Welcome to a new weekly post that I will call Metal Mondays, where I will rank the albums of a certain artist in the metal and hard rock genre from worst to best. As I am a list and ranking person, I am unable to have a simple discussion on what a band’s good albums are, as well as their not-so-good ones. I must rank them in some sort of order, or I will not be able to participate! This also makes for a fun debate, don’t you think?
NOTE: I will rank full length STUDIO ALBUMS only. There will be no live records, greatest hits, or EP’s here.
So, today’s band is Metallica, my all-time favorite artist. I had gone away from Metallica for a while (hey, everyone needs a break occasionally), but came across their Mandatory Metallica channel on Sirius Radio recently and am hooked all over again. Their catalog contains several masterpieces, as well as some near misses. Naturally, Metallica will be the first subject of this new post.
This album marks the culmination of the most tumultuous time in Metallica’s career. Long-time bassist Jason Newsted left the band abruptly in 2001 during the preparation of this album amid irreconciled business decisions. Furthermore, vocalist/rhythm guitarist/main songwriter James Hetfield checked himself into rehab, delaying the recording process. When he returned, tensions between he and drummer Lars Ulrich, the band’s other top gun, put the future of the band in serious doubt. To make matters worse, the entire drama was filmed and captured on a documentary entitled, Some Kind of Monster, which showed the band embroiled in group therapy, much to the chagrin of many long-time fans.
Naturally, the resulting album would have an aggressive and dark sound, bereft of any sweet and melodic sounds of, say, Nothing Else Matters. In addition, nary a guitar solo can be found anywhere on this record.
melodic sounds of, say, Nothing Else Matters. In addition, nary a guitar solo can be found anywhere on this record.
St. Anger is widely considered the worst Metallica studio album. Fans rip it for the production issues (Ulrich’s’ drums sound like garbage cans) to the lack of really any good song. It’s a long, meandering, and painful listen. While opening number, Frantic, and the title track get the album off to a decent start (make no mistake, these two songs are not classics by any means), the rest of St. Anger is extremely forgettable. Chalk this one up to a band going through its most stressful period in its history.
Best Song: Frantic
Best Deep Cut: Tough to pick one, but if I must, I’ll go with Invisible Kid.
Part two of the Load sessions, Reload was released in late 1997. It is clear to me that this collection of songs were the leftovers from the previous year’s release (more on that record further up the rankings). While this is an okay album, it pales in comparison to anything in the top five. There’s really little to say about this effort.
Best Song: Fuel
Best Deep Cut: Fixxxer
We’re now getting to the point in the countdown where even a low-ranking album is still a good one. That is the case here with Death Magnetic. This was Metallica’s return to its “old” sound, the frenetically paced opener, the ballad turned thrasher, the instrumental. By all accounts, it was a successful return to form for the band.
Best Song: The Day That Never Comes
Best Deep Cut: That Was just Your Life
This album was the long-awaited follow up to the record-setting “Black Album.” Whether it was the five year wait or the changes in the music industry, Load did not come close to meeting most fan’s expectations. To make matters worse for many people, band members had the audacity to cut their hair! “This is not the Metallica I knew and loved!”
I could care less about the hair, and I think this is a pretty strong album. The band continued their trend of creating straightforward hard rock songs. This record would be further up the list if not for a couple of filler songs in the second half. In fact, if you combined the best of Load with the best of Reload, you would have a great album. The first seven songs are really good, with a couple of others in the back half that are right up there.
Best Song: Bleeding Me
Best Deep Cut: The Outlaw Torn
We had to wait eight years from Death Magnetic to the next full length studio album. Man, it was worth the wait! To be honest, I didn’t think Metallica had this in them. From the frantic pace of the title track and through mid-tempo thrashers, Atlas Rise! and Moth into Flame, and into an underrated second half, this record is as close to a classic as I believe Metallica can produce at this point in their career. The song, Halo on Fire is the album’s finest moment, however, an epic journey consisting of shifts in tempo and power, starting subtly and ending with a bang.
Best Song: Halo on Fire
Best Deep Cut: Confusion
The one that got it all started. Here is the album that helped usher in the thrash genre and gave folks an idea what the underground was already well aware of. Originally titled, Metal Up Your Ass, Kill ‘Em All featured the all out assault of Hit the Lights, to the galloping beat of The Four Horsemen, and the anthemic Seek and Destroy, still a vital part of the band’s live setlist. Hetfield’s teenage vocals croak at times, lacking the precision that we will hear on further releases, but the band makes a statement. Furthermore, (Anesthesia)-Pulling Teeth gives the listener an insight to the instrumental wizardry of bassist Cliff Burton.
Best Song: No Remorse
Best Deep Cut: No Remorse
Besides the eight years and maturity in songwriting and performing, the Black Album provides a sharp contrast in styles between it and Metallica’s debut record. Gone are the fast-paced album openers and eight-minute epic songs that change time signature and move in 14 different directions. In its place are 12 numbers, none that are more than mid-tempo, ranging anywhere from four to six minutes.
from four to six minutes.
A hint of thrash in many of these songs, Metallica is much more hard rock than speed metal. Produced by pop rock legend Bob Rock, this is the record that turned Metallica from thrash metal kings to the biggest rock band in the world. The album spawned five singles, each with its MTV music video accompaniment. Enter Sandman, The Unforgiven, and Nothing Else Matters became huge radio hits and are mainstays on classic rock radio today. The supporting tour saw the band on the road for two and a half years on what was by far the biggest tour in all the land. I still say the two best concerts I have ever been to have been the two I saw supporting this album.
Best Song: Wherever I May Roam
Best Deep Cut: Through the Never
Between Kill ‘Em All and the black album, Metallica released three absolute thrash metal classics. Coming in at number three is And Justice For All, which saw the debut on a full length effort by new bassist Jason Newsted. Following the death of Cliff Burton in a tragic tour bus accident, and combined with natural angst, whether from his childhood or things in the world that simply pissed him off, Hetfield turned in a hopelessly angry performance with his lyrics and vocal snarl.
Perhaps the one factor pushing And Justice For All to number three is its production. For reasons rumored to be linked to the harsh initiation of Newsted, the bass guitar is hardly heard throughout the album, which is primarily all guitars. The drums sound as if they are in a tunnel and have drawn their share of criticism from fans and critics alike, despite being arguably Ulrich’s finest effort in terms of his technical playing. This record is a double kick drum clinic throughout. It bears mentioning, however, that I have listed to this album so much, that I relate these nine songs to its production, warts, and all
The song, One, was used as the band’s first ever music video, and shot up the MTV charts. This is also the first album in the countdown where it is nearly impossible to pick one best song and one best deep cut. Simply put, there are plenty of days where And Justice For All would make the top spot on this list.
Best Song: Blackened
Best Deep Cut: Blackened
The follow up to the 1983 debut saw Metallica make significant strides in its songwriting and production. It was clear that someone was investing more money into the band. The album saw them enhance their songs away from the one trick pony blasters of Kill ‘Em All and toward the lengthy opuses that would make up the next few records.
Examples of Metallica’s rise in maturity can be found in the death march of For Whom the Bell Tolls and in its first “ballad,” Fade to Black, where the song starts out slow and sweet and turns into an all-out thrasher. The title track gives the listener the first glimpse into what the future beholds with the title tracks of its next two releases (Master of Puppets and ….And Justice for All), with its epic journey from tempo to tempo. Meanwhile, fans of the first album can still rejoice with the freight train tempos of album opener Fight Fire With Fire and Trapped Under Ice.
Best Song: Fade to Black
Best Deep Cut: Ride the Lightning
Master of Puppets-1986
We have reached the best of the best, and if we’re talking about an album that ranks as Metallica’s best, it must be an amazing album! And this one is. Every track from top to finish is an epic.
Where do we start? The album kicks off with the instant classic, Battery, another speed metal opener in the vein of Fight Fire With Fire and the to be released Blackened from the next album. The title track is next, and is, to me, undoubtedly Metallica’s best track, with its chugging thrash metal riffage, complete with a harmonic guitar solo breakdown in the middle. (Welcome Home) Sanitarium follows Fade to Black, in its ballad turned thrash song by the end.
Side Two includes the galloping Disposable Heroes and culminates with another blast beat track, Damage Inc. However, it is the 10 plus minute instrumental, Orion, that highlights the second half of the record. This number includes a long, haunting, and melodic bass guitar section in the middle, showcasing once again the unbelievable skills of Cliff Burton.
Best Song: Master of Puppets
Best Deep Cut: Orion