On the eve of the release of Metallica's latest effort, "Death Magnetic," (come back tomorrow for my review) I thought I'd take a look back at some of the highlights of the band's career. So here's the setup, I've got one CD, 12 songs, to cover the band's essentials. It may not sound that tough, but you're talking about a guy who doesn't think there's a bad note on the band's first four albums.
The 12 Pack
1: "The Four Horsemen" ("Kill 'Em All," 1983). This was Metallica's first attempt at the epic metal song, and the appropriately galloping riff is still one of their best.
2. "Whiplash" ("Kill 'Em All," 1983). Raw, fast and wildly energetic, this song encapsulates everything that Metallica was at this point in time.
3. "Seek and Destroy" ("Kill 'Em All," 1983). Arguably the band's first brush with "commercial" songwriting, this song has one of the most memorable opening riffs of Metallica's career.
4. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" ("Ride the Lightning," 1984). The main riff of this tune is simplistic and practically plodding for Metallica at the time, but that doesn't lessen its power.
5. "Creeping Death" ("Ride the Lightning," 1984). The biblical epic has, oddly, become one of the band's signature songs. Fast, precise riffing and that huge live sing-along bit just before the guitar solo.
6. "Battery" ("Master of Puppets," 1986). A great pummeling album opener for the record that many fans consider Metallica's best. Competing for a spot on my list with "Damage, Inc." from the same record. Today, "Battery" wins.
7. "Master of Puppets" ("Master of Puppets," 1986). Again, it's all about that classic opening riff and that barked "Master, Master" hook.
8. "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" ("Master of Puppets," 1986). You have to include one of the band's dark power ballads from the 1980s, and while "Fade to Black" and "One" are favorites, this twisted tune wins the spot.
9. "Orion" ("Master of Puppets," 1986). Again, any list of Metallica's best has to include at least one instrumental, and this is the band's best.
10. "Blackened" ("...And Justice for All," 1988). This is a showcase for those lightning fast, precise riffs that were Metallica's trademark in the 1980s. Not only the best song on this record, one of the best of Metallica's career.
11. "Sad, But True" ("Metallica," 1991). Again, a simplistic riff on a simplistic record that turned many fans off, but despite it's lack of technical prowess, it's a monster riff that can't be denied.
12. "Stone Cold Crazy" ("Garage Inc." 1998, originally a 1992 B-side). Metallica has always delivered some great covers, so you have to include one on the list. This take on the Queen classic narrowly beats out a solid stable of covers dating back to the band's earliest days.
The Limited Edition Bonus Disc:
Yes, I'm cheating. These are the songs that were close, but not quite.
"Motorbreath" ("Kill 'Em All," 1983). Galloping, punk-influenced, high octane blaster.
"Am I Evil?" ("Garage Days Revisited," 1984, later added to the re-release of "Kill 'Em All"). Metallica's first top-notch cover song, takes Diamondhead's original to a new level.
"Fade to Black" ("Ride the Lightning," 1984). Still a haunting piece of music.
"Damage, Inc." ("Master of Puppets," 1986). A theme song of sorts for Metallica, a great galloping thrasher that came the closes of any of the songs here to cracking that top 12.
"The Thing That Should Not Be" ("Master of Puppets," 1986). One of my absolute favorite Metallica tunes. Love that detuned riff and, hey, it's based on Lovecraft.
"Last Caress/Green Hell" ("Garage Days Re-Revisited," 1987). A great, catchy reworking of two Misfits tunes.
"Crash Course in Brain Surgery" ("Garage Days Re-Revisited," 1987). Metallica brings the groove on a Budgie cover. Surprising and solid.
"One" ("...And Justice For All," 1988). A huge epic power ballad scorned by some fans at the time for being Metallica's first breakthrough track, but still a great song.
"Dyer's Eve" ("...And Justice for All," 1988). Arguably Metallica's fastest, heaviest track ever.
"Of Wolf and Man" ("Metallica," 1991). James Hetfield's ode to hunting, great riff, great imagery.
"Nothing Else Matters" ("Metallica," 1991). It might surprise some people that this song makes my list, but I think it's the most honest of the commercial ballads that the band did. Heck, I played it at my wedding.
"Fuel" ("Re-Load," 1997). If I have to pick one song from the "Load" era that I can stomach, this would be it. It's catchy, and I actually kind of like it in retrospect.
"All Within My Hands" ("St. Anger," 2003). Perhaps the strongest track on this much-maligned record. Not many people like it. I do.
The Song that Should Not Be
Here's the one track that will never make any list of my favorite Metallica tunes.
"Enter Sandman" ("Metallica," 1991). Overplayed and overrated.