Yesterday saw the introduction of the Top 10 Favorite Bands list and if you haven’t read that post yet, I won’t spoil who number 10 is (go check it out instead). Today we unveil number 9, who comes in so high based on only its first trio of albums! Shocked? Read on to find out why number 9 should have hung it up after lucky number 3…
Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler (I swear to god, that’s his name) once said in an interview that Metallica “were the best thing to happen to the 80’s.” While I don’t agree wholeheartedly with that statement, its hard to argue with his logic. From his perspective, the 1980’s were filled with bands that made metal a glossy and accessible commodity to “posers.” Men wore make up and liberally applied hairspray all while playing “softer” versions of the same hard rock once championed by guys like Geezer. When Metallica came along, it became cool to be an outcast again. It wasn’t about having a hot lead singer and writing songs girls could identify with. Metal was violent and angsty once again, and Metallica were to blame.
Putting Metallica on this list puts me in a bit of an uncomfortable spot. When it comes to their catalogue, they’re batting sub .300 in my book, as I find most of their material after 1986’s metal masterclass Master of Puppets to be contrived and hallow efforts when compared to their earlier works. That is, however, as much an indictment on their later albums as it is a testament to just how freaking insane Metallica’s first 3 releases were.
The first two Metallica songs I heard were “Whiplash,” on a Tony Hawk video game’s soundtrack, and “Battery,” on a friend’s Walkman while riding down to The Keys. I was floored by how heavy “Battery” was and how fast and furious “Whiplash” felt. The next time I was in a Barnes and Noble, I picked up Master of Puppets on CD and instantly fell in love. It was like nothing I had ever heard before and it really shaped my affections for metal as a genre (up until that point the heaviest album I owned was probably Back in Black by AC/DC).
Since then, I was extremely disappointed to learn that not everything Metallica released sounded like their first three albums, but I still hold that trifecta of Kill ’em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets in extremely high regard and feel that few bands could touch what was original Metallica. As a matter of fact, I’d wager that if Metallica had quit making music after bassist Cliff Burton’s death in ’86, they would be Top 5 on this list, an accomplishment I’m sure they are kicking themselves over not achieving.
Best Album – Ride the Lightning (1984)
Not much separates this album from it’s direct predecessor, Master of Puppets. Honestly, this record only sits in this spot by the narrowest of margins, as it ultimately came down to quality over quantity (Puppets has more songs I love, but Lightning has songs I love more). The first 3 songs on this album are all-timers when it comes to Metallica tracks. Sonically, the album is light years ahead of their debut in both production and musical prowess. Not only is this my favorite Metallica album, it may be one of my favorite albums ever. The whole 8 song record is on YouTube, so I would recommend anyone reading this take a quick break and give it a listen.
Worst Album – St. Anger (2003)
I almost put The Black Album here just to be petty, but I have more self restraint than that. Seriously though, I have friends who will vehemently defend their love for this album (sorry, Matt). I have a few issues with this one, however. The lack of guitar solos, while at the time a conscious choice made so as not to date the album, has ironically given the record a really time specific, early 2000’s feel to it. There is also the infamous snare drum, which sounds like drummer Lars Ulrich is beating on a taut piece of printer paper. I’ve pretty much hated every album Metallica has released after …And Justice For All, but this one really represents Metallica’s low water mark.
Strongest Member – Cliff Burton (Bass)
I said in the introduction paragraph that Metallica would be a Top 5 outfit had they quit after the death of Cliff Burton, so I figured I needed to double down here. In all seriousness, Cliff was the driving force on all of Metallica’s early work. He was far and away the most musically gifted in the band, as he taught the other members about harmonies and melodies as well as introduced more advanced song structures after Kill ‘Em All. Cliff winning this award is a lot like giving an injured player an MVP after the team loses without him, as the quality in songs went into a slow and steady decline after the bassist met his untimely demise. As the key songwriting cog in Metallica, no one else could even come close to holding this spot. Rest in peace, Mr. Burton.
Weakest Member – Kirk Hammett (Guitar)
Okay, calm down. It certainly wasn’t going to be Cliff in this spot, and the twin headed songwriting monster that is Lars and James wasn’t taking this one home either. That leaves our boy Kirk here as the black sheep of the crew. Hammett took over for Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine after he was booted from Metallica for alcohol issues. The gap in talent was apparent from the jump, as Hammett reportedly struggled with some of the solos Mustaine had written for Kill ‘Em All. Hammett doesn’t really have a huge hand in any of the songwriting processes either. His lack of virtuoso talent and dubious creative credentials make Hammett an obvious, albeit controversial choice, for this spot.