Metallica, formed in 1981 in Los Angeles by vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, are one of the world’s leading heavy metal bands and are known for their power, complexity and influence.
Hetfield and Ulrich are currently joined by longtime lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Robert Trujillo; though bassists Ron McGovney, Cliff Burton, and Jason Newsted, and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine are former members of the band whose roles in the band’s enormous success will never be forgotten. Their ten studio albums, plus many live and experimental releases make it a challenge to select just five songs that define their sound, but here is Guitar Exchange’s selection:
5) Enter Sandman (1991) “
Somethings wrong, shut the light, Heavy thoughts tonight, And they aren't of Snow White Dreams of war, dreams of liars, Dreams of dragon's fire, And of things that will bite…”
Enter Sandman was the breathtaking ‘nightmare’ lead single from Metallica, the band’s eponymous fifth album. Hetfield wrote the chilling lyrics to the classic tune that is sung at practically every one of Metallica’s gigs. The instantly recognizable melody grew from a guitar riff that Hammett wrote and is now legendary among fans. According to Ulrich, the song was "the foundation, the guide, to the whole record" even before it had lyrics. The mix of the spoken vocals and the way in which Hetfield creatively sings the song can make the hairs back on the back of your neck stand up. The anthem has been sung at football matches and numerous athletic competitions ever since and helped catapult Metallica to global fame.
4) Battery (1986)
The outstanding track that kicks off the album Master of Puppets opens with an amazing acoustic guitar riff before a powerful electric guitar takes over, as the song grows in intensity. Although many think of the song as an ode to ‘battery in the pit’, it is in fact a tribute to favourite music venue known as the Old Waldorf, located at 444 Battery Street, San Francisco. Battery is one of bassist Robert Trujillo's favourite songs and he played it at his audition with the band. Featuring great vocals from Hetfield, many regard it as the best opening track on any metal album.
3) Creeping Death (1984)
Creeping Death, another epic head-banging staple at live concerts, was inspired by the Bible’s book of Exodus and specifically the film The Ten Commandments. While members of Metallica watched a scene in which a plague kills Egyptians, Cliff Burton reportedly said "Argh – it's like creeping death!" The band liked the sound of those words and decided to write a song based on the idea. In fact Kirk Hammett had written what became the passionate and blistering guitar solo for the bridge section when he was just 16. When the track is played live Hetfield can be seen playing his Trusset Metal Explorer electric guitar.
The track was ranked at number one on Guitar World's 10 greatest Metallica songs of all time. In any case, any song where the band make the whole audience chant “Die” repeatedly, has got to be worth something...
2) Orion (1986)
The instrumental track Orion, similar to The Call of Ktulu, shows the depth and diversity of Metallica’s output. Featuring wonderful interplay between the two guitarists and a legendary bass line from Cliff Burton (just months before his death) helped demonstrate that despite being known for a cacophonic heavy sound and sheer raw power Metallica could also produce what might be described as beautiful songs. On one of the live versions of Orion, Hetfield can be seen brandishing his white signature ESP Snakebyte electric guitar.
1) Master of Puppets (1986)
“End of passion play, crumbling away, I’m your source of self-destruction, Veins that pump with fear, Sucking darkest clear, Leading on your death’s construction, Taste me, you will see, More is all you need… Come crawling faster, Obey your master, Your life burns faster, Obey your Master, Master, Master of puppets.”
This song, which was reportedly Cliff Burton’s favourite, "deals pretty much with drugs. How things get switched around, instead of you controlling what you're taking and doing, it's drugs controlling you,” explained Hetfield. The epic track opens with an impressive sixty second intro, with big riffs that “drop like a slaughterhouse sledgehammer,” according to one critic. Appropriately given the song’s subject matter, there is something trance-like about the instrumental section, which increasingly feels like it is gripping you, as the drums pound into your head, before giving way to a more gentle, and even ecstatic, section, which is followed by more frenetic playing. This clever and exciting song is the band’s most commonly played live, and is also ranked number one on a ‘100 Greatest Riffs poll’ conducted by Total Guitar magazine. The song is appropriately addictive, and quite rightly considered an absolute classic.