As I may have already mentioned, I’m more than a little excited about Metallica’s new album. Hardwired… To Self Destruct officially comes out in just a few days, on November 17th, and I’ve spent the past few months fattening myself up on a steady diet of Metallica’s biggest and best songs, all in readiness for the new release.
When I say I’m excited about this, I mean seriously, giddy with anticipation, bouncing off the walls excitement. Counting Crows may have become my number one favourite band as I’ve grown older, but for the longest time that title was held exclusively by Metallica.
Certainly no band have been such a consistent part of my life than the metal overlords. I can’t have been more than eight years old when The Black Album was released, but I still have some -admittedly hazy- memory of seeing the video to The Unforgiven on TV late one night.
A few years later, it was the video to The Memory Remains that got me wanting more from the band. Eventually I’d get more, but not until I reached high school, where my best friend at the time would introduce me to Ride the Lighting, Master of Puppets, ..And Justice For All, and subsequently to the rest of Metallica’s entire discography as it stood at that time.
The years would go on. I don’t remember much about 2003, but I do remember St. Anger. I remember how overjoyed I was to receive a promo copy of Death Magnetic when I still worked as a full time music journalist, and I remember countless fond memories all set to various Metallica songs.
Indeed, whilst other bands may write songs which speak to me on a more profound level, few bands can instantly change the way I feel for the better quite like Metallica. If I’m feeling lethargic, Metallica goes on, if my mood is low, Metallica goes on, if I need a little help getting motivated, you guessed it, Metallica goes on.
So, you can probably understand why I’m so looking forward to Hardwired… landing on my doorstep this week, and why I love so many different songs for so many reasons that listing just five of what I consider to be the best Metallica songs ever is going to be something of a challenge.
Nonetheless, it’s a challenge I’m willing to undertake, partly because it gives me something to write about today, but mostly because it’s the perfect excuse to listen to more Metallica.
Ready? Let’s do it.
5: Bad Seed (from Reload)
“And now, what you’ve all been waiting for, I give you He Who Suffers The Truth”
I think there’s always a moment when a song turns from being just another great track into something pretty special. Sometimes, it might be the first moment you hear it, when it leaps out from the speakers, hooks its claws into your senses and makes an instant impact. Sometimes, it may not be until such a moment when that song becomes entwined with a memory; a first kiss, a particularly great gig, some event or occasion at which that song was played, the memory of which becomes so interwoven into the fabric of that track that you can’t help but feel awesome whenever you hear it. Other times, it may happen when you hear that song in a different context, a different environment that reveals something unique about that song that you didn’t notice before.
In the case of Bad Seed, it was definitely the latter. This was always a good song, a highlight among many highlights from the mid-90s Reload album. Yet it wasn’t until I got my copy of Cunning Stunts on VHS (yes, VHS) and heard the band open the show by jamming an instrumental version of the song that it went from being ‘a good song’ to one of my favourites.
What bugs me right now, is that I can’t seem to summon the best words to fully explain how good this song is, how that delicious dirty riff makes me feel good, how Hetfield’s usual lyrical vitriol takes on a more suave, almost seductive quality, how the whole package combines to make this perhaps one of Metallica’s most under-rated songs.
4: The Shortest Straw (from …And Justice For All)
“Suspicion is your name, your honesty to blame, put dignity to shame, dishonor.”
First up, a confession. The first time I heard …And Justice for All, I wasn’t taken with it. Compared to the rawness of Kill ‘Em All, the breakneck pace of Ride The Lighting, and the sheer majesty of Master of Puppets, ‘Justice just seemed slow, plodding, and -I’m ashamed to say it now- boring.
I don’t know what changed my mind. I couldn’t tell you if there was some magical moment when I realised what an epic masterpiece this whole album was, or if it was a slow burning realisation that I came to on the back of countless listens. What I can tell you though, is that ‘Justice is now easily one of my favourite albums, and something I never tire of listen to.
The only problem I have now, is choosing a favourite track from it. Indeed, up until a few moments ago, the number four spot on my list of the best Metallica songs was reserved for Frayed Ends of Sanity. Then I heard this, the way the riff marches aggressively onward like footsteps of a hostile army, ushering in the sense of fear and forboding that the lyrical themes bring to the fore, the way the whole thing comes together like the soundtrack of some terrible nightmare. Everything about The Shortest Straw is simply magnificent.
3: King Nothing (from Load)
“Dig for gold, dig for fame, you dig to make your name, are you pacified?”
The Metallica songs I consider to be the best ever have changed over the years, but King Nothing has always been a consistent favourite. There was a period in my late teens when I would have told you that this one was the best one of all, though whilst that’s no longer the case, it is still a joy to listen to.
I’m one of probably only a handful of long-time Metallica fans who enjoys the Load album in its entirety (yes, inducing Mama Said) , and this is easily a highlight of that album. It’s dirty, it’s a little bit sordid, and its entirely fantastic.
2: The Four Horsemen (from Kill ‘Em All)
“You have been dying since the day you were born, you know it’s all been planned.”
I’ve always said the songs I love the most are those that literally stop you in your tracks and demand your attention, that render you unable to do anything more than immerse yourself fully in every note, every lyric, songs that are felt more than they are heard.
The Four Horsemen is the perfect example of such a song. Even just now, looking up a video on Youtube to include in this blog took longer than it should have done because, when I found one, I just had to enjoy it. This is not background music, this is f-u, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners music that forces you to stand up, rock out, and experience it.
This is everything I like about Metallica, all in one short, sharp blast of aggressive awesomeness.
1: Welcome Home (Sanitarium) (from Master of Puppets)
“Welcome to where time stands still, no one leaves and no one will.”
Much like ‘Four Horsemen, Welcome Home (Sanitarium) is one of those songs that really stops me in my tracks. I can’t just sit here and listen to this whilst doing something else. I have to move, to sing, to become James Hetfield for even the briefest of moments. I can’t just listen to this song, I have to feel it, to experience it fully.
That to me is what a song should do, and few do it better than ‘Sanitarium. In the studio, it’s glorious, when the band break it out live, it takes on a whole new lease of life and becomes a different beast entirely, the kind of beast that leaves you with the same kind of awe you felt when you heard this song for the first time.
My favourite Metallica songs may change from time to time, but you can guarantee this one will always be among them. Seriously, even if you’ve never heard a Metallica song in your life, I dare you, right now, to hit play on that video I just posted and tell me that it doesn’t leave you utterly and wonderfully captivated.