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Favorites: Metallica Post 1988

James Hetfield of Metallica surrounded by pyrotechnics

25 Years Later founder Andrew Grevas has a theory that any album that came out after 1988 from a band named Metallica must be from an imposter cover band. I’m not afraid of getting fired though so I can say without fear of reprisal that Andrew is an idiot. I love Metallica in all its incarnations and throughout all its eras. I have the Metallica ‘M’ tattooed on my wrist and I gladly listen to everything from Kill ‘Em All to Hardwired…To Self Destruct at insanely loud levels in my car when doing random tasks. (It should be noted that I do not listen to Lulu however as I am not a masochist.)

Metallica has been very meticulous about releasing new music, releasing only six studio albums between 1991 and 2016. And based on “fan” reactions, I don’t blame them. Anytime Metallica pops up in a news story on social media, even if it’s just about them playing a show or donating something to charity, you inevitably find the following comment:

“Haven’t listened to these guys since Justice. Lars is a shitty drummer. Wake me up when they are thrash again!”

It’s pretty funny though because every single Metallica album that comes out goes platinum and is #1 in the world. Not just in the US but the entire world. Even in this age of digital downloads and pop/rap music, Metallica still sold four million units of Hardwired…To Self Destruct. And every Met concert I go to (which is in sold-out arenas, by the way), even the longhairs with the Master of Puppets vest is headbanging and shouting the lyrics to “Enter Sandman”. So hate all you want. Someone is listening to Metallica post-1988 and it ain’t just me.

But if you truly are BRUTAL and METAL and haven’t listened to a single Metallica track since Jason Newsted was just a Met rookie on …And Justice For All, then below is a list of some pretty rockin’ tunes* from their post ’88 days that may interest you and, uh-oh, maybe get you to like something outside of your weird comfort zone of three-plus decades ago! Enjoy.

*for the purposes of this article, I only looked at studio albums and/or original songs. I did not get into cover songs or compilation album contributions/re-recordings/live sessions.

“The Struggle Within” – Metallica (or The Black Album) (1991)

I know a lot of Metallica fans accept the Black Album as the line in the sand. You either stand with Metallica from there or decide to retreat and hold on to the “glory” days. I know some sensitive souls were disturbed by Metallica’s ballad “Nothing Else Matters” (though other thrash groups had done it before Metallica) and the slowed-down (relatively speaking) approach. If anything, Metallica got heavier while slowing down the beats per minute (as “Sad But True” and “Don’t Tread On Me” would attest). And their sound appealed to a wider base. And there is nothing metalheads hate more than appealing to a mass audience. Metal is, in its nature, a niche subgenre of music and it is taken very personally, so when grandma down the street was singing “Enter Sandman”, it disturbed many a longhair.

But the Black Album is not simply chock full of radio-friendly hair metal. Oh no. It just happens to be a snarling, heavy festival of riffs that just happened to take the world by storm. Even the main riff of “Enter Sandman”, when you think of it, is toe-curlingly nasty. But the hits that play at ballparks and supermarkets drone out the thrash-heavy deep cuts on the album such as “Holier Than Thou”, “Through The Never”, and my favorite track off the self-titled beast “The Struggle Within”. I’m not sure how, as a metal fan looking for speed and power, you won’t find yourself plowing through a brick wall listening to this song.

“2 x 4” – Load (1996)

I’m incredibly biased because Metallica’s Load was the first album I ever bought by myself. I bought it and Weezer’s self-titled Blue Album on the same day and had a grand old time blowing my eardrums out with my brand new, spiffy single-disc CD player! So I really adore Load. I think it is a great hard rock album. And I classify it as a hard rock album and not a metal album because I think even Metallica would classify it as that. Members of the band are split on how good of an album it is, and they certainly changed a lot about their look as well as their sound to make it happen, but one thing they didn’t change was their mood. “2 x 4” still has a Metallica mood and energy to it that I appreciate. It just states: “don’t mess with me”. It snarls and growls and embraces its individuality. I love it and consider it one of the albums (many) highlights.

“The House Jack Built” – Load (1996)

I already love Load, as stated above, and this might be my favorite song on the album. It has some of Hetfield’s best lyrics and like “2 x 4”, it has a mood to it. But while “2 x 4” is about attitude, “The House Jack Built” is about creepiness and atmosphere, something Metallica hadn’t really experimented with before in any of their records.

“The Memory Remains” – ReLoad (1997)

Ok. Ok. ReLoad is not a great album. I had a lot of trouble finding deep cuts on that one to put in this article. I like a lot of the songs on it but I don’t love any of them. ReLoad feels like all the rejects off of Load. And since a lot of people hate Load, you can imagine how they felt about a second-rate version of something they already hated. And while I, and my kids (ha!), love “Fuel”, the real winner of the album is also one of its most popular, “The Memory Remains”, which features an assist from Marianne Faithfull. Extremely popular live and definitely concussive, “The Memory Remains” is an earworm with some decent riffs that stick with you even when the album it features on doesn’t.

“No Leaf Clover” – S&M (1999)

S&M was a noble experiment and one that, for the most part, was a success. Obviously, it was a lot easier for Michael Kamen and his orchestra to reverse engineer musical compositions using Metallica’s more contemporary catalog and slower-paced music than say the outrageous speed of “Fight Fire with Fire” or “Whiplash”. But with “No Leaf Clover”, the band and orchestra were able to put together a unique and addicting blend of musical sensibilities into something truly Metallica and, thus, truly metal*. On a personal note, I saw Metallica on tour shortly after S&M was released and heard them perform this song without the orchestra and it still whales.

*there is another symphony only recording on S&M worth checking out as well called “Human” that isn’t as good as “No Leaf Clover” but is still jammable and feels lost to the sands of time.

“I Disappear” – Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack (2000)

In 2000, Metallica was still Metallica, of course, but bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit were the top of the metal world. Nothing said this louder than Limp Bizkit getting the headlining single on Mission: Impossible 2‘s mega-soundtrack in the early days of summer. And while I will admit I jammed out to the Bizkit’s “Take A Look Around” (I was in high school, give me a break), I bought M:I:2‘s soundtrack for the brand-new Metallica track. While it isn’t the band’s most complex tune, it is certainly addictive, and one which they play on rare occasions live (I was lucky enough to hear an instrumental version at a 2017 show in Phoenix).

“Frantic” – St. Anger (2003)

Well…St. Anger. There is a lot to say about St. Anger that is better left said with the amazing documentary Some Kind of Monster and the supplementary book This Monster Lives. The album is a complicated creature. There really is no other way to describe it other than that: a creature. It came from a wicked and nasty place and it was recorded as such and though the entire band is credited with writing all the songs, this feels and sounds like a James Hetfield solo record. The album is so raw and nasty, and vulnerable, just like Het himself at the time, that you can’t help but be pulled in even when your ears kind of want to be sucked out (no thanks to Lars Ulrich’s bizarre snare drum). “Frantic” is one of the more frenetic songs on the album featuring some unique lyrical qualities and a Slipknotesque bombastic quality not yet heard in Metallica’s arsenal to date.

“Sweet Amber” – St. Anger (2003)

St. Anger is really an underrated record, and I find myself coming back to it as I get older but finding another deep cut off of it was hard. I ended up choosing “Sweet Amber” if anything because the main riff is simply gnarly and the chorus is catchy. Like all of the album, it ain’t pretty to listen to, but when viewed under the lens of a Hetfield solo album, it soars above the rest of the tracks.

“The Day That Never Comes” – Death Magnetic (2008)

As a result of St. Anger’s critical response, mainly “stop with that goofy snare drum shit” and “bring back guitar solos”, Metallica tried to go back to a more traditional sound with Death Magnetic in 2008. Oddly, when they went for a more thrash sound in a traditional matter, like with “That Was Just Your Life”, “The End of the Line”, and “Broken, Beat, and Scarred” it comes across as played out and repetitive. The album doesn’t really come alive until “The Day That Never Comes” which blends Metallica’s heavier moments, solo tendencies, and melodic ambitions into one cohesive whole for an eight-minute musical feast. In a sneak preview of what Hardwired…To Self Destruct would be, “The Day That Never Comes” is a blend of every era of Metallica together in one fantastic soup.

“The Unforgiven III” – Death Magnetic (2008)

It would be easy to put all three “Unforgiven’s” on this list as the first one appeared on the Black Album and the second appeared on ReLoad. But I gave the edge to part three mainly because of the emotion behind it. If you follow the band long enough you get a sense of the journey they’ve been on and this one feels like a personal one for James Hetfield. I got to see Het perform this with the orchestra in S&M2 and it was particularly moving.

“Moth Into Flame” – Hardwired…To Self Destruct (2016)

We had to wait eight years for new Metallica songs between Death Magnetic and Hardwired…To Self Destruct but it was well worth the wait. Thrash loyalists looking for a taste of the old days certainly got their fill with the title track “Hardwired”, a brawler that reminds you of the longhair days. But it is with “Moth Into Flame” that Metallica truly brought their new album alive. It feels like a celebration of every Metallica era mashed into one song. You’ve got a little speed metal, a little thrash, a little Load, a little Death Magnetic, and something new too. When they performed it at the Grammys with Lady Gaga (with the mics suspiciously not working*), the uninitiated crowd was not ready for what true metal sounded like.

*I’m not dignifying the Grammys boning over metal music again with a clip of the actual night. Instead, the clip shows the far superior dress rehearsal, thanks to Lady Gaga.

“Spit Out the Bone” – Hardwired…To Self Destruct (2016)

So if you think “Hardwired” was just a fluke and “Moth Into Flame” isn’t for you then I present “Spit Out the Bone” as my final chance to convince you Metallica still rocks in this century. I don’t really have much to say about it except that I didn’t think Metallica could go this fast again but…boy do they go fast again!

That’s all I got. I’m sure I could pick out some more gems for you from each album since 1991 but there are plenty of links and videos here to keep you occupied for a few hours, at least. And hopefully, you’ll realize by then that Metallica is a band worth checking out outside of the eighties.

Here is the playlist if you wanna jam out (or listen with hate and then yell at me in the comments):

Written by Will Johnson

Will is the author of the little-read books Secure Immaturity: A Nostalgia-Crushing Journey Through Film and Obsessive Compulsive: Poetry Formed From Chaos. Will is a film critic at 25YL but also specializes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the occasional horror review. Will loves his hometown Buccaneers and lives in Phoenix, AZ, USA with his two daughters.

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