Friday, April 28, 2023

Top Ten Things: Metallica Songs (30-21)

We're at the halfway point of our big Metallica Top 50 countdown with the middle ten songs!

Here we go....

30. No Leaf Clover

One of two new songs introduced for the S&M live album, "No Leaf Clover" is by far the standout, an ominous midtempo dirge with a killer chorus melody.  Lyrically the song seems to be about taking shortcuts to success and paying the price for it later - ("Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel/Was just a freight train coming your way").  The orchestra heightens both the splendor and emotion of this tune, giving it an epic, apocalyptic feel.  This was the last great song of the Jason Newsted era.

29. King Nothing

Probably the most Black Album-ish song on Load is this straightforward midtempo track, also about the dangers of seeking success at all costs.  "King Nothing" has one of the strongest chorus hooks on the entire album, with huge open power chords and lots of attitude in James' vocal - "Then it all crashes down/And you break your crown/And you point your finger but there's no one around" - and a super-infectious 4/4 groove.  Love the sense of schadenfreude in this song.

28. The Call of Ktulu

Metallica's first great instrumental track was largely written by ex-guitarist Dave Mustaine, who later repurposed parts of it for the classic Megadeth song "Hangar 18."  But "The Call of Ktulu" is an eight-minute opus with delicate ascending guitar arpeggios in the intro/outro and a huge tritone-based main riff that gives Cliff Burton space to show off his distorted wah bass fills.  There's an atmosphere of desolation that fits right in with the HP Lovecraft-inspired title, and this is a monumental way to close out Ride the Lightning.

27. 72 Seasons

The opening title track off Metallica's latest album has a pretty iconic main riff (courtesy of Kirk) reminiscent of its counterpart in "That Was Just Your Life," and like that song it's a relentless attack on the senses.  The album's theme is about how the first 18 years of a person's life shapes who they become later on, whether they cling to what they learned during those titular 72 seasons or choose to evolve.  This song perfectly sets the tone for the percussiveness of the album and is one of those tunes that grows on you with multiple listens.  It's quickly become one of my favorites from their 2023 set.

26. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

Metallica's second "ballad" for lack of a better word is this moody, eerie piece inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, about an institutionalized patient who feels they're wrongly imprisoned.  The main clean guitar riff is one of the band's most iconic early compositions, bolstered by James's sorrowful vocals and Kirk's prodigious lead melodies.  As with most Metallica ballads the second half builds to a speed metal peak with machine gun riffs, mournful harmonies and blazing solos.  The band has twice used this formula more effectively in my opinion (as you'll soon see), but this song stands right up there among their classics.   

25. The Four Horsemen

My favorite track off Kill 'Em All is another Mustaine contribution, though Metallica made some pretty radical changes to it.  Originally a straightforward speed metal tune about a perverted car mechanic (steeped in pretty goofy double entendres), after Dave's departure the band reworked it as a slower, bouncier shuffle groove and gave it new, much darker lyrics inspired by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  But perhaps their masterstroke was inserting a midtempo bridge section that gives way to a half-time arpeggiated riff (which has been not unfairly compared to the main riff of Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama").  It's in this middle section that the song really soars for me, transcending the thrash genre and giving us an indication of Metallica's progressive, outside-the-box thinking.  "The Four Horsemen" may have started out as Dave's baby, but James and Lars elevated it to greatness (I honestly always found Megadeth's version of "Mechanix" pretty silly and one-dimensional).

24. 2x4

Inarguably the heaviest song and riff from the Load sessions is this nasty midtempo shuffle featuring a Soundgarden-esque guitar tone and lyrics about beating the crap out of someone using a piece of wood.  There's no lofty thematic stuff going on in this one, it's just a gritty, angry song with brutally heavy guitar work and references to violent cinematic mofos - "Come and make my day," "I can't hear ya, are you talkin' to me?"  For all the vulnerability Metallica shows on the Load/Reload albums, "2x4" harkens back to their chest-thumping roots.

23. The House Jack Built

Another fairly simple tune from Load, "The House Jack Built" is a requiem about the dangers of addiction, incorporating a childhood metaphor to chilling effect.  This is probably the album's moodiest track, building from the sorrowful prechorus to a percussive verse riff and masterful 6/4 chorus hook reminiscent of "...And Justice for All."  Kirk also works in a talk box solo to give the song some disorienting texture.  For a long time this was my favorite Load track, but it's been usurped by a couple others.

22. Am I Savage?

My favorite from Hardwired is this Sabbathy, evil-sounding, riff-driven monster of a song about toxic anger and abuse passed from one generation to the next, using the metaphor of lycanthropy.  Seemingly a spiritual cousin to "Of Wolf and Man," "Am I Savage?" is much more menacing, employing numerous single-line riffs that climb the scale and heighten the tension.  The chunky bridge riff is perhaps the heaviest on the entire album (You know the one).  Lyrically this is by far the richest song on Hardwired, the use of a transformation motif conveying the idea of a father being so consumed by rage he becomes unrecognizable - "Father how I watched you change...I don't recognize you anymore."  Even more frightening is the son inheriting this destructive trait in the final chorus - "Am I savage?/I don't recognize *me* anymore."  For me this is Hardwired's masterpiece. 

21. That Was Just Your Life

In 2008 Metallica returned to their thrash metal roots with Death Magnetic, and the opening track set the table for this relentless, complex slate of songs.  "That Was Just Your Life" begins with a portentous clean guitar line but the overdriven tritone soon explode out of the speakers and we're scooped up in that signature Metallica gallop.  Death Magnetic's overarching theme is of course the inevitability of death, pulling us toward it with each passing second (some of us going more willingly than others), and "TWJYL" places this theme front and center with "I blind my eyes, I hide and feel it passing me by/I open just in time to say goodbye" and "Never stop the bleeding now/Almost like your fight/And there it went/Almost like your life."  This one is in the grand Metallica tradition of blistering opening tracks with zero let-up, like "Battery" or "Blackened."  Just a brutal metal tune.

And that was just Part 3 of our countdown!  Bring it back here for Part 4..... 

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