Our Top 10 Metallica albums list stands as one of the most enjoyable lists we have ever out together. How could it not? We spent a lot of time reviewing all these great Metallica albums to make sure we get this right. Of all the ‘Big 4’ thrash bands, Metallica is far and away the most well-known and commercially successful. Even outside of the genre, they’re still about as big as it gets, with a whopping 125 million album sales under their belt. Like all bands that reach a certain level of fame, they’ve been accused of being overrated. They’re not. Sure, they’ve dropped a few clangers over the years, but what band with their kind of longevity hasn’t? Here, we examine the profound impact they’ve had on the metal landscape with our pick of the top 10 Metallica albums.
Top 10 Metallica Albums
#10 – St. Anger
When St. Anger first hit the shelves in 2003, the critics lapped it up. In a way, it was understandable. It was the band’s first new material in over 5 years, and after an absence that long, you take what you’re given and say thank you. Then people actually started listening to it. Once that happened, the fawning stopped and the hating started. The same music journalists who’d praised it as the band’s big comeback were suddenly calling it a throwback.
The truth, as with most things, is somewhere in between. It was made in trying circumstances and the result is predictably confused. It’s got some sick grooves and muscular riffs, but most of the songs are too long, there’s too much steel drum, and the production, frankly, is shambolic. So, not a great album by any means. But as the band themselves have said, without it, Metallica wouldn’t be around anymore. For that, it deserves our thanks, if not necessarily our time.
#9 – Lulu
Even its fiercest critics have to agree that Lulu, Metallica’s much-ridiculed collaboration with Lou Reed, is brave. Everyone involved in the project knew they’d end up being savaged for it, but they pushed ahead anyway. Their wisdom in doing so is what raises the questions. Although billed as a joint project, it’s a Lou Reed album by any other name. Naturally, then, you can expect to be challenged. But Lulu isn’t just challenging, it’s confusing. Reed pours forth gallons of bile, holding nothing back as he unleashes one grotesque set of images after another.
It’s too much to handle, and Metallica doesn’t help matters. When they need to be strong, they are, but when they need to be subtle, they sound clumsy. James Hetfield’s stadium-level bombast sounds silly next to Reed’s world-weary croak, while Lars Ulrich misses the mark spectacularly with his busy drumming. You’ve got to admire their bravery in trying, but the experiment simply doesn’t work.
#8 – Reload
1997’s Reload has some outstanding moments – the epic closer, “Fixxer” being one. The problem is, there’s not enough of them. For every “The Memory Remains,” there’s a “The Unforgiven II.” It plods, rather than rocks, with too much emphasis on the heavy Southern rock its predecessor, Load, had pulled off to better effect. With more judicious editing, it could have worked. Unfortunately, producer Bob Rock had become such a fixture of the group by that point he’d lost his critical eye. Not a travesty by any means, but a far cry from a triumph.
#7 – Load
For 1996’s Load, Metallica lowered the speed, streamlined their sound, and pulled a straightforward, polished piece of heavy metal out of the bag. The result doesn’t entirely work. There’s too much good stuff for it to be a bad album – the atmospheric “Until It Sleeps” and wonderful “The Outlaw Torn” are particularly majestic – but there are too many misfires for it to be a great one. The grooves don’t swing, there’s a little too much diversity (country rock, Southern rock, power ballads… you name it, it’s here), they sound tight when they should sound loose, and the running time of nearly 80 minutes is enough to test the patience of a saint. Overall, a disappointedly stodgy effort that’s saved from despair by a scattering of genuinely wonderful songs.
#6 – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
Few bands manage to produce an album quite as good as Hardwired… To Self-Destruct so far into their career. Its ravishing opening track could happily compete with any opener in the band’s canon, and on tracks like “Moth into Flame,” they rage with more energy than they have for years. The problem (if you can call it that) is that they can’t keep it up. Like it or not, they’re an older band now. They can’t maintain the same level of intensity as they did in their youth for an entire double album, and here, they didn’t even sound like they want to. And actually, that’s fine. On lovely slow burners like “Am I Savage?” and “Dream No More,” they prove they don’t have to. There’s too much filler and it really could have done with some stronger editing, but there’s no denying the musicality.
#5 – Kill ’Em All
Kill ’Em All, the band’s debut album from 1983, might not be the greatest Metallica album of all time, but it’s still utterly compelling. The less-than-perfect production is a slightly thorny issue, but even that can’t detract from the band’s raw, undiluted power. They burn through songs like “Hit The Lights,” “Whiplash,” “The Four Horsemen” and “Seek & Destroy” with a tightly coiled fury that leaves their peers coughing in their dust. Fresh, destructive, and utterly glorious, this was the album that changed everything.
#4 – Metallica
Metallica’s self-titled 1991 album was where things got big. Really big. Five years earlier, they’d sold a million copies of Master of Puppets with zero singles and almost as much promotion. This time around, their aim was to cram Metallica down everyone’s throats all across the world. They succeeded. The album sold over 20 million copies worldwide, introduced the band to a new generation of metalheads, and sent Metallica stratospheric. Some of the songs are now so familiar, it’s easy to overlook their brilliance. But listen to the likes of “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven” and “Sad But True” with fresh ears, and they’ve still got the power to make your jaw hit the floor. It falters a little on the second half of the album, but even so, it’s a beast.
#3 – …And Justice For All
Two years after Master of Puppets, Metallica treated the world to another slice of metal majesty in the shape of …And Justice For All. It could have been terrible. The band were still reeling from the loss of bassist Cliff Burton, they were wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, and busy living the life of the cliched rock star. If they’d had lost some of their focus, it would have been understandable. They didn’t. …And Justice For All is heavier, harder, and just a whisker away from being better than anything they’d ever done before. The complexity of the arrangements, the number of riffs, the depth of the lyrics – it was jaw-dropping then and it still is today. From the opening note of “Blackened” to the closing note of “Dyers Eve,” it’s sublime stuff.
#2 – Ride The Lightning
There may only have been a year between the band’s debut effort and Ride the Lightning, but in terms of the dynamics, the songwriting, and the musicality, they sound like the work of two different bands. Whereas Kill ‘Em All hinted at what the band were made of, here they spread their legs and show it. It explodes with confidence, with a cohesion and a collective harmony that, considering the band’s relative inexperience, is mind-blowing. There’s one tiny misfire – the clumsy, made-for-radio “Escape” – but that aside, it’s majestic. The future belonged to Metallica – and didn’t they just know it.
#1 – Master Of Puppets
Sure, it’s an obvious choice. But it’s obvious for a reason. Master Of Puppets isn’t just Metallica’s greatest album, it’s quite possibly the single greatest heavy metal album ever made. And if it’s not, it’s as near as dammit. Perfect, flawless, godlike… whatever superlative you throw at it, it’s deserved. Even people who don’t really ‘do’ metal, do this. It might not be quite as startling as Ride The Lightning, but it’s more controlled, more unified, and just about conservative enough to be (whisper it) commercial. Thrash simply doesn’t get better than this. We defy you to find a weak link.