It’s said that you start forming a first impression of someone within a tenth of a second of meeting them. While it’s impossible to condense the first impression of a band into such a short space of time (although grindcore acts have been trying to make it happen for years), the first few moments of an introduction are perhaps among the most vital of the entire song – they make the difference between a listener sticking with it until the bitter end, or rolling on to something else.
Whether it’s through an instant, bludgeoning, attention-grabbing riff or a more considered and subtle dynamic hook, there are a wealth of artists who have perfected the art of the intro – condensing their je ne sais quois into mere seconds. We put our hesher heads together to list out our favourite examples of killer intros.
Allfather – Black Triangle
Where some intros smack you in the face with a barrage of bludgeoning riffs, others lure you in with intoxicating, off-kilter malevolence. The opening track to Allfather’s And All Will Be Desolation does the latter perfectly; an unsettling, slightly overdriven guitar melody creates a sense of the darkness creeping gradually in with each eerie note. The main riff blasts in as vocalist Tom Ballard bellows “When they came for the others, when they came for the few, they stood alone, now they come for you”. Not only a great song intro, it’s one hell of an album opener too.
Black Sabbath – Sweet Leaf
It’s a well-hidden fact that the infamous founders of heavy metal, Black Sabbath, occasionally liked to partake in the consumption of illegal substances (who knew!?), and they were caught in the act when someone somehow let a recording of Tony Iommi choking on a spliff creep onto the intro to their 1971 classic Master Of Reality. In all seriousness, though, Iommi’s edited cough is the perfect intro to this proto-stoner classic, which kicked off what is arguably the band’s most doomy album.
Deftones – You’ve Seen The Butcher
2010’s Diamond Eyes saw Deftones return with their most stunning collection of songs since 2000’s infamous White Pony. Of the album’s countless highlights, a stand out is ‘You’ve Seen The Butcher’, a song with a cunningly simple but effective intro. Guitarist Stef Carpenter opens the track with a palm-muted, menacingly restrained chugging riff, creating a sense of anticipation. Just after the thirty second mark, it explodes into something far more expansive, as Abe Cunningham’s powerful drum work, combined with atmospheric touches from Frank Delgado on keys, propels the song skyward, creating that perfect blend of heaviness and beauty the Sacramento quintet do so well.
High On Fire – Snakes For The Divine
There’s a maxim about cuisine that says “the first bite is with the eyes”. Applying this to music, the opening riff from ‘Snakes For The Divine’ is a banquet to keep you full for weeks. A dazzling, dizzying piece of Matt Pike’s signature fretwork, it’s a blazing, fist-pumping, instant face-melter of a riff that could only have been conjured by “the Millennial’s Tony Iommi” himself. Feedback rises around it like mountainous rock edifices, and when the rhythmic hammer of Jeff Matz’s ringing, churning bass notes and Des Kensel’s hissing cymbals start to build, you’re left powerless to resist the charge of the remaining 8:20.
Power Trip – Firing Squad
It’s 2017 and Power Trip have just dropped possibly the best thrash album of the decade. Everyone’s raving about it, so you stick it on wondering what the fuss is all about. The irresistible riff of ‘Soul Sacrifice’ gives way to the furiously fun single ‘Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe)’. “How the fuck can they top this?” You think to yourself as the track fades out into the briefest moment of respite. Then, before you know it – a chilling howl, a breakneck riff and you’re thrust right back into the midst of chaos. The no-nonsense intro to ‘Firing Squad’ remains unmatched in its ability to illicit a wicked grin every time it roars into action. Unstoppable.
The Mars Volta – Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus
It’s not just the start of a song; it’s also both beginning and end of an 80 minute long stream-of-consciousness tour de force of a record. What really stands out about the first seconds of ‘Cygnus… Vismund Cygnus’ is the improbable and utterly bonkers transition from classic guitar to revved-up funk, and a series of rhythm changes that soon unfold into even more madness before an iconic building riff kicks in. The intro puts you on the wrong foot so much that if you were a football goalkeeper and not a listener, your career would be instantly over.
Queens Of The Stone Age – Song For The Dead
Once upon a time, Queens Of The Stone Age were considered to be Quite a Good Band, and it was in that faraway age that you can find this prolonged intro, led by an off-kilter drumbeat from Dave Grohl that soon finds its way into a delectable desert rock groove. The rhythm that kicks in after the intro is actually lifted entirely from Black Flag‘s ‘Slip It In’, so perhaps we should be honouring them here instead…
Mastodon – Mother Puncher
Atlanta’s favoured sludge sons may be spending their dotage sharpening their stadium-rock tusks, but during their primordial years they were at the forefront of a scene known for its battering, neanderthal riffing. The penultimate track from 2002’s Remission may have a problematic title that hasn’t aged well, but the opening fang-bared riff from Bill Kelliher and clanging cymbals of sticksman Brann Dailor serve to prick up your ears like a wary prey animal, before the rest of the track cascades in like a cranium-crushing rockslide. While not as well-known as fan favourites like ‘Blood And Thunder’, this is the quartet at their gurn-inducing best.
Sonance – Belgium/Blackflower
The fact that Bristol’s Sonance aren’t held in the same esteem as post-metal titans like Neurosis is one of the biggest crimes in heavy music, but the atmospheric doom/drone Svengalis are widely renowned as the cult favourite of the the UK heavy scene. The sprawling, fifteen minute long opener from 2014’s Blackflower is testament to their rarefied skill – hypnotic, selenic waves of lilting, chiming guitars and rushing, ethereal noise are buffeted along by wearied, shuffling drums. A breathy and shifting squall of light and shade dynamics, it is truly the calm before the storm of the remaining ten minutes of ever-rising intensity.
Tribulation – Nightbound
With its utterly addictive chiming guitar intro, ‘Nightbound’, the second single from Tribulation‘s magnificent 2018 album Down Below, sees the Swedish goths honing their pop sensibilities to perfection, creating an irresistible slice of gothic, post-punk-infused darkness. In a relatively short space of time, the intro does an incredible amount of work, as the initial haunting arpeggio is soon bolstered by driving drums and rattling bass, augmenting the urgent and catchy nature of the song. With ‘Nightbound’, Tribulation demonstrated the important part an instantly catchy intro plays in immediately grabbing the listener’s attention.
Sleep – Dopesmoker
If you’re asked to think of a brilliant intro your mind instinctively thinks of fast, hard-hitting riffs that grab your attention right off the bat, but in terms of sheer ingenuity, few out there can contend with ‘Dopesmoker’, the infamous 63-minute track from stoner legends Sleep. The track’s intro plays a key role in goading your interest and enticing you into its otherworldly allure. Though it may seem simple, primarily consisting of one repetitive riff building slowly, the band cleverly show restraint, with the track seemingly kicking into gear multiple times, growing increasingly energetic and groovy each time around. An important part of a famous masterpiece.
Putrescine – Homestead
Putrescine‘s Bloodborne inspirations were evident immediately on the death metal outfit’s debut EP The One Reborn, but their political slant is just as (if not more) prevalent once you dig below the surface. Nowhere is this more obvious than standout track ‘Homestead’, which kicks off with a sample of a Eugene V. Debs speech, read passionately by actor Mark Ruffalo, forcing you to think about the unjust brutality of wars, and the hypocrisy of those who wage them, as the ruthless riff kicks in.
Candlemass – The Well Of Souls
The 47-second intro track ‘Gothic Stone’ may be the ambient interlude that sets the stage for the epic opener of Candlemass‘ gargantuan second album Nightfall, but with or without it, Messiah Marcolin’s monumental vocals are so life-affirmingly huge that it’s impossible not to try to sing along – even if you do end up screeching like a banshee in a damned attempt to match his towering pipes. Sing with us now, “I BIND UNTO MYSEEELF…”
Acid Cannibals – 50,000 Nos Cans Can’t Be Wrong
What a bizarre track from an brilliantly eccentric band this number is, and whilst it’s a hilariously fun ride from beginning to end, the intro is one of the best aspects. The track kicks off with a wolf-howl before the infectious drum rhythm drives the song forward. A fuzzy riff then kicks the track off properly, and it soon finds itself grooving along with reckless abandon. A wondrously unique intro to a glorious song.
Alice In Chains – We Die Young
What better way to introduce the world’s greatest grunge band (yes that is official) than with this filthy riff, which has absolutely no fucking right to be as goddamn delectable as it is. This triumphant track kicks off the band’s 1990 debut album, and remains one of the greatest highlights in their live set three decades later. Simply put, many of the band’s tracks kick off with show-stopping riffs, but ‘We Die Young’ remains top of the pile for sheer shock value. When this writer first encountered it on a Greatest Hits compilation, he feel madly in love. It remains a staple.
Tides Of Sulfur – Humourless Cunt
When Astral Noize Records helped release Tides Of Sulfur‘s riotous Paralysis Of Reason on tape, a big part of the decision to get involved came early on, when the intro of ‘Humourless Cunt’ kicked in on first listen. After a sample lifted from the film Snatch, the riff arrives as elegantly as a punch to the gut, setting you up for the bludgeoning riffs and scorching vocals to come in the next 6:40. Enjoy.
With so many great intros out there, we couldn’t list them all – let us know if we overlooked something you think is an essential intro in the comments.
Words: Adam Pegg, Marc Puyol-Hennin, George Parr, Jay Hampshire