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Metallica’s Top 20 Songs

on November 17, 2016, 12:00am
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20. “Blackened”

…And Justice for All (1988)

As the song that laid the groundwork for a post-Cliff Burton version of Metallica, “Blackened” carried the weight of a brave new world on its shoulders. But the opening track of 1988’s …And Justice for All is less concerned with the band’s own uncertain future than it is with the future of civilization itself. James Hetfield sings of the “death of Mother Earth” and warns against the possibility of a nuclear holocaust in which “millions of our years/ In minutes disappear.” It all adds up to one of the most politically cognizant songs in Metallica’s catalog — one that remains surprisingly relevant in today’s climate. But that’s not the only reason it rocks. Though the production is limp and newcomer Jason Newsted’s bass can barely be heard, Hetfield and fellow guitarist Kirk Hammett layer riffs with reckless abandon, turning in some of their thrashiest work since Kill ‘Em All. Hammett’s huge solo carries a nice whiff of the new wave of British heavy metal, and he’s rarely sounded so powerful and so precise. –Collin Brennan

19. “Atlas, Rise!”

Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016)

Given Metallica’s extensive catalog of tried-and-true bangers, there’s no pressing need to comb through the new stuff for gems. But Hardwired… to Self-Destruct single “Atlas, Rise!” immediately calls attention to itself as one of latter-day Metallica’s hardest-hitting songs, a throwback to the band’s thrashiest days that incorporates all of the knowledge and professionalism they’ve gained since. Like its Grecian title character, the song embodies the notion of persistence — of surviving and even thriving in spite of long odds. It’s a thrilling six minutes anchored by a riff that out-pummels anything on Death Magnetic, and it’s further bolstered by a strong performance from Hetfield, who sounds like he’s challenging the world with his gnashed-teeth call of “Atlas, Rise!” in the chorus. Hindsight be damned — this one is going to stand the test of time. –Collin Brennan

18. “Fuel”

Reload (1997)

1997’s Reload was originally going to be part of a double album with 1996’s Load, but double albums are time consuming to write, and the band famously got bored in the studio. In a way, this little tidbit sums up Metallica’s middle period: after releasing five albums in eight years, the band had said everything they needed to say and was now making music for the fun of it (and not making music when it wasn’t fun). This isn’t a bad thing, and if the best songs from this period lack the violent urgency of the earlier work, they make up for it with mature craftsmanship and a kind of furious joy. So it is with the first song off Reload, “Fuel”, which is partially about driving too fast, but can more properly be thought of as a love letter to adrenaline itself. Hetfield sprinkles several “Oohs,” and “Yeahs!” throughout the song, satisfied grunts that make it as much fun to listen to as it was to record. –Wren Graves

17. “Of Wolf and Man”

Metallica (1991)

The ninth track on Metallica’s self-titled fifth album kicks off with a guitar riff that’s so persistently repetitive it may trick you into thinking the record skipped for a second. Hammett and Hetfield do most of the heavy lifting here, turning in the album’s most headbang-friendly guitar work in the song’s first half, then having some fun with a goofy bridge in which Hetfield sing-speaks lines like “Seek the wolf in thyself.” Metallica may have already been an established mainstream metal band by 1991, but “Of Wolf and Man” feels a bit like a throwback in the sense that it’s heavily indebted to one of the band’s biggest early influences: horror punks the Misfits. They’d go on to cover “Last Caress” and “Die Die My Darling” on 1998’s Garage, Inc., but “Of Wolf and Man” remains the Metallica song that’s most spiritually in tune with the Misfits and their legacy. –Collin Brennan

16. “Frantic”

St. Anger (2003)

St. Anger was Metallica’s first album written after its very public feud with Napster, and the high emotions from that period may help explain the wildly varying reviews. Rolling Stone gave it 4/5; Pitchfork, 0.8/10. Thirteen years later, St. Anger has settled somewhere in the middle: uneven to the point of being schizophrenic, but with highs to rival the band’s better output from the ‘90s. And the highest of the highs is undoubtedly “Frantic”, a philosophical thrasher that proves Buddhism is the most metal of religions. Lyrically, it’s built around the idea of dukkha, which translates as suffering or unsatisfactoriness. In the documentary Some Kind of Monster, we see Hammett bring it up: Birth is dukkha, life is dukkha, death is dukkha, and everything else is merely okay. Hetfield references “karma burning” and makes the idea explicit in the final chorus. This is how aging bands stay relevant: The pulsing guitars and furious drums are a throwback to Metallica’s earlier thrash records, but the inspiration and ideas are coming from a deeper place. –Wren Graves

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