Metallica


Kill 'em All
(Vertigo - 1983)
Their first LP and second in aggression only to Ride the Lightning. The production and music are a lot more raw, which actually endears the album and gives it a true aggressive and unpolished feel - the way some metal ought to be. The riffing is gritty, heavy and always gripping - something Metallica excels in. Precise speed and plenty of variety in the rhythms; Outstanding speedy guitar solos that always match the song perfectly; Powerful albeit very simple drumming. James' vocals here are a throaty yell, only higher and much more youthful. The whole album sounds fresh and full of energetic gusto and it doesn't repeat itself like some other albums in this genre. An exemplary thrashy experience and packed with classic songs.
Ride the Lightning
(Elektra - 1984)
A killer release and the classic of all classics of the pure thrash/speed genre. Here James suddenly packs a lot more punch behind his yells/vocals, the production and playing get even more razor sharp and crunchy, and the songs themselves grab you by the throat and race off into a whirlwind of aggression. Here we also catch many glimpses of the more 'epic' arrangements and acoustic enhancements that made their next album such a masterpiece. This also contains their first semi-ballad (Fade to Black) that is a journey into haunting sadness and pain. And another first is the epic instrumental track (The Call of Ktulu), that takes you into dark landscapes of pounding fury. Again, there is plenty of variety in the riffs and composition to keep you going throughout. Truly masterful and considered by many to be their best.
Master of Puppets
(Elektra - 1986)
The summit of their career in my opinion and one of the best albums of all time. Yet starting with this album, the accusations of 'sell-outs' already started. I guess the fans, captivated by the aggression from their previous works, decided that even one ounce less of raw aggression is bad and refuse to recognize this and other masterpieces when it bites them in the ass. And that is what this is, an epic, eargasmic, blood-pumping, thrashy, work of art. It also contains a couple of their most damaging songs ever, even though the overall feel of the album is one of heaviness and less speed than Ride the Lightning. From the truly epic title track with its beautiful acoustic interlude, to their heaviest and blackest song (The Thing That Should Not Be), to the slowly-building-up-to-a-frenzy 'Sanitarium', to the brutally speedy 'Damage Inc.' and 'Disposable Heroes', this album screams Classic! This is more polished than before and uses a variety of new arrangements and gripping moods. More tunes here in and between the rhythms, slightly improved vocals, and much better drumming. A very heavy and brilliant album. There is also a conceptual 9-minute instrumental. For many years this was in my #1 spot.
Garage Days Re-revisited
(Elektra - 1987)
Well after Master of Puppets, Cliff Burton (bass) died in a tragic accident and Metallica found a replacement soon after. This EP is an album of covers they made to break in the new member (Jason Newstead) together with some b-sides from 1983.
Helpless (Diamond Head) - a frolicking rhythmic song with Metallica's usual crunchiness. Good.
The Small Hours (Holocaust) - Eerie intro and then a romping slow slightly gothic song, speeding up slightly towards the end. At times reminiscent of Paradise Lost but simple. Not my favorite.
The Wait (Killing Joke) - One of my favorite covers by Metallica. Superb groovy rhythm with very crunchy riffs and a strong chorus.
Crash Course in Brain Surgery (Budgie) - Rockingly heavy enhanced by Metallica crunch again. Fun.
Last Caress/Green Hill (Misfits) - Obnoxious punk songs, again made very heavy. I usually hate punk but Metallica pull these off with enjoyment.
Am I Evil (Diamond Head) - Possibly my favorite cover thanks to the guitarwork and solo. A long thrashy song and superb!
Blitzkrieg (Blitzkrieg) - Mean bass and another great instrumental/solo in the middle. Great riffs.
Overall a fun album and very well performed and interpreted.
...and Justice for All
(Vertigo - 1988)
With the demise of Cliff Burton, the songs suddenly seem to lose some of their gripping power and fascinating arrangements. However, that does not mean that this album is weak or bad in any sense, in fact some consider this one to be their best. The songs here focus more on a heavy kind of power rather than speed, the riffs are much slower than before and pound out their anger in larger doses. Of course, there are exceptions as well on this album with the very fast 'Dyers Eve' and other speedy sections, but this one mostly plods along. We also have the classic 'One' track that starts with an acoustic sorrow and ends in a frenzied rage - a classic. A long instrumental decorates the album as well with its mostly far-away moods and acoustic embellishments. A solid album with even stronger vocals and good guitar harmonies but down amongst the lesser favorites for me personally.
Metallica (The Black Album)
(Elektra - 1991)
With this release, the accusations of 'sell-outs' multiplied a hundredfold and the fan-base shifted radically. It is a big move towards commercialism but for me personally, this is my second favorite album by Metallica together with Ride the Lightning. The songs are very fresh sounding, heavy, crunchy, and original. They vary a lot from the faster, romping tracks such as 'Through the Never', to the heavy and pounding 'Sad but True', to a couple of strong ballads ('Unforgiven'), and everything in between. They have returned in full form with this album with gripping riffs and crunch, albeit much slower. James roars out his vocals here and even sings at times instead of 'yelling in key'. Drumming is powerful as ever, but still relies more on power than on technical and varied playing. A damn good heavy album, commercial or not.
Load
(Vertigo - 1996)
Another huge step towards commercialism, another crowd of fans lost and a new crowd gained, and an even bigger shock this time around. Even I got disappointed with this one for its unoriginality and general weakness. However, this is only due to the high standard that Metallica have set for themselves as both pioneers and superb musicians. Once you look past that expectation, this album is still good. With obvious influences from Alice in Chains and a few stolen riffs from bands such as Danzig, this album turns to a much more commercial sound. There are no faster songs on this one and much less heaviness, the songs standing on the border between hard rock and metal. The guitars here still crunch but use new elements such a rockish twang and bawdy, hard rock musical phrases. James sings now full time and doesn't bother yelling much as before, but his vocals are strong and are now decorated with more harmonies and melodies. Standouts are the last 10 minute song with its broad and epic style, the very enjoyable romping 'King Nothing', and the shocking ballad with country elements ('Mama Said'). Overall a good album, but a big step down for Metallica.
Reload
(Vertigo - 1997)
These songs were recorded at the same time as the ones on Load so I would tell you to read the above review, only my final evaluation there doesn't apply to this one unfortunately. Even I had to put my foot down this time and refuse to accept this stagnant and boring release by the former masters. The general sound of this album is the same as on Load, only slightly heavier. Most of the tracks sound like second hand rejects from the Load album and are simply boring and do nothing interesting. There is energy and as i said, it is heavier, but the fact is the composition is severely lacking. More 'bad-boy' attitude here and James especially seems to have picked up more wild flourishes in his delivery. More rock/blues guitars mixed with a good dose of heaviness, and more simple but strong rock drumming. I counted about 3-4 good tracks on this album but even they weren't amazing enough to justify buying this cd. Standouts: the horrid vocals by Marianne Faithful on 'The Memory Remains', and the surprisingly enjoyable 'Unforgiven II' which sounds like a mixture between Load's ballads and the original 'Unforgiven'. Two more good tracks are 'Low Man's Lyric' and 'Where the Wild Things Are' - an Alice in Chains rip-off. Maybe the label should pay them less and make them angry again.
Garage Inc.
(Elektra - 1998)
Renowned for their great interpretations and choices of covers in the past, Metallica release a promising double CD consisting of most of their previous covers and a whole slew of new ones:

Disc I
Free Speech for the Dumb (Discharge) - Hardcore punk covered with delicious raw crunch, bringing up nostalgia for this once heavy band, but a tad repetitive in the end.
It's Electric (Diamond Head) - Very disappointing considering the superb Diamond Head covers in the past. Sounds like Reload material: Heavy but bland with James' increasingly annoying vocal interjections.
Sabbra Cadabra (Black Sabbath) - Commercialized, albeit in a heavy rocking way. Not too bad but I much prefer the original rawer and moodier sound.
Turn The Page (Bob Seger) - Another Metallica 90s ballad hit. Tedious and weak, even if you like some of the other mellow things they have put out lately (I do).
Die, Die My Darling (Misfits) - Another punk track done the Metallica way. They have a knack for replacing the obnoxious of punk with a cool crunchy romp, but James was more effective with these kinds of tracks when he was yelling instead of singing.
Loverman (Nick Cave) - Boring alternative rock (with Metallica heaviness attached) lasting for 8 minutes. The track that should not be.
Mercyful Fate (Mercyful Fate) - A good medley (as far as medley's go) with some great metal riffs and rhythms from this classic band. I prefer proper song structure though.
Astronomy (Blue Oyster Cult) - Slightly marred again by James' one-sided vocal delivery but otherwise, an enjoyable cover of this solid hard rock tune.
Whiskey In The Jar (Thin Lizzy) - A bouncy, occasionally cheesy and basically dull track.
Tuesday's Gone (Lynyrd Skynyrd) - 'tis a weird experience to hear Metallica play this folk/blues title. When I get over the disorientation shock I'll let you know what I think.
The More I See (Discharge) - Another Discharge cover and much better than the first. Heavy driving riffs and guitar with a groovy bass.

Disc II
Helpless (Diamond Head) - a frolicking rhythmic song with Metallica's usual crunchiness. Good.
The Small Hours (Holocaust) - Eerie intro and then a romping slow slightly gothic song, speeding up slightly towards the end. At times reminiscent of Paradise Lost but simple. Not my favorite.
The Wait (Killing Joke) - One of my favorite covers by Metallica. Superb groovy rhythm with very crunchy riffs and a strong chorus.
Crash Course in Brain Surgery (Budgie) - Rockingly heavy enhanced by Metallica crunch again. Fun.
Last Caress/Green Hill (Misfits) - Obnoxious punk songs, again made very heavy. I usually hate punk but Metallica pull these off with enjoyment.
Am I Evil (Diamond Head) - Possibly my favorite cover thanks to the guitarwork and outstanding solo. A long thrashy superb song.
Blitzkrieg (Blitzkrieg) - Mean bass and another great instrumental/solo in the middle. Great riffs.
Breadfan (Budgie) - Metallized hard rock. A thumping tune. Not bad.
The Prince (Diamond Head) - Yet another Diamond Head cover, this one also with great driving riffs and a strong melodic solo.
Stone Cold Crazy (Queen) - An almost unrecognizable hard rockin' interpertation. Fast and hard hitting.
So What (The Anti-Nowhere League) - The by now notorious punk track with its extreme abrasive lyrics. In your face punk with a metal guitar solo.
Killing Time (Sweet Savage) - Old-school metal. Nostalgically fun.
Overkill (Motorhead) - Superb hard hitting cover. James tries to mimic Lemmy at times.
Damage Case (Motorhead) - Another good rocking Motorhead track. Slow and heavy bar-room music.
Stone Dead Forever (Motorhead) - More of the same with a slight Metallica-Load era sound to it.
Too Late Too Late (Motorhead) - This stuff sounds better with a rawer Motorhead production but it's still fun.

Summary: For those of you who for some weird reason don't have most of the songs in the second CD, this is a good compilation. Otherwise, there is no reason to get this since the new stuff on the first CD is too full of weak material.
S & M
(Elektra - 1999)
Metallica with a symphony orchestra - a very promising and interesting premise. But can they pull this off without sounding gimmicky, tasteless or lame? Also, is it possible to get your ears around many of these classic songs with this added and rather large element? And finally, this was recorded live, so the mixing quality will definitely come into question. Disappointingly, in most cases the answer to the questions is no, but there are some enjoyable or interesting moments scattered throughout this 2 CD release. The main problems lie in the way the vocals clash with the full and demanding music and the way they implemented the orchestra with the music. In most cases, it is used as either mere bombast, crude harmonics, or a hastily written afterthought to the music, often distracting and making the heavy music simply too noisy. Many of the songs were written with the original instruments in mind, the emotion of the song carried by guitar riffs, and the orchestra detracts from this with cheap, distracting bombastics. Also, the orchestra has dozens of instruments but Metallica make it sound like it only has at most 2 distinct sections - horns and strings. This rich collection of instruments should have been used in one or all of the following ways: 1. Let the orchestra replace one of the original instruments at times with variations and solos. 2. Write new instrumental strains - this is only briefly experienced in the form of some intros. 3. Have some interaction between the guitar and other single instruments. 4. Some songs may simply not be suitable for orchestration in any manner - leave them alone! 5. Drop the vocals and some of the drums, and make some of the songs purely instrumental (actually this album would have been much more listenable without vocals, seeing that the vocals and orchestra often vie for the muscle of the song). Instead of all this however, they chose to use the orchestra as a dramatic extra melodic line that wraps itself around and often either smothers the music or has a power struggle with it. Tracks like The Call of Ktulu, No Leaf Clover, Enter Sandman, and Battery are more enjoyable exceptions, but overall, this is crude, loud, disappointing and a tiring experience. Perhaps a less classically trained ear would enjoy this more than I have but I see it as a waste of an orchestra and opportunity.



The Last Exit 1996-

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