2016 has been such a huge year for so many different musical communities. Some would argue it was hip-hop’s greatest and most significant year since the 80s, whilst others will proclaim it was a year that guitar-rock reared its head from the ashes after a decade of apocalyptic proclamations. Still others will point to the vast amount of EDM releases from all manner of producers and artists throughout the year, noting that collaborations have now become the norm for music.
However, 2016 was also a year which has polarised a group of long-haired, leather-clad guitar shredders and caused more flame-threads on social media than any article The Conversation could ever produce. We’re talking of course, about the effects of a new Metallica album.
The metal superpower released their 10th album Hardwired….To Self-Destruct last week after an agonising two months of drip-feeding singles, videos, and photos of lead singer James Hetfield sporting a new collection of patchy denim jackets.
As with most releases within the wider metal community, there were legions of fans who embraced the new, back to their roots material whilst others rejected the 80s sound in favour of the bands’ early, “canon” material.
Of course, a natural result of this conversation has been for fans to share what is, in their opinion, the definitive ranking of Metallica’s albums over the course of their hugely influential 30-year career. Given the band has arguably had more influence over the sound of heavy metal and hard rock than anyone else in the last three decades, it’s a daunting task, we figured that we may as well join in the party. So we bring you our own ranking of the discography of ‘TALLICA BABY!
10) Load (1996)
It was always going to be impossible to follow up the success of an album that was as huge as Metallica’s self-titled five years earlier. However, to turn around and cut the locks, lose the guitar solos, disconnect the questionable double-kick of drummer Lars Ulrich and provide an album cover that displayed a mixture of blood and semen was just a little bit hard to digest for some, we included.
Truth be told, there are some solid melodies and riffs throughout the album. Outlaw Torn provided one of the beefier riffs in the bands’ catalog, whilst Until It Sleeps showed that the band had lost none of their melodic prowess. However, the misogynist Ain’t My Bitch, drowsy Mama Said, and dark but ultimately boring Bleeding Me set the tone for the rest of the record… all 78 minutes of it.
Highlight – Hero Of The Day
Lowlight – Ain’t My Bitch
9) Reload (1997)
The partner record for Load, Reload took the bad parts of Load and made them slightly more bearable. For example, the cover now depicted a combination of blood and urine, the album clocked in at 76 minutes and the songs were slightly more bearable.
Fuel will always sound like a NASCAR soundtrack, but it still excites the fans when pulled out in the live arena, whilst The Memory Remains sneers about the consumerism of America and gives a middle finger to the powers that be. However, whilst the record puts the right foot forward, it ultimately drops off into forgettable hard-rock tunes that sound more like discarded b-sides than carefully composed works – looking at you Fixxer, Bad Seed and the awfully named Carpe Diem Baby.
Highlight: The Memory Remains
Lowlight: Carpe Diem Baby
8) Metallica (1991)
Controversial? Sure. But if we take a second to examine the most commercially successful record the band has put out, otherwise known as the “Black Album”, we may find that beyond the singles, there isn’t much substance. Sure, Enter Sandman provided the perfect riff to get your grandma dancing to, and Sad But True is an awesome sing-along. The riffs and solos are there and so is the aggression. But songs like The God That Failed, Through The Never and Don’t Tread On Me don’t break the bank in a musical sense – an accolade that also rings true on My Friend Of Misery.
The self-titled isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. But when weighed up against the aggression, anger, and honesty of the rest of their catalog, this record falls short for me. What Metallica do best is heavy metal, not hard rock, and this album still fuses the two more than many would like.
Highlight: Wherever I May Roam
Lowlight: Don’t Tread On Me
7) St Anger (2004)
I will go in to bat for this record any day of the week. Yes, it has “that snare drum” sound which, according to many music fans, ruined the overall sound of the album. I won’t for a moment be jumping to its defense, for I myself find it truly annoying, particularly on songs like the snare-led Frantic. However, I will argue that St Anger is the most raw album that the band has ever produced.
Composed against a background of infighting, substance abuse, the exit of long-term bassist Jason Newstead and a stint in rehab for Hetfield, the band channelled a bucket of negative emotions into a CD that roars with a ferocity not shown by the band in over a decade. Tracks like Dirty Window and Invisible Kid still leave a lot to be desired as far as the music itself goes, but the energy shown on Some Kind Of Monster, Shoot Me Again and most evidently on the title track pull this record above a collection of its predecessors.
Highlight: St Anger
Lowlight: Invisible Kid
6) Hardwired…To Self-Destruct (2016)
A continuation of the “back to their roots” theme of its predecessor, Hardwired thrashes, snarls, screams, and shreds like the Metallica of old. There are signs of ageing over the two discs, most evident on Now That We’re Dead and Dream No More; songs for which Hetfield and Ulrich clearly came up with some fantastic riffs for but couldn’t figure out how to translate into songs of substance.
For the better part, however, the songs on this album are some of Metallica’s heaviest, fastest and most dynamic cuts. Album opener Hardwired puts the foot on the floor with some vintage thrashing, whilst Moth Into The Flame and Here Comes Revenge fuse heaviness with melody in the masterful Metallica fashion, albeit slightly more forced given the age of the band. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett also shines on this record, throwing all his blues licks and fretboard speed into a giant melting pot of furious solo work. It drags at times, but for the better part, it rocks.
Highlight: Moth Into The Flame
Lowlight: Now That We’re Dead
5) Death Magnetic (2008)
Without a doubt the revenge of Kirk Hammett. Having patiently sat through 3 albums of minimal guitar solo work, the band stepped back and allowed the shred-lord to well and truly cut loose on this record, marking a return to the band’s traditional thrash-metal style for the first time in nearly 20 years. The album also marks the first time bassist Robert Trujillo appeared on a Metallica record, providing a distant rumble in the background.
What brings this album above the most recent output from the band is the fact that they were able to condense the record into 9 tracks that mostly stood on their own two feet, with the exception of the forgettable venture of Unforgiven III and the repetitive march of End Of The Line. If the band combined the best tracks of Hardwired and Death Magnetic together, the result would be truly spectacular. That being said, That Was Just Your Life, All Nightmare Long and Judas Kiss are all standouts of the bands’ discography in their own right, and instrumental Suicide And Redemption has arguably the band’s heaviest riffs ever.
Highlight: That Was Just Your Life
Lowlight: The Unforgiven III
4) Kill ‘Em All (1983)
1983 was a simpler time in music. Disco was giving way to the rise of the grittier rock of bars and pubs, whilst glam rock was dazzling the mainstream with its makeup and theatrics, courtesy of the likes of Motley Crue, Whitesnake and Van Halen. On the West Coast of the US, a new genre was forming as a reaction against the glitzy music of the mainstream; bands took the leather of the arena rock stars and added spikes and studs to them, grew their hair out and played their music faster, heavier and wilder than ever before. Production didn’t matter, nor did the lights or the show – it was all about the energy of the music.
This scene, dubbed the Thrash Metal movement, attracted disillusioned youth and spawned the likes of Anthrax, Slayer, Testament, Venom and a little group of 19-years olds from San Francisco called Metallica. They had just had a falling out with ex-guitarist Dave Mustaine, who left to pursue his own music career in the shape of new band Megadeth, and recruited baby-faced Kirk Hammett from Bay-Area group Exodus to work the fretboard.
Despite the fact that Mustaine had composed the majority of tunes the band had, the group scraped together $15,000 to record their first album in a number of brief sessions. The results speak for themselves. Free from the pressure of fame, money and label executives, the group’s debut album is a collection of songs about Satan, phantom lords and the power of heavy music that overflow with excitement. Lars Ulrich pounds away at the drums while Hammett excitedly tremolo picks his strings with every ounce of energy he has, his solos screeching above the screams and shrieks of a teenage Hetfield.
It’s Metallica at their most original and the foundations of their brilliance can be heard most strikingly on cuts such as The Four Horsemen, Whiplash and Jump In The Fire. RIFF.
Highlight: Jump In The Fire
Lowlight: No Remorse
3)…And Justice For All (1989)
In the space of three years, the band went from being arguably the biggest in the world to losing their bassist and integral song-writing member Cliff Burton to a horrific bus crash when on tour in Sweden. What followed was a downward spiral of conflict, substance abuse and sheer anger that resulted in the darkly experimental and terribly produced …And Justice For All.
To many, it is their boldest in terms of songwriting, and it’s not hard to see why. Two songs push the 10-minute mark, being the title track and mostly instrumental tribute to Cliff To Live Is To Die, whilst the shortest song, being the ferocious Dyers Eve, clocks in at over five minutes. Each song displays a dazzling array of skills, from the ridiculous guitar solo of Blackened, to the heaviness of Harvester of Sorrow, the double kicks on the aforementioned Dyers Eve and of course, the songwriting triumph of One. Despite the clicky drum sound, tinny vocals, and eradication of newcomer Jason Newstead’s bass parts, …And Justice For All is an incredible collection of progressive thrash that has stood the test of time.
Lowlight: Frayed Ends of Sanity
2) Master Of Puppets (1986)
While it might just fall short of #1, it is still arguably the most definitive metal album of all time, alongside Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast. As the Spanish flamenco that introduces Battery gives way to the furious thrash of the song, it is evident that this is no ordinary album.
For just over an hour the record presents a masterclass of the fusion of dynamics and heaviness, most apparent in the title track. One of the most famous riffs of all time, the song begins with a thunderous drive, before winding down into a heartfelt bridge and solo, which somehow transforms back into one of the heaviest riffs the band has to offer. A whirlwind solo and final chorus later and you find you have spent a good eight minutes of time, and it doesn’t stop there.
Welcome Home (Sanitarium) starts out as a ballad, presenting a vast canvas of atmospheric sound that gives way to furious thrashing, soloing and threats of uprising against authority. Disposable Heroes tells the grim tale of soldiers in WW1 being mercilessly sent to the front lines over eight minutes of fury, but the true highlight comes in the form of instrumental cut Orion. Metallica are champions of instrumental epics, but the otherworldly sounds of Cliff Burton’s bass tunes in Orion present to fans the true genius of both his playing and songwriting as a final memento before he passed away. The song also centres around my personal favourite riff from the band, with Hetfield and Hammett producing a fearsome behemoth of sound that doubles in the live setting.
Not just a great metal record, but one of the great records.
Highlight: Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Lowlight: The Thing That Should Not Be
1) Ride The Lightning (1984)
Hot off the heels of their debut album and first headline tour, Metallica took a change of pace recording album #2, opting to travel to Denmark, the homeland of Ulrich, and use the time away from home to stimulate creative juices. The result is some of the best songwriting committed to record. The fury of album opener Fight Fire With Fire is unmatched, bar to the work of Slayer on their opus Reign In Blood, but the follow-up of the stomp and progression of the title track is even more astounding.
Metallica crafted simple songs that were easy to follow, inserted just the right amount of dynamic and progression and the result was remarkable. Live mainstay Creeping Death builds around the one riff with a simple chorus of open strums which sit beneath tales of the Exodus, yet the song has never, ever felt aged, old or overused.
For Whom The Bell Tolls steps back from the fast, heavy traditions of the time and opts for a slow march, whilst Fade To Black seamlessly traverses from heartbroken ballad to anguished speed-metal anthem. Trapped Under Ice is a bullet that tears through the speakers of unsuspecting earphones and even the slightly repetitive Escape stands on its own two feet.
The fact that the band was only 21 years of age at the time makes the album even more incredible. If you want to introduce someone to heavy music, give them Master Of Puppets. However, if you want to show someone an example of some of the most unusual, creative and genius songwriting of the past 50 years, look no further than this record. A truly remarkable moment of musical history and proof that Metallica are one of a kind.
Highlight: Creeping Death
Images: In Piece: Wikipedia
Cover photo: Supplied