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Bass Lines by Jaime Vazquez – Metal Bass Riffs

Welcome to 2012! This month is for the metalheads! We’re going to study some heavy metal (often referred to simply as metal) basslines. The bass in metal music is frequently supporting and doubling the guitar lines. But there’s some space for bass players to add more notes. There are  bass players that are pushing the boundaries and they’re playing several bass metal licks. 

What is a riff? A riff is an ostinato figure: a repeated chord progression, pattern, refrain or melodic figure, often played by the rhythm section instruments or solo instrument, that forms the basis or accompaniment of a musical composition.

What is a lick? A lick is “a stock pattern or phrase” consisting of a short series of notes that is used in solos and melodic lines.
Fig. 1 – This is the main riff from Iron Maiden’s Wrathchild, the second song from their second album called Killers (released in 1981). Steve Harris is the main writer & composer of the band. Harris played octaves, pull-offs, sixteenth notes and a fill for closing the riff based on E natural minor scale (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E).

Fig. 2 – Is the opening bass line that could be heard on MTV News broadcasts. Megadeth’s Peace Sells (released in 1986) is a good example of a metal song with a headbanging riff. Dave Ellefson played octaves and syncopation based on the E blues scale (E-G-A-A#-B-D-E). 

Fig. 3 – In 1990, Anthrax released Persistence of Time. Here’s their biggest single off the album, a cover of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time”. This is an up-tempo song based on a simple but catchy riff. The bass line is a good example of pumpin’ eights (is the use of ostinato in the tonic, a single line, in a rhythmic pattern of eight notes). 

Fig. 4 – Is the title track from Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears ( the sixth studio album released in 1991). The bass line was recorded by Bob Daisley. Like Fig. 1, there’s the use of pull-offs and octaves, but with syncopation. This addition gives a very interesting sense of groove to the bassline. 

Fig. 5 – This is the bass intro of My Friend of Misery, from Metallica’s self-titled album (also known as The Black Album). Released in 1991. This dark bass riff is based on A natural minor scale (A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A). Let ring every note and get an arpeggiated sound. 

Keep the good practice and learn from all styles. Remember, music is the universal language. Don’t limit yourself and keep growing. Knowledge is power. 


  1. Raul Amador

    Raul Amador

    January 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Perfect article for our metal playing bass brothers and sisters!!

    Well Done Jaime!

    Mucho Exito en el 2012!

  2. Jaime David Vazquez

    Jaime David Vazquez

    January 4, 2012 at 4:33 am

    Thank YOU very much!

    Mucho Exito para ti tambien en el 2012!

  3. Liz Ramos

    February 2, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for the riffs! I’m a big fan of these bands!

  4. Carlos Santiago

    February 3, 2012 at 4:08 am

    Música elaborada aunque no estoy muy familiarizado con este estilo… Pero esta interesante el articulo! Gracias Maestro!

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