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Never underestimate the regenerative powers of Metallica. Following the stripped-down Load and Re-Load, they've returned to the raw, vitriolic savagery of their earlier canon, using 1984's Ride the Lightning as a template for St. Anger. The title track provides the psychic lynchpin of the album by combining the bombast and defiance of the band's earliest high-water marks with more deliberate lyrics and emotional nakedness. Equally cathartic is "Some Kind of Monster," a lumbering beast of a song that declares, "This is the voice of silence no more." Despite that claim, there's an economy to these lyrics; James Hetfield's raw-toothed growl only occasionally punctuates the menacing soundscapes. In fact, "Dirty Windows," the standout track here, is a shimmering five-minute instrumental that's free of the baroque trappings that sometimes clutter the Metallica landscape.
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..And Justice For All
Songwise, this is probably Metallica's most sophisticated album, exploring the theme of justice and perversions thereof with a vengeance. "One" is one of their best songs ever, building from a slow, edgy beginning into effortless overdrive. The title track is excellent and never boring, despite clocking in at more than nine minutes. It's the epic of the album, but all of the songs are long, displaying impressive chops and songwriting.
Metallica (Black Album)
Called "the Black Album" by many (due to its monochrome cover), Metallica marks the group's entrance into the mainstream, with shorter songs, simpler song structures, and slower tempos overall. That said, this is an excellent album, featuring some of the best songwriting Metallica has ever done. "Enter Sandman," "Wherever I May Roam," and "God That Failed," despite being slower and more groove-oriented than the band's earlier work, feature the same heavy riffs and heavier rhythms that have always been a feature of Metallica's music. The band goes introspective with "Unforgiven," and proves that they can write a ballad with "Nothing Else Matters," which succeeds better than one might expect. Overall, this is a high-energy album despite its laid-back approach, and is in many ways superior to the previous . . . And Justice for All, which was weakened by overly complicated song structures and mediocre production
This double-disc, all-covers release could come to represent a vital turning point for Metallica. While disc 2 is a straightforward collection of every cover the group have recorded in its 16-year history, disc 1 comprises 11 new selections drawn from the oeuvres of such exciting and diverse artists as U.K. punks Discharge and nefarious Australian Nick Cave. The heavier songs, such as the Mercyful Fate medley, Black Sabbath's "Sabbra Cadabra," and the Misfits' "Die Die My Darling," prove that nobody delivers a crunching riff better than these metal veterans. But it is vocalist-guitarist James Hetfields's confident approach toward the likes of Cave's "Loverman" and Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" that delivers the most electricity; here his raw, heartfelt vocals are largely untouched. Given that the recharged group spent only three weeks in the studio recording these tracks, it appears that these guys have remembered the value of studio spontaneity over laborious pontificating. Hopefully, that mindset will resurface in future projects.
Kill 'Em All
While not as timeless as Ride the Lightning or Master Puppets, Metallica's debut album -- originally released in 1983--is still a fine piece of thrash metal, and as good a marker as any for the debut of the genre. Fusing the rapid-fire attack of bands like Motorhead with a guitar style reminiscent of such British heavy metal bands as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, Metallica essentially created a new kind of metal. Several of the songs from this 1983 album have since become classics, including "Seek & Destroy", "The Four Horsemen", and "Jump in the Fire". The songwriting isn't as sophisticated as on Metallica's later releases; still, it's a great listen, and essential for any heavy metal fan.
With Load, Metallica takes a dramatic left turn with their music, continuing in the direction suggested by Metallica, their previous album. The songs on Load have groove; they're slower, with far fewer of the lightning-fast riffs that have been Metallica's trademark since their inception. While songs like "Ain't My Bitch" and "Wasting My Hate" are up-tempo and full of the vitriol one would expect from the quintessential heavy metal band, "2 X 4" is hard rock with a blues beat, "Hero of the Day" sounds positively mainstream, and "Mama Said" is an actual, honest-to-god ballad. While some diehard fans may find this mix unappealing, there's plenty to like about this album, including its laid-back, rhythmic orientation, and James Hetfield's characteristic growl tempered by his growing maturity as a vocalist.
Master Of Puppets
One of the defining albums of thrash metal, Master of Puppets is arguably Metallica's best album (as well as their last with bassist Cliff Burton). Focusing on the concept of power and abuses thereof, this is a collection of complex, intelligent music, played at about a hundred miles an hour. Not that these are short songs; this eight-song album clocks in at over an hour, which makes it all the more impressive that not one moment on this recording is boring. In tackling various approaches to their subject, Metallica is insightful lyrically as well as musically: "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is from the point of view of an institutionalized inmate and "Disposable Heroes" is the perspective of a soldier. If all you've heard of Metallica is what's been on the radio recently, check this one out. You're in for a surprise.
For many heavy metal fans, Metallica epitomizes the genre, especially for those listeners who remember the band's fast-and-furious 1983 debut, Kill 'Em All. As a result, their continued foray into a more stripped-down, laid-back sound with this album has met a mixed response. However, there's enough innovation and just plain strange stuff on this album to make it worth a listen. The creepy "The Memory Remains" is perfectly accentuated by Marianne Faithfull's backing vocals, and "Where the Wild Things Are" features the multilayered vocals and guitars that Metallica is famous for, albeit at about half their usual speed. The opening ("Fuel") and closing ("Fixxxer") tracks are especially strong, and intermixed with some slower, country-inflected tunes are the obnoxious rockers that made Metallica the long-running success they are.
Ride The Lightning
Don't let that classical-guitar-ish opening to "Fight Fire with Fire" fool you--Ride the Lightning packs a heavy-metal wallop. While not as ambitious as the subsequent Master of Puppets, this early Metallica album is indubitably one of their best. Thematically, it explores death and dying from myriad points of view: nuclear war ("Fight Fire with Fire"), electric-chair execution (the title track), and drowning ("Trapped Under Ice"). Interestingly, the best track on this album is probably "Fade to Black," a slower, more introspective song about suicide. There's also "Creeping Death," which remains a concert favorite. An excellent mix of rapid-fire guitar riffs, rip-roaring solos, and singer James Hetfield's trademark growl, this is thrash metal at its finest. Very highly recommended.
S & M
At a point in their career when most bands would rest their laurels upon a greatest-hits package or live album, Metallica has done both, but with a decidedly loopy twist. They've recorded a double-live greatest-hits package with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra "sitting in". Set against the shrewd efforts of a team of orchestrators and arrangers (who employ enough taste to keep proceedings from sounding like one long "Live and Let Die" outtake), Metallica plays for their lives, undercutting their general somber tone by ratcheting up their musicianship several notches. The most underrated player here is SFO guest conductor and soundtrack vet Michael Kamen, whose attention to detail and nuance--and intuitive grasp of the Metallica canon--keeps this unlikely meeting of the minds focused and on track.