Heavy metal is a live art form. The genre made its greatest mark on pop culture when the uppermost earners in the metal circuit were huge live draws–and many of them still are. Much of metal’s visual communication including headbanging and throwing the devil horns, exists at shows first and foremost.
Even so, some of the genre’s accomplished songwriters have written good songs, great songs, that they have not performed in front of an audience.
This should not come as a surprise: during their touring peak, bands will produce an hour of new music every two or three years and perform maybe fifteen minutes of it. By the time said band tours again, there may be a new album to promote with new songs. Of course some choice cuts remain unrehearsed and therefore unperformed. Other bands produce music which is nearly impossible to reproduce live. An unlucky few musicians pass away before they can perform some of their strongest work. Today we celebrate those unperformed songs.
Before the list, a few notes on song selection.
First, some bands never or only rarely perform live, and so have a surplus of unperformed material. They have been disqualified in favor of bands which tour(ed) rigorously. Sorry, Darkthrone.
Second, confirming that a song has never been performed presents a challenge. The metal underground is rife with misinformation. We all know that one guy who said that one band performed that one song back in ‘98 (spoiler alert: he did not). Exhaustive data on setlists is not available for most bands before the broadband era. Some bands like Metallica catalog their own set lists. Others like Blue Oyster Cult command a large and obsessive fanbase which perform that labor on their own. Most bands, however, do not. As a result, most of these songs are relatively new. Whenever possible, I selected songs which band members themselves said they have never performed. Setlist.fm was used as a resource, as was YouTube.
Without further ado, these are the top ten metal songs never performed live.
Iron Maiden – “Montsegur”
Iron Maiden’s discography contains more than a few cuts from their classic era which the band refuses to play live. “Gangland” and “Invaders” from The Number of the Beast have never been performed, and their fans have been clamoring for “Alexander the Great” since 1986. The first two songs, while historic are too awkward to work in an arena, and at this point it seems like they’re withholding “Alexander” just to keep fans salivating. “Montsegur,” a deep cut from 2003’s Dance of Death, though, is an absolute mosh clinic. One of their heaviest songs, it features a rare songwriting credit by third guitarist Janick Gers. Iron Maiden are not above playing their newer material live, but tend to focus on cuts from their most recent album when they aren’t bringing out fan favorites. As such, It’s difficult to imagine “Montsegur” entering live rotation.
Watain – “They Rode On”
Even established live acts like Watain sometimes write songs that stand out so much in their discography that it’s difficult to imagine them fitting into a live set. “They Rode On,” the nine minute ballad in the dead center of 2013’s The Wild Hunt is one such song. Who knew Erik Danielson could sing? Unless the band decides to play The Wild Hunt from front to back, or to begin playing two-hour “An Evening With…” sets, it’s unlikely that this mellow number will see the stage. A shame. The band’s pretty good at extending their evil Metallica schtick into “Nothing Else Matters” territory.
Metallica – “Fixxxer”
Speaking of Metallica, the extended experimental jams that tie off Load and Reload remain some of the four horsemen’s most ambitious songs. They’ve performed “Outlaw Torn” a few times, even with symphony on S&M, but have not touched its darker, noisier, and more gothic twin, “Fixxxer”. The song uses the recording studio to its advantage: hard-panned guitar squeals evoke the industrial sirens of Ministry, while Hetfield’s voice sinks into the sound and then suddenly surfaces. The presentation is so intricate that it’s unclear how Metallica would even go about recreating it in a live setting.
Overkill – “The Goal is Your Soul”
Some songs remain unperformed for no apparent reason. Overkill’s “The Goal is Your Soul” doesn’t contain any odd instrumentation or studio trickery. It’s just one more barnburner from a band that specializes in them. D.D. Verni and Bobby Blitz recorded the song for 2010’s Ironbound, an album absolutely lousy with pit-starters. “The Goal is Your Soul” in particular punches above its weight, thanks to a creeping introductory passage and a fun vocal trade-off between Blitz and Verni on the chorus. The song could easily sub in to one of Overkill’s set lists without raising an eyebrow.
Gojira – “Adoration for None”
Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe may be Gojira’s strongest cheerleader. The french quartet opened for Lamb of God on a 2006 US tour, when Sacrament was a commercial juggernaut but From Mars to Sirius was all but impossible to obtain in America, and urged his fans to support Gojira during his stage banter breaks. Not long after, Blythe lent his pipes to this deep cut from follow-up The Way of All Flesh. That album saw Gojira indulging their progressive rock interests at the expense of more straightforward songs, but “Wolf Down the Earth” still flexes their more violent muscles. Blythe’s performance is ferocious, and it’s difficult to imagine Joe Duplantier reproducing it, or performing a truncated version of the tune without his verse.
Nile – “Even the Gods Must Die”
Nile’s album Ithyphallic holds a contentious place the band’s discography. Its production sounds thin, and on release it had the tall order of following up the excellent Annihilation of the Wicked. The uneven ride ends with one of Nile’s absolute best songs, though. “Even the Gods Must Die” begins as a death metal anthem and then ends with an extended solo section. In the course of those ten minutes Karl Sanders stakes his claim as both a memorable songwriter and an accomplished soloist in the vein of Jimi Hendrix. The song’s length would necessitate taking a big chunk out of Nile’s average set, but it seems designed to perfectly tie of a set the way it does the album it lives on.
Agalloch – “Black Lake Nidstang”
This seventeen-minute epic is the centerpiece of Agalloch’s popular and critically adored album Marrow of the Spirit. While the band has gone on to record and perform a longer tune, “Faustian Echoes”, the four-piece never attempted “Black Lake Nidstang” before breaking up, probably because the song would be very difficult to reproduce. Aesop Dekker employs timpani during the song, while John Haughm performs solos on a de-tuned guitar. During the composition’s midsection, guitars take a back seat to a wall of krautrock-like synthesizers. It’s probably Agalloch’s most ambitious moment, one that will remain an album-only treat.
Heaven & Hell – “Double the Pain”
Black Sabbath in all but name, Heaven & Hell completed one world tour before Ronnie James Dio passed away. That tour focused on Dio’s classic Sabbath material, and largely ignored songs from their lone new album, The Devil You Know–songs like “Double the Pain”. Geezer Butler’s bubbling bass presages one of Tony Iommi’s routinely excellent evil blues licks. The band whips said lick into a sludge rock stomp while Dio unloads some of his most sneering lyrics. “A slap in the face to bring him back around / It’s a touch like cool morning rain” in particular showcases his knack for juxtaposing images in the service of poetry. The world is richer for him having left this gem behind before departing it.
Meshuggah – “I”
The first of two experimental EPs, Meshuggah’s “I” consists of a single twenty-minute long song. It is arguably less interesting than its immediate succor, Catch 33, but “I” still shows the swedes at their most compositionally ambitious. Their newer albums contain more memorable songs, but are less outwardly audacious. The band has since begun playing segments of Catch 33, but still refuse to play “I”. According to one interview with drummer and composer Tomas Haake, the band will never break “I” out because the musicians themselves don’t know how to play it.
Judas Priest – “One Shot at Glory”
The first nine songs in this list are all either compelling curiosities or strong but otherwise unremarkable. This one is different. The closing track from maybe the band’s maybe-finest record, “One Shot at Glory” is the coup d’etat of 1990’s Painkiller. In fact it’s the only song from that record that has never been performed (discounting it’s introductory track, “Battle Hymn”). Then-new drummer Scott Travis elevated what could otherwise have been a sort-of rote song by Judas Priest standards into a roller coaster ride. And while Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing’s guitar duel in “Painkiller” remains a taking point, the trading solos in “One Shot at Glory” are every bit as good. The band remains a live force even sans Downing, but don’t often delve deep into any particular album unless it’s an anniversary. Painkiller turns thirty in two and a half years and, assuming Priest remain active then, may yet see the light of day.