Where's Your Crown?
Metallica Albums Ranked Worst To Best
by Benjamin Ray
10. St. Anger/Lulu (2003)
As if these two would be anywhere else on this list. The former was an unholy, boring, repetitive assault, and the latter was basically a Lou Reed record with Metallica’s wall of sound providing the soundtrack. Neither are good albums to all but a few people, so take a pass unless you are a huge fan or extremely bored on a rainy day.
9. Reload (1997)
The title already offers more of the same as Load, which in theory should be a good thing, but these songs are mostly lesser imitations of the previous disc. There is little here with the sweep and appeal of Load except “Fuel,” which is divisive among Metallica fans (it’s the best song on the disc, if that tells you anything), and rather than being concise, this one just drags on and on.
8. Garage, Inc. (1998)
Feeling invigorated after the Load/Reload project but out of new material (not surprising given the length of two long discs put out in two consecutive years), Metallica opted to record a double-disc set of covers and re-recorded versions of songs from their original demo disc. Projects like this are rarely essential, but this one hits hard with excellent covers of “Stone Cold Crazy,” “Sabbra Cadabra,” “the stupid but fun “Free Speech For The Dumb,” the radio hit “Whiskey In The Jar” and the long “Mercyful Fate.” It’s not a disc you will return to often, but it offers rewards for when you do.
7. Kill ’Em All (1983)
Metallica’s debut is loud, a little primitive and unlike anything else released at the time. In light of later releases, it falters a bit because of its lack of variety and its favoring of stamina over songwriting in places – in other words, par for a debut – but it’s still one hell of a metal album, and “Seek And Destroy” is still used in the band’s live encores.
6. Load (1996)
Excessive touring after the black album forced some time off, and Metallica used that time to write a huge batch of songs, seemingly putting the best of them on their 1996 comeback Load. As with Metallica, the songs were a little slower, simpler and shorter, even veering into pop-metal territory with “Until It Sleeps” and “Hero Of The Day.” But the songwriting chops remain intact on the first half, and “King Nothing,” “2x4” and “Bleeding Me” remain highlights of the band’s ’90s catalog. The problem is that things start to drag on and get pretty repetitive on the second half of the disc, a trait that would carry on to Reload.
5. ...And Justice For All (1988)
Ranking this album is tricky, and not just because I will lose the Internet flame war no matter where I rank it (so hiding it in the middle seemed safest). The final disc of the band’s classic ‘80s releases, this one is the culmination of the band’s original sound and proof that they had taken it as far as it could go. The songs are longer, the production is quite dry and the rush of the previous two masterpieces is replaced with decay and weariness (which is part of the concept but still wears on the listener after a while). To that end, the multi-suite songs remain arresting and ambitious, earning a spot in the discussion of the great prog-metal albums, but it’s just too much after a while, and the band realized it, too.
4. Death Magnetic (2008)
Absolutely fantastic for much of its runtime, Death Magnetic is Metallica finally returning to its roots, most likely as a response to longtime fans hungering for a true follow-up to Master Of Puppets. And over and over, this delivers, in its multi-part songs, solos, metal thrashing and general sense of “this is where we belong” that permeates the performances. I saw the band in Detroit on this tour and they absolutely killed these songs with joy and energy not seen in some time, even taking time after the show to throw beach balls and sign stuff for fans on he sage. To be accurate, this is not a recreation of the classic sound; it is an update, fused with the songwriting learned in the ’90s and the maturity appropriate for men of this age, but it is relentless, loud and gripping throughout.
3. Metallica (1991)
Roaring into 1991 with this classic, Metallica proved that it would outlast hair metal and the newfound grunge/alternative rock that everyone had turned their attention to. Many kids had this album in their collection along with Nevermind, even though the aesthetics were different simply because this one rocks, with less emphasis on heavy progressive metal and more on shorter, tighter, catchier songs. It was Metallica for a new decade, and one that catered to more commercial elements (which pissed off old-school fans, but sometimes living on the fringe gets tiring, especially if you need to pay the rent). And just like that, “Enter Sandman,” “Nothing Else Matters,” “The Unforgiven,” “Sad But True” and “Wherever I May Roam” became band staples, the songs by which many fans were introduced to the band (and its back catalog). Whether the entire album deserves the praise is debatable – commercial success doesn’t always mean critical acceptance, of course, and several of the songs are underwritten (the last three, in particular, aren’t up to the usual standards of before). But the best moments make this a fantastic disc.
2. Master Of Puppets (1986)
It’s tough to rank this and the next one. You could flip the order and nobody would complain. Actually, many fans still consider this not only the band’s finest moment but one of the best heavy metal records of all time. The only reason I put it here is because it doesn’t take the leap forward that Ride The Lightning does, instead refining the themes from that album. There’s really not a weak moment here, with “Battery” and the title cut obvious standouts alongside the lyrics of “Disposable Heroes” and the concert favorite “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” Simply amazing.
1. Ride The Lightning (1984)
Although Kill ’Em All set the tone and Master Of Puppets perfected it, Ride The Lightning edges them both out because of the stellar songwriting throughout. The band is lean and hungry but has replaced some of the adrenaline with improved songwriting, and “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” “Creeping Death,” “Fade To Black,” the title cut and the instrumental “The Call Of Ktulu” rank among the finest metal songs of all time, let alone the decade. This is hard and heavy but not relentless the way the debut was, and the variety of textures and lyrical intelligence shows a greater depth than one may have expected on a sophomore disc. Only “Escape” falls short of the other seven songs, but on any other album it would be a highlight. Many people came to Metallica through the black album, which is fine, but this is the true soul and birth of the band.