Metallica’s Top 10 Songs



    Once, Metallica were innovators — the face of the burgeoning underground thrash metal movement. The songs were raw, bludgeoning, and ambitious. James Hetfield growled like he meant it; Kirk Hammett melted faces (despite living in the shadow of original guitarist Dave Mustaine); Lars Ulrich wreaked havoc on his drums; and Cliff Burton did things bass players weren’t supposed to do (and then came Jason Newsted). They simply drank alcohol and played heavy metal. Simpler times.

    Metallica eventually changed as it grew older, cleaning up its image and sound. When interest in metal waned in the early ’90s, the group adapted to achieve commercial appeal. The move proved wise, as they survived when so many of their contemporaries perished into obscurity; however, the first wave of Metallica fans felt betrayed. Their favorite band had become some kind of SoundScan-driven monstrosity, no longer the scrappy L.A. upstarts of old.

    That’s why you won’t find anything after 1991 on this countdown. If we’re to examine their 10 best songs, we must revisit the Metallica of old. Back when they still played thrash metal. Before Napster. Before Some Kind of Monster. Before they lost touch.

    -Jon Hadusek
    Senior Staff Writer


    10. “Battery”

    Album: Master of Puppets (1986)

    “Battery” is arguably Metallica’s heaviest song. Placed at the beginning of the 1986 opus Master of Puppets, it opens with a melodic, flamenco guitar introduction before the band bursts into a galloping chord progression. This quickly turns from rigid brutality (verse) to triumph (chorus) in one of Metallica’s more tactful tempo changes. Such transitions are what set them apart from similar thrash metal acts. Hetfield and Ulrich — the group’s chief songwriters — seamlessly connect distinct song sections, which results in memorable tracks like this one.

    9. “Seek & Destroy”

    Album: Kill ‘Em All (1983)

    A vicious riff preludes Hetfield’s equally volatile opening couplet: “Scanning the scene in the city tonight/ Looking for you, to start up a fight.” Metallica didn’t give a fuck back then; they were just four L.A. kids playing the music they liked to listen to. That attitude motivated their music, image, and ethos. It’s what made them cool, and their music even cooler. This would slowly dissipate as the band members aged. One of the group’s earliest recordings, “Seek & Destroy” was originally on the band’s No Life ‘Til Leather demo, which featured Dave Mustaine on lead guitar.

    8. “Orion”

    Album: Master of Puppets (1986)

    Metallica included an instrumental on each of its first four records, “Orion” being the best of the bunch. Indulging a more progressive side of metal, these lengthy pieces relied on atmosphere and Kirk Hammett, who gets plenty of time to solo. But the music carries itself, lacking vocals for a reason. “Orion” is separated into multiple movements connected by Cliff Burton’s ever-inventive bass playing (he really shines on the fills). When the track reaches its midpoint — as those harmonious guitars glide into the solo — “thrash metal” has never sounded so beautiful, before or since. It’s still regularly included on Metallica’s setlist despite being an instrumental.

    7. “The Four Horsemen”

    Album: Kill ‘Em All (1983)

    Dave Mustaine’s most pivotal creation before he was kicked out of Metallica, “The Four Horsemen” was originally titled “The Mechanix” and had different lyrics about a gas station attendant. This original version can be heard on No Life ‘Til Leather and Megadeth’s debut album. Thankfully, Hetfield changed the lyrics. In all fairness to Mustaine, the Kill ‘Em All version epitomizes the early thrash sound. Hetfield’s high-pitch screeches would subside by 1984, but they’re in full force here, adding an evil bite to his vocal delivery.

    6. “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

    Album: Ride the Lightning (1984)

    Full disclosure: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” got me into Metallica and, as a result, heavy metal. Burton’s bass riff, the way it segues into a pure headbanging rhythm and Hetfield’s Hemingway lyrics… just tackled me to the ground. This was nothing like the band’s vapid radio singles, which were all I’d heard up to that point. Looking back, the track acts as an ideal entry point for virgin listeners, depicting Metallica’s remarkable intermingling of melody and ferocity.

    5. “Enter Sandman”

    Album: Metallica (1991)

    No song was as vital to a heavy metal band as “Enter Sandman” was to Metallica. It quintupled their fanbase, garnering serious airplay on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and FM radio — all in the face of grunge. Now, it’s played in every sporting arena in the world (I’ve seen cheerleaders dance to the riff at basketball games) and utterly desecrated by pop culture. But you can’t hold that against the song. Hetfield’s vocal cadence is catchy as hell, as is the riff.

    4. “Creeping Death”

    Album: Ride the Lightning (1984)

    The grandiose “Creeping Death” is a crash course in thrash metal songwriting. Detailing the plagues of Exodus 12:29, the song’s lofty subject matter is accented by pummeling rhythm guitars and the legendary refrain, “Die by my hand/ I creep across the land/ Killing firstborn man” — originally written by Hammett while he was in Exodus.

    3. “Fade to Black”

    Album: Ride the Lightning (1984)

    This one was polarizing for fans at the time. It’s a soft, melancholic composition — well executed but a total departure from Metallica’s relentless style. In a way, some viewed it as the beginning of the end, the spiritual predecessor to Metallica. Hopefully those critics have come to reassess the song. It’s aged well and rings poignant, whereas the band’s latter ballads come off as sappy pap.

    2. “Master of Puppets”

    Album: Master of Puppets (1986)

    Brilliantly composed. Possibly the best thrash metal song of all-time. I could go on. This is their high-roller juggernaut — a journey of a track that expounds on flourishes heard on past epics such as “Creeping Death”. It’s a song about drugs, as Hetfield explains, or “…how things get switched around, instead of you controlling what you’re taking and doing, it’s drugs controlling you.” His angry verses give way to the best solo Kirk Hammett ever wrote; serene notes juxtaposed alongside destruction. One of their many creative peaks.