The 12 Best Crescendos In Metal
A crescendo isn’t the easiest thing to pull off in music. Kicks are awesome, and big outros are rad, but that perfect burst — that moment which seems to gush with all the power and excitement within a song, poured back onto the listener in an act of glorious catharsis — is a rare treat. And while metal prides itself in big, transcendent movements, it’s a genre whose true crescendos often feel few and far between. Hence this list!
Below you’ll find 12 crescendos that are most empowering within heavy music. And full disclosure, I do not have a background in music theory, so I full expect to receive a lot of comments from musicians and songwriters saying, Um, that’s not ACTUALLY a crescendo, maybe do some more research next time, blah blah fucking blah. I’m going with my gut here, adding songs according to moments that provide what one wants from a crescendo.
Here are metal’s 12 most toe-curling climaxes…
12. Septicflesh, “Anubis” (Communion, 2008)
One thinks of the crescendo of “Anubis” as the song’s chorus, but it actually only happens once. That mistake comes from the fact that the part is so huge, enthralling, and memorable that the listener assumes it has to be a refrain. But Greek masters of orchestral old-world death metal Septicflesh instead just manage to instill this single moment with a chorus’ worth of oomph, making it a delicious peak and break. Heavier than a sinner’s heart on the scale.
11. Evanescence, “Taking Over Me” (Fallen, 2003)
While Evanescence aren’t every metalhead’s cup of tea, the crescendo of “Taking Over Me” explains why they conquered the world. The song’s final chorus builds simply enough, but its kick is one that carries the rest of the track with it like a hurricane gale. That ability, to take a simple verse-chorus structure and use momentum and overemphasis to turn it into a cathartic blast, is impressive no matter what kind of music you play. Credit where credit is due.
10. Dimmu Borgir, “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” (Death Cult Armageddon, 2003)
“Progenies…” not only has a killer crescendo, but it also has a killer kind of crescendo: the return of the big central riff. After the biomechanical nursery rhyme of this song’s bridge and the radioactive explosion of noise that follows, Dimmu Borgir kick back into the track’s infectious main riff. But this time, built up by song’s soaring and destructive breakdown, the section feels powerful, like a summit of its previous energy. The song’s final “Once and for all…” brings it all echatonically home.
9. Great White, “Rock Me” (Once Bitten, 1987)
Shit, son, does it count if a song is made up almost entirely of crescendos? “Rock Me” is more about kicks than crescendos, and yet you could argue that the initial burst, the launch into the final chorus, and then the final break into the outro are all the song’s climaxes (climaces? Whatever, it’s a Great White track). Maybe that’s the whole point of this slow, sexy number – to edge you until you burst. Pretty gross, now that we’ve written it.
8. Cradle of Filth, “Thirteen Autumns and a Widow” (Cruelty and the Beast, 1998)
“Her castle wall, wherein the restless counted carrion CROWS!” With that, Cradle of Filth seem to summon a church for worshipping Dracula out of the earth itself. The song’s steady, stomping rhythm in those final moments seem to soundtrack to slow walk of Elizabeth Bathory as she ascends to the balcony and takes in the sanguine masses she’s here to drain. A beautiful eruption of pure gothic horror that feels honest in its power.
7. The Black Dahlia Murder, “Miasma” (Miasma, 2005)
You don’t know that “Miasma” has been leading to a crescendo until it pops off. The song seems increasingly frantic, snapping at every hand that gets close to it, until it pauses…and then explodes in a blast of nihilistic noise. Suddenly you realize that The Black Dahlia Murder have been leading up to this all along, and that the opening riff was only played so that its macabre skipping rhythm could back this horrific culmination. Not a band you’d expect to pull this off, but fuck, do they ever.
6. Ozzy Osbourne, “Mama, I’m Coming Home” (No More Tears, 1991)
That final chorus of “Mama, I’m Coming Home” is like a stake through the heart. In that moment, Ozzy grabs every ounce of wolf left in your bitch-ass human DNA and yanks it to the forefront, so that you just lean your head back and howl along. It’s the power ballad in its final form, slow and heartfelt but filled with Zakk Wylde’s aching guitars, singing its heart out to a girl but without cheese because it’s Ozzy’s estranged fucking mom. The song hits you as hard in the feels as any of its era, and feels massive in its closing refrain.
5. Dethklok, “Bloodlines” (Dethalbum II, 2009)
That Dethklok are cartoons allowed them to write a song as beautiful as this. The show’s momentum and narrative meant that the band’s music had to be both metal as fuck and simultaneously cinematic. The result is that “Bloodlines” somehow manages to have two crescendos – first the explosive moment of melody that comes after the harpsichord part, second the swirling hurricane of the final section. Humans can make this kind of music, but can’t inspire it the way art does.
4. Judas Priest, “The Sentinel” (Defenders of the Faith, 1984)
If we’re being honest, “The Sentinel”’s crescendo is really all about the awesome bridge that precedes it. Rob Halford’s poetic setting of a street justice scene straight out of Heavy Metal Magazine is so beautiful and melodramatic that when it rises into the song’s final chorus, the listener can’t help but rise with it. That last refrain is an electric explosion whose power wouldn’t exist without the epic descriptions that led to it. However it gets there, when it does, damn.
3. System of a Down, “Aerials” (Toxicity, 2001)
You can hear the “Aerials” crescendo while you’re reading this, can’t you? Serj and Daron are singing that second pre-chorus, and get into that last, “Never want to loo-woo-wooose…” And then Serj lets loose this operatic bellow-wail, and the whole thing comes collapsing in a heap of distorted chorus. The moment leaves the listener stepping back and blinking, a little scared of the chill it sends rippling up their spine and along their forearms. It really is that good.
2. Mr. Bungle, “Retrovertigo” (California, 1999)
We usually think that a crescendo is all about a constant rise before a huge break. But “Retrovertigo” proves a) that a little quiet makes the final curtain fall sound that much louder, and b) that the drop doesn’t necessarily make a crescendo. No, it’s Mike Patton’s final chorus in this Mr. Bungle gem, as he embraces the song’s sudden shockwave of hostility and heat, that really takes this madcap classic to new heights. That final “Mesmerized!” is what you’ve been waiting for the whole time.
1. Iron Maiden, “Hallowed By Thy Name” (Number of the Beast, 1982)
The beauty of the crescendo at the heart of Iron Maiden‘s “Hallowed By They Name” is that you keep thinking you’ve heard it already. With each change in momentum, each more-complicated guitar part, the listener thinks, Holy shit, this is it, this is what we’ve been waiting for. And then all at once, Bruce sings that first “Yeah-hayeah!” and your overwhelming ascent tops out on a plateau from which you can see the entire world. This song doesn’t explode outwards, but upwards, sending the listener soaring into the ether. Just wait, here it comes…