Five up, Five down
The almighty Metallica is a monolithic beast that is arguably the biggest “metal” band of all time, and certainly the most legendary thrash spectacle. All of this built on a mere five albums: Yet they are a mammoth statement of heaviness and speed, angst and anger.
Metallica, seed planted in Southern California, birthed in the Bay Area, and signed on the East Coast, while not the first, or perhaps even the best of the thrash hierarchy is definitively at the apex of the mountain. Despite the oft questioned choices the band has made since those immutable first five albums, it remains the iconic modern metal figurehead yet to be toppled or overshadowed.
Debates about Metallica‘s output after its first four or five albums have been drinking fodder for years. Swarm of Arrows guitarist Greg Frisenda declared, “…there is no Metallica after 1990.”
The band has released a mere 10 studio albums over the course of 30 years, but each has found a place, good or bad, in the annals of rock history. Which of the band’s first five albums is the best is a highly subjective argument. Fists could fly, blood could spill…still, for better or worse, we’ll give it a stab:
1. Master of Puppets (1986)
For diehard Metallica fans, this is the band’s masterpiece. In fact, we here at Metalholic had to thumb wrestle over which album to put first, but this is arguably a perfect metal album. Every track is bare knuckle brutality in sonic form. Sentimental points count too as this was bassist Cliff Burton’s parting gift to the world before his tragic death. RIP Cliff. Only eight songs on this crushing performance, but every ounce of flesh gets pummeled from the opening track, “Battery” to “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” to the album closer, “Damage, Inc. Best song: “Master of Puppets” of course.
Master Of Puppets! Hands down! – Justin Manning (Crowned By Fire, guitarist)
2. Kill ‘Em All (1983)
Each of the first four albums here could easily be in the first spot and some will argue that Ride The Lightning is stronger, but this is the table-setter. It all started with the anarchist riffage of “Hit The Lights”, and the world of metal was forever changed. When the band recently performed its 30th anniversary four-night stand, they played more tracks off this album than any other. “Jump In the Fire”, “Whiplash”, “Phantom Lord”… it’s just a mind-numbing debut. Best song: Seek and Destroy.
3. Ride The Lightning (1984)
Content wise this is the stronger of the band’s first two records to most fans: It is an absolute metal titan. It loses out to the top two spots by sentimental millimeters. Plus there are only eight tracks (hey it’s tough to make a valid argument for third place here, give us a break. We’ll take any edge we can get). Brilliance in sonic form: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” the title track, “Fight Fire with Fire”, and “Trapped Under Ice”, this album is a hammer to the head. Best song: “Fade To Black”.
4. …And Justice For All (1988)
The first post-Cliff Metallica album. A beast of a record. Jason Newsted’s baptism. This opens a new doorway for the band: More experimentation and a more evolving signature. However, there were some drawbacks; songs that ran too long, the bass is lost in the mix, etc. Still, with tracks like “Blackened”, “One”, “Eye of the Beholder”, and the title cut, Justice is simply a monumental piece of metal history. Best song: “Harvester of Sorrow”.
5. Metallica aka The Black Album (1991)
The bandwagon album. Casual fans or new fans jumped on here, so for them this is the seminal masterpiece. It’s not, but it’s certainly brilliant in its own way. This record marked the band’s height of commercial accessibility, and the pinnacle of its popularity. There simply was no other band on the planet in 1991, and this album was perhaps the most significant reason grunge was never quite able to completely annihilate metal. Even Metallica purists have to at least tip that hat for the band saving our beloved genre when it seemed one nail away from a sealed coffin. The black album was packed with anthemic arena crowd-pleasers like “Enter Sandman”, “Wherever I May Roam”, Sad But True”, and “The Unforgiven”. Best song: “Nothing Else Matters“.
6. Death Magnetic (2008)
After the Load and god awful St. Anger albums, everyone wrote modern Metallica off, but Death Magnetic is a reminder of the band’s early brilliance. Had they released this after the 91 album, they might have fared much better among their fans. “Cyanide” is primal Metallica. Other tracks like “All Nightmare Long”, “The Day That Never Comes” and “Broken, Beat & Scarred” are all excellent examples of Metallica recapturing its fire. Skeptical fans who keep waiting for a repeat of Masters may not have given it a fair shake, but it’s a solid album. Best song: “Cyanide”.
7. Garage Inc. (1998)
This includes the original The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited. Hard to slip in an album full of covers, but really, it is far better than what follows. Metallica have always had a knack for covers and this record has an ample supply of greatness. Tributes to Queen, Thin Lizzy, Budgie, Diamond Head, Motorhead, and more. Best song: “Am I Evil?”.
8. ReLoad (1997)
This was really part two of the previous year’s Load album,and many fans considered both to be a load. Yet there was some great stuff here. Unfortunately there was also a lot of sonic discord and lack of continuity. The band seemed to meander in places, and it would prove to be Newsted’s last album with the band. This seemed a bit heavier than its predecessor. Only about half the songs have ever been performed live, which is telling by itself. In fact, only “Fuel” sees regular stage action. Best song: “Fuel”
9. Load (1996)
You could flip-flop this and ReLoad. They both had shining moments, and they both had a serious dose of crap. Still, it was a lot better than much of the contrived shit out there though. The album had a bluesier vibe, and it seemed clear the band was trying to push its own envelope. Some of the more notable cuts included; “Until It Sleeps”, “Hero of the Day”, and “Mama Said”. Best song: “King Nothing”.
10. St. Anger (2003)
This was the band’s low point, until the ill-conceived LuLu with Lou Reed, but even that had a unique artistic bent. No one is quite sure what Metallica were doing here. Even the band has a hard time keeping a straight face talking about this one, and the lack of live performances of the material since this tour speaks volumes. Still, some fans think it’s brilliant. In a raw, back to the garage type of way, it does create an energetic spark. Best song: “Frantic”.
Agree or disagree? Sound off below!