Writing an article about a band this gigantic and epic can be difficult, but I’m going to try my best here. If you’ve ever seen this band live, as I have been lucky enough to do about five times now, you are familiar with the opening notes of the long-held intro music, “The Ecstasy of Gold.” It’s a western themed song from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and believe it or not, it’s the perfect song to watch the band enter the stage.
Metallica is a one of a kind band. They brought heavy metal to households everywhere, became a huge name, not only in metal circles, but general music circles. They’re big enough that they headlined “Ozzfest,” and played after Ozzy Osbourne. As a band, they’ve made incredible music that gave metal kids an easy introduction to this world full of anger and frustration.
Certainly, not every album is a winner, but this band has done for modern metal what Michael Jackson did for pop music. Better known, and more popular than Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Slayer, Pantera, and all the other bands in the genre, they managed to attain quite an impressive career. They still tour often, and it’s always good. They’ve been around for so long, even my mother can probably name a song. If you haven’t ever checked out their discography, do yourself a favor. I consider the first four albums to be the best four metal albums ever written by one band back to back. The songs I’ve picked today are my ten favorites. Mostly older stuff, but all things any Metallica fan has heard before, and likely knows the words to. Simply put, you can’t screw around with “Metal up your ass.”Enjoy the list!
10 HERO OF THE DAY: LOAD
Perhaps the most surprising song on this list, which isn’t to say it's a bad song, albeit one that people don't often think of. “Hero” isn't the in your fac thrash of the bands early works, but as a thought provoking hard rock song filled with unstable emotion, it fits perfectly in this bunch. Hetfield’s voice and singing is genuine and crooner worthy. The song does build up during the second chorus and bridge, and while that small segment is powerful, the song maintains the opening rhyme. It's almost as if they injected the more intense section as a way of reminding everyone they still had the raw power.
9 BLACKENED: AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
So many of the songs work as openers for concerts, but this one is probably my favorite. The guitar work by Hammett is second to none, and the drumming that barges in the room and dominates the sound can only be interpreted as the arrival of doom. It’s an evil song, man. The breakdown after the first verse is still one of the briefest, yet most heavy things I’ve ever heard. It’s almost as if they wanted to prove they could have a mini-kill fest in between the verses and the chorus. This is probably my favorite of all of their albums, and as a kid who was bullied and dealt with tons of bullshit, it makes sense. Having these songs seep into your soul is good for overall confidence. Their songs are about triumph, never giving up, and taking what you think you deserve, even in the face of adversity
8 CREEPING DEATH: RIDE THE LIGHTNING
The guitars are simply polarizing at the start. I was fortunate enough to witness this song as the opener to their Bonnaroo 2009 set, and it shook the festival into a frenzy that my non-metal loving ex-wife was happy to leave immediately upon commencing. So many of their songs are epic, and this is certainly, but it’s prophetic also. The warning Hetfield is screaming out isn’t taken seriously, and from then on, “Creeping Death” is approaching. What works so well in this song isn’t only the context, but how well-layered the message is in accord with the killer guitar parts by Hammett. The oh so metal chant at the end of “Die by my hand” is also about as brutal as you can get
7 SEEK AND DESTROY: KILL EM ALL
Time for one from all the way back. While not quite as grandiose and magical as some of their albums that came after this one, you can tell they were never your typical metal band. They had equal parts metal, thrash, and anger to make people notice them. Seek & Destroy has since become a staple at their shows, and I’ve never been to a concert where it wasn’t played. Most of the time it's set closer, which is always great. You have to leave the crowd wanting more, and remind them how long you’ve been around kicking ass and taking names.
6 FADE TO BLACK: RIDE THE LIGHTNING
I always remember the amazing Behind the Music episode about the band, and when James is talking about playing the guitar part at the stadium show and catching on fire. Some images you just can’t get out of your imagination. In regards to the song though, it really does start out quite beautifully, and this is one of the best early examples that they could slow it down and be emotional and didn’t have to only rely on sheer power and force. Many may think of Lars Ulrich as an asshole, but this is a key track where the drumming perfectly contributes to every beat the other members are giving. It really is a depressing song. I can relate to the feelings of losing all sanity, hope, and slipping away. Slightly over half way through the song has a little change of heart, and they head into heavier territories, while still keeping the smooth effortless groove going. Not all bands could do that, but they do it with ease
5 THE UNFORGIVEN: BLACK ALBUM
This song has always been one of my favorite all time songs by this band, and as you can see, it’s my number two. By this album the band has turned a corner, and what they have emerged with is a still heavy sound, but it’s much more polished in certain areas. This doesn’t hurt the band though. This is easily the highest selling album, and it’s still one of the biggest selling albums of any rock album made in the 1990’s. “Unforgiven” though, is the masterpiece of this “Black” album. The lyrics, and the depth of their experimentation, on this song especially make it a classic in a long list of classics. It’s certainly not the heaviest Metallica song, but it’s heavy in an emotional way that many of their other songs simply can’t compete with.
4 FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS: RIDE THE LIGHTNING
I assume they got the idea for the bells from AC/DC, but to me, when I hear bells starting a song, I ALWAYS hope it’s this one. One of the great things about this band is their ability to tell a powerful story through words and sounds. This is one of the best examples of that. I always think about a war-torn country, and scared people from all walks of life, of all religious beliefs, and of all colors, struggling to come to grips with the fact that death is likely close. It’s sobering to say the least, and the song speaks from the point of view of someone, who at least to me, wasn’t given any choice but to be there sacrificing his life. When James Hetfield bellows “Take a look to the sky just before you die, it’s the last time you will,” it’s incredibly sad and poignant. The overall message I take from this that we all have to die, but before you die, make sure you experience life and truly live. Then death is easier to accept.
3 BATTERY: MASTER OF PUPPETS
Another one with a great beginning, but this song goes above and beyond most standard album openers. Maybe it’s because of the opening, but it’s always struck me as extremely cinematic. The lone horsemen heading into town, and quickly realizing he’s gonna have to throw down with some unsavory folks. The vocals kick in right as he’s hiding behind a shop thinking his way out of another mess. The chants of “Battery” happen right as a courthouse full of villains blows up. If you look in the dictionary under songs that kick major ass while pummeling you into submission, “Battery” will almost certainly be the definition. Lastly, any song that has the lyric “Mashing non-believers” is a song I can get behind.” This song is force, and only force.
2 MASTER OF PUPPETS: MASTER OF PUPPETS
Never have I seen a better usage of a song in a film than this in “Old School.” The song is super serious, but in the film it’s perfectly used for comedy. You just don’t see it coming, which is what makes the “kidnapping” sequence so hilarious. The overall song though, is more than a little fucked up, and it’s commanding you to tread lightly, and make sure not to piss off whoever your boss in life is. You don’t want them playing with your life. They hold the strings, and they call the shots. Beyond all of that though, the middle section of the song is a lovely, well-played slower part. It’s a sandwich made of black bread, with a little bit of sunlight in the middle, and then guess what? You’re back in prison suffering at the hands of your master, and hoping for a reprieve that you’re not ever going to get.
1 ONE: AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
For me, this is the one that started it all. I owe my love for this band initially almost exclusively to the moment I discovered this song. The story of a veteran who is left in terrible shape, is a shocking, but sad reminder of the ravages of war, and how many people come home in worse shape than they left. I’m not sure if any of the members in this band were ever in the armed forces, but the song perfectly describes what I imagine the suffering of war to be like after the ashes have settled. The verses are shocking, and extremely dark. Our narrator is in almost literal hell. He can’t see, can’t walk, has less limbs than he left for war with, and all he wants is to be left to die. He’s a shell of himself, and the music brings everything into the sad, but often true light. The breakdown at the end is as technical as it is brutal, and for a band who have made a career out of morbid tales, this is the epicenter and capital of bone crushing force and sadness. If you read my top ten songs of the 80’s last week, you’ll remember this song being on there. It’s the best metal song of the decade, it’s most likely in the top 3 best metal songs of all time, and it’s my choice for the best all-time Metallica song. I hoped you’ve enjoyed the list. Thanks for reading!
Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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