9 Great Mellow Heavy Metal Songs
Let’s face it, we’re all getting older. No matter how much our inner teenagers may call us to bang our heads on a regular basis, we can only do it for so long before permanent neck damage sets in. What then are we to do? Listen to soft rock or adult contemporary? Hell no! But when the time comes to relax a bit, put down those devil horns, and indulge your chill side while still currying favor with the metal gods, here are eight songs that will get the job done in a method even the most finger-wagging chiropractor would approve of.
#1. “Epitaph” by Judas Priest (from Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976) — Judas Priest’s first several albums displayed a much wider range of styles and material than they exhibited by the dawn of the ’80s. Perhaps the best example is “Epitaph,” a gloomy but beautiful piano number (played by guitarist Glenn Tipton) that wouldn’t be out of place on a Queen album of the same era. It’s so nice I’m willing to overlook clunky phrasing like, “So nearly now life once he clung to dearly now lets go.”
#2. “Strange World” by Iron Maiden (from Iron Maiden, 1980) — I have always been a huge fan of Iron Maiden’s debut LP, especially because of tracks like this. Tucked in between the band’s signature metal gallop of “Transylvania” and fan favorite “Charlotte the Harlot” is “Strange World,” a dreamy bit of melodic metal that sounds more influenced by Pink Floyd than Black Sabbath or Thin Lizzy. Lead singer Paul Di’Anno sounds a bit out of his element here, but still delivers a fine performance.
#3. “Planet Caravan” by Black Sabbath (from Paranoid, 1970) — I almost went with “Changes,” but as it’s the only song I skip on the otherwise excellent Vol. 4 record I can’t in good conscience include it here. Sabbath was never afraid to show their mellow side, but they rarely did so more effectively than on the super-trippy “Planet Caravan.” Tony Iommi’s jazzy guitar runs meld perfectly with Ozzy Osbourne’s processed vocals and Geezer Butler’s evocative lyrics on this song, which is about as close to so-called space rock as Black Sabbath ever came. Pantera issued an excellent cover of this in 1994 on their Far Beyond Driven LP.
#4. “Windowpane” by Opeth (from Damnation, 2003) — Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt had already displayed a penchant for smooth, strongly melodic songcraft even as his group churned out some of the most visceral and dark metal of the last few decades. But it wasn’t until 2003’s Damnation that he finally went all in, producing a record that drew its power not from its guttural vocal growls or brutal instrumentation, but rather from an atmosphere of suffusing melancholy bordering on outright dread.
#5. “Whale & Wasp” by Alice in Chains (from Jar of Flies, 1994) — For about the first 35 seconds or so of this brief instrumental, Jerry Cantrell seems to be walking down the familiar path of AiC doom ‘n’ gloom, but he mixes it up quite nicely with some lovely guitar passages and a hint of strings.
#6. “Evidence” by Faith No More (from King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime, 1995) — I could go on all day about how much I love this album, and probably will at some point. I’ll just say here that one of my favorite songs on it is “Evidence,” one of many great smooth tracks in FNM’s catalog. Mike Patton’s vocals are of course superb, but the star of this track is Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance, who temporarily stepped into the slot vacated by the fired Jim Martin. I can’t imagine how Martin could’ve pulled off Spruance’s parts with the same fluidity.
#7. “Out of Mind” — Queensrÿche (from Promised Land, 1994) — It makes me ever so sad to ponder the sad state of ruin that is Queensrÿche in the 21st century. Fortunately we still have albums like Promised Land to serve as testaments to their once-formidable power. And songs like “Out of Mind,” which serve as testaments to how that power was not diminished one bit by substituting acoustic guitars for electric — especially when coupled with rather disturbing lyrics like these, which describe the unfortunate residents of some sort of mental institution.
#8. “Intension” by Tool (from 10,000 Days, 2006) — I have no doubt that there are a dozen layers of meaning behind “Intension” that I can’t even begin to understand, so hopefully their legions of hardcore fans will exercise patience with my ignorance. What I do know is that this seven-plus minute song, while relatively mellow, is more of a dark mantra. It’s every bit as brooding as you’d expect from a Tool song, but just without the over-the-top virtuosity that has become their calling card. But whatever you do, man, don’t go on YouTube and call “Intension” filler. Trust me on this one.
#9. “Joseph Merrick” by Mastodon (from Leviathan, 2002) — A vocal minority of Mastodon’t fans have loudly bellyached about how much the band has “sold out” over their last few albums. That’s just code for “they don’t make me want to crash a car on every song and I hate them so much!” Astute listeners should not have been surprised by the band’s increasing reliance on melody over aggression, however. As far back as the band’s 2002 sophomore breakout, Leviathan, songs like “Joseph Merrick” have provided tonic for their more abrasive and raw compositions.