Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Top Ten Things: Metallica Albums, RANKED

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  Today I look at the catalog of the biggest metal band in history, the mighty Metallica!

Anyone who knows me at all knows I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Metallica aficionado, and if you've read Enuffa.com for any length of time you've probably gotten that sense as well.  For me the summit of Music Mountain is twofold - there's The Beatles and there's Metallica.  Everyone else is just trying to reach the top.

With the release of the band's eleventh album 72 Seasons, it's time to update the album ranking.  Enough yakkin', let's get to it!

11. St. Anger

Metallica's much-maligned "therapy" record and its accompanying film Some Kind of Monster were essentially a document of a band coming apart at the seams and ultimately stitching themselves back together.  Recording began in 2001 when internal relations within the group were at an all-time low, and departed bassist Jason Newsted had been temporarily replaced by producer Bob Rock.  The album's tone was ugly, messy and raw, reflecting many of the previously unspoken feelings floating around between the remaining band members.  St. Anger was met with much scorn from diehard Metallica fans at the time of its release, and in 2003 I considered it a pretty big disappointment.  But over the years I've come to appreciate it from a visceral, emotional standpoint.  It was the album the band needed to make in order to come back together and trudge forward.  The muddy lack of production, de-tuned guitars, and that awful pinging snare drum helped put to music the state of mind the band was in, illustrating what a bloated monster Metallica had become.  With St. Anger out of their system Metallica would now be free to find themselves again.

Key Tracks: Frantic, My World, Sweet Amber

10. ReLoad

The second half of Metallica's late-90s two-parter, this 76-minute collection featured some of the band's most experimental material.  A continuation of the alt-metal sound established with Load, this album took things a step further, somewhat eschewing Metallica's riff-driven roots for more textural guitar work and unusual instrumentation.  Songs like the country-tinged "Unforgiven II" and the Tom Waits-influenced "Low Man's Lyric" (featuring a hurdy-gurdy) pushed the boundaries of what constituted the Metallica sound.  ReLoad definitely includes some B-material ("Better Than You," "Attitude") and a few songs too reminiscent of those on Load ("Fixxer" is essentially "Outlaw Torn 2"), but it's got a few classics as well, like the driving opener "Fuel," still one of my all-time Metallica favorites.

Key Tracks: Fuel, Carpe Diem Baby, Bad Seed

9. Kill 'Em All

The album that kicked off one of the greatest musical careers of all-time, Kill 'Em All essentially invented the speed/thrash metal genre, boasting razor-sharp twin rhythm guitars and machine-gun drum blasts.  It was the prototype for modern metal records and introduced the world to Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Burton.  In my estimation it's still one of the greatest-ever debut albums and certainly one of the most influential.  Despite its efficacy however this record hasn't aged as well for me as some of the others.  It often feels like Speed Metal 101, as it lacks some of the depth and sophistication Metallica would discover only a few years later.  Still there's no denying what a metal milestone Kill 'Em All proved to be.

Key Tracks: Hit the Lights, The Four Horsemen, Jump in the Fire

8. Hardwired...to Self-Destruct

Metallica's 10th effort is a 77-minute two-disc behemoth boasting 12 hard-hitting tracks that harken back to multiple previous albums.  The simplistically brutal opener "Hardwired" brings to mind the aural assault of Kill 'Em All, while darker slow-burn songs like "Dream No More" and "Am I Savage?" seem to recall the Load/ReLoad era.  The production is crisp, clean, and sharp as an icepick, and there's no shortage of distinctive Metallica-crafted heaviness.  It's not their most ambitious work, but it fits right into the band's considerable catalog and should please even the most censorious die-hard.

Key Tracks: Am I Savage?, Halo on Fire, Confusion

(Full review located HERE)

7. Ride the Lightning

Metallica's sophomore effort already showed substantial musical growth over Kill 'Em All, as demonstrated by the opening classical guitar arpeggios of "Fight Fire With Fire," the somber complexity of "Fade to Black" (Metallica's first ballad yielded the first cries of "Sellout," an accusation with which they'd become intimately familiar over the years), and the Lovecraft-inspired instrumental "The Call of Ktulu."  Opting not to simply continue the Kill 'Em All formula of "All speed metal all the time," Metallica stretched their legs prodigiously on Ride the Lightning, beginning to build their reputation as a metal band with true substance.  The thrashy aggression was still present, but made more meaningful by the softer passages.  This template would serve the band well through the 80s and kicked off a several-album arc of experimentation.

Key Tracks: Fade to Black, Creeping Death, The Call of Ktulu

6. Black Album

Metallica's eponymous "Black Album" took the band from arena rock stalwarts to a worldwide phenomenon, in the process becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time.  From the dramatic stylistic shift to the simplistic black packaging, to the recruitment of proven hit-making producer Bob Rock, it was clear this album would be very different from Metallica's first four.  The songs were shorter, slower and much simpler, the sound was slick and modern, and the vocals much more soulful and melodic than before.  Die-hard fans lamented the band's turn to mainstream rock, but they couldn't deny the classic, essential album this release would become.  Like AC/DC's Back in Black or Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction, Metallica would be forever etched in the annals of rock history as a major landmark and would catapult the band to legends status.

Key Tracks: Enter Sandman, The Unforgiven, Nothing Else Matters

5. 72 Seasons

Metallica's 2023 opus 72 Seasons is somewhat similar in style (and nearly identical in length) to Hardwired, but with an even greater emphasis on classic-sounding riffage and some curveballs thrown in.  There are no ballads to speak of and the album is an almost non-stop aural assault, harkening in some ways back to the days of Kill 'Em All, more in attitude than from a purely sonic standpoint.  But while the songwriting exuberance of Metallica's youth is on full display (they sound like they're having a ton of fun on these tunes), the album's lyrics reflect the maturity of a band approaching their sixties, thus lending this record some relatable depth.  Combine that with much more input from Rob Trujillo (whose bass lines add weight and texture that Hardwired lacked) and a reinvigorated Kirk Hammett (whose solos here are his best work in thirty years), and you get an album that truly feels like a cohesive four-piece rocking your socks off.  The first eleven tracks are classic Metallica with a modern twist, while the epic album closer "Inamorata" both calls back to the gorgeous guitar harmonies of the Puppets/Justice era and forges a complex forward path.  This is one of their great compositions, which caps off their most satisfying album in years.

Key Tracks: 72 Seasons, Crown of Barbed Wire, Inamorata

(Full Review located HERE)

4. Death Magnetic

The band's 2008 epic was a return to thrash metal form.  Their decision to enlist legendary producer Rick Rubin brought positives and negatives to the table.  On one hand Rubin pushed them to make the songs breathtakingly complex, echoing their celebrated progressive era, but on the other he inexplicably turned the volume way up on every track to the point of clipping.  Still there's no denying that with Death Magnetic the band proved they could still deliver intricate, brutally heavy speed metal.  DM sports a dizzying ten-song set that for me successfully echoes my favorite Metallica period without sounding like a carbon-copy.  It almost plays as a "What if Metallica didn't go mainstream after Justice?"  It continues the exploration of prog-metal elements the band perfected on Puppets and Justice while still introducing new elements and a unique (if imperfect) sound.  15 years later this album still holds up for me as a thrash metal neo-classic.

Key Tracks: That Was Just Your Life, The End of the Line, My Apocalypse

3. Load

Fans upset about the Black Album's mainstream bend away from hyper-aggressive speed metal were even more confounded by its 1996 follow-up, the alt-rock-hued, slow-grooving Load, a near-80 minute marathon whose cover art included pics of the band with their long metalhead tresses shorn off (Oh, and a front cover with a picture of bodily fluids smeared on glass).  This radical departure sported a diverse 14-song set with shades of country, blues, classic rock, and grunge, and pissed off legions of longtime Metallica fans.  But ya know what?  It's a pretty freakin' great album.  The first half for me is one of the best opening stretches of songs on any record full-stop; from "Ain't My Bitch" to "Bleeding Me" there's nary a misstep, and only in the second half does the album falter a bit.  Had they trimmed a few songs (like "Poor Twisted Me," "Wasting My Hate" and "Thorn Within") they'd have a near-perfect 65-minute opus.  But that's nitpicking.  Load remains one of my favorite Metallica albums and represents a truly adventurous period of reinvention, which allowed the band to stay relevant long after most of their colleagues had become passé.

Key Tracks: Ain't My Bitch, 2x4, Bleeding Me

2. Master of Puppets

This entry should really be 1A, as the top two Metallica albums are so close it's tough to pick a single favorite.  Puppets is universally considered the band's apex, but for me it takes second place by the narrowest of margins.  This album marks the point when the band fully matured and honed their unique brand of thinking fan's metal, weaving a dense, multi-layered tapestry of triphammer rhythm guitars, thundering drums and bass, swirling leads, and nihilistic, rage-fueled vocal growls with an increasing influx of dynamic and mood shifts.  The result is about as close to perfect a metal album as can be imagined.  Each member of the group was firing on all cylinders and their songwriting had reached new levels of complexity.  For most fans Master of Puppets is the definitive Metallica record, one that amazingly went platinum without any radio singles.  It was the culmination of the band's growing cult popularity and paved the way for them to become mainstream icons.

Key Tracks: Battery, Master of Puppets, Disposable Heroes

1. ...And Justice For All

I said Puppets was the definitive album for most Metallica fans, but for me that distinction belongs to this violently bleak 1988 requiem for the American dream.  The untimely death of bassist Cliff Burton left the band in a wrathful, hyper-aggressive state of mind (some of which was released via the brutal hazing of Burton's replacement Jason Newsted), and it came through in frenetic shovelfuls on this album.  The dry, wall-of-sound production only added to the record's hopeless tone; Lars's drums are thin and tight, James's vocals are harsh and vindictive, and Jason's bass is almost nowhere to be found.  All of these factors should take away from the album's power, but they strangely add to it.  ...And Justice for All is a prime example of art through adversity; the band channeled months of negative energy into a prog-metal masterpiece, creating one of the most punishing albums of all time.  Justice was the album that turned me on to Metallica, and so it has sentimental value, but it still holds up for me as their greatest work; the yardstick by which I measure all their others.

Key Tracks: Blackened, One, To Live is To Die

That there is my list.  Comment below with your top ten, and thanks for reading!

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