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“This album and what we’re doing with it — that, to me, is what Metallica are all about: exploring different things. The minute you stop exploring, just sit down and fucking die.” — Lars Ulrich, Metallica drummer, 1996

Ulrich uttered those words during the press cycle for Load, Metallica’s sixth album. Though Load was a commercial hit and beloved by mainstream critics, its utilitarian hard rock was considered an utter betrayal by the fanbase that propelled Metallica to fame. It also marked the beginning of a tailspin. Over the next fifteen years, Metallica would produce a string of albums that ranged from bland to atrocious. Thanks to a bevy of public-image missteps, Metallica’s members — and Ulrich in particular — would become some of the most reviled figures in music. And today, almost twenty years later, they still haven’t artistically recovered.

Lots of once-mighty rock bands have slipped into obscurity. Metallica, by contrast, can still make headlines by sneezing. Why? What is it about this band that keeps the public interest engaged, even as they flail through a dubious later career?

One possible reason is that Metallica are one of the best-selling acts in music history. They claim some 110 million albums shipped over the course of their 32 years as a band. That’s a lot of commercial weight, and with ample mass comes ample gravity.

A more compelling reason is that people love stories, and Metallica are a great story. On paper, it almost sounds invented: A bunch of working-to-middle-class kids meet in LA in 1981 and form a metal band inspired by the work of Diamond Head, Iron Maiden, and Tygers Of Pan Tang. Being a bunch of cornball kids, they call it Metallica. Before they can record their first album, they kick out their troubled lead guitarist, Dave Mustaine, replacing him with the equally talented Kirk Hammett and sparking an epic rivalry that would last for decades. They proceed to release three flawless albums in a row and become rock stars, despite the fact that they’re playing a gnarled, challenging style of music with an imposing moniker: thrash metal. Then, at the peak of their powers, a tour bus accident kills Cliff Burton, their gifted bassist. Their fourth album takes their bitterness over Burton’s loss and funnels it into their hardest-charging material yet. They then take a sharp left turn and release a massively successful commercial crossover; they become gazillionaires, abandon their original fanbase, and reinvent themselves as a radio rock group. A period of creative and personal decadence follows, culminating in frontman James Hetfield’s public struggle with alcoholism and a humiliating tell-all movie about the band’s broken internal dynamics. The band eventually convalesces enough to stabilize their plummeting public stock and record a partially successful return to form. In the years following, Metallica become eccentric elder statesmen, mixing baffling creative decisions with fan-pleasing nostalgia efforts. Their narrative arc is fit for a novel or a five-season HBO drama.

And Metallica’s story is not yet over. Ulrich recently said in an interview with Kerrang! that Metallica do not feel obliged to churn out albums on a schedule. Still, they clearly feel obliged to work. They recently played an unbelievably cool-sounding one-off at Manhattan’s legendary Apollo theater, which I would’ve attended had I not been at my sister’s wedding. (I love you anyway, Karen.) They’ve got a weird, narrative-driven concert movie in theaters, which trustworthy sources tell me is actually pretty good. And they curate the annual Orion music festival. These are all strange activities for a band of their stature to engage in, but that’s part of why they’re so interesting. Metallica have remained true to Lars’s Load-era word: they constantly try new things. This explorative impulse has led them to make some truly horrid creative decisions (more on that later), but it also lends their ugliest failures a significant degree of respectability. Metallica have balls, even when their music doesn’t.

Ultimately, though, it’s my suspicion that people still care about what Metallica do because, for about half a decade in the ’80s, they were the best goddamn pure-blooded metal band the world has ever known. (The fact that they achieved this stature with a drummer as musically graceless as Ulrich is that much more impressive.) Metallica’s first four albums are all untouchable classics that I would put up against anything else from the rock canon. It matters not to me, nor to millions of other fans, that they have done many foolish and embarrassing things since then. Kill ’Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets, and …And Justice For All will forever tower above virtually every metal recording before or since. If you don’t know why this is so, I’d encourage you to:

1) Play all of them. Loud.
2) Read Invisible Oranges founder Cosmo Lee’s incredible series of essays on these four albums. If you follow Stereogum’s metal coverage, you’ve heard of IO through the Black Market crew’s close affiliation with the site. I am lucky enough to hold the reins over at IO these days (as both SG editor Michael Nelson and fellow Black Marketer Aaron Lariviere have also done), but Cosmo’s series addressed this legendary material with a degree of insight that I can only envy. His work is worth your time, whether you’re new to Metallica or an old-salt metalhead.

Now, on to Metallica’s albums, from the (nauseating) worst to the (eye-poppingly great) best. Before we get started, two quick words of warning:

First, I included only studio full-lengths comprised of Metallica originals. That means no S&M or Garage Inc.. I have thoughts on these albums as well, but chose to exclude them in an effort to retain the frayed ends of my sanity.

Second, if you are a fan of Metallica’s ’90s-era work, you will not like my ranking or many of the things I have to say about Load, Reload, and The Black Album. I consider any order of preference among their first four albums valid, as long as they’re all at the top of the order, and if you asked me on a different day, I might’ve ranked them differently. It’s a good problem to have.

And with that, let’s get started. Hey-ey-yyyyyeahuh!!

Start the Countdown here.

Comments (119)
  1. Before I read this… I saw Through The Never in 3D and it kicked my ass sideways. If you’ve ever been a fan of the band, it is well worth a watch.

    Ok…reading now..

  2. I’m loving Stereogum’s broadening palette of diverse think pieces and have really been enjoying the recent think pieces (or whatever you call them).
    Well written and a very well measured commentary on the strengths and weakness of each record. Metallica were once the most pioneering heavy metal band of the 80s and even though it may not be particularly cool to like them in some circles, there is absolutely no denying the power of records like ”Ride the Lightning” and especially the greatest heavy metal album of the 80s, ”Master of Puppets”. Do a think piece on Smashing Pumpkins records and you’ll make this fanboy a happy camper.

  3. Good piece, but there is no way St. Wanger is better than Load. Even Reload is a tiny bit better.

    • I agree with you there. But thank God LuLu was dead last. And that Master of Puppets was dead first. There’s no other way to bookend Metallica in my humble opinion.

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        • Good call, Michael Hanna. We really should be expecting a higher form of grammar and comment structure on the internets. And when we don’t see it, we should act like assholes about it. Every…single…time.

          • Wow, you are such a hero for turning a little joke (albeit one with a valid point) into an opportunity to get on your soapbox and champion ignorance of the English language. May the internet see fit to honor you with a parade featuring banners and giant balloons emblazoned with various spellings of your name.

          • Ceasefire. Metallica <3

          • I’m not being facetious. I’m actually applauding your consistent and continuous efforts in attacking comments based on their harmless oversights of improper structure (both intended and unintended) and your unending tact and grace in said attacks. I also commend the stealth at which you do so by disguising each as a harmless joke, rendering any attempt at hindering your progress futile. I look forward to your inevitable wordy response to this statement, complete with wit and guileless valor.

            ‘Tis a worthy mission, indeed. One we’re all constantly made aware of. Carry on, old sport.

          • Before this gets too out of hand (which, as history suggests, it will), let it be known that I am writing all this at work, in a bad mood, and with no serious intent of starting a match with Michael Hanna. Just bored, mostly.

          • Just think of the imminent Smashing Pumpkins think piece that Stereogum will run.And you’re one of my favorite peoples on the board KidChair. Hope your day gets better.

          • Good call. Pre-debate… Siamese Dream or MCIS?

          • Oh please, I have never claimed that all of my jokes on here are intended to be harmless; indeed, I have openly acknowledged my disdain for certain commenters (sometimes going out of my way to do so if the person is particularly dense) on many occasions. I won’t be doing that with Luke because I don’t really have a problem with him. I have a feeling you are desperate for me to make you the focal point of some sort of verbal shellacking, but we aren’t in the midst of some heated and overlong philosophical/musical discussion, which of course is the context in which I generally deploy the big guns. One day maybe you will interest me enough to bother with all that, but it doesn’t seem likely at this point.

          • I apologize for the over-zealous defense of Luke’s “Dead First” (which I think would make a swell band name), Michael Hanna. I really wasn’t trying to start anything, necessarily. Just venting online. I do think you are notoriously negative on here, but it usually doesn’t bother me. Like I said, in a bad mood. Plus, I like to think Luke and I have each other’s virtual backs.

          • Siamese Dream technically is their best (in terms of being cohesive and every single being essential) but my heart is in MCIS territory and so shall it ever be. The sprawling opus of my long lost tortured youth. I consider it the essential pick of the SP lot. And of course I’ve got your virtual back too KidChair. And Michael Hanna, you cool too. Everybody lay their guns down.

          • Wow. That’s embarrassing that I still can’t have pictures load in my posts. Sigh. And sorry for being off topic Stereogum mods. We all cool now. And Metallica=<3

          • Agreed for sure Tyler. And KidChair, much agreed. Are you my long lost cyber brother? :p

        • I’d like to draw your attention to the character of Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs. I believe he was in fact “dead first”.

          • Siamese Dream is a better record than MCIS. I like the production better, I like the song craft better… I like pretty much everything better. “Hummer”, “Rocket”, “Mayonaise” and “Spaceboy” are still hair raising songs and I have been listening to them for like… 12 to 13 years now.

            MCIS and I have a weird relationship. It suffers from a lot of the same issues that almost all double albums do, but there is an albums’ worth of absolutely pristine material. I respect how creative it is and how musically interesting it is.

            Adore is my second favorite SP album though, so you might be asking the wrong person for Siamese vs. MCIS

            Siamese>Adore>MCIS>Gish>Pisces>Machina II>Machina>Oceania>Zeitgeist

            Stereogum, I will write this list. I promise, it will be glorious.

          • I was gonna save it for the inevitable think piece, but I’m right with Luke. I get why Siamese is considered their best, but MCIS will always be my hands-down favorite. The scope of it is mind boggling, and I genuinely enjoy ever single one of those tracks. But…either way. Siamese and MCIS are both sitting pretty in my top albums of all time.

  4. OK…good write ups for the most part.

    I’m really happy to see a breakdown of Metallica, even though I lie in the rare camp that genuinely enjoys every one of their albums (aside from Lulu, if we’re going to count that) to varying degrees and for different reasons.

    To be honest, I came upon Metallica in the Load era. I had heard the singles from the Black Album, but didd’t really care until Load was released. I was 14 years old. I bought Load and the Black Album together, and in an atmosphere of complete naivety and blissful ignorance, I loved the hell out of both of them. Because of that nostalgia, I still love both of them. That love turned into exploring their entire catalog and falling in love with this band on a grand scale. Metallica became one of my all time favorite bands, and to this day still hold a big place in my music loving soul. Reload and St Anger were ok, I actually loved both at the time of their release, but concede those are the worst of their albums. Death Magnetic was an ecstatic return to form in my opinion. Some great stuff on there.

    As I mentioned above, I just saw Through The Never and it blew me away. I haven’t thought seriously about the band for a few years, and after seeing that film I dove through their catalog and rekindled my love. I’ve seen them twice through the years, and regardless of your opinion of their current incarnation, they are still a monster live.

    I totally understand the hate towards their 90′s output and onward in perspective. But as a fan that developed a deep rooted nostalgia from the middle outward, I don’t think I can ever truly dislike Load. Yes, it was a total abandonment of thrash, of their hair, of their grit. But I don’t give a shit. I still think it’s a great album of melodic radio rock. And their willingness to try different things will always keep me interested.

    • By the way, what’s with the back-handed toss off of Ulrich’s drumming? St. Snare sound aside, I’ve always considered him an incredible drummer. Am I missing something there?

      • Re: Ulrich’s drumming. Moore was pretty kind with the comment; it could have been much worse. It is entirely acceptable to say the big shift in Metallica’s style (thrash to hard rock) was due to limitations in musicianship, with most of the limitations being those of Lars. Giving all credit where it’s due as far as his drive, songwriting contributions, and general status as a mouth-piece, it is pretty miraculous the band has survived with him behind the kit.
        Even if you were to skim off the top of the metal-drummer pile (I don’t know, say, Dirk Verbeuren, George Kollias, Brann Dailor, Tomas Haake, and Martin Axenrot, as general examples) and just go with (baseball reference) replacement level ability, Lars would be far below average. He’s charismatic on stage, with his jumping around and all that standing up, but he struggles with basic meter and rudimentary requirements. Hearing a current live version of Battery with the kick only played on the “1″ is a drag, if you listen for that kind of thing.

        • Well…I’m no drummer I guess. And I’m really no metal enthusiast per se. All I know is when I blast the Justice album, Lars is a big part of the excitement. I’ve never listened to Metallica and thought “Meh…these drums are sub-par.”

          • Totally fair. Again, I think it’s important to acknowledge his legacy and contributions to the genre. Metal and metal drumming wouldn’t be where it is if not for Ulrich, and I’m sure most if not all the examples provided would say the same.
            On record he blends in with complete adequacy. The real flaws are in the live performance.
            With Metallica, The Biggest Metal Band in the World, it’s safe to assume that 6 to 7 out of 10 fans, that’s the one metal band they like, therefore the drumming isn’t an issue at all. But a massively successful band like Megadeth, despite being one of the Big 4, is still kind of niche, therefore is judged more harshly in terms of musicianship, and never would have survived with a drummer as limited as Ulrich.

          • Interesting. Like you mentioned before, Lars sure is fun to watch either way. He was going to town on Through The Never.

    • I can appreciate the 90s Metallica too – I was 13 in 1990, so I grew up with that side. And I can see how fans would have felt betrayed at the time. If I had been born 5 years earlier, I would probably be writing a very different comment. And be wishing I was five years younger.

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  6. Doug Moore, you have just published the single greatest, most succinct description of the “it” that Metallica is. Ever. Thank you.

  7. I’m sure this wasn’t the intention, but the main effect this list had on me was to make me curious to give Lulu another (i.e. a second) listen, just to see if my take on it would be any different now. Other than that, great write-up, although since I go back and forth between Metallica and Maiden as my all-time favourite band, I obviously have my own list – I’d have Justice at #2 (possibly #1 depending on the day) and Load higher than St. Anger (yes, SA is heavier and more aggressive, but Load still has better songs).

    • That was definitely my intention, actually. Outside of the first four, I think Lulu is the most interesting album in Metallica’s catalog. Unfortunately, “interesting” doesn’t necessarily imply “good.”

      Thanks for reading!

  8. As seen in the documentary, the “My lifestyle determines my deathstyle!” lyric was actually Hammett’s delightfully addled brainchild.

  9. I’ve given up being ashamed of this a long time ago: I think Load is a very good album, and probably the most unfairly maligned records I’ve ever heard. I’m not saying it’s their best or anything, but it’s totally solid; it’s just saddled with all the BS baggage that people brought to it. ReLoad, however, is junk.

    • I’ll add also that the Black Album, and its critical reception in serious music circles, reminds me of Dark Side of the Moon in a way. It’s a slickly produced, gargantuan mega-hit that happened well after the band’s creative genesis and appeals to the throngs of of ‘unfavorables’ (i.e. frat boys douche bags) that make the ‘real’ fans feel a little alienated. So it gets cast aside a little in favor of the earlier ‘real’ records (in this case, Ride the Lightning or Kill ‘Em All, on in Floyd’s case, Piper or Meddle), when in fact, if you really just sit and listen to it, it’s a practically flawless and hugely satisfying piece of work. Really, it’s an unbelievable feat that either band was able to come from where they came from and eventually created these huge, universally beloved records. We shouldn’t be so fast to criticize them for it. Still:

      1a. Master
      1b. Justice
      1c. Black
      4. Ride
      5. Kill ‘Em All
      6. Load (see comment above)
      7. HUGE GAP
      8. Death Magnetic
      9. St. Anger

    • Here here!

  10. Metallica Press Photo Fashion Choices From Worst to Best:

    6. Kirk Hammett’s Scarf
    5. James Hetfield’s Belt
    4. Cliff Burton’s fingerless gloves
    3. Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hamett’s Nikes
    2. James Hetfield’s hair (“mah lifestyle determines mah hairstyle”)
    1. Cliff Burton’s Canadian tuxedo

  11. Wow, besides St. Anger being too high, this list is exactly right. PUPPETS!

  12. Does Garage Inc. not count? (though chances are it’d be rated just above LuLu… now that I think about it, should LuLu even count?)

  13. YES! Master Of Puppets right where it belongs! I actually agree perfectly with the top 5! I also agree with what you said each album. Really, I could try to find something I didn’t like here, but I wouldn’t find it. Great article.

    Also, I’ll back you up on this: Master Of Puppets is the best metal album of all time.

  14. My God! This article is written by a typical purist metalhead unbearable CLOSED MIND .

  15. Good list. I haven’t listened to Metallica lately, the black album kind of turned me off to their music, or maybe I just outgrew it. So I’m no expert, but that top 4 seems spot-on to me.

    • I don’t know if you got around listening to it, but Death Magnetic was a big return to form. You should give it a shot, really excellent album.

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    • Come on drgonzo. Have you listened to Master of Puppets? Beethoven would appreciate it. It’s quintessential for thrash/metal. You have to separate the caricatures of what Metallica are now compared to what they were when they had their fire and were out to ”seek and destroy” (sorry) and prove themselves. But i suppose I can’t get into Kanye West the way some people can. I suppose it’s all taste anyway. But seriously, you seem like you’re pretty hip in the music taste department. Listen to Master of Puppets, give it a digest and then make a judgment call. It is truly a beautiful, haunting and phenomenal record. I personally consider it the best metal album ever…it spans genres, and even transcends them, and this back in 1986! It’s great rock and roll. It’s essential and the other 2 records aren’t far behind.

      • Better than virtually every metal recording though? That’s what got me. Metallica’s not really my cup of tea but I’ve got friends who love them and I get the appeal, but there are wayyyy too many great metal albums from great bands to say that trio of Metallica releases trumps them all.

        Better than Blackwater Park? Better than Black Metal? Better than In the Nightside Eclipse? Better than A Blaze in the Northern Sky? Better than Leviathan? Better than Master of Reality? Better than Akuma no Uta? Better than Holy Mountain? What about Led Zeppelin? They’re considered metal, I’d take their first 6 albums over anything by Metallica.

        I don’t know, I feel like I’m coming across as a snob or something, but I’m not a metalhead. There are just a lot of other albums I’d take over the Metallica trio.

        And man, I am so tired of talking about Kanye. He’s not even close to being my favorite rapper, I just keep finding myself defending him from all the silliness. But I digress, I promise I’ll go give Master of Puppets another try. For you, boo.

        • I get the sentiment, and I see where you’re coming from, but I also think an awful lot of metalheads would agree that the first four metallica albums are literally better than all other metal. Of all the albums you mention I’d put Metallica handily above each, with the caveat that Led Zeppelin really are not a metal band, no matter what they occasionally got called in the early days.

        • I have always found odd that Led is considered heavy metal. I can see how they influenced, and there are songs and moments that fall within the term, but I don’t really see them as purely metal per se. Which is why I wouldn’t call any of their album the best heavy metal album ever. Led is Led.

        • Thanks Drgonzo :) It’s a gateway drug into the Metallica addiction (Master of Puppets). There are classic records like Paranoid, Master of Reality, Reign in Blood, ect…but I agree with Doug that Metallica’s top 3 have been so vital, uncompromising and have solidified their place. As great as the first 3 Sabbath records were (and man, they ARE great. I love me some Sabbath), the virtuosity on Metallica’s big 3 are unparalleled in my opinion. You have emotionally blistering ballads, epic centerpieces and emotive/spacy instrumentals. Not only could these guys play, but they took metal into an artform and made metal complex as well. Not to mention carried the torch of 70′s metal, taking it into its prime and influencing today’s greats like Mastodon, ect.
          I’m off my soapbox. I’m sure you won’t take Master of Puppets off your iPod shuffle if you give it a chance. It’s a beautiful record, not just an angry/metal one. That’s why their records are so great….they could be angry AND beautiful (the music, not the guys).

        • Well, Master of Reality, In the Nightside Eclipse, A Blaze In the Northern Sky, etc., are all obviously classics of the genre as well. (I love Akuma No Uta, but one of these things is not like the other.) But albums of their stature are extremely, extremely rare. You can think that they’re all better than Metallica’s first four while still thinking that said first four tower over virtually all recorded metal. And since those albums are a) obviously of that stature and b) beloved by virtually everybody, from super underground nerd types to people who haven’t listened to any metal aside from Sabbath & the big four, I think there’s a pretty good argument to be made that they’re as good or better than anything the genre has produced. For what it’s worth, I’m not really a Metallica superfan, but it’s tough to pick anything that’s just transparently better.

          Also, Led Zep isn’t metal, and Venom were better as a starting point for other bands than they were unto themselves.

        • So Allmusic and Wikipedia call Zeppelin metal. According to Rolling Stone, metal would not exist without them.
          On the other hand Page evidently doesn’t like being associated with metal.

          I’ll go with the actual artist and say Zep isn’t metal, but it seems it could go either way in popular opinion.

          Also, I listened to Master of Puppets, just my thoughts.
          -the opening to Battery is pretty good
          -Orion is genuinely great
          -The title track is legit

          Still not convinced, but they’ve got likeable bits.

          And Boris is metal. I’m not backing down from that.

          • Well, if Allmusic, Wikipedia and Rolling Stone all say it then it must be true.

          • If Master doesn’t do it, sit down and digest …And Justice For All in one sitting. I’m firmly in the camp that hold’s Metallica’s “great three (or four)” among, if not THE best metal albums ever and flat some of the greatest recordings ever made regardless of genre. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not as big into metal as I once was. And obviously it’s up for subjective opinion. But from a cultural significance standpoint, I’m not sure that point can even be argued, can it?

          • Glad you checked it out! I’m with KidChair on checking out ”…And Justice for all”. Or “Ride the Lightning”. We’ll convert you yet drgonzo :p

          • right unregistered33, that’s totally what I said.

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          • Yeah Killingspree! I agree that they have sold out thousands of stadiums across the globe with no signs of slowing down. And man, was “St Anger” ever overrated! Holy cow on a moon man. How that got both the Grammy and on the Library of Congress’s registry of albums of note evades my puny intellect. I’m with you brother!

    • And I’d like to thank all of my downvoters for my first “Hidden due to low comment rating” ever! Exciting times we live in.

  17. Master… MASTER!!!

  18. I so much cannot wait to read this but I have to go to work, dammmit

  19. Don’t know where to start but FIRST off, the “best” album is really subjective. The best commercial and tightly produced album was the Black Album. The best thrash metal album was Kill Em All. The most progressive and in my opinion musically phenomenal album was Load. The growth incurred by a band that refused to become complacent is inspiring. However, Newsted’s departure spelled doom for them, as subsequent albums ‘St. Anger’ and ‘Death Magnetic’, when taken out of context and assessed simply as albums, are absolute garbage. St. Anger barely qualifies as LP quality in my book. They’re encouraged to go backwards, but they always go forwards. Excited for what’s next. The overall best album? And Justice For All.

  20. I always thought Ride was the obvious #1.

    I wish Garage Inc. was on here, its the best thing they released post-Black

    • Also, I recently got back into Metallica, big time, after going to Orion this year. I put Ride on my ipod and accidentally imported it alphabetically, which means it starts with Call of Ktulu and ends with Trapped Under Ice, very interesting exercise, I suggest you try it.

  21. Is there a page where we can find all these lists? I’m curious to see what bands you covered that I may have missed.

  22. What’s interesting to see is what constitutes “best” here… I get the sense St. Anger is coming out above Load because St. Anger is the more “metal” of the two, which is pretty much undeniable. I draw the line between the two simply: I can listen to Load. St. Anger is a horrendous, unpleasant listen, bereft of songs, literally painful to experience (that. fucking. SNARE.). At it’s best, Load sounds like Down, or Crowbar-lite. They were mixing southern rock with metal in a way that occasionally hit hard, and was rarely awful if not exactly exciting. Sure, the country songs suck, but they’re just as much of a creative departure as the nu-metal freakouts were on St. Anger, and at the time plenty of folks thought “Hero of the Day” worked just fine. In defense of Reload: I like Marianne Faithfull enough to get excited to hear her voice in the midst of an otherwise feeble record.

    Doug, I know we’ve debated plenty on this list already, but I gotta hand it to you: this is a killer piece of work. Stellar album write-ups, completely respectable order (ever if we disagree), and I now feel a desperate need to listen to Master of Puppets on my drive home. Cheers!

    My personal order:

    1. Ride the Lightning
    2. Master of Puppets
    3. And Justice For All
    4. Kill Em All
    5. Black Album
    6. Load
    7. Death Magnetic
    8. Reload
    9. Lulu
    10. St. Anger

  23. I can’t argue with this list, other than my current revisiting/new appreciation for St. Anger puts it higher in my mind than Death Magnetic.

  24. This is the safest possible order for Metallica, and probably the consensus order for these records. Load is not the Metallica that anyone would want from them, but calling a relatively finely crafted song like “Hero of the Day” insincere country rock is kind of off kilter. I think this just comes across as a rope-a-dope for the S-Gum crowd. Constant refrain of the charms of Taylor Swift and K-Pop all over the ‘Gum, and then complete Orthodoxy for the Metallica list. St. Anger I think is their worst, and I would probably agree with the idea that Load was better than Death Magnetic. Death Magnetic is bland and by the numbers, Load they tried to do something different but I think they still were invested, even if it was a calculated play. The first three albums were just completely effortless, and s/t was monolithic- it is slow- but is still completely Metallica- though it was more slick than fast, and heavy in its own way, and yet it doesn’t sound like Def Leppard. This was them in the mainstream without becoming unmoored. Load was them in the mainstream but unmoored. St. Anger was them unhinged, but the drums make it unlistenable, and it isn’t technical, it is just grating. Death Magnetic is them floundering, and the fact that they would allow it out sounding like that suggests that might not care in the same way.

    • Right there with ya. Load will always sit pretty with me, regardless of it’s status among the critical elite.

    • ” I think this just comes across as a rope-a-dope for the S-Gum crowd. Constant refrain of the charms of Taylor Swift and K-Pop all over the ‘Gum, and then complete Orthodoxy for the Metallica list”

      I’ve never written anything about Taylor Swift or K-pop for this site or any other, and I was given absolutely no editorial direction for this piece. (Unless “submit by Monday” counts as editorial direction.) Sometimes a thrash-era Metallica fan is just a thrash-era Metallica fan.

      • Hey Doug- I was just noting that this is one of the few lists that probably came across as what would have been voted if everyone voted and we tallied them up. That is just rare for this feature- really rare. Nothing on you. Your personal choices kind of match what I think most people would go for- that is totally cool. We all love Stereogum! Sometimes the lists are very iconoclastic, and sometimes a lot of editorial voices here are pop is OK and different is OK. Just was making a note that this particular piece was like Orthodoxy whereas sometimes others are less so- and metal fans are very sensitive to How Metal Should Be (and I know why they are like that- it was just a scene and it had a pantheon. I think Metallica probably made it pretty easy to go with the favorites. Their speed/thrash albums are by far the best, most interesting, and engaging. They did it amazingly well where even people not really into 8 minute metal epics would kind of appreciate it. You might even make a case that Metallica kind of added a little bit of I don’t know, proto math to their prog/thrash. Compare a Metallica epic to a Maiden epic. Both are very technical, but Metallica comes across as less wanky and more crushing yet still a melodic machine, and somehow the lyrics almost seemed cool back when Hetfield wasn’t growling.

  25. Just listened to Justice all the way through…start to finish in one sitting…for the first time in a while.


    Somehow I didn’t remember how blisteringly fantastic Dyers Eve was.

    I mean HOT….DAYAMN.

  26. Do a Primus one next.

  27. Bloody time zone difference. I cannot be quick enough everything is already said.

  28. first off….lulu does not count.

    in order from worst to best.

    St. Anger
    Garage Inc.
    Kill em all.
    Death Magnetic.
    Black Album.
    Ride the Lightning.
    Master of Puppets.
    And Justice for All (best thrash metal album of all time…..hands down).

  29. They are The Rolling Stones of Metal. A band that used to be so good, so genre defining and that is now a parody of its former self.
    The Pulp song could goes “Sing your song about all the sad imitations that got it so wrong… Like Metallica since the Nineties…”

  30. Simply put, Metallica glamorized heavy metal and transcended the genre. You have to go back to Iron Maiden, Blizzard of Oz, Dio, Megadeth, Slayer, before or around them to get the seedy side. Respectfully, they were all good bands, but there was a crucial moment in Metallica’s growth (right after Master of Puppets, although they hung on tight for …And Justice For All) where they realized that they could make ALOT of money if they could just polish their metal sound to make it accessible to the muscleheads that wanted to feel ballsy. They did it, and did it very well.

    Great band.

  31. Is Garage Inc. an album of covers or something? Why didn’t it make the list?

    • That’s exactly what it is. A double-disc compilation of random covers recorded across the years: some recorded “new” at the time of release (1998), some randomly tossed off at various points, and some pulled from the old Garage Days EP that they did in ’87, which was Newsted’s first proper recorded appearance in advance of …And Justice For All. As a collection it’s more of a curio than anything… some decent tunes, some dogshit, and in ’90s Metallica fashion, just waaaaaay too fucking long.

  32. 1. Master of Puppets
    2. …And Justice For All
    3. Ride The Lightning
    4. Kill’em All
    5. Check, please

  33. Metallica stole their name from a fellow Bay Area band. There is documented proof as the band had flyers and show posters in the Bay Area. Theu changed the spelling to avoid being sued. No, the name didn’t come from that book either- This band was in San Francisco in 1973 with that name. Look into it and you’ll see.

  34. Some thoughts:
    I remember the first time I heard Metallica. It was 1990 or 1991. I was at a party as an impressionable 13-year-old. Master of Puppets was playing on a record player (yep, actual vinyl). And I was stunned, deep inside – I was equally frightened by the words, the singing, the music, and fascinated.
    That it was playing on a record gave it more impact – it had hiss, volume, body.
    I loved Load when I came out. How could I not? I still do, apart from Mama Says. But I can’t stand Reload, and Garage was highly disappointing.
    I loved S&M so much. The orchestra added so much drama, so much depth.
    And then there was the first time I heard those first few notes on Death Magnetic… it was like seeing an old friend again. That moment gave me chills, those pure sounds of Metallica guitar – the real Metallica, that dark, deep, disturbed black sound.


  36. I’ve never liked Metallica, so it’s telling that the only album of theirs I’ve bought was St. Anger, just shows how less of their former selves they are on the album. I liked it and the documentary in a way that it chronicles a band in strife, so maybe that’s the merit Doug Moore is giving to it?

    Tried to listen to the band with an open mind, find a couple of songs I like on their backcatalogue, result.

    Love these pieces and the fact different genres are being addressed makes it more enjoyable.

  37. Speaking as a Metallica fan since 1985 (I was 8 when my brother played “Ride the Lightning” for me, I was hooked from the moment the acoustic intro of “Fight Fire with Fire” ended and the thrash began), I agree with this order for the most part. Though, as much as I dislike “Load” and “Reload,” I think the placement of “St. Anger” is a bit questionable. Yes, they sound like a metal band again, but a terrible one. At least the songwriting isn’t an afterthought on those two albums as it is on “St. Anger.”

    I also think that “…And Justice for All” and “Kill ‘em All” should be switched. The former, which I used to think was the strongest in Metallica’s catalog, is now a very tedious listen. I’m not sure if it’s the production or it hasn’t aged well or what, but I listened to it over the summer in its entirety for the first time in many years, and was bored to tears, except for “The Shortest Straw” and “Dyers Eve.”

    Final thought…I agree with everyone above that a Smashing Pumpkins list would be great, and would be certain to cause many arguments. :)

  38. This is really good but I have a complaint. My test for music writers and commentators regarding Metallica is the movie Some Kind of Monster. If you don’t get anything incredibly positive out of that, well, maybe you are still just a youngster or something (I am old). They are growing up and maturing in that film, in the good kind of growing up way, and it ain’t always pretty. Mustaine cried–ya it was raw (apparently filmed right after 9-11, too) but you wouldn’t be carrying around a bunch of sadness if that was your situation?

  39. I like the order of the first five but I lost total credibility for thr writer since St Anger is not the last one. That piece of garbage is atrocious.

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