Spoiler Alert: 'Master' is not where you think it is.
We are less than two weeks away from Metallica’s tenth album, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. Eight years have passed since their latest offering, Death Magnetic. Though the band occasionally gets jabbed at for such incidents as the Napster controversy, or the drama depicted in “Some Kind Of Monster”, their music has always stood the test of time, and cannot be tarnished by events from the new millennium. With that, I present a ranking of the band’s studio albums. Keep in mind that we’re dealing with Metallica studio albums, so no Lulu.
9. St. Anger (2003)
You can’t blame the public for accusing them of selling out further, or following a trend. In 2003, the year this album was released, the only bands that tuned their guitars so low without using death growls for vocals were groove/nu-metal bands. Another annoying aspect of St. Anger is the total lack of guitar solos. As their former bandmate Dave Mustaine once intimated in an interview with Headbanger’s Ball; lack of guitar solos is like lack of air. Then there’s the drum snare that pissed off a lot of people. James and Kirk have expressed that the raw sound of the music and lyrics, was what they truly wanted out of their studio sessions. Luckily this desire was short-lived and didn’t carry over to the follow-up album.
8. ReLoad (1997)
This album is essentially the leftovers of the Load writing sessions. It’s the second album to feature a more blues-infused Metallica. Luckily this album begins with “Fuel”, a fast, groovy song that most resembles earlier Metallica. The second track in, “The Memory Remains” also grooves hard, and is somewhat a set favorite, but in this reporter’s opinion, the vocal contributions from Marianne Faithfull ruin the song, and can easily be replaced with guitar leads. This album is also known for it’s desperate attempt to re-create “The Unforgiven”, in the form of a sequel song, “The Unforgiven II”. While ReLoad doesn’t exhibit trend-hopping like it’s successor, it certainly doesn’t offer too many inspiring tunes.
7. Death Magnetic (2008)
The most recent studio album produced by legendary producer Rick Rubin. It’s the first album since The Black Album to return the band to E-standard tuning. It’s also the first record to feature Rob Trujillo on bass guitar. While the fast riffs of the early albums is present on Death Magnetic, the production is very stale and lacking the reverb of the 80s-era. James’ vocals aren’t as vicious as the early days, although that’s more or less an age issue. The hype around this album’s release was mainly due to the fact that fans had been without classic Metallica for so long. The return of riffs and guitar solos that bleed heavy metal, were sigh of relief for the fanbase. It is arguably the most classic-sounding LP from the later half of the band’s discography. Final thought; I hope this is the end for The Unforgiven Saga.
6. Load (1996)
Here’s where the ranking starts to make heads spin. This is the album that marked the beginning of a downhill streak for the band. Load > Death Magnetic? Yes. A co-reporter has already discussed in detail, why this identity crisis ended up being awesome. Here is a shortened, and seperate perspective; Though most Metallica fans prefer thrash metal to blues rock, Death Magnetic sounds forced while Load sounds like music has developed naturally. The guitar riffs on this album are highly original. This album, along with ReLoad, represents Kirk Hammet’s blues and jazz period in which he had taken much influence from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Load, even contains a country song “Mama Said”, in which the response warranted a music video. There have been criticisms concerning the lyrical content, which is more personal to the lyricists than usual. This album is recommended for the metalhead who needs a rock and roll break every once in a while.
5. And Justice For All… (1988)
First album to feature (or not enough of) bassist Jason Newsted. The lyrical themes of the album itself include themes of political and legal injustices. The songs are the most progressive and complex than any other song from the first five albums. While there are some memorable Metallica classics on here, such as “One” or the title track, production on this album is very sterile making longer, lesser-known tracks like “The Shortest Straw” harder to enjoy. Periphery recently did a great cover of One for the Homefront Soundtrack.
4. Master Of Puppets (1986)
I anticipate that even more heads are spinning now. “Master Of Puppets not in the top 3?” See below. This album is definitely the most sinister sounding of the early albums. An acquaintance of mine has stated time and time again that the sound of Master of Puppets is like walking into a mortuary. An incredibly accurate analogy.
However, it seems to have lost just a little bit of the punk influence of it’s two preceding albums. The first studio sessions to not feature any contributions from Mustaine, the band had developed higher ambitions for this record. One of which is exemplified by the main guitar riffs in “Master of Puppets”. Performed by Hetfield, they are executed only with down-picking with a hightened ability to mute. This style, contributed to the more percussive tone not seen on the preceding albums.
3. Metallica (The Black Album) (1991)
Like most, I was introduced to Metallica through “Enter Sandman”, then “The Unforgiven” then “Nothing Else Matters” through local rock radio stations. While the album is slower than it’s four predecessors, the heaviness has not been lost by the band on album number five. Instead, it can be argued that it’s heaviness had been repackaged, with the heightened ability to finally bring the band into the mainstream. The listener gets to hear the basswork of Jason Newsted unlike the previous album, especially on his biggest contribution “My Friend Of Misery”. To this day, over a thousand copies of the eponymous album are sold every week. From the widespread popularity of “Enter Sandman” all the way down to the obscurity of “The Struggle Within”, every track is memorable.
2. Kill ‘Em All (1983)
Kill ‘Em All grows on you fast, especially when placed side-by-side with the band’s live demo Metal Up Your Ass. Track 2, “The Four Horsemen” was originally called “The Mechanix”, and was shortened version about a horny mechanic having his way with a customer. After Mustaine’s departure, James and Lars touched it up and changed the lyrical content and turned it into a song about the apocalypse. Unlike Master of Puppets, Kill ‘Em All focused on a punk rock attitude more than a sinister instrumentality. You’re also treated to an insane bass solo recorded in just one take, by the late great Cliff Burton as the album’s centerpiece. Right after that track is what is considered the band’s eponymous song “Whiplash”, featuring the lyrics “we’re Metallica”. It is the track that puts the crunchy guitar tone most prevalent in the thrash metal scene in the U.S, on display the most of the entire album. “Seek & Destroy” has become an anthem over the past few decades, and the song “Metal Militia” has been used in reference to metal clubs & gatherings, highlighting the cultural impact of Metallica’s debut.
1. Ride The Lightning (1984)
The root of the admiration for Metallica’s sophomore album, is that everything you would like about metal is on this album. Whether you’re into thrash, shred, doom, progressive music, there is something for you on this album, even some riffs influential to the death and black metal movements. While it’s predecessor emphasized a punk attitude and it’s successor, a sinister musicianship, Ride The Lightning possesses the best of both worlds. Concerning the lyrical content; Every track tells a great story. “Fight Fire With Fire” pertains to revenge and armageddon, the title track, to anticipating death by electrocution, “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, to the horror of warfare, Creeping Death, to the biblical tale of the death of the first born to the Pharaoh in Egypt. “Fade To Black”, which can be considered the band’s first ballad, tells the story of feeling helpless and contemplating suicide, which can be interpreted as; No one is alone in feeling that way. The album properly ends with “The Call Of Ktulu”, an instrumental filled with Cliff’s monstrous bass playing and the dueling lead riffs from James and Kirk.