Discography Dissection: Metallica
So, this is a new feature on different bands’ discographies to give a helping hand to those just getting into rock and metal to give insight on where to start when trying to get into new bands. I had the same problems many moons ago when first getting into this vast scene of music myself and didn’t really have much guidance other than a few mates and I realise not everyone will have that luxury so I’m hoping this will be a big help to anyone who is trying to get to grips with it.
I figured that covering Metallica first would be a big help as they’re one of the most universally recognised and renowned bands out there and they were certainly the first that I was attracted to when I was 13/14 years old. After hearing the Black Album I’d go on to save my lunch money every day of the week so that instead of buying horrendous cafeteria food at school I could bag myself a new Metallica album at the end of every week just so I could hear more and become more acquainted with them and their extensive discography. I’ll be grading their albums on their musical merits and also what they did for the band in terms of their relative success that surrounded those albums. I’ll be rating them through essential to completely unessential/avoid like the plague. Without further ado let’s get started:
Master Of Puppets (1986)
This was the album where Metallica really found their feet and really started to earn global recognition. When I first heard this album the intro to ‘Battery’ kicked in and started a huge wave of anticipation and I didn’t have to wait long ‘til it furiously kicked in and took me on one hell of a ride. The album has a pretty unrelenting start and doesn’t let up until about halfway through the title track which is about eight or so minutes in but when it does this is when Metallica really show that they have spent time and effort really creating something special. A beautiful clean guitar section leads into an incredibly memorable lead section breaking up the song and giving room to breathe from the heavy guitars with some great lead work until gradually leading the song back to a heavier section to continue with the song as it begun.
This was a perfecting and honing of their craft that lead into a great culmination and combination of great songwriting which is consistent throughout this album. It’s so well paced and thought out that listening to it from start to finish is just so easy. Most of the songs on here are classics in their own right yet the songwriting here is far from standard, verses and choruses are largely present here yet there are plenty of extra embellishments that aren’t straightforward but they fit and work perfectly. These were present on their work prior to this album but this is where they’d been perfected and were made into cohesive parts of the song structures which had been seen previously but not always completely worked out. They even carried on the tradition from the 2 albums prior to this of including an instrumental track ‘Orion.’ Which to most bands is a huge risk but it’s a great piece of music that’s pulled off brilliantly like their previous instrumental efforts ‘The Call Of Ktulu.’ and ‘Pulling Teeth (Anesthesia)’
In summary this album is a dark and twisting journey that varies in tempo, feel and moods which consistently showcases why Metallica received huge success from this album. It’s experimental yet accessible at the same time and for the time it was released in the mid 80’s it hugely raised the bar for metal in general. If you’re wanting to get to grips with Metallica this is one of the great starting points that will always be regarded by many as their best album ever. It also earnt Metallica a support slot on tour with Ozzy Osbourne which was a huge step up for them and helped their popularity climb even further and was coincidentally the last tour they were to do as a support band.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Master Of Puppets, Battery, Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
The Black Album (1991)
Two Albums after Master Of Puppets Metallica released the album that would change their career forever and catapult them firmly into global recognition and firm association with heavy metal music forever. This album is far from my favourite of theirs though it is the one which got me into them properly, the song structures are slightly watered down in comparison with ‘Master Of Puppets’ but they still hold most of their trademark nuances but with less experimentation. This is Metallica mixed with a touch of commercial songwriting with more hooks and catchiness than they previously had in their songs. This is heavily apparent with James’ vocals and the fact that they’re now a lot clearer and there’s a heavier focus on vocal melodies, in essence they’re now the focal point over the guitars. Though this doesn’t detract from the instrumentation that heavily, it’s still heavily guitar driven but it’s engineered more to compliment the vocals.
The most noticeable part about this album is the production, everything sounds way clearer than on the Metallica albums before this, which were always a bit short of sounding great. There was always something that didn’t quite sound right on them; usually something quite minor but there was always something stopping them from being perfect. With this album everything was spot on, the guitars sound huge and crystal clear, the bass is not overly clear but is very obviously present and plays a great role in backing up the guitars and adding the essential low end, the drum sound is hard hitting and has incredible depth to it and as I’ve previously mentioned the vocals are extremely clear and lead the songs as they were intended to be.
Wherever I May Roam
The key part of this album that separates this from their previous efforts is that most of these songs are engineered to anthems. ‘Enter Sandman,’ ‘Wherever I May Roam,’ ‘Unforgiven,’ ‘Nothing Else Matters’ are all prime examples of this with memorable verses with memorable riffs and vocal melodies, catchy choruses which are easy to sing along to and easy to remember and the guitar solos are somewhat simplified though are littered with hooks that most people whether musician or not will find accessible and memorable too. ‘Nothing Else Matters’ was the band’s closest attempt at a pop song to date complete with acoustic guitar intro which when released as a single came in on top ten charts across Europe.
In a sense this was Metallica conforming slightly for commercial success but it was not done at huge sacrifice to their core sound. All the main hallmarks of Metallica are fully present here as there are tracks where they do experiment more as can be heard in ‘My Friend Of Misery,’ ‘Struggle Within’ and ‘Wherever I May Roam’ but it’s more refined and in a sense compacted than before. It is very easy to see why it is their most commercially successful album, and at 30 million sales worldwide, that speaks volumes about the critical reception and acceptance. This showcases Metallica writing anthems and ticking all the boxes with at least one or two tracks having something that will stick with most people and have them coming back. The Black Album is a highly essential listen for anyone coming to grips with Metallica.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Wherever I May Roam, The God That Failed, Don’t Tread On Me
The Best Of The Rest
…And Justice For All (1988)
This album is one that was made out of mourning from their recently deceased bass player Cliff Burton who was killed tragically in a tour bus crash in 1986 whilst the band were on tour in Sweden. As such this was the debut album for Jason Newsted, although the band were far from at peace with what happened with Cliff and as such the mix on this album featured very little bass in the final production. With that in mind this album is still arguably Metallica’s heaviest and most complex album, song structures often touching in the realms of progressive and experimental.
This album also saw the release of Metallica’s first ever music video for ‘One’ which was a departure from the band’s initial standpoint where they had refused to make any videos in opposition of being sucked into commerciality. The video tells the story of a man badly injured by war so much that he’s lost all his limbs and senses and is trapped within his own body. The video excellently depicts this and is an extremely moving piece of cinematography and was a big stepping stone for Metallica. This album earned them their biggest tours to date and earned them the reputation for playing large scale arenas on their tours from that point onwards.
…And Justice For All’ Live on the Damaged Justice Tour 1989
This album was cited as the band’s most political album lyrically, James and Lars would spend time watching CNN in order to get inspiration for song titles and lyrics and is apparent through lyrical content for most of their songs and the album cover. The album also continues the tradition of containing one instrumental track as all of their other albums in the 80’s has. The track ‘To Live Is To Die’ was apparently made up of demo bass lines their formerly deceased bass player Cliff Burton had recorded which the band re-wrote and recorded in tribute to him and it’s possibly the most melancholy song that’d recorded to that date and conveys the feeling that they were in true mourning over the loss of him.
This album is a definite expansion on the ideas present on ‘Master Of Puppets’ though it’s a somewhat harder listen in some ways due to it being all round more progressive song structures and arrangements. Nevertheless it’s a great album and is sadly somewhat overshadowed by the Black Album so is sadly glossed over by some but it’s an intrinsic part of the band’s progression towards the Black Album. Seeing as this was the first time the band ventured into the world of music videos which ultimately was a big part of the success and heavy marketing campaign which catapulted the Black Album to it’s huge critical acclaim and reach it had around the world. This is an album not to be overlooked by any discerning Metallica fan and deserves attention for the way it pulled in two different directions and succeeded in both: making a more musically technical album and also earning more commercial success simultaneously.
Personal Favourite Tracks: …And Justice For All, Blackened, To Live Is To Die.
Ride The Lightning (1984)
Metallica’s 2nd full release was the album where they began experimenting with their sound more, after the raw ferocity that was ‘Kill ‘Em All’ it was their next logical step. Although the album starts out with a nice acoustic intro into ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ it soon kicks into a ferocious verging on death metal assault. As the album moves through to the title track and ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ their songwriting maturity and depth begins to show and make itself present. Through the huge and intertwining mid section of ‘Ride The Lightning’ featuring some incredibly impressive guitar work from Hammett and with some impressive shifts in key and tempo throughout the solo. Then showcased again in the huge and grandiose intro of ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ with Cliff Burton making his presence felt in his eerily ominous bass intro which then shifts through more sections shifting to some lead guitar work aptly setting the mood for the song.
However, it isn’t until track 4; ‘Fade To Black’ that Metallica start showing truly how far they’ve come. This song is essentially a ballad but done in their style, beginning with a well constructed acoustic guitar passage which is then joined by a melancholy and sorrowful sounding lead guitar part to fit the song perfectly as it’s main lyrical subject matter deals with the issues of suicide and suicidal thoughts. It’s a song that Metallica were initially worried about releasing but even now it is still regularly featured in their live shows. Moving through the rest of the album more of their trademarks are ever present and showcased expertly, most of all on show in ‘Creeping Death’ which is a massive anthem which is nearly always included in all the band’s setlists and has been for years.
This album also carried on the tradition of having an instrumental track included on it in the form ‘Call Of Ktulu’ based on the H.P. Lovecraft book ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth.’ The title was based on one of the main stories from this book ‘Call Of Cthulu.’ This song, along with ‘Ride The Lightning were the final 2 songs to include a writing credit for Dave Mustaine who was previously a member of Metallica until just before they recorded ‘Kill ‘Em All’ and as such wasn’t a part of the recording process for the album. This album is a great insight into what shaped Metallica’s albums following this and shows the process they went through on the way to becoming the giants they became in the albums following this.
Personal Favourite Tracks: For Whom The Bell Tolls, Creeping Death.
After a bit of deliberating I decided though this album is a live album it is pretty deserving of being included in this write up due to how great it truly is. Few bands can boast that they’ve ever performed with an orchestra before let alone the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra who have been around since the early 1900’s complete with Michael Kamen as their conductor who was the one who approached Metallica about actually doing it and was in charge of the orchestral arrangements. For Metallica this was something that they had in their roots, from their early stages many of their songs were always heavily layered in an orchestral sense which was something James Hetfield credited to their departed and original bass player Cliff Burton.
So what is there to gain from performing with a symphony orchestra? Was with worth Metallica doing? Well, all the songs performed gaining a whole new sense of depth and end up sounding bigger than ever before with new dynamics providing by the full scale of the orchestra. Nearly every part of every song is accentuated with a new vigor thanks to the expertly written score accompanying it, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ ends up sounding more heartfelt than ever and songs such as ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’ ends up sounding more eerie and foreboding and the heavier tracks such as ‘Master Of Puppets,’ ‘Battery,’ and ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ sound heavier than ever. They even had 2 new songs written especially for the occasion: ‘No Leaf Clover’ and ‘-Human’ which whilst written for the express purpose of orchestra inclusion sound completely at home in the setlist.
No Leaf Clover
This album could be wrongly construed as ‘just a live album’ but frankly it’s a chance to hear Metallica at their best with entirely new dimensions added to all of their songs, it’s very worth hearing or seeing as it was released in video format too.
Personal Favourite Tracks: No Leaf Clover, -Human, Devil’s Dance, One, Call Of Ktulu.
Other Good Albums
Kill ‘Em All (1983)
The album where Metallica began, having fought a hard road to get here and shortly after kicking out a certain Mr Dave Mustaine who went on to form another certain band beginning with M. As such he is still credited with the writing of many of the songs present on this album despite the fact their parting of ways was far from amicable. Well, being left at a bus stop with all your gear and being told ‘you’re out’ I guess will not make for the best parting of ways. This is obviously Metallica’s most immature effort but it is not without a large amount of merit, songs from this album are still featured in the band’s setlists to this day.
The main attraction of this album for me is how raw it is in it’s pacing and sound, it has the sound of a band aggressively forcing their way into the metal scene in a ferocious way. Hetfield’s vocals here are nearly unrecognisable comparatively to Metallica’s later efforts as they’re a lot more aggressive and higher in pitch. There are some great moments throughout the album despite the apparent immaturity showcased best in ‘Seek And Destroy’ and more notably in ‘The Four Horsemen’ which has a big down tempo bridge section hinting at things to come on later albums from the band. This album also started off Metallica’s tradition of including instrumental tracks on their albums in the form of ‘Anesthesia: Pulling Teeth’ though it’s slightly different than the rest as it’s a bass guitar solo showcasing the immense talent that was Cliff Burton.
In summary, this album is very rough around the edges both with it’s production and songwriting but the great parts of it of which there are many really shine through and make it a worthwhile look at where Metallica came from and how they started out: kicking, screaming and violently making a mark. Of which they definitely succeeded.
This album was a big risk for Metallica, they made a bold decision to explore their sound in the territory of bluesy hard rock. On the back of the album the picture of Metallica shows all of them with their hair cut short and looking relatively clean shaven, signifying a big departure from their previous look, one that brought some backlash from some of their fanbase. As much as I can slightly understand the backlash from some of the fans I can fully understand the need to explore new things and keep things fresh which they do surprisingly well here.
Once you look past the big shift in sound and actually listen to the songs and in particular the lyrics there’s a lot on offer here. Hetfield’s poetic use of words in his lyrics is fully on display and the songs leave him more space to experiment further with his vocal melodies of which he pulls off some great displays throughout. These are most prevalent in ‘Until It Sleeps’ which was written about his mother’s hard fought and losing battle with cancer and ‘Mama Said’ which was about his relationship with her.
If you’re thinking from reading this that this was where Metallica stopped being heavy then you’re very much mistaken. This album is a departure from their thrash style but it continues the style of heaviness found in their slower songs found on The Black Album which is showcased greatly in ‘King Nothing,’ ‘Bleeding Me’ and ‘The Outlaw Torn’ with some big, catchy and well crafted grooves. Though this album is in a bluesy style the style Metallica had is still carried over and it still feels very much like a Metallica album with their signature touches and embellishments that are a big part of their sound. It’s well worth taking the time to listen to and explore another side of Metallica.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Ain’t My Bitch, The Outlaw Torn, Bleeding Me, Wasting My Hate.
The original plan for ‘Load’ was to release a double album but seeing as many of the songs were so long and there were so many that they had they decided to make each a separate release. The same style shown on Load is very much present here but this album is definitely slightly more aggressive in places and definitely has more moments harking back to their thrash days than Load did. It starts out in a more aggressive way kicking in with a vocal intro shouting ‘Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire’ before kicking into a very pacey first track in the form of ‘Fuel’ fully displaying this album’s more forwardly aggressive attitude and sound
There are plenty of other heavy tracks in the form of ‘Devil’s Dance,’ ‘Better Than You,’ ‘Prince Charming,’ ‘Fixxxer’ and a reworking of a previous song in ‘The Unforgiven II.’ Reworking a previous song? That’s a bit of a cop out isn’t it? Not in the slightest, in essence it’s a completely new song that in my opinion is heavier than the original and stands out as it’s own song rather than just a tribute to the original. It’s laced with heavier grooves and some very intricate clean guitar work that is a pleasure to listen to similar to many of the other songs on the album.
The Unforgiven II
In summary this album is a heavier continuation of Load with moments that will satisfy you more if you thought that Load wasn’t heavy enough for you whilst still incorporating blues driven grooves and great vocal performances.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Devil’s Dance, Unforgiven II, Carpe Diem Baby, Prince Charming, Fixxxer.
Garage Inc. (1998)
This is another one of those albums that technically isn’t a proper studio album of Metallica’s as it’s a collection of covers old and new which helped them shape their sound. It serves as Metallica paying homage to the bands that helped shape their sound as they included the ‘Garage Days Revisited’ EP which has an assortment of covers they recorded in the 80’s, some B sides that were only released on singles and some that they recorded new at the time specially for the album.
The first CD is of all the new covers they recorded including covers of bands such as Discharge, Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate, Lynyrd Skynyrd and a few more. There are some really great songs in here, most famous of these is probably ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ a cover of Thin Lizzy which they even shot a video for and do a great job of making it heavier than the original without going overboard and remaining true to the song and putting their own spin on it. The same can be said with ‘Turn The Page’ too which also received video treatment and is a great reworking of a classic song. Then with ‘Sabbra Cadabra’ they cover the original by Black Sabbath and work in part of another Black Sabbath song ‘A National Acrobat’ into the middle section and make it work incredibly well. They also do a medley of Mercyful Fate songs named ‘Mercyful Fate’ which covers about 5 songs in quick succession showcasing the best parts of the chosen songs and blending them together incredibly well.
Whiskey In The Jar
Moving onto the 2nd CD which is their compilation of pre-recorded covers also including a few songs from the limited edition ‘Hero Of The Day’ single which is a collection of 4 Motorhead covers. Moving through this portion of the album serves as a history lesson as the obvious changes in style and sound throughout the years is quite easy to pick out and from the selection of songs which also shows how diverse their range of influences is. You’ll find covers of Diamond Head, The Misfits, Queen, The Anti Nowhere League and more which make for a varied and interesting listen.
If you want to hear the bands that helped shape Metallica whilst hearing their own twist on some of their favourite tracks then I highly recommend this album as they do manage to make a good number of these covers better than the originals.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Turn The Page, Mercyful Fate, Astronomy, Sabbra Cadabra, Stone Cold Crazy, Damage Case.
The ‘Not Brilliant’ Category
Death Magnetic (2008)
Yeah I sorta didn’t have a great idea for the category for this album as to me it’s a slightly strange one. This album was apparently Metallica trying to reconnect with the mindset they were in around the time they recorded ‘Master Of Puppets’ which can have been no easy task as that was over 20 years before this album was conceived. Though it served as a logical thing to do trying to recapture that mindset as it was their most successful album it’s something that I feel they didn’t quite manage to do.
This album has some moments of greatness within it, of that I won’t dispute but the problem is that those moments can often be too far and few between. The songs here are long like the songs on the 80’s era Metallica albums with elements within the songs like the ones from that era with big sections of them jamming instrumentally. However, within these sections there’s sometimes not quite the same spark and flair that used to be present in them in order to make them justifiably that long and self indulgent. A lot of the time it ends up being more repetitions for the sake of it rather than them happening for a reason to add some extra spice and variety to the song.
The lyrics here are still pretty well thought out and are mostly sound but there are some which don’t quite stand up to past efforts and seem quite rushed. ‘Broken, Beat And Scarred’ whilst possibly their best instrumental performance on the album with some great riffs and grooves is let down by the lyrics which are mostly just one repeated line throughout the verses. Then there’s the matter of ‘The Unforgiven III’ which in honesty wasn’t needed, ‘Unforgiven II’ was a great reworking which stands up on it’s own whereas this seems mostly pointless. It has very little connection or similarity with either of the other 2. To me it seems it was something that could have been a great idea but sadly just falls very short. They even have a go at bringing back their tradition of having an instrumental track which hasn’t been present since ‘…And Justice For All’ but it’s not really up to the standard of past efforts. It ends up being overall a boring affair which has very little to offer in the way of different and contrasting dynamics like their instrumentals of the past which have been musical journeys.
The idea and motivation behind this album were exciting prospects but sadly the album doesn’t really live up to any of the albums it was attempting to emulate in it’s execution. It’s a great shame seeing as this was bass player Robert Trujillo’s debut studio album who is an exceptionally talented player but sadly it’s not one that really showcases him that well. There was an EP named ‘Beyond Magnetic that was released in 2011 which had a collection of 4 songs which didn’t make the cut for the album that puzzlingly were better than a majority of the tracks from the album. If you’re desperate for more semi decent Metallica and have exhausted all other avenues then this may give you your fix but otherwise I would not class it as an essential listen.
Avoid Like The Plague
St Anger (2003)
This album was the first new Metallica studio album that was released during my time as a Metallica fan, as such I was extremely excited. As such I made sure to get up early before college to wait outside a CD store so I could guarantee that I could get my hands on it on the day of release. I REALLY tried to like this album, I badly wanted to and for a while even went into the realms of denial and convinced myself it was ‘OK’ but after the 3rd listen the denial wore off and I had to face the truth: it was a pile of turd.
When recording of the album began in 2001 it was brought to a halt for 2 reasons: longtime bassist Jason Newsted announced his departure from the band and also James Hetfield announced his admittance to rehab for alcoholism. The song’s lyrical content end up being based around Hetfield’s struggles with said issues. For bass duties when recording resumed their producer Bob Rock who’d produced every album of their since The Black Album as they cited they would’ve felt awkward and possibly disrupted the writing process getting someone new in straight away. Once recording resumed the band had a lot of internal struggles so hired a ‘personal enhancement coach’ to help them resolve these issues. The idea behind this album was to make it sound like a bunch of guys jamming out songs in a garage and have a ‘back to basics’ sort of approach. A good idea for a band of this size?
For starters, the production on this album is possibly the worst I’ve heard. The guitars are incredibly muddy sounding when distorted, when clean the guitars have no warmth to them and sound very static, the drum sound is terrible to the point that the snare drum sounds like it’s been replaced with a biscuit tin. So for starters there’s that, then let’s move onto the songs themselves. On this album you’ll find no guitar solos and yeah fair enough there’s not always the need for them but the problem is these songs have more than enough room for them and the sections are there for them but they’re just missing. So what does that leave you with? Lots of riffs being repeated for no reason, there are songs at 7 and 8 minutes long on this album and it’s nearly all pointless repetitions with no substance to them.
Possibly the worst track on this album is the title track ‘St Anger’ which starts semi promisingly in fairness. However, when the verse kicks in with that horrid clean guitar tone and possibly the first time I’ve ever heard Hetfield badly put a foot wrong vocal wise which seems to actually badly clash with the guitar parts to the point it sounds out of tune. This song is also filled with a plethora of repeated vocal lines and a very lazy sounding chorus which riff wise comprises of strummed octaves which just sounds like a badly written punk chorus. The rest of the album sadly follows suit with this and repeats many of these mistakes.
Possibly the worst thing about this album? The fact that in amongst all the bad parts of it there’s an occasional glimmer of Metallica doing something good, sadly it’s fleeting as that idea’s usually a good riff that when first heard sounds decent but then sadly it gets repeated many, many, many times to the point it ends up getting boring. ‘All Within My Hands’ is probably the most promising track of the lot and starts well with some old school thrash style riffs in the intro and is probably the closest to a decent song of all on the whole album.
Interestingly there was a movie released called ‘Some Kind Of Monster’ based on the entirety of all the events surrounding this album from Jason leaving, recording the album, sessions with the ‘personal enhancement coach,’ auditioning new bass players and eventually recruiting Rob Trujillo to their induction into the rock n roll hall of fame which is the best thing to come out of this album being released.
Anyway, I feel I’ve given this album more paragraphs than it deserves. Basically, this album is an idea that went badly wrong and should really be avoided unless you want to hear any of the bad points that I’ve listed.
Personal Favourite Tracks: Errrr All Within My Hands is the only one I half enjoyed.
Over a year has passed and I’ve purposely avoided listening to this album, I heard the previews and hated what I’d heard as it sounded like an awful idea that had come to fruition. Sadly, in the name of research I’ve had to have a listen so I can fairly criticise it, probably the first and last time I’ll listen to it willingly. To give a brief description this is a concept album based on two plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind, Metallica is joined in collaboration on this album by Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground who contributes spoken word accompaniment to the songs on the album.
Starting out, I can see this being a similar venture to St Anger. It sounds like it could be a good idea but the execution of it initially sounds very boring and repetitive. The riffs and musical backing is meant to act as accompaniment for Reed’s spoken word from how I’m hearing it as such attempting to make the spoken word the focal point of the record. The problem is that the spoken word isn’t delivered in a particularly striking or emotional way, to me it just sounds as though they’ve been read from a script and don’t really fit with the musical accompaniment nearly all of the time. There are lots of cases of a lot of repetition here which was also the case on St Anger, almost all of ‘Mistress Dread’ is one surprisingly fast thrash riff repeated over and over with Reed talking over it which is a complete mismatch.
There are moments where it feels like this record could start to gel and go somewhere good, ‘Iced Honey’ gives a glimmer of hope where instrumentally things match up with Reed but sadly it becomes another case of repetitive riffs with a narrative over it. I can honestly think of nothing good to say about this album, it seems like an idea that could have been something good but instead I just find it to a dull experience which I’m guessing was far from the point of it. I would avoid this one.