Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we follow Metallica’s roller-coaster ride from Kill ‘Em All to 72 Seasons. Also be sure to check out Consequence’s new Metallica cover story.
Metaphors alone don’t do justice to the career path of Metallica, mostly because there are so many that could be applied to their unusual trajectory: treacherous ocean voyage, marathon, following Billy from the “Family Circus” on one of his dotted-line adventures.
Metallica have wound their way out of the underground metal scene in the early ‘80s, earning the respect and admiration from their peers and fans for their awe-inspiring talent and hard-nosed view of the traditional paths of music promotion. They survived the death of their beloved bassist Cliff Burton and the arrival and acrimonious departure of his replacement, Jason Newsted, finding untold levels of success along the way.
They became something of a punchline around the time that they took on Napster and decided to let a film crew capture their album/group therapy sessions in Some Kind of Monster. And they’ve slowly grinded away since, reaching a level of fame that even the most begrudging metalhead has to respect. That they’ve made it this long after watching one of their best friends die, being called “Alternica” for seemingly abandoning their thrash roots, and recording an almost universally reviled album with Lou Reed is something that deserves some measure of admiration. (Note: For this list, we didn’t include Lulu, as we consider it a collaborative LP, and not a full-on Metallica album).
What has never been up for debate is the work that Metallica has put into every song they’ve recorded. Whether that’s a bone-crunching cover of a Diamond Head classic or a challenging original song that nimbly jumps between time signatures, they are as hard-nosed about making it as great as they can. That it sometimes becomes an instant classic like “Creeping Death” or an unfortunate belly flop like “St. Anger” is simply the dull truth about creativity. Eventually, the biggest bands can fail amidst their many successes.
Looked at in total, the scales are tipped in Metallica’s favor. Even tossing out a good portion of the work they did during that fraught middle period that resulted in Load, Reload, and St. Anger, still leaves the world with one of the most inventive and respected catalogs of heavy music ever created. And they’re still going strong, releasing their newest full-length, 72 Seasons, roughly 40 years after their debut album, Kill ‘Em All.
— Robert Ham,
Editor’s Note: This list was updated in 2023 to include Metallica’s newest album, 72 Seasons.