Metallica was formed in 1981 by the collective genius of James Hetfield (rhythm guitar, lead vocals) and Lars Ulrich (drummer), and the duo has never looked back ever since. Although suffering line-up changes due to the untimely death of Cliff Burton (bass guitar) and the departure of Dave Mustaine and Jason Newsted (lead guitar and bass guitar respectively) the band has prospered through these past three decades to bring the world some of the greatest music, spanning genres from thrash metal to hard rock. With the release of their ninth studio album, Death Magnetic in September of 2008, the band has proven their ability to stay relevant in the face of a rapidly changing musical audience while still bringing hardcore fans the heavy metal nostalgia that they crave. So without further ado, I countdown the fifteen greatest Metallica songs of all time…
15) “Sweet Amber” – This is probably the most controversial song to appear on my list.
Coming off of the St. Anger album, most fans probably won’t even recognize this song by name due to the fact that the St. Anger album in its entirety was chastised for its departure from the sound of previous albums. However, after having given the album time to grow on me, I can honestly say that this track in particular deserves its spot at number fifteen. That having been said, St. Anger is definitely one of Metallica’s weaker installments, bearing only a handful of even semi-notable tracks.
14) “Fuel” – Used as the intro song for NASCAR televised broadcasts from 2001 till 2003, this track earn its place at number fourteen due to the adrenaline rush it instills in the listener.
13) “Leper Messiah” – Not quite as swift and frantic as other early Metallica tracks, “Leper Messiah” still retains the same original Metallica feel through impressive vocals and a powerful rhythm guitar section. Even listening to it now, I still get chills during some of the chorus lines: “time for lust, time for lie…time to kiss your life goodbye.” Something about the grit in Hetfield’s voice is just particularly well displayed in this song. “Bow to Leper Messiah.”
12) “The Four Horsemen” – The original songwriting credits of this track are still disputed. Dane Mustaine (former lead guitarist of Metallica) has made the assertion that he in fact wrote the song, going so far as to rerecord it with his band, Megadeth, giving the song new lyrics and entitling it “Mechanix”. Despite this bit of controversy, “The Four Horsemen” is still a superb song in all respects, and easily earns a spot at number twelve.
11) “No Leaf Clover (S&M)” – In 1999, Metallica collaborated with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to perform renditions of their hit songs that had been fused with an orchestral backing. Along with their original songs, the two groups also created two original songs to be played exclusively at their S&M gigs. One of these tracks, “No Leaf Clover”, is a testament to the beautiful union of heavy metal and classical orchestra.
10) “That Was Just Your Life” – With the release of Death Magnetic in 2008, Metallica showed that they still had the ability to put out fantastic music. “That Was Just Your Life” is easily the sickest track off of that album with one of the catchiest choruses of any Metallica song to date, putting it at number ten.
9) “No Remorse” – Number nine on this list is a throwback to the Kill ‘Em All album, Metallica’s first official studio release (which also featured “The Four Horsemen”). Raw and incredibly edgy, this album set the tone for all consecutive releases by establishing Metallica as a heavy hitter in the Bay Area metal scene.
8) “Damage Inc.” – As the embodiment of thrash metal, this track signifies all that was right with the 80’s metal scene. Nobody knew exactly what the fabled Damage Incorporated did, but it didn’t matter: it was quick, it was brutal, and it was perfect for headbanging. What more could you ask for?
7) “Frayed Ends of Sanity” – Although the entire …And Justice For All album is infamous for the lack of a prominent bass guitar sound (supposedly due to Metallica hazing their new bass player at the time, Jason Newsted), “Frayed Ends of Sanity” can still be called a magnificent track. The song touches on the subject of being driven into irrational insanity, and the mental struggle of coping with one’s own delusions.
6) “Battery” – This song is one of the most frequently covered Metallica tracks, and for good reason. “Battery” needs little explanation of why it’s great; suffice to say that if you haven’t heard it yet, you’re really missing out. It features not only one of the most amazing Metallica solos in their repertoire, but a mind blowing acoustic intro as well. Interestingly enough, German a capella group, Van Canto has done a rather amusing rendition of “Battery” (available for viewing on YouTube). Definitely worth checking out if you’re already familiar with the song.
5) “Ride The Lightning” – The title track off of Metallica’s second studio album, “Ride The Lightning” is the final Metallica song to feature Dave Mustaine in the songwriting credits. Despite his many problems with drug addiction and alcoholism during his time in Metallica, it’s quite clear that Mustaine had no issue writing grade-A quality metal. “Ride The Lightning” is a masterpiece from start to finish, putting it at number five.
4) “One” – Achieving quite a bit of notoriety through the video game medium of Guitar Hero 3, “One” has been placed with the unfortunate stigma of being “that Metallica song”. The song that if you say you really enjoy, you are immediately questioned to determine if you really like Metallica, or if you only like them because they have a cool song featured on a well known video game. While this can be somewhat annoying at times, “One” is a phenomenal part of the …And Justice For All album, and is well deserving of being the fourth greatest Metallica song of all time.
3) “The Call of Ktulu” – Who would have thought that Metallica was capable of writing a stunning instrumental? While the presence of James Hetfield’s vocals are sorely missed, the instrumental work on “The Call of Ktulu” is absolutely stupendous, and that’s what earns it the right to be in the number three spot.
2) “Master of Puppets” – It is extremely difficult for me to put this song at number two. Perhaps it’s my awareness of the cliche of this song ending up as number one on a lot of “best of Metallica” lists, but something is restraining me from giving it the number one spot. But don’t let that detract at all from this song; this track is, unquestionably, the anthem of any heavy metal enthusiast. I listen to this song when I wake up in the morning, I listen to it during car rides, I even try to listen to it during boring class lectures if my teacher is particularly unobservant. This song is engrained into the blood of the metal community, and although it isn’t quite number one, it’s a darn close second.
1) “Enter Sandman”
…I only jest. While Enter Sandman (off of The Black Album) is often herald as representing the band’s most significant mainstream success, it is far from being their number one track. The true greatest Metallica song of all time is…
1) “Fade To Black” – This song came as a shock to many early Metallica fans, as it sounded nothing like anything they had ever written beforehand. It did away with the fast-passed riffs and harsh vocals, substituting them with something a lot softer by Metallica standards. This resulted in a song that alienated quite a bit of their hardcore fanbase. It’s my firm belief that those hardcore fans are blind to the heart behind this song, especially considering it’s significance following the passing of former bassist, Cliff Burton. Admittedly it’s not the ruthless escapade to be expected from the same people who gave us tracks like “Hit The Lights” and “ Fight Fire With Fire”, but that’s fine in my eyes. It doesn’t try to replicate the sound of its predecessors, it stands on it’s own as the greatest Metallica song of all time, and possibly even the greatest song to come out of the entire metal genre.
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