough album Smash. It's powered by a rhythm guitar pattern that pulls more from classic thrash than from classic punk, and the lyric "hope you like my genocide" is pretty fucking metal too. The melodies are kinda poppy, but like, if Anthrax's "Got The Time" cover can count as thrash metal, so can this.
Listen or subscribe to a playlist of all 13 songs below. Which songs would you add to the list?