Metallica is, together with Black Sabbath, the greatest band in the history of Metal. Their emergence in 1983 meant the advent of Thrash Metal, with its fast and cutting riffs, and a new energy to the genre. But James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich's band knew how to evolve and ended up becoming one of the best-selling bands of all time; breaking all the barriers of the genre. When talking about their best albums it is impossible not to name the first five, which is what we are going to do here, but that does not mean that we think that everything after the Black Album is negligible, as albums like ReLoad from 1997 and, above all, Hardwired... to Self-Destruct, their last album to date is also at a very high level.
Kill ‘Em All (1983)
Kill 'Em All is a remarkable debut but it still lacks some key elements, for example Hetfield's voice sounds incredibly youthful - but the first classics are already here, The Four Horsemen - based on a composition of their first guitarist, Dave Mustaine, who was replaced by Kirk Hammett shortly before entering to record, called The Mechanix - is a marvel that moves from one great riff to another, including that bridge that Hetfield added, which seems taken from Sweet Home Alabama and that allows him to show off with a great solo. There is also Motorbreath, in which you can appreciate the bands role as a kind of bastard child of Black Sabbath riffs and Motörhead's speed. Then there's the album's first single, Whiplash, a brutal burst of electricity, played at 200 revolutions per minute, which was the launch of all thrash music. Finally, the best song on the album appears, Seek & Destroy, with a pure metal riff that mixes the aggressiveness of punk and the strength of heavy metal and an absolutely spot on chorus. The guitar on which most of these wonderful riffs were born, and are played, is Hetfield's Electra Flying V, a guitar he had bought in 1980 for 200 dollars, while most of the dizzying solos, although still under Mustaine's influence, are played on Hammett's Gibson Flying V from the 70s.
Ride The Lightning (1984)
Ride The Lightning is the band's first great masterpiece, an album in which they expand musical horizons and add a greater harmonic and melodic complexity to their compositions, something they already hint at from the beginning with the acoustic start of Fight Fire With Fire, in which they sound like medieval minstrels. This means that when the overwhelming initial riff enters, with Hetfield's '84 Gibson Explorer 'So What', the shock is even stronger, also making it clear that they have not lost an iota of aggressiveness. That greater musicality is also noticeable in the title track in which they demonstrate that you can sound brutal but also sophisticated, thanks possibly to the enormous expertise, and theoretical knowledge, of Cliff Burton. Although it is one of the two songs in which Mustaine still appears as co-writer, one of the riffs is his; and you can see in the solo that Kirk Hammett's Flying V is already flying alone. But if that beginning is already spectacular, the best is yet to come, and the first side closes with two of the best songs of their career. Not even AC/DC's Hells Bells have ever sounded as ominous and threatening as those that sound at the beginning of For Whom The Bells Toll, a song that builds little by little, riff by riff, until Hetfield's voice enters after two minutes. And then comes what may be the most important song of their career, their first ballad, in whose mold all the others are seen, Fade To Black, with a slow start with Hetfield demonstrating what a great singer he is and a second part in which the heavy riffs returned at full volume. To round it all off on the second side is Creeping Death, an explosive song composed from the point of view of the Angel of Death, in which it seems that Metallica is sweeping everything in its path. A brutal and influential album.
Master Of Puppets (1986)
The formula of Ride The Lightning was so perfect that what Metallica did with the next album, Master Of Puppets, was to follow its pattern to the letter, and if they managed to surpass it was because this album is, song for song, a small step above Ride The Lightning. Metallica's third album expanded the scope and ambition of their earlier works without losing any of its rage and power. It is here where the band's most memorable lineup squares the circle, acting as a perfectly oiled machine, a kind of four-headed monster in which each one plays their part to perfection and in total harmony with the others. Hetfield and Ulrich do not deliver a single weak song on this album, with a first side that is more commonly seen on a compilation album, as it includes nothing more and nothing less than Battery, Master Of Puppets, The Thing That Should Not Be and Welcome Home (Sanitarium). If Metallica gave a concert today anywhere in the world and decided to close the concert with those four songs, every last person present would be happy. The amazing thing is that, despite not being so well known, the four songs on the second side do not lower the intensity one iota, with Disposable Heroes advancing the progressive thrash epic of ...And Justice For All and Orion serving as the perfect epitaph for Burton, the obvious proof that Metallica never had an equal bass player. The guitars that you can hear in this masterpiece are a Jackson Flying V "Randy Rhoads", played by Kirk Hammett who is in charge of most of the solos and a Jackson King V Custom for a Hetfield who makes it clear that he is the most powerful rhythm guitarist in Metal.
…And Justice For All (1988)
When you have delivered a perfect album, and you know it, you have to move on to something else and that's what Metallica did with ...And Justice For All, their 1988 album that followed Master Of Puppets and in which they had to replace the amazing Cliff Burton. The chosen one was Jason Newsted, who is barely audible, in a mix where the bass is sunk. The truth is that they could have given him a little more play time because his only contribution in the composition - some of the riffs of Blackened are his - show a lot of potential. As the band launches towards progressive metal, they introduce some longer developments, frequent tempo changes, and much more unusual and intricate structures. As Hetfield said about their recording process: "Did we put six riffs on one song? Let's make it eight. Let's go crazy with it" This is Metallica's least direct but most elaborate album, with none of its songs under five minutes in length, and some like the title track or To Live Is To Die bordering on 10. Still it is another great work with several classics by the band like Blackened, the title track, Eye Of The Beholder, Harvester Of Sorrow and, above all, the spectacular One, one of the two or three best in the history of the band, their ballad par excellence, which speaks of a I Worl War soldier wounded who is unable to hear, speak or see. Never has a song that started so calmly turned into a punch in the face like this one.
Metallica (The Black Album) (1991)
The album of discord, the one that clearly divides their discography and the one that made them the biggest and most famous Metal band in the world. Hetfield and Ulrich were very clear about what they were doing when they signed up Bob Rock as producer, they wanted to break all the barriers of Metal and get into every possible house - and that's just what they got. The five singles that came out of this album are among the 20 best songs by the band, Enter Sandman, The Unforgiven, Sad But True, Nothing Else Matters and Wherever I May Roam are undisputed classics and, yes, Nothing Else Matters is a love song, The Unforgiven nods to someone as un-Metal as Ennio Morricone and on Wherever I May Roam you can hear a sitar, but Metallica got tired of labels and decided that they were a great rock band. From the mythical riff that opens Enter Sandman and the album, played with one of Hetfield's '87 ESP MX220's, the band says goodbye to lightning speed and changes it for an equally menacing but a much heavier classic music type sound. Many fans turned their backs on them and claimed they had sold out but their music entered millions of new homes. They may not have been thrash metal anymore but Metallica's Black Album made it clear that the band was far more than the most important band in the history of that genre. They were one of the greatest rock bands - without any more adjectives - in history.