Reviewed on this page:
Kill 'Em All -
Ride The Lightning -
Master Of Puppets -
The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited -
...And Justice For All -
Metallica - Live Shit: Binge & Purge -
Load - Reload - Garage Inc. - S & M - St. Anger - Death Magnetic
Formed in California in the early 80s, Metallica didn't invent speed-metal, but they might as well have: their stuttering
guitars, stop and start precision, thrashing drums, and snarling vocals have more or less defined the genre. During that
period they brought shredding guitar distortion, manic tempos, undiluted rage and nihilism to a mass audience: their flawless,
Swiss watch-like execution made their better-constructed songs into thrilling rollercoaster rides (though by the same token,
their tossoffs were pointless repetitive exercises). Not content with that, though, the band expanded into traditional rock and
roll territory in the 90s, winning millions of fans with glorious, stately arena rock and occasionally boring the hell out of
people with their sensitive side - to this day they break box office records all over the world, and have won grudging
The keys to the band's success are singer/guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich: besides defining Metallica's
intelligent/belligerent attitude, they're responsible for the clever vamps, unpredictable song structure and unusual
syncopation that make the group so relentlessly musical. Bassists Cliff Burton and replacement Jason Newsted were more than competent, but
don't fundamentally influence the sound, while Kirk Hammett's guitar solos are nothing special: he has lots of speed and knows his modes,
but his note choices are rarely interesting. My ideal Metallica record would combine the unstoppable
pristine fury of their early records with the pulsing swagger
of the Metallica/Load period, and that'll probably never happen, so if you're curious about the full scope of the band, you'll have
to pick up one record from the 80s and one from the 90s. The band has slowed down considerably as they've aged - they put out four studio albums in their first five years, and four more
in their next fifteen - but in concert they pound out their old speed metal as furiously as ever.
There are about a million Metallica fan sites; this one is graphics-heavy but packed
with information. (DBW)
James Hetfield, guitar/vocals; Lars Ulrich, drums;
Ron McGovney, bass; Dave Mustaine, lead guitar. McGovney left, 1982, replaced by Cliff Burton.
Mustaine left, early 1983, replaced by Kirk Hammett. Burton died in a bus accident, late 1986, replaced by Jason Newsted.
Newsted left, early 2001, replaced by Rob Trujillo, early 2003.
Kill 'Em All (1983)
A mix of ridiculously fast thrash ("Hit The Lights," "Motorbreath") and more ordinary metal ("Whiplash"). Already the band is
fearsomely well rehearsed, with the guitars in sync like two hands of an impossibly aggressive piano ("Seek & Destroy"),
and the compositions are already complex, with several long suite-like pieces ("The Four Horsemen," with a hilarious
interpolation of "Sweet Home Alabama"). On many of the
tracks the vocals seem like an afterthought ("Metal Militia"), and considering how clichéd most of the lyrics are,
it might've been better off as an instrumental record. The good news is, the band doesn't take itself as seriously here
as on later releases, indulging in a lengthy, wah-wah'd bass solo ("Anesthesia") leading into the furious "Pulling
Teeth." Produced by Paul Curcio; though recently fired Dave Mustaine didn't appear on the record, he has co-writes on several of the tunes. (DBW)
Ride The Lightning (1984)
More focused and anally produced than the debut, which is good and bad. The band's singlemindedness and complete
precision makes the songs with killer riffs amazingly good (the multi-part "Creeping Death" is easily the best thrash song I've ever heard),
while the songs with so-so riffs ("For Whom The Bell Tolls") run themselves right into the ground. Unfortunately, the latter outweigh the former,
with the low point being the instrumental "The Call Of Ktulu," which runs nine minutes without a single decent lick.
But the reckless fast pace keeps things moving ("Fight Fire With Fire") and the lyrics have improved a bit, changing from hypermacho
aggression to terrifying tales of alienation ("Trapped Under Ice").
Note for speed freaks: this is probably their fastest record overall, though it does include their first power ballad ("Fade To Black").
Master Of Puppets (1986)
One of the smartest records I've ever heard. The band takes the developments of the previous record a step further, and this time it all
works musically: the instrumental is fascinating ("Orion"), the slow passages build tension but also stand on their own (the verse of
"Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," the acoustic opening to "Battery"), they hurtle through five or six killer riffs per song (title track). There
are even some production gimmicks (sound effects on "The Thing That Should Not Be").
In fact, you could argue it's too smart for its own good: the first five or six times I heard this, I thought the
individual sections came and went so rapidly that you barely have time to enjoy them - as if they had so many riffs to
pack into the record that they couldn't be bothered to repeat themselves. But now it's one of my favorites, precisely because it's so lean
it doesn't lose any punch on repeated listenings ("Damage Inc.").
Produced by the band with Flemming Rasmussen.
The $5.98 EP - Garage Days Re-Revisited (1987)
This is about as good as an EP of cover tunes can be, because the bands covered are pretty obscure, the
songs are worthy of revival, and the performances are terrific. Metallica knocked out these five tracks in a week, thereby
avoiding the perfectionism that can make their work sterile, and for once they actually sound like they're having a
good time (The Misfits' "Last Caress/Green Hell"). The best cuts - "Helpless" (by Diamond Head)
and "The Small Hours" (by Holocaust) - are furious riff-packed seven-minute epics that are so damn Metallica you can't believe somebody
else wrote them. Killing Joke's "The Wait" isn't as complex, but it's a hellacious riff tune with Kirk's most imaginative
lead playing up to that point, and Budgie's "Crash Course In Brain Surgery" hits you like the smell of a container that's
been in the refrigerator way too long.
Rendered obsolete by the 1998 release of Garage Inc.
...And Justice For All (1988)
All of a sudden the band's in a rut, serving up the same hyper, heavy brew as before, but without the mindblowing riffs and
novel chord progressions that made it all worthwhile. With every track running over five minutes, there's an inordinate
amount of repetition, dragging down even interesting material like "The Shortest Straw." "Blackened" is a standout
speed-metal number, but it's the only one; tunes like "Eye Of The Beholder" lack the intensity of the
previous album's minor tracks.
Note that most fans consider the anti-war "One" a high point; for me, it pales next to their other power ballads.
The endless instrumental du jour, "To Live Is To Die," is so unbelievably dull I take
back all the bad things I said about "Call Of Ktulu." Throughout, the lyrics are notable for a sudden (and short-lived) shift to
anarchistic anti-government rhetoric (title track, "The Shortest Straw") in addition to the usual apocalypticism ("Dyers
Eve"). Again produced by the band and Rasmussen, and supposedly it's his fault that there's no audible bass on the
record - though I must say, the guitars are so heavy I didn't miss it. (DBW)
Realizing that their narrowly-focused speed-metal riffitude had put the band in artistic Chapter 11, Metallica pursued several
new directions on this self-titled album (known as "The Black Album" for its Tapacious cover).
There's a slow, drearily sincere tearjerker ("Nothing Else Matters"). There's an overblown Guns N' Roses-style power
ballad ("The Unforgiven"). There are a few familiar thrash exercises ("Through The Never," the jingoistic, pro-Gulf War
"Don't Tread On Me"). But - thankfully - the bulk of the album is turned over to mid-tempo, blues-based hard rock... my
esteemed colleague Mark Prindle correctly terms the sound "really
angry AC/DC." The band is shockingly comfortable in its new incarnation, grooving like a locomotive
on thrilling tunes like "My Friend Of Misery," "The God That Failed," and best of all, "Enter Sandman" - the only song in
the band's catalog that I find myself spinning two or three times in a row. Produced by Bob Rock with Hetfield and Ulrich.
Live Shit: Binge & Purge (rec. 1989-1993, rel. 1993)
A boxed set containing three CDs and three videotapes, reproducing three complete concerts - Seattle 1989, San Diego 1992, Mexico City 1993
- between the two formats. And what you get is largely the same show each time: by my count, twelve songs appear in every show. But for a
fan-oriented release, six hours of video and three hours of audio is hard to argue with.
Seattle is a very tight gig with a great rendition of "Blackened" and an amusing cover of "Little Wing."
San Diego and Mexico City are also remarkably lean aside from deadly dull bass and guitar solos - if you ever wanted to see someone play
guitar with their butt, here's your chance - and they hit all the high points from "Four Horsemen" through "Sandman," plus some offbeat material
(Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy," excerpts from "Third Stone From The Sun" and "Born Under A Bad Sign").
It is a shame that "Master Of Puppets" was cut short at both shows to make room for endless audience participation on "Seek & Destroy,"
but Seattle has a full version of the tune: overkill does have its merits.
The physical box is enormous; if you're DVD-ready you should get the much smaller DVD package released in late 2002.
The first new material in five years, and it sounds like they spent the whole intervening period in the studio. The countless guitar
overdubs show much more tonal variety than before, from the trebly chorusy intro and hammer-ons of "Until It Sleeps" to
the Fleetwood Mac mellowness of "Hero Of The Day" to (gasp!) steel guitars on the gentle
"Mama Said." If only they'd paid half as much attention to the songwriting as they lavished on the production... Too many
of the metal numbers are dry and formulaic ("King Nothing," despite a fine Hammett wah-wah solo) or just lamebrained ("Ain't
My Bitch"), and the slow numbers just expose the limitations of Hetfield's voice ("Bleeding Me"). However, side two of this
79-minute extravaganza contains several ingenious hard rockers with unpredictable dynamics and crunching hooks: "Poor Twisted
Me," "Thorn Within," "Ronnie" and "Cure," the best multipart mini-epic since the Puppets days. There's a lot of dross
here, but the handful of gems make it a decent buy.
A collection of tunes which were recorded for Load but were considered too uncommercial for
inclusion on that album. To put it less politely, outtakes: there's even an rewrite of "Unforgiven" ("The Unforgiven II").
Like its predecessor, the record's really really long, but this time the production is very straightforward ("Attitude"), so the
string of bluesy hard rockers gets dull: particularly the stretch from "Better Than You" (based on Judas Priest's "Another Thing Coming") through "Prince Charming."
Oh, and there's a quavery backing vocal by Marianne Faithfull on "The Memory Remains" that's supremely jarring, tacky and annoying.
There are a bunch of decent tunes ("Devil's Dance," "Fuel") but for once not a single great one.
Garage Inc. (rec. 1984-1998, rel. 1998)
A two-CD set of covers, combining the tracks from 1987's Garage Days Re-Revisited with a bunch of B-sides, and a disc of material
cut for this package. Most of the songs are from relatively obscure metal or punk bands - Blitzkrieg, Discharge, Anti-Nowhere League -
with a few more mainstream choices (Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy"). The best stuff is the earliest: several tunes from 80s B-sides
are just as eye-opening as the Re-Revisited work ("Am I Evil?," "Breadfan"). The new recordings aren't as intense, but they're fun -
an eleven-minute Mercyful Fate medley never loses momentum - and though the homages are sincere, everything gets Metallicized:
even Bob Seger's "Turn The Page" isn't that far from Hetfield's mellow angst numbers like "Nothing Else Matters."
Versions of Black Sabbath's "Sabra Cadabra" and Blue Öyster Cult's "Astronomy" do feel
a bit perfunctory, but the only time the album stops dead is on the nine-minute all-star version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone,"
with a boring appearance by John Popper, and Les Claypool wasted on banjo.
Otherwise, the weak point is the four-song Mötörhead tribute, a string of ordinary hard rock riffs cranked out with no variety in the
S & M (1999)
As in "Symphony & Metallica" - two discs recorded with an orchestra, with arrangements by Michael Kamen.
The problem is, the orchestra doesn't have much to add because the original four-piece arrangements were already so dense:
I think a symphonic interpretation of the band's music would do better without being overwhelmed by the band itself
(along the lines of Apocalyptica's Metallica tribute).
And at times sticking to the orchestral arrangements seems to cramp the band's style:
"Enter Sandman" sounds particularly lifeless, though maybe the guys are just sick of playing it.
The two new songs - "No Leaf Clover" and "-Human" - are mediocre midtempo grinds.
I wouldn't bother with this unless you've already played Live Shit so often you're sick of it,
or if you just need to hear "The Memory Remains" without Faithfull... and both of those concerns may be better addressed by the St. Anger
In 2001, Metallica contributed "I Disappear" to the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack.
St. Anger (2003)
This time the guys dropped the retro-blues approach of the previous three studio albums in favor of a variant of grunge with loads of percussive, distorted rhythm guitar bashing,
and almost nothing else: no solos, no notable riffs or fills (actually, the main riff of "My World" is notable for its mindlessness), no vocal melodies,
no arranging details aside from some predictable dynamics shifts (title track).
But where bands like Disturbed at least keep their simplistic tunes short and to the point, Metallica continues to spin out songs for seven or
eight minutes, the way they used to do when they actually composed.
At least the boring guitars leave plenty of room for Ulrich to bang the drums like crazy, and you can tell he had fun doing it ("Invisible Kid").
The shining exception is "All Within My Hands," which is overlong but does have a solid hook and a weird vocal harmony bridge.
The package contains a couple of intelligent moves to counter MP3 swapping by giving fans more for their money:
there's a bonus DVD with live in the studio performances of all eleven songs, and there's a code that lets you download dozens of mid-90s live
tracks from a web site - I got my twelve bucks worth right there.
Rock plays bass on the CD, while new bassist Rob Trujillo appears on the DVD.
Death Magnetic (2008)
Not just a return to thrash, but a studied imitation of Metallica's 80s albums in every detail: There's a gradually building intro to the thundering opening tune ("This Was Just Your Life"). The fourth track is the "Fade To Black"-style power ballad ("The Day That Never Comes," a single). Second-to-last comes the lengthy instrumental ("Suicide And Redemption"), followed by a concise shot of adrenaline ("My Apocalypse"). The rigid adherence to the blueprint may be unimaginative, but boy, do the formulas still work. Hetfield and Ulrich may be unparalleled at constructing coherent songs out of disparate raw material, so even when the individual riffs are underwhelming the results are powerful ("Cyanide"), and given solid licks to work with, they're flooring ("The End Of The Line"; "The Unforgiven III"). So it's a welcome recovery after a decade-plus of missteps,
but there are a few caveats: Hetfield seems to have reached the late Dylan phase as a vocalist, recording quickly and overindulging his mannerisms ("Your luck runs out-AH!!!"), he doesn't find much new to say about the album's theme of self-destruction,
and Trujillo doesn't make much of a mark on his studio debut with the band.
Coming out the same month as the latest from Trivium and All That Remains, though, the Metallifolks make a strong case that they're still on top after all these years.
Produced by Rick Rubin.
In 2011, Metallica backed Lou Reed on an album of his tunes, Lulu.