It’s been 8 years since Metallica released Death Magnetic, an album that sounds like if your dad’s old band from college reformed 35 years later but had to pretend to be angry about things because real anger is hard when you’re literally a person made out of money. In the time since its release everyone has forgotten about it and moved on with their lives. Those blissful times are over now though as Metallica are set to release a new album this week, the horribly titled Hardwired…to Self Destruct, and… it actually sounds pretty promising if we’re being honest. As that album quickly approaches us, I thought it would be fun to make a playlist consisting of the best song from each of Metallica’s studio albums. Arguing about Metallica songs is a nice break from arguing about fascism, after all.
KILL ‘EM ALL
Best Song: No Remorse
This is probably controversial right off the bat. Yes I am choosing “No Remorse” over “Whiplash”, “Jump in the Fire”, “Hit the Lights” and, God help us, “Seek and Destroy”. While “Seek and Destroy” has THE riff of the album and the others are a thrashing good time, “No Remorse” shows the band’s diversity. The song morphs from a mid-tempo banger to a tease of the neoclassicism of ‘Tallica albums to come before hitting the gas and thrashing its way out the door. NO REMORSE, NO REGRETS.
RIDE THE LIGHTNING
Best Song: Creeping Death
This was the easiest choice on the list, and not because the rest of the album is lackluster (the only garbage track here is “Escape”). No, this was an easy choice because “Creeping Death” is, more or less, the perfect metal song. The biblical imagery, the final plague, riff after riff, the outro harmony and, most importantly, when everything drops and all you hear is “DIE! DIE!” This is metal nirvana and no matter how many times I hear it in my life, I will never grow tired of it.
MASTER OF PUPPETS
Best Song: Master of Puppets
Immediately after the easiest choice on the list comes the hardest. How do you choose between the stone cold classics of the title track and “Battery”? Do you go with the best thrash track they’ve ever written in “Damage Inc.”? What about the emotional devastation of the instrumental “Orion”? I wound up settling with “Master of Puppets” because, like “No Remorse” before it, it displays one hell of a musical range that features everything from one of their most iconic riffs to a neoclassical clean break. Plus who doesn’t love shouting “MASTER!” along with Hetfield when everything starts ramping back up?
…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
Best Song: Harvester of Sorrow
1988’s …And Justice for All saw the band approaching more technical instrumentation and progressive song structures, but the best cut on the album is one of the simpler tunes: “Harvester of Sorrow.” It’s hard to think of a song in Metallica’s catalogue that conjures a more sinister atmosphere. As the distorted guitars crash in waves behind the cleans and low, warped screams buzz in the background, the song begins a military march that won’t let up. It’s very appropriate given that the inspiration for the song seems to be the “Holodomor,” a man-made famine caused by the Soviet Union that killed 7-10 million Ukrainians. This is Metallica at their best, when their music and lyrical themes sync and form something almost too heavy to describe.
Best Song: Wherever I May Roam
The band’s massive breakthrough album, and the point where they started losing some people, seemingly cranked out hit after hit on the radio. Hell, I bet we’ve all heard “Enter Sandman” or “The Unforgiven” on the radio at some point in the last year, 25 years after their initial release. The best single and song to come from the album, though, is Metallica’s ode to the nomadic lifestyle. The massive gong intro alone is still enough to give chills, and the absolutely gargantuan chorus remains one of their best. Add in that Kirk Hammett throws down one of his most awe-inspiring and extended solos and it becomes the obvious choice for this album.
Best Song: Bleeding Me
Okay, I know that earlier I said that “Creeping Death” was the easiest choice on this list, but I lied. This was way easier, but only for the fact that there aren’t many good songs on this album. Don’t get it twisted though: “Bleeding Me” isn’t a case of “least worst song” being selected. This is a great song floating amidst a sea of mediocre to terrible ones. Of Hetfield’s crooning attempts this is by far his most successful, and after a relatively intense mid-song break when he launches back into the chorus it hits with a wounded authenticity that almost every other song on the album fails to capture. Go back and give “Bleeding Me” a chance and I bet it will surprise you.
Best Song: Fixxxer
Jesus Christ. Reload is an even worse album than I remember it being, and I don’t even remember being too fond of it when I was a naive youth who had yet to experience Metallica’s finer albums. This writer’s least favorite song is on this album, the aneurysm inducing “Slither.” It also features the sequel song “The Unforgiven II,” which someone thought was a good idea For some reason. Look, I don’t have many kind words for Reload. It’s a bad album. One of the very few bright-ish spots is the closing track “Fixxxer,” which despite its horrible name largely succeeds for the same reasons that “Bleeding Me” does. The band slows down and Hetfield evokes a rage that is more simmer than brute force and the sleazy guitar line that pops up a few times is the band’s best attempt at capturing the filthy southern rock sound they were so desperately chasing in the 90’s. This song also gets mega bonus point for not being “Low Man’s Lyric” or featuring a hurdy-gurdy.
Best Song: All Within My Hands
Unlike everyone else on the planet I actually thought St. Anger was decent. I am, perhaps, a tad biased though as I first heard it when I was 13 and it was the most brutal and exhausting thing I had ever heard at that point in my life. It hasn’t held that same appeal as I’ve aged obviously, but I still find myself listening to it every once in a while and every time there are two songs that stand out: “The Unnamed Feeling” and “All Within My Hands.” For the purpose of this I’m leaning more towards “All Within My Hands” as it’s the riffier of the two and becomes absolutely unhinged by the time all is said and done. While certainly not his best lyrical effort, Hetfield’s equating love and control remains powerful and his honestly deranged and repeated shouting of “Kill,” though a bit silly, is still eye-popping. Like “Bleeding Me” this one might surprise you upon a revisit.
Best Song: All Nightmare Long
There may be no better place to find horrific song titles than post 90’s Metallica. Good lord. While 2008’s Death Magnetic feels like a scatterbrained attempt at copying the best of their golden era, there are some genuine high points to be found within. “All Nightmare Long” isn’t the most even song; it features a very wonky clean intro and a so-so chorus that doesn’t really make any impact until the later half of the song, but the entire latter half of the song makes up for those things. While the first few minutes feel as paint-by-numbers as the worst bits of Death Magnetic everything past the break at the 4:30 mark really jams. There’s the strange, otherworldly guitar during said break, the speed freak wah solo from Hammett, and the utterly crushing post-solo thrash riff. Even the chorus and those opening riffs sound re-energized in the back half, as if they make more sense in this context.
So there we have it. An absolutely definitive list of the best songs from each of Metallica’s studio albums. I look forward to doing this again in another 8 years and making fun of the title of Hardwired…to Self Destruct again, as well as creating a totally different list just to be cruel.
Tell me about why I’m wrong in the comments and I’ll fight you to the death over my pick of No Remorse.