6 Classic Heavy Metal Guitar Solos for the Ages

A lead guitar solo after the second verse was de rigueur in heavy metal from the inception of the genre, but sometime around the millennial turn this artistic institution underwent reevaluation by hard rock’s best and brightest.

On Disturbed’s 2000 breakthrough album The Sickness, no guitar solo is heard. Due to the creative talent on display, they are not missed. Thereafter, the 12-to16 bar guitar solo was often omitted altogether by new-metal groups like Tool.

But the guitar solo did not entirely vanish. One need only spin “Seed of Filth” by Six Feet Under or Machine Head’s “Unto the Locust” to hear classic solos from new generation metal bands.

Here are six solos from the classic metal era which codify greatness, and achieve what protagonist Alvy Singer from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall called “total heaviosity.”

1. “Lay it Down” Ratt

The rap against Ratt’s repertoire is that it too often coasted on a monotonous groove. Not this track. Kicking off with a rhythm riff that can only be described as gorgeous, guitarist Warren DeMartini doubles down with a breathtakingly evocative and ascendant solo.

With lyrics like “You take what’s good for your pleasin’” “Lay” was never a candidate for a songwriting award, but DeMartini’s breakout from vocalist Stephen Pearcy’s whispered pre-solo seduction soars, and achieves total fulfillment.

2. “Poundcake” Van Halen

There were gripes in the hard rock community when Van Halen became Van Hagar. On the delightfully euphemistic “Poundcake,” Eddie V. takes a power drill to the naysayers.

Heralded by Sammy’s paean to indoor sports and backed by bassist Michael Anthony’s Berlin-Wall-of-sound, Eddie’s solo legitimizes the mega-group’s new incarnation in one fell swoop.

His place in the pantheon of guitar gods Hendrix, Clapton, and Page was never in doubt. “Poundcake” turned transition into triumph.

3. “Jet City Woman” Queensryche

Operation Mindcrime appears on any credible list of the best metal records of the 1980s. As the decade turned, Queensryche stayed on top with 1990’s Empire, which included chart-topper “Silent Lucidity.”

On “Jet City Woman,” with the iconic Space Needle serving as backdrop in the official video, guitarist Chris DeGarmo makes a compelling case for Seattle’s progressive metaliers, nailing his moment in the spotlight.

After vocalist Geoff Tate delivers his tribulation about the sustainability of relationships for constantly touring rockers, the solo takes off like a big Boeing, bringing the love, the sex, and, eventually, the symbolic blue sky.

4. “Dream Warriors” Dokken

There was always something comfortably generic about the Dokken sound, and we liked it.

On “Dream Warriors,’ a song cross-promo-ed from the Nightmare on Elm Street film franchise, we get the perfect distillation of what worked for the band, derivative riffing, Don Dokken’s operatic vocals, and one of George Lynch’s signature melodic solos.

Lynch roars out of the gate after layered background vocals drive the chorus, laying claim to legitimacy for a band that might have fallen through the New Wave of Heavy Metal cracks.

Freddie Krueger is not pretty. “Dream Warriors” is beautiful.

5. “Hall of the Mountain King” Savatage

Key players from this talented early 80s band are now part of the Trans Siberian Orchestra, Back in the day they were Savatage.

After an intro nod to Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt, “Hall” gets down to business cracking the mountain king’s code like a relentless excavator.

Jon Oliva’s lead vocal is at once royal and decadent, and presages a negatively-charged solo prequel offering homage to this dark monarchy.

When Jon’s brother Criss Oliva’s guitar is finally unleashed, the hot core of this precipice is reached with a vengeance.

6. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” Black Sabbath

Tony Iommi is and forever will be heavy metal’s godfather and riff-master, but on Sabbath’s eponymously-named opus to the unbearable horribleness of being, his lead solo rises scary-good out of the din.

This infamous Sabs plodder breaks to a jumpy crawl as Ozzy aurally conjures the in-bed-with-Lucifer depiction on the album’s original cover art.

Between two punishing extremes, Iommi’s lopped-off fingers seem ordained by the anti-Christ himself to shred the solo, summon all Hell, and epitomize badassedness.