Next up in my popular list of… lists, is the greatest (?) metal band of them all – Metallica. Probably the first metal band I got into, and I imagine they were the first band to introduce a lot of people my age and younger to metal. I can’t remember exactly when I first heard a Metallica song, but I have plenty of Primary School books with the Metallica logo scraped into them with a compass, along with G’n’R, Nirvana, etc etc. I guess I would have been around 8 or 9 as by 11/12 I was wearing the T-shirts. I don’t know how much of an influence they have been on my musical tastes, as Nirvana, Guns, Alice Cooper had earlier given me a love for all things heavy and dark, but if anything they cemented my love for metal. The complexity, the speed, the technical ability, and they had a darker, rougher edge than many of the bands I saw on TV and were apparently free from a lot of the cheese which has blighted other popular bands within the genre. I know the fans have largely abandoned the group over the years, thank to hair-cuts, video-making, maturing, softening, rehabilitating, napster-destroying, empire-building, but for the guts of 10 years, they were amongst the most potent, energetic, vicious, and exciting bands of all time. Their first 5 albums are each exceptional moments in metal, and though much of what has followed has been poor, there have always been a few gems. It’s easy to see why so many angry kids still buy those early records on a weekly basis, and get their release, or even better, start a band and learn to play those songs.
I’ll be coming back to this post at later dates to update with my thoughts on the individual songs, but for now, here is the list:
41: Am I Evil? (Garage Inc): Jeepers, look how young they look above. Hetfield look about 12. The first of several covers on my list, Metallica have been known to add a considerable amount of speed, volume, and ferocity to any song they cover. There isn’t too much difference between this and the Diamondhead original – the pace is the same and there aren’t many flourishes or additions. It’s nice to see the band showing a certain reverance to a classic song, although they do give it a bit of a chunkier, metal sound. That intro is still excellent.
40: So What (GI): Another cover, and one to play LOUD whilst driving through your sleepy village on a Sunday morning, shocking unsuspecting joggers and church-goers. The band clearly relish the joyful anger and humour of this song and Hetfield loves shouting out the ludicrous lyrics. It’s not one I have much to say on, it’s a silly, juvenile song which presents another side to the band via their influences. The Anti-Nowhere League and a lot of other garage bands were a big influence on young Metallica, showing a much more raw and angry edge than anything that had come before.
39: Die Die, My Darling (GI): Many punk fans who dislike metal either forget or disregard the fact that the best 80s metal borrows heavily from the best of 70s punk merged with the good old blues of course. Like ANL above, The Misfits merged their edgy punk stylings with a large helping of comedy which lends itself well to Metallica’s views. Metallica were never a band which focussed on gore and horror and other such things, so it’s interesting to see them covering a song like this.
38: St. Anger (St. Anger): Don’t slap me. St. Anger is not a great album. It’s not even a good album. I once tried to convince myself that under the terrible drums and guitar and everying the songs were still good, they were just completely drowned out by the badness surrounding them. I think that’s just not true, but some of the songs have their moments, while others are plainly good, like the title track. Without that awful drum sound, St. Anger is a great track with a lot of interesting musical ideas. The lyrics do get bogged down by all the rehab crap the band were going through at the time but it still rocks.
37: The Unforgiven III (Death Magnetic): Death Magnetic was a return to form for the band and saw the band looking back to their past, in terms of sound, musical style, and scope. It’s a band that they could easily have made in their 80s heyday, complete with epics, an instrumental, and tonnes of shifts in timing. Following the theme of looking back, the band return to their Western-themed Unforgiven series, adding a third. It’s the weakest in the series, but still a great song. It’s also the least Western movie soundtrack sounding of the bunch, surprising as Hetfield continues to look more and more like a cowboy every day.
36: Frantic (SA): Much like my comments for St.Anger, Frantic is a good song ruined by some foolish choices. There are some strong dynamics at work here, particularly the good old changes to speed and jarring pauses which Metallica have been perfectionists at over the decades. It’s chaotic, it’s unhinged, and it’s probably the best song off the album.
35: Fuel (Reload): Like Use Your Illusion before it, Load and Reload have their fair share of choppable tracks. Fuel gets the album off to a cracking start, grimy, heavy, fast, yet showcasing the less metal, more Southern US rawk stylings of the album. It’s interesting to see the band attempting different styles, and it’s catchy as hell, even if the majority of the album tracks don’t live up to it.
34: The Memory Remains (R): Another slow paced, yet still crunching Reload track. With bitter, biting, insightful lyrics, a blood-curdling turn from Marianne Faithful, and a powerful chorus, this is one of the more memorable tracks from the album.
33: Whiplash (Kill Em All): An early thrash classic now, played at break-neck speed in barely 4 minutes. This is one of the more simple, straightforward songs from the debut, but even then the band are experimenting with unusual changes to time signatures, chopping and cutting where you wouldn’t expect to chop or cut, and adding pauses and interesting twists. The lyrics are ridiculous, basically bravado about touring and playing and kicking ass, but they’re barely audible so you can make up your own and just enjoy the energy.
32: Orion (Master Of Puppets): Not many bands do good instrumental tracks. Even fewer do great ones. Metal bands seem to have been the masters of the instrumental over the decades, with an instrumental track featuring on each album being some sort of unspoken rule in the early days. Bands would compete with each other over the most elaborate, fast, and heavy songs, and this was no different for the non-vocal tracks. Orion may be the most famous of them all. At over 8 minutes long it isn’t the most pleasant listening for people who like singing in their songs, but those people shouldn’t be listening to Metallica. Like any other epic Metallica song there are a variety of speeds and tones at work here, and the multiple sections blend together masterfully. There is certainly a sense of awe when the vocals are removed and you get to focus purely on the technical ability of a band in tune with each other in such a complex song.
31: Until It Sleeps (Load): A suitably evil sounding songs, all edgy, creeping riff, and garggled under breath vocals, it’s possibly their most grunge song. Even the lyrics are more akin to the dark, introverted poetry of grunge rarher than the carnage and bravado of metal, and if the video doesn’t make you think of Heart-Shaped Box you’re an idiot. There is a sense of fore-boding, confusion, angst, and it is all torn asunder by the violence of the chorus. Rounded off with a venomous solo, this is potent stuff.
30: Harvester Of Sorrow (And Justice For All)
29: To Live Is To Die (AJFA)
28: Last Caress (GI)
27: Astronomy (GI)
26: Welcome Home (MOP)
25: Turn The Page (GI)
24: Mama Said (Load)
23: I Disappear (Soundtrack)
22: Phantom Lord (KEA)
21: For Whom The Bell Tolls (Ride The Lightning)
20: That Was Just Your Life (DM)
19: The Unforgiven (The Black Album)
18: … And Justice For All (AJFA)
17: Enter Sandman (TBA)
16: The 4 Horsemen (KEA)
15: The Day That Never Comes (DM)
14: All Nightmare Long (DM)
13: Nothing Else Matter (TBA)
12: Wherever I May Roam (TBA)
11: My Friend Misery (TBA)
10: Whiskey In The Jar (GI)
9: The Unforgiven II (Reload)
8: No Remorse (KEA)
7: Seek And Destroy (KEA)
6: Creeping Death (RTL)
5: Blackened (AJFA)
4: Battery (MOP)
3: Fade To Black (RTL)
2: Master Of Puppets (MOP)
1: One (AJFA)
So, there you have it, 41 of the greatest metal songs ever. Don’t agree? Have at it in the comments!