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Kill Em All

Metallica

1983

So this is where it all got started for the mighty Metallica, arguably the best band of the entire decade.  Kill Em All has a looser, less epic sound to it compared to the 3 classics to come from the band, but it's probably more enjoyable and fun to listen to as a result.  How else can you describe "The Four Horsemen", "Whiplash", and "Seek and Destroy"?  Those songs are all fantastic, not to mention "Jump in the Fire" another thrash-tastic tune.  Metallica's speed-metal chops are on full display here, and they kick a serious amount of ass.  There's no ballads to be found here, as opposed to their forthcoming albums...they weren't quite there yet, and hadn't really evolved into making metal compositions (as I like to call them).  No, here they are just having fun, playing fast, and kicking your ass.  So while Kill Em All doesn't quite measure up to the classics that were on the horizon for Metallica, it is still a very good speed-metal album, so take a couple of shots of Jager and play this one loud!

8.7

Ride The Lightning

Metallica

1984

Right The Lightning is where Metallica went from being good to being epic.  Everything about RTL sounds bigger and badder compared to it's predecessor (i.e. "From Whom the Bell Tolls", "Creeping Death", etc).  It was a big evolutionary jump for Metallica, both lyrically and musically.  RTL is a heavier album, but it also includes the band's 1st ballad, the classic "Fade to Black", as well as the band's 1st epic instrumental track "Call of Ktulu" (with all due respect to "Pulling Teeth").  RTL is also a darker album, a mood that would come to characterize Metallica's sound, which kind of makes RTL less fun to listen to compared to Kill Em All, but it's hard to deny that RTL isn't an improvement over that record.  Overall, a classic heavy-metal album in everyone's book.

8.8

Master of Puppets

Metallica

1986

1986.  The year (and the decade for that matter) was not a particularly good one for music generally speaking.  Almost all the great icons of the 60s and 70s had either become irrelevant (Dylan, Rolling Stones, Bowie) or had broken up (Zeppelin, Pink Floyd) and the rock music scene had turned into an embarrassing charade of cheesy, materialistic hair-metal bands and spineless synth-based pop-rock groups that made boring, uninspiring, and dreadful music.

Fortunately, such a generic music scene often breeds new, inspired brands of music, often as a reaction against the hopelessly dull status quo.  In this case, I am referring to heavy-metal, or more specifically, thrash-metal.  By 1986, heavy-metal had been around for over a decade, thanks to godfathers Black Sabbath, and the new wave of British metal bands like Iron Maiden, etc.  Those type of heavy-metal bands were generally ignored in the press however, and not really taken seriously as a legitimate, quality form of music.

Metallica, more-so than any other band, helped change that perception.  And although their 1986 masterpiece Master of Puppets got zero radioplay and won very few accolades at the time, it did start get people's attention somewhat.  Master of Puppets helped prove that heavy-metal was more than just about how fast and loud a band could play, but that it could legitimately have artistic merit too.

Take the title track for example.  More than just a head-banging thrash-metal song, it reveals many layers as the song progresses.  It's effectively more of a composition than just a song, and although Metallica had constructed some impressive compositions before ("Fade to Black" and Call of Ktulu" come to mind) they are really on top of their game here on Master of Puppets.

There's really no better example of that than on "Orion" which is probably Metallica's best instrumental composition they ever recorded.  It's also probably one of their most impressive songs period, lyrics be dammed.  Every member of the band displays their musical chops on this track, and it's probably the climax of the Cliff Burton era for the band.  At one moment steady and driving, the next soothing and smooth, all with a healthy dose of the band's patented thrash thrown in for good measure.  It's got an epic feel to it which is fitting for such a grand, epic album.

Aside from those brilliant compositions, the band also manages to mix in a nice variety of other metallic flavors throughout the album as well.  Their full-speed-ahead thrash shines through on the opener "Battery" the closer "Damage, Inc" and the biting "Disposable Heroes".  These songs absolutely slay the listener with a barrage of speed-metal riffs and enough twists and turns to make your head spin.  My neck is sore just thinking about them.

"Leper Messiah", which also has it's fair share of speed-metal riffs, is actually most impressive with it's bombastic mid-tempo stomp that opens the track and dominates the majority of the song.  For lack of a better term, it's incredibly badass.  The same can also be said for the epic "Thing Which Should Not Be" which also a sports a more mid-tempo style that only adds to the menacing power of the song.  It pounds and grinds along, sounding like a steady rumble of thunder in the process.  This track more than any other on the album shows that you don't have to play fast to convey power and heaviness.

And it wouldn't be a classic Metallica album without a classic Metallica ballad to go along with it, and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" serves it's purpose well.  It's another great composition, with more impressive guitar playing, and a great chorus to go along with it.  Fantastic song and simply one of the band's best.

So overall, Master of Puppets is an epic powerhouse of a thrash-metal album, showcasing how good of a band Metallica actually was at the time.  This would be the band's last album with their famed bass player Cliff Burton, who would die in a tragic bus accident soon after the album was released.  He really shines through on this album, along with Kurt Hammet, who's guitar playing is legendary throughout the record.  James Hetfield is also in full command here, with pointed lyrics and powerful guitar playing himself.  And while Lars will never be known as one of the greatest drummers around, he does have excellent timing and rhythm which fits perfectly with the band's sound.

Master of Puppets is Metallica's best album, and in my opinion, one of the best albums of the entire decade.  Metallica deserve extra kudos for spearheading the genre of thrash-metal right down the throats of all the spineless, pretty boy hair-bands that were dominating the hard-rock scene in the 1980s.  While most bands were more concerned about making money, fancy cars, and a pretty-boy image to get on MTV/radio, Metallica served as the antithesis to the hollow, materialistic scene that surrounded them.  They had grit, principle, and the musical chops to boot. 

In 1986, they hit their peak and made a classic album, one which should certainly be in every heavy-metal fan's collection.

9.1

And Justice For All

Metallica

1988

Fresh off the heals of the band's best album (Master of Puppets) and the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton, Metallica created their most complex and angry composition, 1988's And Justice for All.  What the album lacks in decent production value, it more than makes up for in elaborate, technical metallic compositions.  Listening to this album as a teenager, I was blown-way by the band's craft and technical prowess on their instruments, particularly Kirk Hammett on guitar.  Hetfield obviously is no slouch either, and their chemistry is evident throughout the entire album.  Perhaps equally impressive is Hetfield's lyrics on this album, which are quite biting and rail against authority, perceived notions of justice, hypocrisy, the government, etc.  Lars is a beast on the drums as well.  The songs themselves are more like intricate thrash-metal compositions, and most of them are righteous to listen to.  Of course, the highlight here is "One", which is arguably the greatest heavy-metal song of all-time.  This was Metallica's last album of the decade in which they dominated, and perhaps fittingly, the last album featuring this style of heavy-metal (thrash/progressive) from the band.  The boys would go on to produce the much more accessible and radio-friendly "Black Album" in 1991, and the rest was history.  They were never the same after that.  So this album, stands as the last great Metallica album from their epic thrash-metal heyday, and despite the band's mis-steps  to come in the following years (Napster...St. Anger...) you can't take away the fact that this album is still pretty fucking awesome to listen to, and is quite simply one of the greatest thrash-metal records of all-time.

8.9

Metallica (Black Album)

Metallica

1991

First things first…this IS NOT a bad album.  It certainly has it's flaws, but to say this is a bad album seems a bit ridiculous to me.  There are some undeniably awesome songs on here, particularly "Unforgiven" and "Wherever I May Roam" just to name a few.  Haven said that, this was a significant departure from everything Metallica had ever released before.  It sounds almost generic compared to the progressive thrash-metal they mastered in the prior decade.  This is a blue-collar sounding record, it's blatantly made to be more accessible to the average Joe, and because of that, it sounds kind of lunk-headed at times.  The overall sound is slowed-down and simplified considerably, and there's very little thrash to be found here, as the band goes for more traditional hard rock song structures.  The result is kind of a watered-down version of Metallica...Metallica for the masses.  That's the problem people have with it, and that's what keeps it from being a truly great album.

8.4

Load

Metallica

1996

Metallica changes their style again, and once again it's for the worse.  Now they're a booze-soaked boogie-woogie hard rock band…OK.  That's not to say there aren't some good songs to be found here, there are, but they're done in a pretty significantly different style from their prior material.  It definitely ain't metal, and if they thought they were being "alternative" here, then they were royally confused.  This is just generic, uninspiring hard rock, satisfying on some level, but difficult to digest coming from a band with the chops of Metallica...justifiably disappointing for most people...

7.6

Reload

Metallica

1997

As the title suggests, it's Load Part II, and if Load was pretty disappointing, you can imagine what the leftover tracks from that session sound like.  While not technically terrible overall, most of the songs are once again the type of mid/down-tempo, booze-soaked, boogie-woogie uninspiring generic hard-rock that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief that this is actually a Metallica record...disappointment abounds again...sigh...

7.2

Garage, Inc.

Metallica

1998

Let's get the obvious out of the way up front here: Disc 1 is, for the most part, the same type of mediocre, uninspired booze-soaked boogie-woogie hard-rock that made Load and Reload such disappointing albums.  With the exception of "Die, Die My Darling", "Whisky In The Jar", and maybe a couple of other songs, there's very little here worth listening to.

Now that we've got that out of the way, we can move on to Disc 2, the strength of which is strong enough to elevate a Metallica album full of cover songs to this height on the scale.  And that's because these cover songs were recorded in the 1980s, during the band's thrash-metal heyday.  And they sound like Metallica in the 80s: epic.  For my money, these are the most enjoyable set of Metallica songs ever strung together on an album.  To say they kick an unholy amount of ass would be a significant understatement.  They feature all the technical prowess and kickass-ness of albums like Master of Puppets and And Justice for All, but they're less bleak/brooding sounding and ultimately more fun to listen to as a result.  That's because these are cover songs of classic-metal/hard-rock songs, so their foundations are somewhat more formulaic, but Metallica spikes them with their trademark Jagermeister-fueled thrash-tastic intensity, and the results are disgustingly awesome.  If you can listen to Disc 2 in it's entirety without getting whiplash or at least a mild case of headbanger-neck, then well, you don't like heavy-metal music.

8.9

St. Anger

Metallica

2003

Almost convinced myself this wasn't a bad album by listening to it repeatedly, trying desperately to find something salvageable.  I suppose if you listen to it enough, some of the songs can get stuck in your head (for better or worse).  Ultimately though, St. Anger is an awkward and embarrassing failure…might not have been as disappointing if they actually used some traditional production techniques, or if James Hetfield didn't sound so pathetic 90% of the time...

6.9

Death Magnetic

A magnetic field around a coffin-shaped structure. Over it is the text "Metallica - Death Magnetic".

Metallica

2008

Don't call it a comeback, they've been here for years…just not making good albums.  So yeah, I'm calling it a comeback.  This is the closest thing Metallica fans are going to get to their classic thrash-metal heyday in the 80s.  Granted, way too much time and mediocrity has passed for this album not to have that stench of later day Metallica on it, but it's not too little too late.  This is actually pretty damn good all things considered.  Most of these songs kick ass, the although the production could be better, compared to St Anger it sounds fantastic.  This kind of sounds like what would happen if And Justice For All and St. Anger had a baby...you'd get Death Magnetic...with the ADFA genes dominating fortunately.  Not bad for a bunch of old men...not bad at all.

8.3

Hardwired...To Self-Destruct

Metallica

2016

 

It’s been 8 long years since the mighty Metallica have graced us with a new album wholly of their own, and suffice to say the arrival of Hardwired to Self-Destruct has made the wait pretty worth it.  And while Hardwired is not quite Death Magnetic Part II, you’d be forgiven for thinking so upon first listen. 

The two albums are similar in style and execution, as both of them do a pretty damn good job of recapturing the type of elaborate, infectious, rhythmic thrash that Metallica built its reputation on with their classic 80s records.  Similar to Death Magnetic, Hardwired features loads of quality riffs and hooks, with many engaging twists and turns throughout practically every song here. 

The main difference on Hardwired is that most of the songs sport a bit more of a groovier, well-rounded flavor to them.  They sound slightly more polished and in some cases more fully realized than most of the tracks from Death Magnetic, which is both good and bad.  It’s good in that you kind of have to just sit back in awe of what accomplished musicians these guys are, and how they execute practically all the tricks in the proverbial thrash-metal playbook to near perfection on Hardwired.  The only downside really is some of these songs lack the pummeling/bruising nature that characterized the best tracks off Death Magnetic.  Granted, Rick Rubin’s blunt production style on DM contributed a lot to the overall heavier/harsher sound found there (for better or worse), but the band’s playing itself also sounded a bit more invigorating/urgent on that album as well.  On Death Magnetic, many songs leaped out of the speakers at you, and had a certain explosive and exciting energy about them.  On Hardwired, the band doesn’t exactly sound like they’re on thrash-metal cruise-control, but they do sound almost a little too professional as they bob and weave through all the different riff packages found throughout the album.  Mind you, it’s very good bobbing and weaving, as most of these songs are pretty awesome and are of a high quality, but nothing ever seems to rise into truly great territory on Hardwired.  Overall, I think most people would say the production on Hardwired is an improvement over Death Magnetic, but it does result in Hardwired sounding slightly less heavy than its predecessor.

Haven said that, you’d be very hard-pressed to find anything bad on Hardwired.  Literally every song here is above average at worst, or borderline great at best.  In other words, there’s no filler here, and it’s really metal ear candy for the most part.  Take the economical opening/title track for example.  Easily the shortest song on the album (most of these tunes clock in over the 6-7 minute mark) it hits hard and fast, but also has an almost dutiful vibe about it, which kind of holds it back from being anything particularly special.  It is a fun one no less.  Things do get a bit more interesting on the next 4 tracks (“Atlas, Rise!”, “Now That We’re Dead”, “Moth Into Flame”, and “Dream No More”) which for my money encompass the best stretch of songs on the entire album.  All of these tunes are pretty rad and display some intricately heavy riffs, pounding rhythms, and the occasional solo, keeping the listener fully engaged and entertained throughout.  They’re a lot of fun and pretty impressive to boot. 

After the band ends Side 1 with the somewhat meandering (but often fun) “Halo On Fire”, Metallica locks into a pretty solid groove on the back-half of the album.  Mind you, while practically every song on Side 2 is pretty good, the proverbial luster starts to wear off slightly as the album progresses.  The tempos slow down a bit and a few tracks sport a mildly moody vibe (i.e. “Here Comes Revenge” and “Am I Savage?”) so upon first listen you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re hitting a bit of a lull in the action midway through Side 2.  But upon repeated listens, new layers start to reveal themselves and you soon realize most of the songs on Side 2 are just as strong as those on the front half of the album, but they do sport more of a mid/down-tempo, Black-album era vibe to them (there's even some shades of Load-era too...but not in a bad way).  So in essence, the biggest complaint here are there are too many good songs, which kind of dilutes the power of any one song in particular from my prospective.  That said, if you were to take virtually any one song from Hardwired and plug it into Load/Reload/St. Anger, it would likely stand out as one of the best songs on any of those albums by default. 

So in a nutshell, if Metallica are guilty of anything on Hardwired, they’re guilty of making too many well-crafted/solidly good thrash-centric songs.  There's no memorable choruses to speak of really, but at the end of the day, considering all the disappointing and head-scratching albums the band cooked up between 1996-2003, it’s nice to see Metallica reaffirming their commitment to being the best heavy-metal band they can be in 2016, and they do a pretty convincing job of that on Hardwired.  Haven said that, now that they’ve delivered two solid thrashy albums back-to-back (granted it took them 8 years, but I digress), Metallica kind of risks coming off as sounding a bit too one-dimensional, especially considering neither of the past two albums in question have had a genuine ballad on them.  Part of what made their 80s albums so great were classic ballads like “Fade to Black” and “Sanitarium”, which helped give those respective records more depth and variety overall.  Hardwired rarely deviates from the standard thrash-metal template, so it would be nice (at least for me) to see the band rediscover their gift for crafting a classic ballad or two on future releases.

But all of that is nitpicking really.  This is yet another high quality album which, like Death Magnetic, is a solid and more than worthy addition to the already impressive Metallica catalog.  Is it better than Death Magnetic?  Only time will tell, but I suspect at the very least it is the equal of that album.  

Whatever the case, I think we can all be happy with Metallica once again going back to their roots and doing what they do best.  Metallica’s renaissance is real and is still going very strong on Hardwired to Self-Destruct, a borderline great album from the Bay Area’s finest.

8.6

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