Legendary hard rock band Metallica have been delivering their powerful (and not so powerful) music for over 20yrs and are still attracting legions of new fans all the time.
Unfortunately new fans may need some guidance on which albums to avoid, or at the very least put right at the bottom of their shopping list. So here's Metallica's entire studio album catalogue assessed by a veteran 'tallica fan - me! Let's start with the best shall we?
1. Master Of Puppets (1986)
Metallica's third album was the last to feature original bassist Cliff Burton who died in a tragic bus accident on tour.
This album is fondly remembered by many as 'Cliff's album' due to the defining beauty of this record being his classical and overall technical influences. The music is simultaneously beautiful and aggressive and displays an intelligence rarely associated with the genre of thrash metal.
It's not only Cliff who shines here as drummer Lars Ulrich is at his best here (albeit via some alleged trickery in studio) and frontman James Hetfield's voice moves away from a girlish scream towards a developing bark, and his rhythm guitar is at it's hardest. Hammett's solos are inspirational and it's his riff for Welcome Home (Sanitarium) that is one of the highlights.
The production is neither over the top or underwhelming; it serves the songs well. Also the artwork for this album is easily the best of all albums.
Many people debate over whether Ride The Lightning is better than Master Of Puppets, but for me there's really no contest. MOP's the cream.
2. Metallica/aka The Black Album (1991)
I'm sure there'd be a number of other (perhaps older) Metallica fans who'd dispute this as the second best album, and I take their point. But this album was what got me and many people into them. I was old enough to purchase this not long after release. I'm now 26.
While more of a general hard rock album than a metal one (and their most succesful to date - leading to the boos from the "sell out" chanters), the album still packs a punch. The Black Album is the best produced LP to date for Metallica. It has a polished sound but maintains enough heavy grit.
While the music maybe simpler and slower, it's no less heavy or gratifyingly direct. James Hetfield's lyrics are perhaps the best of all time on here and Lars shows enough creativity on the drums even without going at it at a million miles per hour. Kirk's solos are more heartfelt than purely show-offy.
The unfortunate thing is that this was Metallica's last hour of glory. Many would say this was exactly when the group began to 'suck', but I disagree with that one.
3. ...And Justice For All (1988)
This is turning into a really honest and personal analysis as nearly all would dispute why I haven't put 1984's Ride The Lightning in yet.
Well, I actually liked ...And Justice For All. It was a favourite album of mine for a while. True that that it has it's flaws but I'll tell you why I like it 3rd best...
Though AJFA itself was the beginning of the tread to the mainstream (the single One had a video for it) with slightly slower tempos and more grooves, and the debut of bassist Jason Newsted, it was actually one of the band's last fairly-metal albums.
The music was very technical, very lengthy in some cases and though the band dispute the production I think it served the album well. The guitars sound spiky and the hollow thud of the toms gives off a kind of densish atmosphere.
Yet at the same time it was a bit too technical at times that it seemed it was just showing off and lacked the beauty infused in albums like MOP. Not too many songs are memorable but as an album it still works. But you'd not want to hear some songs live incase of fatigue!
The downpoints of course are that you can't hear much bass (possibly to irk the then new bassist), the lyrics were at times a bit desperately rhymey and it has an air of a band in crisis and in need of a new direction.
4. Ride The Lightning (1984)
Well, I've put Ride The Lightning in now but now some are thinking 'and Kill 'Em All's not in this guy's list yet? BEEP off!'
Ride The Lightning was the first album to feature a ballad (so "sell out" was heard early!) and had a better, windier production than their debut. Other than the ballad, and classical album intro, the album's largely a frenzied ball of fire with some moderate moments; all classic stuff however.
It was the last to feature the leftover musical chops of ex-lead guitarist Dave Mustaine (who was fired prior to the band's debut LP but went on to form the brilliant Megadeth).
Though uncontestable as one of thrash metal's best albums it loses points for the terrible 'Escape' and the mostly innessential 'Trapped Under Ice'. And at times James' voice is a bit hard to take in and Lars does nothing overly special on the drums. Everything is else is classic, right down to the art.
5. Load (1996)
Yes, no Kill 'Em All yet...Fact it is that I like much of Kill 'Em All's songs but the production means that I prefer the songs live than on actual album.
Though Load was the birth of Metallica's respect death it did have some good moments. There are some songs which demonstrate some classic songwriting ability in familiar 'tallica vein, even if it seems as if the band were a different one to the metal one that we knew.
While not much less heavy, it still stunned fans (myself very much so!) with country songs, straight rock and roll and blues. The production even bordered on too glossy - the same producer who got the balance right on 'Metallica'!
Adding insult to injury was the complimentary image change and semen and fake blood art which spelled out that the band had moved away from their past.
6. Kill 'Em All (1983)
Okay, here you go! Kill 'Em All. The band's debut. Though a landmark in thrash metal with a number of classic speedy and groovy gems, it had rubbish production. I've heard bedroom demos with more soul - seriously. There's way too much treble which adds more spike than neccesary.
Couple this with bordering cheesy guitar-noodlery, screechy undeveloped vocals and simple drums and there you have it. Though this signalled the arrival of one of hard rock's finest, not all songs have stood the test of time but those that have are historic gems. Fortunately this funded the band good enough and they moved on to a major label ("sell out" lol!)
7. St. Anger (2003)
Well, it had to happen didn't it? A bunch of old blokes trying to get 'down with the kids' by making one of those 'nu-metal' records to re-establish cred. Rubbish.
The guitars are downtuned, muddy and dumbed down and the clangy snare amidst basic drumming gives you a headache. James' vocals have gotten goofy, and the lyrics? A soapbox for his demons across all songs. And it seems that Bob Rock forgot to produce the record while all giddy about playing bass for the band.
In fairness there are some moments that show Metallica can compose some good metal again. Infact there's atleast a trio of songs that spark hope but the fact that it sounds like a bunch of drunk cats making stupid old noise ruins it.
8. Reload (1997)
Load was meant to be a double album. In truth it should've been a single one without this sequel as despite initial protestations from the band that this is not 'b-side material', it's actually z-side. Despite even less gems than Load (but I'll fairly say there are some) the band thought it okay to release this unwanted brother of a record.
It sounds (and art wise looks) just like Load but even more dissapointing. It sounds slightly more glossy than Load, a little more forgetabble, and appears a little more desperate. This album shouldn't have seen the light of day. Easily the worst! Most fans yawned. Jason Newsted left.
There are 2 more records. The with symphony live album S&M and covers album Garage Inc., but these are not technically album propers.
However I will add that all the old covers (Disc II) on Garage Inc. are brilliant, while Disc I's embarassing in choice and delivery, and S&M's largely a good experiment in marrying all-spectrum Metallica with the vast expansive sound of an orchestra; even if it does seem like a project only a band so far up itself would undertake.
So, there you have it. If you disagree I'm glad; it means that I made you think and/or questioned you. But if you agree, well you have great taste!
The Best & Worst Of Metallica
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18 October 2005
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