Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Top Ten Things: Metallica Songs (40-31)

Welcome to Part 2 of our Top 50 countdown of Metallica songs!  In this segment we cover #40-31....  

Click for Part 1

Let's dive right in!

40. Bad Seed

Back to the Reload album, this midtempo chugger features a main riff that the band may or may not have inadvertently lifted from an old Soundgarden song called "Get On the Snake," which Chris Cornell's other band Audioslave then lifted for their tune "Your Time Has Come."  From there the guitars settle into a syncopated wah-enhanced groove over which James sings about the perils of greed, using the metaphor of a carnival barker preying on the gullible - "You bit more than you need/Now you're choking on the bad seed."  An overlooked deep cut from Metallica's experimental phase.

39. Until it Sleeps

The band pulled no punches when it announced the June 1996 release of their sixth album Load, leading off with a single very much out of left field.  Rather than going the safe and easy route with say "King Nothing," Metallica chose the moody, Chris Isaak-esque "Until it Sleeps" as the first single, informing the fans in no uncertain terms that their next album would not be what we were expecting to hear.  It was a ballsy move to say the least, but "Until it Sleeps" is a helluva piece of music, beginning with a fretless bass line and clean guitar with a rotary speaker effect, and featuring one of James' most sorrowful vocals.  Steeped in the abstract, the lyrics could be about trying to conquer addiction ("You feed it once and now it stays"), confronting one's destructive impulses ("So tear me open but beware/There's things inside without a care"), or simply falling on hard times ("So tell me why you've chosen me/Don't want your grip, don't want your greed").  Whatever your interpretation, "Until it Sleeps" is one of the band's most evocative songs, accompanied by one of their most visually striking videos, released during a time of unapologetic reinvention.

38. Carpe Diem Baby

Cheesy title aside, "Carpe Diem Baby" is one of my favorites on Reload, a slow, grungy song simply about seizing one's chance and throwing caution to the wind ("Bleed the day and break the rule").  Nothing thematically complex going on here, but this song boasts an infectious chorus hook and a fat, chunky guitar tone.  Loved it right away.

37. Hit the Lights

The tune that kicked off all things Metallica was this NWOBHM-esque rager about taking the stage and rockin' the shit out of a faithful metal audience.  "Hit the Lights" was the first song James and Lars ever wrote together, and it was featured on an LA-based compilation record called Metal Massacre, quickly becoming an underground hit.  It was of course re-recorded as the opening track on the band's debut album Kill 'Em All, and would henceforth grow into a mission statement for Metallica's early years.  The lightning-fast gallop and edgy twin guitars were unlike anything metal fans had heard before, and along with KEA's nine other tunes "Hit the Lights" was a speed metal prototype.  Hard to beat the energy of songs like this one - "No life till leather!"


36. Crown of Barbed Wire

Another 72 Seasons standout, "Crown of Barbed Wire" is a driving midtempo rocker with a bit of NWOBHM influence, whose lyrics are a cross between the "heavy is the head" theme and perhaps a bit of lament over being an aging rock star.  "This jagged wreath I bear" sounds like a statement of the responsibility that comes along with being the world's biggest metal band, while "This rusted empire I own/Bleed as I rust on this throne" reminds me of Tool's song "Invincible" - We've achieved everything there is to achieve but at what cost, and can I still deliver the goods as an elder statesman?  It's another compelling track with an ambiguous message.

35. For Whom the Bell Tolls

One of Metallica's simplest yet most anthemic and popular early songs is this Ernest Hemingway-inspired thumper about dying in battle.  The chunky guitars pound out a triplet feel while James' soulful vocals soar, and the band eschews a traditional guitar solo in the middle for a simple harmony line.  "Bells" immediately became a live staple thanks to its simplicity and singability, and remains a crowd favorite to this day.  "Take a look to the sky just before you die/It's the last time he will!"

34. Moth Into Flame

Hardwired...To Self Destruct broke a tradition of later-career Metallica albums by focusing its thematic lens more on the outside world than inward as the Black Album through Death Magnetic had done.  Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than on the album's second single "Moth Into Flame," a classic-sounding Metallica song about the perils of fame and substance abuse, and how so many celebrities with access to anything they want often, well, self-destruct.  Supposedly inspired by the tragic case of Amy Winehouse, lines like "Blacked out/Pop queen, amphetamine/The screams crashed into silence" hammer home this theme and lend the song a sort of cautionary tale vibe.  Propped up by energetic performances, "Moth" is one of the album's most self-assured tracks. 

33. Confusion

Another highlight from Hardwired is this ode to PTSD, both a tribute to those who serve in the military and a lament that they often don't get the post-war care they need and deserve.  "Leave the battlefield/Yet its horrors never heal" and "Label him a deadwood soldier now/Cast away and left to roam" simultaneously sympathize with PTSD victims and scold the powers-that-be for treating them as expendable.  "Confusion" is brimming with righteous anger and features plenty of metal riffage to match.


32. Wherever I May Roam

This ultimate road song was a big hit off its parent album Metallica and quickly became an anthem as the band embarked on a seemingly neverending two-and-a-half year tour.  The striking Eastern music influence and sitar-esque opening guitar line gives the song a zen quality before Hetfield's classic riffs take hold.  The lyrics could also be interpreted as endorsing a minimalist lifestyle - "I have stripped of all but pride" - but it's no coincidence that the Black Album tour was named after this song.  "And the road becomes my bride" indeed.  "Wherever I May Roam" is an iconic arena rock anthem.


31. The Frayed Ends of Sanity

Probably the most complex and harrowing arrangement of the ...And Justice for All set, "Frayed Ends" was so emblematic of how progressive and complicated Metallica's songs had become that they actually stopped playing it in concert.  The song is an incredible compositional accomplishment and boasts some of their most difficult riffs but sadly didn't lend itself well to live performance.  Nonetheless this "descent into madness" tune is one of my favorites from the album and perfectly captures the mood of a person losing all their marbles.  The intro nod to The Wizard of Oz sets the tone, and it all goes to hell from there.

And that's Part 2 of our countdown!  Again, click here for Part 1, and keep it right here at for Part 3!

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