No doubt it’s difficult for some young tykes just now sweating through driver’s ed to wrap their acne-scarred heads around it, but there was once a time, not too long ago, when Metallica was the Biggest Band in the World. The 80s saw them slowly taking over the metal world, album by album, until 1991’s Metallica (aka The Black Album) crossed them over into mainstream consciousness on its way to becoming one of the most-selling albums of all time.
But since? Not a whole lot to write home about. (Their creative peak post-Black Album may be a quote by bassist Jason Newsted on VH1’s Behind the Music responding to accusations the band sold out: “Yes, we sell out … every seat in the house, every time we play, anywhere we play.”)
But with Lulu, a new collaborative record with rock god Lou Reed releasing on Halloween, it’s time to take a look back at Metallica’s career and rank the studio albums, once and justice for all.
#9 St. Anger
Raw. Unrefined. Metal. These were the words used to promote this “comeback” album, their first venture after a six-year hiatus between the Load/ReLoad one-two open-handed soft slaps across the cheek. It was supposed to be a return to their garage days, but instead it just sounded like kids next door who just started a Metallica cover band. That said, it’s tough to get too mad at this album since it also resulted in the incredible documentary Some Kind of Monster, one of the greatest music movies of all time. next »
#8 Death Magnetic
The only way to go from the last recording is up. But let’s not say anything more about this and be done with it, alright? next »
The fact that it’s the unofficial second half of Load is essentially the problem with this release. The previous album, like it or not, still was a step in a different creative direction. And you can respect any artist trying to expand their own horizon. But this was just the same thing, but less. Starting off with the completely wretched Fuel set the tone, its only disruption coming during Marianne Faithfull’s haunting backing vocals on “The Memory Remains,” still one of the band’s high points. next »
#6 …And Justice For All
No wonder the band wanted to go in a more streamlined, shorter, don’t-force-the-audience-to-sit-through-nine-minute-prog-rock-arrangements-anymore style of songs after this album. Besides One – the best song of their career – this effort just feels bloated and tossed off in a “we found the winning formula, let’s stick with it” kind of way. next »
Somewhat unfairly criticized when it first came out because the usual long instrumental breaks where replaced by quick-hitting, melodic bridges – and because the group cut their hair – Load is still a loud, raucous affair that’s actually fun to sing along to. Unfortunately, it also lead to the short hair/soul patch/barbed wire tattoo/Affliction shirt/white trash agro look that’s been around ever since. (Personal pet theory of mine.) next »
#4 Kill ‘Em All
To understand this, you have to imagine the world this beast was released into, a calm 1983, full of puppy dogs, terrible haircuts, and Toto winning the Grammy for Best Album of the Year. While more musically-advanced arrangements and thought-provoking lyrics would follow – just listen to Seek & Destroy and you’ve essentially heard the entire album – this debut ushered in a new era of rock while hinting at where it was going to go. next »
#3 Metallica (The Black Album)
This initial attempt at churning out radio-friendly fare can be summed up nicely by watching the end of the massively over-played music video (remember those?) for Enter Sandman, when the semi-truck crashes through the bed in choppy slow motion: it’s overproduced, over-the-top in predictable ways, and doesn’t have much in the way of substance to mull over… but it’s also pretty bad-ass. next »
#2 Ride the Lightning
This was the first step in the direction away from the relentless speed metal of Kill ‘Em All, showing they had a few more tricks up their sleeve than your average metal band. While For Whom the Bell Tolls has become ubiquitous with its appearances in movies, video games and sporting events, it’s Fade to Black that has the cultural distinction of perhaps being the first “power ballad.” That’s right. You have Metallica to thank for Bret Michaels. next »
#1 Master of Puppets
Their third outing – and the last with original bassist Cliff Burton – shows the band at their peak. The album’s nine songs all clock in over five minutes, giving listeners a chance to live inside of the orchestral shifts and digest the speed metal virtuosity completely. While Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Battery, and Master of Puppets are probably the trio that stick out the most, the eight-minute instrumental opus Orion is an underrated perfect song.