Top 10’s: Metallica

Alongside The Beatles, these guys are in the running for my favourite band ever. I’ve listened to everything they’ve ever released, bought albums and singles on multiple formats, watched vhs tapes/DVD’s of concert performances and documentaries and seen them live three times.

To pick my ten favourite songs is a tall task but after much deliberation these are what I’ve gone for –

10. Dyer’s Eve (…And Justice For All (1988))

Some people reading this might already be scratching their heads thinking ‘’Dyer’s Eve… I think I know it but, um?’’. This is the final track on the …And Justice For All (1988) album and it absolutely fucking rips. Coming on like one last hurrah from their thrash days before moving on to the slower but still crushing sounds of Metallica (1991), this is the fastest and angriest track on it’s parent album. It’s written by James Hetfield about his overpowering, overbearing parents and his far from ideal upbringing; you can hear the disdain dripping from every word. Coupled to fast and complex riffs, tight time changes, a blistering solo from Kirk Hammett and maybe Lars Ulrich’s greatest ever drum performance (check out the double bass work!!), this is largely unheralded but can be chalked up as a bit of an overlooked classic.

9. The Prince (Harvester Of Sorrow (1988) – Single))

Amazing version of a song by Diamond Head, this just edges out ‘Am I Evil?’ in the battle of the Diamond Head covers. Originally released as one of the b-sides to ‘Harvester Of Sorrow’, I first heard this as a bonus track on a Japanese import of the …And Justice For All (1988) album that my Uncle had. It was later included on the Garage Inc. (1998) compilation. As soon as I heard it it became one of my favourite tracks of theirs. Fast and furious, full of amazing guitar work from both Kirk and James (check out the solo in the intro and the harmony leads in the breakdown section) and superb drumming again from the often underrated Lars, this is the best cover version they made in a career where they did a lot of really great ones. Plus, I got to see them perform this live on the Death Magnetic tour – something I never thought I would see them do.

8. Orion (Master Of Puppets (1986))

Metallica have recorded a number of instrumental pieces over the years – this is without a shadow of a doubt the finest they have ever put down on record. Massively contributed to and structured by their late, great bass player Cliff Burton, he really gets to shine here. From the heavily treated bass intro sounding almost like an organ, to the brilliant bassline he produces at the tracks midway point, he is the driving force behind this one. Over the top of that substantial bedrock lay some of the coolest, crunchiest riffs in their arsenal and some truly emotional lead guitar playing by both Kirk and James. The change in pace halfway through and the almost blues-like feel of the guitars is one of their finest ever passages of music and really showcases just how far they’d come as musicians in such a short space of time. It’s hard to listen to this without thinking of just how incredible Cliff Burton would have become and what a hole his death left in the band, one that without disrespecting those who have followed, could never truly be filled.

7. Creeping Death (Ride The Lightning (1984))

The first Metallica song I ever heard and a true thrash classic. This has a pounding, big metal intro and then busts out the main riff, slicing through the song with a precision burst of speed. The difference between Metallica and so many of their thrash metal peers of the time is that they knew when to let up on that pace, injecting slower but still heavy sections into their tracks, adding a different kind of power to the frantic, breakneck riffing that was going on in the scene around them. This also allowed for them to add more melody, more downright catchiness to the songs like they do here, leading to tracks like this one still being performed in their setlist to this day – with everyone in attendance screaming along to that chorus and the breakdown (DIE!! DIE!!) at the top of their lungs. I must mention Kirk’s solo as well – absolutely incredible, he was on fire on those first four albums and could definitely lay claim to being the best lead guitar player around at the time.

6. The Unforgiven (Metallica (1991))

Change of pace for the band here, they’d done slower songs previously but this has an epic almost western feel at times, something that shouldn’t surprise any fans of the band, especially those that have seen/heard them in concert – they’ve been coming out onstage to ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’ by Ennio Morricone from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966) soundtrack since they first started gigging. One of their most emotional tracks, James Hetfield is in great voice on this one and gives one of the most powerfully controlled performances of his career here. The riff that accompanies him during the verses is so crisp and heavy sounding for what is essentially a ballad and leads to a more restrained and melodic chorus – an interesting dynamic as it’s usually the other way around. The production by Bob Rock on this song is excellent, giving it a huge, epic sound enhanced by keyboards to fill in the spaces. This is the ‘newest’ song in my list and it came out in 1991!! It doesn’t mean they didn’t release good stuff after this (even some great stuff), it’s just that what came out in those first 8 years is simply untouchable.

5. The Four Horsemen (Kill ‘Em All (1983))

From the ‘newest’ to the oldest song on my list, this is the band at their thrashtastic best, already creating an epic on their debut album and showcasing their love of multi-part songs with changes in time signatures at such an early stage. It’s over seven minutes in length but feels like half that as they mix up the riffs, never letting any section outstay it’s welcome. Co-written by Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) when he was still guitar player with them in the very early days (and recorded as the song ‘Mechanix’ on Megadeth’s debut album Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good (1985)), this has riffs galore and some of the best solos the band ever recorded. Even though he was not around at the inception of this song, Kirk Hammett absolutely owns this, his lead work is outrageously good, it’s almost impossible to believe he was only 21 years old and making his first ever record. I also love James’ voice on this (and the whole first album), it’s so scratchy and raw and it’s amazing to see how his vocal would mature so much in the 12 months between this and the next album.

4. Metallica – Ride The Lightning (Ride The Lightning (1984))

And here is the title track from that next album. This is absolutely immense! Another track co-written by Dave Mustaine during his time in the band (makes you think about what could have been if he could have stayed clean and reached the recording stage), this is another multi-part epic but turned up to 11. Kirk is on the form of his life, spitting out solo after solo and creating one of the all time great harmony guitar parts with James in the midsection. James is far more confident with his vocal and really brings that super thick guitar sound of his to the myriad amount of riffs this song contains. Greatly improved from the debut is Lars’ drumming, hitting hard here with strong fills and some tasty double bass. This is also the first track in their career where Cliff Burton’s bass is really filling out the sound, adding to the sheer heaviness. When I went to see them on the Death Magnetic tour I remember my brother and I losing our shit to this when they played it live and looking around at the rest of the fans in our section and 95% of them not having a clue what the song was!! Sad but true!!

3. One (…And Justice For All (1988))

Amazing song, one of the bands’ most emotional pieces. The first half is a thing of beauty with some truly expressive guitar playing from Kirk and an almost folky Zeppelin-esque rhythm from James. Lars’ drum pattern is also unique, the use of the kick drum as the main beat instead of the snare is not something you hear him do very often. When the snatch of distorted guitars hit for the chorus the impact is all the greater. You can feel the song building as it progresses, layers of guitars giving the midsection a huge feel then those double kicks hit and the riff mirrors it and we head into the last third with heads banging along to it’s immense power. Kirk plays a series of solos that are absolutely incredible and we race to the finish with a straight up thrashing sound. This was the song that really broke them to the masses, thanks in part to a brilliant music video that saw them getting mainstream play on MTV for the first time in their career. For better or worse this would signal the end of their thrash/complex metal sound for a good while and put them on the path to superstardom with the release of ‘Enter Sandman’ and the album most commonly referred to as ‘The Black Album’ – Metallica (1991).

2. Master Of Puppets (Master Of Puppets (1986))

This song is the pinnacle of what could be achieved with the thrash metal sound. Epic in length (over 8 minutes), full of riffs that go for the throat, an impassioned vocal from James Hetfield about addiction (something he would have firsthand experience of in the years to come), multi-sectioned parts that range from beautiful to brutal (MASTER!! MASTER!!), this song has it all. The production by Flemming Rasmussen captures the band perfectly at the peak of their powers. Even though he had a hand in …And Justice For All (1988) and Bob Rock’s production on Metallica (1991) is huge, this is the best the band have ever sounded. Taking all the progression the band had made on the first two albums (and what an incredible growth it had been in just under 3 years), to it’s apex, it’s not hard to understand why so many fans vote this and it’s parent album of the same name as their best ever. It runs it a close second but nothing will ever replace the next song to come as my favourite of all time.

1. Fade To Black (Ride The Lightning (1984))

Anyone who’s already read the first entry in my classic album series will know my love for Ride The Lightning (1984). It’s my favourite metal album of all time and this song is it’s centrepiece, my favourite Metallica song of all time from the moment I heard it and yet to be surpassed by anything else the band have ever released. It showcases such a step up in songwriting and composition from anything on their debut that it’s almost hard to believe it’s the same band!! And there was only 12 months between the two. Taking the template laid down by Judas Priest on ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’ and Iron Maiden on ‘Remember Tomorrow’, this is an example of a metal band slowing the pace, allowing an emotional element to infect the music and address a subject matter that is deadly serious, without sacrificing any of the power and musicality that made them special to begin with. James Hetfield gives his most accomplished vocal performance at that time, totally different than anything else he’d attempted, he shows that he can sing and handle the raw emotion of the lyrics (about suicide/death) remarkably well for a man not yet 21 at that point. Kirk Hammett is in the form of his life on the track, every solo he plays fits the song perfectly and the piece he plays in the second half when the pace picks up and a more metal edge takes over, is the best solo of his entire career. This is a must listen for any fans of metal/rock music and I think anyone with an appreciation of music of any kind could find something to love in this song, it really is that special.

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