music / Columns

The 8 Ball 10.29.12: The Top 8 Metallica Songs

October 29, 2012 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

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Top 8 Metallica Songs

Metallica is, for many people, the name that means “heavy metal” like no other. Easily the most prominent and well-known metal band worldwide, the group that formed in 1981 thanks to an ad in a Los Angeles newspaper reading “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden” is still rocking hard thirty-one years later. Metallica is in rare company among metal bands, not only for their longevity and prominence but because outside of Slayer few bands have stayed as relatively consistently to a core lineup without many roster changes. This week, with Halloween on my mind and thus metal in my ears, I thought it would be a good week to look at the best Metallica tracks out there.

Caveat: This is pretty self-explanatory; if it was a Metallica song than it was eligible. Much like my previous Top 8 songs lists dedicated to specific bands, I was looking for original songs performed by the band and not covers; thus tracks like “Turn the Page” and “Whiskey in the Jar” were ineligible. It must also be noted that I had a hell of a time putting this list together; I was tempted to make this a two-parter but this is the 8 Ball, not the 16 Ball. Besides, won’t two double 8-Balls in a row pretty much kill you? I don’t need that on my conscience. So anyway, in all seriousness there were a ton of songs I wanted to fit on and couldn’t; this is not a situation where if I didn’t list the song, it’s not a good one.

Just Missing The Cut

“Battery” (1986)
“Enter Sandman” (1991)
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1985)

#8: “Blackened” (1988)

I’ve said before in previous columns here at 411 that …And Justice For All is probably my favorite Metallica album, and that’s 100% true. Part of that is because of the immediate impression I got from this album when I put it on for the first time (at the urging of a friend who was a gloriously bad influence) and got just about knocked on my ass by “Blackened.” The first track on the album, “Blackened” sets the tone for the band’s 1989 album in a couple of ways. First off, it is unabashed social commentary, with lyrics about the destruction of the Earth and human civilization through mankind’s selfish and thoughtless attitudes toward each other and the world around them. Second, it clocks in at almost seven minutes in length…and this just before jumping into the album’s title track which is almost ten minutes. I realize that there are people who will accuse me of being a “late fan” of the album because I didn’t get into them before this one, meaning I had to go back and discover the first three LPs. Hey, we all have to start somewhere, and I was a seven-year-old son of conservative parents when Kill ‘Em All was released. Regardless, …And Justice For All was largely the album that introduced me to thrash metal and “Blackened” was the song that instantly made me a fan of the genre because it shattered everything I expected to feel about metal.

#7: “Seek and Destroy” (1983)

Speaking of songs I had to go back and discover…”Seek and Destroy” is one of the more controversial songs in Metallica’s catalogue for getting placed on Clear Channel’s “Do Not Play” list in the wake of September 11th. More importantly, unlike “Fade to Black” and “Enter Sandman” you could actually see why this one made it on the list, being a song about the urge to hunt and kill. It is also one the band’s most popular and played songs on tours, and for good reason. Obviously, you can hear the early influences of the band by groups like Diamond Head, which Lars Ulrich admits gave them inspiration via “Dead Reckoning.” I enjoy Diamond Head, but I daresay that Metallica crafted a song that surpassed its inspiration. It’s a great little aggressive number from the group and one that is perfect for closing out shows with, making it an anthem or sorts for Metallica fans. The opening riff is pretty close to iconic and it remains one of the best songs from their early work.

#6: “Creeping Death” (1984)

How many people do you know of who listened to “Creeping Death” for years before really paying attention to the lyrics and discovering (or better yet, having to be told by someone) that this is a Biblical story told within the confines of thrash metal? I know people who denied it until they were specifically pointed to the lyrics that obviously reference the story of Moses and the plagues of Egypt. Needless to say some minds got blown, mostly because if you’re not familiar with Metallica you don’t expect a metal band to be taking their inspiration from the Bible. This is such a hard-hitting track that you can’t help but be drawn to it. This has all the hallmarks of a great Metallica song from the blistering guitar work and the pulse-pounding sound and pace to lyrics that are far more intellectual than many give the band credit for. This is a perfect example of why Metallica rose to and stayed at the top of the genre even when their later work has fallen off to arguable degrees; it is more than just a great metal song. It’s simply a great song whatever genre you like.

#5: “The Unforgiven” (1991)

How many songs do you know that are so well-received that they inspire not one, but two sequel songs? There are many who consider “The Unforgiven” to be the last great Metallica song. I won’t go that far as I appreciate many of the songs of Load and even Reload, not to mention Death Magnetic. That being said, I certainly don’t believe that the band has topped itself since. “Unforgiven” was the band’s attempt to twist the rock ballad dynamic, to reversing the standard format of a melodic verse and heavy chorus. That made it stand out right off the bat. When you add in the lyrics, which eloquently tell the story of a man struggling with everything he has against subjugation and oppression, you have a song that does more than just stand out; it pulls you in and makes you fall in love with it. There were some who believed that this song was one of those on the Black Album that pushed the band into kinder and more gentle avenues for the sake of selling out, but with respect I disagree. I think this was a great example of a band that learned to grow and mature as songwriters and as artists, and they came up with one of their best songs as a result.

#4: “Fade to Black” (1984)

Come on, guys. Who DOESN’T love “Fade to Black?” This is one of the absolute and near-indisputable essentials of the band’s catalogue. It is basically the group’s first ballad, with lyrics that confront suicidal thoughts. That content made it controversial for the band’s teenage fans to listen to in the mid-1980s when heavy metal music was in the crosshairs (I still don’t get why it was supposedly inappropriate post-9/11 though), but conversely many people have proclaimed that the song helped them through very difficult times because they knew that they weren’t alone in having these terrifying thoughts. It has what has got to be one of my favorite guitar solos as well; just listen to Hammett destroy it at the end of this song. “Fade to Black” set the template for the Metallica power ballad and influenced countless artists who would follow, to great effect. It simply hits every right note in both a literal and figurative fashion, making it a must for lists like this.

#3: “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” (1986)

Speaking of “musts,” this song literally gives me chills every time I listen to it. I don’t rightly believe there has ever been a more effective song about the downward spiral of insanity and/or imprisonment. You can take your opening riffs from “Seek and Destroy” or pretty much any other Metallica song: as good as they all are, this is the one I love the most. Hetfield wrote the song as a tribute to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and as great of a film as that is, this is a better song than that is a movie. The song goes into some very dark places but never seems gratuitous. The group allowed this song to be used for the documentary series Paradise Lost, the only film Metallica’s music has ever been licensed for and it fit that one like a glove. The song takes the main riff from Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and turns it into something wholly different and more dangerously seductive. It’s a brilliant piece of work and one I can never get tired of listening to.

#2: “One” (1989)

My top two choices were never in doubt, other than which would place at the top. I actually flip-flop on this quite a bit and there are times I feel this really is the pinnacle of the band’s work. It takes their slow-build power ballad format and distills it down to what is pretty much the perfect essence of a heavy metal ballad on a musical level. Meanwhile on a lyrical level it’s a fantastic concept song that is really chilling in its implications. No one ever wants to be a vegetable sitting in a hospital bed, but what if you were still conscious, fully cognizant and capable of sensing the world around you, but were trapped in your body unable to move? That is the very definition of what would drive me into the deepest horrors of insanity. The song is certainly not a short one but it still managed to get radio play based on how amazing it was. From the haunting lyrics to the slow build toward the frenzied guitar solo to the amazing video, this was just about the top of the heap for me of what was possible in heavy metal.

#1: “Master of Puppets” (1986)

If you’re a Metallica fan then it is very likely you realized this was #1 by now just by process of elimination. Or you skipped the rest to come straight here, in which case go back and read the rest! You’re spoiling the surprise! In all seriousness, it is kind of difficult to argue that “Master of Puppets” doesn’t belong in at least the top two or three, if not #1. It takes what is arguably the most famous Metallica opening riff and never once lets up from there. It is a vicious and unrelenting thrash song, capturing that raw fury that made them so great and put them at the forefront of the genre. The lyrics are an incredibly effective ode to drugs and addiction, and how powerless that addiction can make one feel. You can feel the frustration pouring through the guitar riffs, Hetfield’s voice and Ulrich’s drumming. It has become the band’s signature song and for very good reason; it is one of, if not the, best of their thirty-plus year catalogue.


MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO

I’m never going to accuse Load or ReLoad of being great albums, but I do think that they get a bit too much hate for being the first “short hair” Metallica albums. Here is one of my favorite songs of either of those albums, Load’s “King Nothing”:

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.

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