Music

BAND ALBUM BREAKDOWN: Metallica

Ok, firstly I’m going state the obvious and say that there’s probably loads of articles like this one on my favourite band, Metallica. But as a genuine fan and not some journalist who’s more concerned about the number of clicks/views they might get, I hope readers find my piece interesting and for those not in the know about the biggest metal band of all time… read on. You might get the urge to check them out…

Kill ‘Em All (1983)

Metallica‘s debut album was quite an anticipated release at the time as they, along with other bands like Slayer and Megadeth (whose frontman, Dave Mustaine, was in Metallica before getting sacked and replaced by Kirk Hammett) seemed to be doing something different in taking the punk influence of Motorhead and others like Discharge, Misfits etc. and infusing it with a New Wave of British Heavy Metal influence (Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Saxon…) to create a new genre of metal: Thrash Metal.

Despite other similar bands being around at the same time, Metallica are often cited as inventing and spearheading the genre due to their ferocious live shows and the legendary No Life ’til Leather demo. Before Kill ‘Em All, metal in the US was heading in an interesting direction with Motley Crue and the Glam Metal scene starting to rise up out of the Sunset Strip, but for fans that wanted their metal heavier and faster, Metallica, along with a few others, must have sounded like a fucking revelation.

Key Songs: ‘Hit the Lights’, ‘The Four Horsemen’, ‘Whiplash’, ‘Seek and Destroy’.

Ride The Lightning (1984)

Coming just a year after Kill ‘Em All, you could have forgiven them for just repeating the same formula that mostly worked on that infamous debut but even here it’s obvious Metallica were going places and were always going to do things their way. Now regarded, along with the rest of their first five really, as one of the best metal albums of all time, there were already cries of ‘sell out’ as they included a ballad and an instrumental track that lasted over eight minutes.

As well as some relatively slower songs. But despite that, for most people, the quality of the tracks shone through and their reputation as a great live band continued and it seemed like Metallica were becoming one of the most, if not THE most, exciting new metal bands around.

Key Songs: ‘Ride The Lightning’, ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘Fade To Black’, ‘Creeping Death’.

Master of Puppets (1986)

Often called the greatest metal album of all time, Metallica‘s masterpiece is an album that stands the test of time and is so influential you can hear echoes of its inspiration in some of today’s bands. 1986 was a decent year for metal with Slayer’s Reign in Blood and Megadeth’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying, among others, being career highlights and the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest selling out arenas the world over.

But there is undoubtedly something special about Master of Puppets. It contains the same influences as mentioned before but takes them to another level. Three songs go over the eight-minute mark, there’s a ballad-type song akin to Fade to Black too but the entire album is so fucking heavy and so fucking technically perfect that you can’t fault it. It’s like everything about the band improved over the two years since Ride The Lightning and here’s the proof. The ultimate metal album. Can you tell it’s my favourite?!

Key Songs: ‘Battery’, ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’, ‘Orion (instrumental)’

…And Justice For All (1988)

So, from an outsiders perspective, everything up until after Master of Puppets was running smoothly. They were up there with the big bands in metal, supporting the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and getting plaudits the world over. And all without radio play and general support from “popular” media. When the bands’ tour bus crashed while on tour in Europe in 1986, taking the life of enigmatic and much-loved bass player Cliff Burton, it seemed all could be lost just as Metallica’s wildest dreams were coming true.

After grieving and regrouping, they vowed to carry on and recruited bassist Jason Newsted from cult thrashers Flotsam and Jetsom. Not that you’d always notice from And Justice For All’s production. Not only are the bass parts buried low in the mix, the drums sound dodgy too. Fortunately, the quality of the songs shine through. Mostly anyway, with the title track and instrumental ‘To Live is to Die’ being over the nine minute mark, maybe pushing it a bit and one or two tracks not quite hitting the heights of Master of Puppets but that said, it’s still a very good album and by the time they finished touring it, Metallica were the biggest metal band in the world.

Key Songs: ‘Blackened’, ‘One’, ‘Harvester of Sorrow’, ‘The Frayed Ends of Sanity’.

Metallica (1991)

Where do you go when you’ve become the biggest metal band in the world since you started ten years earlier? That’s a question Metallica had to answer and in this case the answer was to try and push things even further, get a big name rock producer (the ironically named Bob Rock, who’d worked on Bon Jovi‘s Slippery When Wet and Motley Crue‘s Dr. Feelgood, among others) and create the biggest and best sounding heavy metal album ever. And to be fair, they did a fucking good job of it. Also known as the Black Album, the album contains probably their catchiest song, one or two of their heaviest riffs/songs and some of their best guitar solos, As well as their biggest ballad. So yeah, mission accomplished!

Despite dividing some fans who would probably like to hear Master of Puppets 2, 3, 4, 5….you get the idea, again the quality of the band’s songwriting shone through, every song sounding great, Rock’s production skills never in doubt and the band’s talent and dedication on show for all to hear. And they certainly did hear as the Black Album is one of the biggest selling metal albums of all time, still selling thousands of copies a week and helping Metallica turn from the biggest metal band in the world into one of the biggest bands in the world, full stop. Yeah, that’s right, fuck you, Bono!

Key Songs: ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Sad But True’, ‘The Unforgiven’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘The Struggle Within’.

Load (1996)

After the mega-selling Black Album, where Metallica would go from here was anyone’s guess (including Metallica‘s), so when they decided to experiment with 70s hard rock and country influences on Load, the reaction was one of surprise, shock and, confusingly, anger. For the fans disappointed by the band’s more commercial direction on the Black Album, the seemingly bigger push in that direction for Load was a step, or several steps, too far. Although I can understand the initial reaction, yet again the quality of the songwriting shines through.

The only real problem with this era of Metallica is that Load, and follow up ReLoad, are a few songs too long. Overall, the quality is high but there are a few songs that wouldn’t have been missed if they fucked them off. But despite the very mixed reaction, the album still sold loads (lol, yeah?) and the band continued to sell out arenas and stadiums wherever they went.

Key Songs: ‘Ain’t My Bitch’, ‘Until it Sleeps’, ‘Bleeding Me’, ‘Mama Said’.

ReLoad (1997)

Well, it seemed Load‘s mixed, sometimes negative, reviews weren’t going to stop Metallica doing their own thing and although slightly heavier and darker, ReLoad continues the 70’s hard rock influences showcased to mostly good effect on Load. Opening with easily one of the strongest songs of this particular era, ‘Fuel’, and continuing apace with ‘The Memory Remains’, ‘Devil’s Dance’ and ‘The Unforgiven 2’, it seemed this could be Metallica‘s best since the Black Album but as with Load, the editing themselves problem arose and it gets a bit hit-and-miss after that.

Not that there’s a completely shit song on the album, its just the likes of ‘Slither’ or ‘Attitude’ dont exactly set your balls/tits on fire and a couple of songs go on a bit too long. That said, the best songs more than make up for it and a solid Metallica album is better than most bands “career bests” in my book. And it’s my book, so fuck you!

Key Songs: ‘Fuel’, ‘The Memory Remains’, ‘The Unforgiven 2’, ‘Carpe Diem Baby’

St. Anger (2003)

After the inevitable huge world tour and other shows and releases (which I’ll write about another time, if Sir Tony Black lets me!? – ED: do it man!), the pressure was on in the Metallica camp and after all the talk of the next album being their heaviest for years, anticipation was high. But then it all went pear-shaped. Frontman James Hetfield ended up in rehab for alcohol dependancy, Jason Newsted left the band and then they hired a relationship therapist to help them through this rough patch. Of course, this happened to coincide with them hiring a film crew to record a “making of” type documentary for the upcoming album. So not the smoothest recording process but it does help with understanding why the album is so frustrating. Sitting somewhere between “back to their roots/smashing out riffs in the rehearsal room” and modern/nu-metal to maybe attract younger fans, St. Anger, overall, is a bit of a mess.

A lot has been said about Lars Ulrich’s drum sound for the album and rightly so. It’s like his set’s made of pots and pans at times here! But on re-listening, it’s such a frustrating listen because there are seeds of great songs on St. Anger. It’s just that, the now standard, overlong songs issue arises too often and some of the songs don’t even sound like songs; just a collection of riffs. In lesser hands, the collection of riffs thing would’ve been a problem but in Hetfield’s case, certain songs are just about saved by his chunky riffing. But the fact that there’s no guitar solo’s was the killer for some.

A band that pride themselves on their classic hard rock/metal influences not including solos is like a bacon sandwich without the sauce. Annoying as there are moments in ‘Frantic’, the title track, ‘Purify’ and ‘All Within My Hands’ that could have made up awesome songs but as it stands, St. Anger, while not being the worst metal album ever, is Metallica‘s worst and a disappointing attempt at regaining their legendary heaviness. I blame therapist Phil Towle’s dodgy jumpers.

Key Songs: ‘Some Kind of Monster’, ‘Dirty Window’, ‘Invisible Kid’, ‘Sweet Amber’.

Death Magnetic (2008)

After the disappointment of St. Anger, Metallica needed to restore some faith and prove they weren’t past it and should just give up. Fortunately Death Magnetic did a lot to restore that faith and the band felt slightly rejuvinated as they delivered what was for some, their best album since 1991, even 1988 for others. And you can see why straight away as first song ‘That Was Just Your Life’ comes out all guns blazing and is definitely one of their best songs since the Black Album. After that, the old editing problem arises again.

‘The End of the Line’, ‘The Judas Kiss’ and ‘Suicide & Redemption’ all going on far too long. And it’s a shame as Death Magnetic is a decent album and the majority of it is solid. And yes, the guitar solos are back in force! But listening back becomes frustrating as you get bored and I don’t want to be bored listening to Metallica and that’s the thing, St. Anger may have been a frustrating listen, but at least I wasn’t bored. Death Magnetic is a better album with better production (but not by much, unfortunately), overall. But it still felt like they could do better…

Key Songs: ‘That Was Just Your Life’, ‘The Day That Never Comes’, ‘All Nightmare Long’, ‘Cyanide’.

Hardwired… To Self-Destruct (2016)

It may have taken eight years but after touring, playing places they hadn’t played, breaking records, releasing a film and a few other, ahem, interesting releases, Metallica don’t have much to prove anymore, so the fact that Hardwired ups the ante and energy they seemed to find on Death Magnetic and helped them create their best album since the Black Album was a pleasant surprise for all involved.

Hardwired seems to have a bit of everything; the influences of old shining through on the title track, the Black/Load era on ‘Now That We’re Dead’ and ‘ManUnkind’ alongside some of their best songs for years in ‘Moth Into Flame’ and ‘Atlas, Rise’. It really did feel like a comeback in a way after a long wait and never being sure what direction they’re going to take next. But with a storming release show at Vans in London and a great reaction/big sigh of relief greeting its release, and yes, despite not every song being perfect, it seems the boys are back and still have some life left in them yet.

Key Songs: ‘Moth Into Flame’, ‘Atlas Rise’, ‘Halo on Fire’, ‘Am I Savage?’

So, that’s Metallica‘s studio albums. Hopefully more to come on other releases from over the years such as cover songs, live shit, eps and stuff.

What is your favourite Metallica album? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or in comments below.

BAND ALBUM BREAKDOWN: Metallica
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