Where To Start With... Metallica
Has it really been three full decades since Metallica’s seminal, self-titled album first arrived on our shelves? Apparently so, which is staggering not only because their 1991 LP Metallica – usually referred to simply as ‘The Black Album’ – manages to sound much fresher and more recent than its 30-year vintage would allow you to believe, but also because songs like ‘Enter Sandman’ are so deeply etched into public consciousness that it feels like they’ve been around since the dawn of time.
First formed in Los Angeles ten years before the Black Album’s release, Metallica quickly found themselves at the vanguard of the emerging thrash metal scene, and while their first few albums certainly earned them a reputation for being one of the heaviest bands around, by the time of their fourth album, 1988’s …And Justice for All, they were also beginning to show signs that there was more to their songwriting talents than they’d previously shown.
The Black Album arguably saw those talents fully realised for the first time and marked a turning point in the band’s career from which they’ve never looked back. Every album since has topped the charts in their native USA, and Metallica have established themselves as not only one of the most successful rock bands of all time, but also one of the most influential.
That legacy is celebrated this week with a newly-remastered 30th-anniversary reissue of their 1991 LP, which is available in stores from Friday (September 10) in a variety of formats, from an expanded edition of the album on CD to a huge vinyl box set containing all manner of collectable treats and delights.
To celebrate its release we dug through Metallica’s discography and unearthed 10 key tracks from their long career as a guide to the uninitiated…
‘Seek & Destroy’
Only two singles were released from Metallica’s 1983 debut album Kill ‘Em All, and ‘Seek and Destroy’ somehow wasn’t one of them, but it probably should have been. One of the hardest rocking cuts from their debut LP, it stands the test of time better than anything else on the album. Still an absolute banger.
‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’
Early signs that Metallica were a little sharper than many of their contemporaries came with tracks on second album Ride the Lightning such as this, which tips its hat to classics from Black Sabbath and AC/DC while cleverly overlaying a shuffling, Iron Maiden-esque guitar riff over a driving straight rock beat, creating something rhythmically quite unique. And what a riff it is, by the way…
‘Master of Puppets’
The title track from Metallica’s third album is early Metallica at their driving, searing best. A machine-gun-like riff and Lars Ulrich’s relentless, frenetic drumming make this one of the album’s real highlights and it remains a fan favourite even now.
If the straight-up metal of their first three albums won them plenty of fans in the live arena, the radio stations and the record-buying public at large remained stubbornly indifferent, but that all changed with their 1988 album …And Justice for All, which saw them spread their creative wings a little and showcase their knack for writing a big, heavy ballad. Their first real breakthrough hit, ‘One’ would set the stage for things to come.
If you’ve only ever learned to play one riff on a guitar, there’s a good chance it’s the one featured in the opening bars of ‘Enter Sandman’. The opening salvo from Metallica’s 1991 masterpiece is up there with the most iconic riffs of all time and sounds every bit as dark and foreboding now as it did 30 years ago.
‘Nothing Else Matters ‘99’
Sure, we could have included the Black Album original, but the song always sounded bigger than its production on the record and with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra behind them it really grows into a towering power ballad for the ages.
Quite possibly one of the heaviest-sounding things they ever recorded, the title track from their 2003 LP of the same name was recorded against the backdrop of a turbulent period in the band’s history that would later be documented in the 2004 documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. If you’ve seen it, you’ll have noticed the band members are almost always angry with each other, and boy can you hear it on this thumping track.
‘Some Kind of Monster’
A song whose tortured creative process became one of the key elements of the aforementioned documentary that shares its name, ‘Some Kind of Monster is, if nothing else, proof that even a barely-functioning Metallica are still capable of creating something special.
One of the more leftfield albums to feature in Metallica’s growing discography is 2011’s Lulu, written and recorded in collaboration with former Velvet Underground founder Lou Reed, which has gained added poignancy since its release by becoming the last album Reed would release before his death in 2013. Much more fast and loose than Metallica’s usual records, Lulu nevertheless contains some thrilling moments, 'The View' being one of them.
You might think a band that has been playing together for 40 years might have lost some of their hard-edged intensity, but it takes roughly three seconds from pressing ‘play’ on the opener from their most recent album Hardwired…to Self Destruct to realise that, nope, they definitely haven’t. Not even a bit.
The newly-remastered Black Album is available in hmv stores from Friday (September 10). You can also find it here in our online store.