Deep Cuts: Metallica
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Coming from the whole Vanilla Ice/MC Hammer generation, few close to me would have ever guessed I’d wind up attempting to head bang and play air guitar at 220 beats per minute whilst cranking Metallica albums. I was introduced to Metallica’s most popular release, 1991’s self-titled album, a.k.a. “The Black Album,” in eighth grade. The worry on my parents’ faces was immediately apparent, as they were no doubt dreading the day they’d have to tell their friends I was headed down a road of devil worship and painted fingernails. The fact of the matter was that guitar had become a huge interest of mine, starting with gods like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Stevie Ray Vaughan. My tastes gradually started to lean toward metal guitar, and no band has, or ever will, play better metal guitar than Metallica.
In June of 2003, Metallica released St. Anger, their ninth full-length studio album. Approximately 3.7 seconds after its release it was tagged with the “love it or hate it” label. Diehard and moderate fans cried foul, complaining about Ulrich’s “tin can” drum sound (okay, I admit, it was awful) and proclaiming the band was finished. Controversy has always been what Metallica is all about, and it has played a large part in their success over the years. You think “Nothing Else Matters” went over well when it was first released? Think again. Nothing has come easy for them, and if you don’t believe me, look at their tour schedule over the years. Metallica isn’t finished until they say so.
In putting together this collection of Deep Cuts, I decided the best way to attack this nearly flawless catalog is to pick the best two songs from each album (there will be four from Garage Inc. since it is a double-disc) that the casual fan has likely never heard. Trust me, picking just two from each album is a nearly impossible task for any Metallica enthusiast, but I think I have the code cracked. The tracks are presented in chronological order by year as well as relative to the track list on each disc.
“Hit the Lights” – Kill ‘Em All
The first Metallica track off the first Metallica record, and it’s a face-melter. Fading in to the sounds of a band seemingly finishing a live song, “Lights” gets crackin’ in a hurry and never lets up. It is immediately obvious just how tight the band plays, and the guitar solos by Kirk Hammett on this track are criminally underrated in relation to the rest of Metallica’s catalog.
“No Remorse” – Kill ‘Em All
Kicking off with a thick power chord riff and a blazing Hammett solo, one knows from here that the chances of “No Remorse” going awry are remote. Cliff Burton’s bass chops almost take on a life of their own, and if this tune doesn’t have you bellowing “No remorse! No repent! We don’t care what it meant!” by track’s end, you may as well pack things up and head out now.
“Fight Fire with Fire” – Ride the Lightning
The ferocious opener is deceptively gentle at first, but unleashes the fury in short order. James Hetfield’s vocals contain a hint of monotone that gives the song an added sense of dread. This is no-holds-barred, hell-raising Metallica at its best.
“The Call of Ktulu” – Ride the Lightning
The first of three landmark Metallica instrumentals, “Ktulu” is a leisurely affair that still contains plenty of ass-kicking moments. It’s easy to label Metallica as nothing more than thrash artists, but on this track they show undeniable musicianship. Running more than eight minutes, “Ktulu” contains numerous movements and showed early on that the band was open to experimentation and deviation from the norm.
“Battery” – Master of Puppets
You know that old hypothetical question that asks “If you were stuck on an island forever, what three albums would you want with you?” My answer: “Three copies of Master of Puppets!” This is the greatest metal album of all-time, and as such every track is perfect. But if you want to get right to what Metallica can do in terms of shredding axe, then look no further than “Battery.” When I first heard this tune I thought I had been hit by a bus – a double-decker bus!
“Disposable Heroes” – Master of Puppets
Often underrated but ever so relevant, “Disposable Heroes” is an eight minute-plus opus to the government’s abuse of war as a tool. This is definitely one of Metallica’s angrier tunes and should be. Lars Ulrich’s drumming on this track carries it from start to finish, particularly when the song explodes at the 1:15 mark. “Back to the front!”
“Blackened” – …And Justice for All
Another rip-roaring opening track, “Blackened” is a song that the vast majority of bands would not be able to pull off. With mad tempo changes and a machine gun-like double-bass drum from Ulrich, it’s not surprising at all that “Blackened” was the opener on Metallica’s set list on the last tour.
“To Live is to Die” – …And Justice for All
Perhaps the most beautiful and foreboding song I have ever heard, “To Live is to Die” is my favorite song in the Metallica canon. It’s another instrumental, written in the wake of Burton’s untimely death is 1986. All the emotion one can handle is brought forth in this nearly ten-minute masterpiece.
“The God That Failed” – Metallica
This track is buried deep on The Black Album, and I fear that over the years the nearly eighteen million copies of this record that have been sold have stopped after “Nothing Else Matters.” “The God That Failed” is driven by another killer Jason Newsted bass riff and some dynamic lyrics from Hetfield. This is one of two true gems hidden on The Black Album. And on that note…
“My Friend of Misery” – Metallica
This is the most underrated Metallica song ever, plain and simple. Bassist Jason Newsted’s simple, yet provocative, intro paves the way. Watch for the elegant Newsted/Hammet breakdown, as well the off-the-hook harmonized solo. This is great stuff, and the average fan doesn’t even know this song exists.
“Mama Said” – Load
This is Metallica at their most open and down-to-earth. Hetfield clearly poured his soul into the lyrics of “Mama Said,” and the results are undeniably unique. Sporting an acoustic twang normally reserved for traditional country music, “Mama” is that Metallica song you can fall asleep to. Yes, such a thing exists. The climax of the song is as intense and heartfelt as anything Metallica has ever recorded.
“The Outlaw Torn” – Load
What an opus! This little-heard closing track is another criminally underrated ‘tallica gem. When they pulled this out of the hat with the San Francisco Symphony I about shat myself. With an abstract, bass-driven verse that leads to a killer chorus, “Outlaw” displays a more experimental vibe. This is readily apparent in the almost-playful guitar antics of Hammett – that is before he unleashes a face-melter at the six and a half minute mark. Discover this diamond for yourself.
“Carpe Diem Baby” – Reload
The blues-style is on display again, and the sound is as thick and chunky as Donovan McNabb and his mom at a Campbell’s soup convention. Hetfield and Hammett’s interplay drive this song throughout, along with Ulrich’s unrelenting bass drum during the chorus.
“Low Man’s Lyric” – Reload
Metallica and bagpipes? Say what? Well if you don’t believe me; check out this deluxe slice of ‘tallica honesty. Hetfield, just like on “Mama Said,” effortlessly makes a lyrical connection with the listener. The vibe of this song is so relaxed that you feel like you should be roasting marshmallows over an open fire (or the trash fire, as mentioned in the song). The song was clearly a risky proposition for head bangers across the globe, but the experiment is a rousing success.
“Sabbra Cadabra” – Garage Inc., Disc 1
Garage Inc. is a double-disc of covers released in 1998. Disc one encompasses covers recently recorded at the time, while disc two is in essence a re-release of covers from the ultra-rare $5.98 EP along with some goodies from the vault. Metallica’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sabbra Cadabra” is a blast from beginning to end, layered with brilliant guitar work (all hail Tony Iommi!) and a fun vocal performance from Hetfield. His patented “evil laugh” at the 4:50 mark transitions the song perfectly from breakdown to upbeat hard rock tune.
“Astronomy” – Garage Inc., Disc 1
This Blue Oyster Cult cover is surprisingly smooth for Metallica, but the vivid lyrical imagery is the true star. Hetfield’s “Hey” will get the fists pumping, and Hammett is seriously shredding by song’s end. This tune somehow got lost in the shuffle, but it’s a very worthy cover that gives the original serious run for its money.
“The Wait” – Garage Inc., Disc 2
This Killing Joke cover is brutal, yet infectious. I love the raw feel of the recording and how you can hear a very young Hetfield count the song in. The chorus will have you screaming “the wait” for hours. The helicopter-style guitar effects of the breakdown still nearly peel the paint from my walls.
“Breadfan” – Garage Inc., Disc 2
A staple of Metallica’s live show for years, “Breadfan” will get you off your ass – and fast. The deceptively simple chorus makes way for some great interludes and a healthy dose of in-your-face moments. Let’s get the mosh pit rolling!
“Sweet Amber” – St. Anger
One of the shorter tracks on the record, “Sweet Amber” has some dizzying riffs and a palpable sense of honesty. The chugging closing riffs are among the heaviest I have heard from Metallica. The song practically begs for a bluesy solo, but those are nowhere to be found on this record.
“The Unnamed Feeling” – St. Anger
Hands down the best song on the album, “The Unnamed Feeling” is actually one of my favorite Metallica songs. It definitely feels the most developed and complete out of all the St. Anger offerings. The chorus is brutal and the lyrics are easy to identify with. Listen to this track before dismissing St. Anger as a total waste of time and energy.
If that doesn’t get you off to a good start with Metallica, I don’t know what will! Metallica has so much to offer musically and this list highlights their genre-hopping adventures as well as their signature metal classics. Experiencing the greatest metal band ever from past to present has been a wholly enlightening experience, and I can only hope that I have opened your eyes to some hidden ‘tallica gems, whether you’re a seasoned fan or a beginner. Metal up your ass!