I don’t know how to choose the top five Metallica songs.
I love everything Metallica have done up to the The Black Album and everything after, including Death Magnetic. I love this band. I grew up listening to this band; I know this band. But I bet there is also a lot I don’t know about Metallica, especially during the later 90’s and most recent years. So therefore, let me consider some ways of addressing what could be Metallica’s top songs.
Firstly, let me consider how their songs have charted over their career. Therefore, what are the definitive top five charting songs for Metallica according to Billboard?
Number five is ‘Hero of the Day’ from the 1996 album Load; topping the charts at number 60 in 1997. Fourth is ‘The Memory Remains’ from the 1997 album ReLoad; peaking at number 28 in ’97 and holding on for 19 weeks. Number three is ‘I Disappear’, a single from the Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack which was released on May 9, 2000; staying in the charts for an impressive 20 weeks but only reaching 76. Now for number two, ‘Until It Sleeps’ (also from 1996’s Load) stayed in the charts for 20 weeks and reached a high point breaking the top ten at number 10 in ’96. And drum roll please Lars … number one is ‘Enter Sandman’ from the 1991 The Black Album which also spent 20 weeks in the charts with the highest charting number of 16 back in ’91.
On a personal note, none of these songs are in my top five or ten for that fact. These charting positions are based on how long the song was present in the charts and this can be interpreted as selling more units and the band making more money. Are we to view the longevity of chart placement as a way to gauge Metallica’s popularity? They were never more popular than they were in the mid to late 90’s and it just goes to show that friends can let friends get bad haircuts and also have the most lucrative time of their career.
I have always considered Rolling Stone Magazine to be one of the most definitive music publications. In 2014 the magazine ran a readers poll to find out what their top 10 songs by Metallica were. Number five was ‘Creeping Death’ from the 1984 album Ride the Lightning. Four was ‘Orion’ from the 1986 Masters of Puppets album. Three, ‘Fade to Black’ from 1984 Ride the Lightning. Two, ‘Master of Puppets’ from 1986 Master of Puppets. And the number one song by Metallica according to Rolling Stone readers is… ‘One’, from the 1988 … And Justice for All album. Not wanting to point out the obvious but it is ironic and fascinating that this entire list consists of songs released between 1983-1988. I personally like this list better.
This brief analysis could continue but for the sake of wordcount I’m going to start to draw a conclusion. That being that many fans like myself are very fond of the early albums and we all have our opinions about everything that transpires after the tragic death of Cliff Burton (RIP) in 1986. Analysis tells us that one of the commonalities in two of these lists is the presence of Metallica’s earlier body of work. During my research on top five lists I noticed that one commonality is that most fans have chosen a majority of their favourite songs from the first five albums. Interesting that the band charted the best they ever had in the mid to late 90’s.
Perhaps the reason for the 90’s popularity is that after the release of The Black Album, their fan base expanded dramatically with the more radio friendly melody driven sound. It’s also likely that the new grunge inspired sound found on Load and ReLoad was something that resonated not only with some of the old fans but also created many new ones through the grunge scene. Metallica as a band was born from the fans’ word of mouth and against all odds, they have risen to the greatest of heights in music. This is why, even though the charts don’t reflect it consistently, Metallica has had a loyal fan base that they have built up for over 40 years. As a fan myself, I don’t care if Metallica are charting or not. Metallica’s music is beyond that for me and it has always been a body of work I return to again and again. In my opinion, a Metallica fan loves the band for way more than just a handful of songs and to be honest, being a Metallica fan is like joining a gang. Horns up!
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Metallica have recorded 10 studio albums over 40 years. The band first found commercial success with the release of their third album, Master of Puppets in 1986, cited as one of the heaviest metal albums of all time and the band’s best work. Their next album, 1988’s … And Justice for All, gave them their first Grammy award nomination. Their self-titled fifth album, The Black Album in 1991, was the band’s first departure from thrash metal; it appealed to a more mainstream audience, achieving substantial commercial success and selling over 16 million copies in the United States to date, making it the best-selling album of the SoundScan era. After experimenting with different genres and directions in subsequent releases, Metallica returned to their thrash metal roots with the release of their ninth album Death Magnetic in 2008, which drew similar praise to that of the band’s earlier albums. Metallica’s last album to date is 2016’s Hardwired… to Self-Destruct.
That’s 163 songs to choose from. I can only offer you up what are my personal top five songs recorded by Metallica. So with great pleasure, here are my top five Metallica songs today:
5. ‘Fade to Black’
Off their 1984 sophomore album Ride the Lightning. It’s their first ballad and I love the build with the guitar riff and the drums, only to be brought back down to Hetfield on the acoustic. Really bold and beautiful song writing. The rest of the Ride the Lightning album is also incredible of course.
4. ‘Seek & Destroy’
From their 1983 debut Kill ‘Em All. This song just encompasses everything that I love about Metallica. It’s horns up goodness and so good live as well! Since 2004, bassist Rob Trujillo has done a spinning technique with his bass guitar after the guitar solo of the song before the last verse. He is such a great addition to the band.
3. ‘Broken, Beaten & Scared’
From the 2008 album Death Magnetic. The guitar riff before the first verse is sublime. For me on the release of the album, this song really sums up a moment in my life and a statement perhaps on where the band was as well with the lyric, ‘What don’t kill ya, make ya more strong’. I have pushed through many situations in my life with this melody and mantra. The change of tempo in the bridge is very reminiscent of their earlier work. Guitarist Kirk Hammett offers up an incredible shredding guitar solo on this song.
2. ‘The Unforgiven’
From the 1991 album The Black Album. I think this is the best song on the album. I love the intro with the horn and build to Hetfield’s first vocal. The passion and underlying aggression in his vocal delivery is infectious. A metal ballad co-written by Ulrich, Hammett and Hetfield, this song is about the struggles Hetfield had with religion relating to his mum’s death. His relatives did not want to give Hetfield’s mum the treatment she needed because they thought God would help her through it. In the track, he starts to question the legitimacy of religion. The horn sound intro was taken from the movie score of the appropriately titled The Unforgiven, and reversed, for legal reasons. Hetfield’s singing was inspired by Chris Isaak’s song ‘Wicked Game.’ This song is a masterpiece in my opinion.
From 1988’s … And Justice for All album. This song was one of the first Metallica songs I ever heard and it really revealed another side of their sound. The build on ‘One’ is sublime. Urlich’s treatment of the drums is utter perfection and Hetfield starts to scare the sh*t out of you with his growling haunting vocals. The song is like a rollercoaster with its ebbs and flows, always to be brought back to this beautiful stillness with an acoustic guitar melody. However, it is the build of the double kick drum pattern and the synchronisation of the guitars that take you to perhaps Hammett’s greatest guitar solo and that pushes this monster over the edge into something subliminal. It is thrash metal’s ‘Bohemian Rapsody’.
So there you have it. Another top five Metallica list to add to the hundreds of thousands available on the world wide web. It was not an easy task to narrow their whole catalogue of 163 songs down to five I must say. Try it. Remember there is freedom in art.
But what about the future of Metallica? What’s next for the world’s greatest metal band? Well, it is my deep pleasure to announce that Metallica are releasing their first new music in over six years!! On the 28th of November 2022, the band dropped their first single from their forthcoming album 72 Seasons and the song is called ‘Lux Æterna’. 72 Seasons is due to be released on the 14th April 2023. Go and check out ‘Lux Æterna’ now! This track may even change up your top five listing of Metallica songs. This song is definitely on my top five tomorrow. Love it. A thrash epic at break neck speed. After a few listens I’m really loving the punk element within the overall sound. Ulrich also really shines initially for me on this track as well. As a drummer, I find his playing really inspiring. So, horns up and long may Metallica be free! (no pun on Napster intended there, sorry Lars).