- 24 Sep 18
To mark the official announcement of their Slane Castle 2019 gig, Colm Connolly selects the greatest Metallica albums ever, counting down from No. 5 to the greatest of them all – we’re not saying which! – at No.1.There are Metallica fans out there who will disagree vehemently – and who will doubtless want to have a slug of Slane Castle Irish Whiskey before carefully letting us know where we got it wrong…
5: Kill Em All (1983)
A challenge to all the poser hair-metal bands of the 1980’s, who ruled the charts and the Sunset Strip, but were thankfully forgotten and written out of history by 1990. What you have here is a band unapologetically shoving their fusion of American hardcore punk, popularised by the likes of Black Flag and Dead Kennedy’s, with The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and a sprinkle of Sabbath right in your face (the original title of the album was Metal Up Your Ass). Kill Em All introduced the world to the most important metal band of the 1980’s and 90’s, possibly beyond, and what we hear are the early signs of the arrival of the “Mick and Keith of Metal”, Lars Ulrich and James Hatfield. Not one that stays on my turntable for too long, but essential listening to see how the band would develop and sophisticate their style in coming years, while at the same time maintaining the attitude and intensity of this somewhat naive but strong-willed debut. A good album in itself, but they would get better. Much better. And quickly.
Key Tracks: ‘The Four Horsemen’, ‘Seek and Destroy’, ‘Hit The Lights’.
4: Metallica (The Black Album) (1991)
Unfairly labelled by metalhead extremists as their “sell-out’ album, Metallica’s eponymous 1991 LP sold 16 million records, and took the band to a level of popularity never before seen by a heavy metal band. ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Nothing Else Matters’ introduced the band to swarms of new fans who weren’t as attached to the metal community as the diehards – which caused some tension. Metal purists aside, Metallica demonstrated that the skill in broadening your appeal is not in trying to get more complex or faster, but to write songs that are more condensed whilst still having the same attitude and power behind them. The album lags slightly in the second half, but it is still essential listening. The perfect album for new converts to the metal genre who want to explore the legacy of this great band.
Key Tracks: ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘The Unforgiven’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’
3: And Justice For All (1988)
The album that earned the band their first Grammy nomination for ‘Best Metal Performance’ – an accolade which they controversially lost to English ‘progressive folk’ group Jethro Tull (Yup, Jethro ‘we are absolutely not a metal band’ Tull). Metallica’s first album with new kid Jason Newstead on bass (points if you can hear any of his bass on the album), And Justice For All is where the band reached their most sophisticated point in lyric-writing, exploring themes such as the fragility of democracy and the folly of warfare. The album was buoyed by the band’s first music video for the single, ‘One’ , which helped to solidify their position as the most important metal band in the world, with in excess of 5.3 million sales in the US alone. The album featured some of their most well-crafted and complex song structures, with most tracks running over the five-minute mark. The band’s last album in their catalogue of pure metal, although ‘Eye of The Beholder’ gives us an indication of things to come.
Key Tracks: ‘Blackened,‘One','Frayed End Of Sanity'
2: Master Of Puppets (1986)
Widely considered the masterpiece of the band’s entire career, Master Of Puppets, is not just one of Metallica’s best albums, but one of the most ambitious and genre-defining albums of the 1980’s. Released as Hair Metal was starting to feel the pressure from the more aggressive and authentic underground of grunge and thrash metal, the album received little or no airplay, but still managed to copper-fasten the band’s massive following. As iconic bassist Cliff Burton’s swan-song before his tragic death in a horrific bus accident while the band were on tour, the album is a testament to his genius and revolutionising use of the bass as not just a component of the rhythm section but as a lead instrument. The title track, ‘Sanitarium’ and and ‘Orion’ showcase their developing progressive sensibilities and their Sabbath and Maiden influences. Not their biggest-selling, but their hardest hitting.
Key Tracks: ‘Master Of Puppets’, ‘Sanitarium’, ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’.
1: Ride The Lightning (1984)
For my money, the band’s best album. Their sophomore LP, it was the perfect interweaving of the hardcore punk elements they had announced themselves with on Kill Em All and the broader and more complex ideas towards which they were gravitating. ‘Fade To Black’, the band’s first excursion into ballad territory, illustrates the huge development in the songwriting capabilities of Hammet and Ulrich, whilst ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ was Metallica’s first venture into complex song arrangement and the kind of grandiosity with which they would become synonymous. On Ride The Lightning, they absolutely nailed it. The album is also Burton and Hammett’s finest moment as lead guitarist and bassist, both separately and together. It would be impossible to repeat the raw, youthful energy and ambition of this record – not to mention the way they acknowledged their influences smartly, yet proudly asserted the new path they were blazing in the metal world. ‘Escape’ is the only minor blemish on an otherwise perfect record.
Key Tracks: ‘Ride The Lightning’ , ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘Fade To Black’
Worth A Listen
Hardwired To Self Destruct (2016): Not a bad effort for a band around for 33 years at this point. Some remnants of the old style Metallica with an eye on the future. Title track is highlight of the album.
St.Anger (2003): Widely considered a musical disgrace/disaster for their abandonment of solos, introduction of detuned guitars, that snare drum and possible bowing to the nu-metal movement which they inspired, the band were willing to experiment here, and while they didn’t pull it off it’s still admirable and worthy of a listen. Not as bad as people make it out to be.
S and M (1999): Metallica team up with a classical orchestra to perform their songs. A testament to their musical prowess and virtuosity as guitarists and arrangers. Some songs work, some don’t, must be experienced none the less. Kudos once more for pushing the boundaries of metal.