We rank every Metallica album from worst to best
Metallica have just released deluxe reissues of their first two albums – and there’s that persistent rumour about a new album – so it’s time to reacquaint yourself with their epic back catalogue. Here are their 10 albums from their 1983 debut Kill ‘Em All through to their much-maligned collaboration with Lou Reed ordered from worst to best by RICHARD S HE.
10. Reload (1997)
Load‘s most compelling songs are its experiments, but Reload has the two best singles of the whole era. ‘Fuel’ channels that old Kill ‘Em All energy into slick pop-rock, while ‘The Memory Remains’ is as weird as it is anthemic, a Sunset Boulevard-inspired take on the dark side of Hollywood. If Load and Reload were half as long, and every song had some of their spirit, they could have formed a genuine artistic statement. But as it is, it’s too many songs with too little substance between them.
9. Load (1996)
The mid-’90s were the all-time low point for traditional heavy metal. Don’t blame grunge – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Slayer, Megadeth and their like all fell off a cliff simultaneously. Load is still cited as the moment where Metallica, with their new haircuts and artsy Anton Corbijn photoshoots, “went alternative”. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Load is where Metallica went dad-rock.
While a few songs push the Black Album’s poppiness further – ‘Until It Sleeps’, ‘Hero of the Day’, the country ballad ‘Mama Said’ – every other song feels like Metallica jamming on the same blues riffs. The great blues and Southern rock bands are loose, improvisational, but Metallica are the exact opposite – their best songs are intricately constructed, like classical suites. Load is what happens when the world’s hardest-working band decides to take a breather after 13 years. Two decades on, it’s even less interesting.
8. Lulu (2011)
Lulu is never, ever boring, and that automatically makes it more compelling than Load and Reload, even if you might never want to hear it again. The concept’s intriguing – Lou Reed rambles spoken word inspired by sadomasochistic German plays, while Metallica jam over droning riffs. In execution, it’s even stranger.
Reed and Metallica never seem like they’re in the same room, let alone the same planet. That is, until the sheer length of Lulu hammers your brain into submission, you go cross-eyed, and it starts to make sense in its own twisted way. It might seem like too little too late, but the 20-minute closer ‘Junior Dad’, one of the most beautifully existential songs either artist ever wrote, is worth the price of admission alone.
Lulu is really a Lou Reed album – and as his final work, it’s every bit as combative, dissonant and challenging as Metal Machine Music. That’s admirable, even if Metallica came out of it the punchline. David Bowie called it “Lou’s greatest work“, and whether or not you agree, you have to wish more aging rockstars would let their freak flags fly.
7. Death Magnetic (2008)
Hearing Metallica return to thrash metal after a full two decades was a joy. Metallica have literally thousands of imitators, but no one has their exact chemistry, that Hetfield-Hammett-Ulrich attack in full flight. On Death Magnetic‘s most aggressive moments – ‘That Was Just Your Life’, ‘The End of the Line’, ‘All Nightmare Long’ – they really do sound like their old selves. On the other hand, ‘The Day That Never Comes’ sticks a melodic thrash jam on the end of a Load ballad, and it kind of works?
The problem is, Hetfield tries to sing about the same apocalyptic violence he made scarily real in his twenties. But as a 45-year-old multimillionaire, you can tell he doesn’t really believe it anymore. After 12 years spent making records for themselves, Death Magnetic is a record for the original fans – no more, no less. For those reasons, it doesn’t hold a candle to their ’80s albums, let alone the many post-millennial thrash revival bands they inspired. Machine Head released their epic The Blackening a year earlier, and it leaves Death Magnetic in the dust.
6. Kill ‘Em All (1983)
Metallica may or may not have invented thrash metal, but there’s more songcraft on Kill ‘Em All than any of their peers had in 1983. Metallica’s early influences are obvious: Motörhead’s punk rock speed, combined with Diamond Head and Mercyful Fate’s progressive, melodic heavy metal. But Kill ‘Em All feels like something distinctly new – especially Cliff Burton’s Hendrix-like bass solo ‘(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth’. Kill ‘Em All‘s great for what it is – juvenile, raucous, inventive thrash metal. But it’s even greater for the seeds it planted.