On Saturday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum welcomes Metallica to the list of popular music’s all-time greats. The band did as much as any group to establish and define thrash metal, then gradually slowed down and became one of the world’s biggest rock bands.
To celebrate the band’s hard-won recognition, Scene presents The Great Metallca Debate. D.X. Ferris, the paper’s designated metalhead, is moderating. He’ll introduce topics, which will be answered by Chris Akin, Classic Metal Show host and webmaster of Pitriff.com, and Matt Wardlaw, former Metal Show host, Radio 92.3 Inner Sanctum host and proprietor of music blog AddictedToVinyl.com. Stay tuned all week for more.
Today’s topic: Best Metallica Album, and why?
Ferris: Ride the Lightning, Metallica’s second album, might not technically be the band’s best, but it’s sure as shit my favorite. Metallica III, 1986’s Master of Puppets, is probably the best capital-A album, in terms of the combination of kick-ass-it-ude and as a coherent listening experience. The production’s better. It’s a little more accessible. It’s just a bit — a little bit — less deadly. The content on both discs is well-rounded: MOP follows the template from Ride The Lightning. You have total-frakkin’-rippers. You have slow songs — dare we call them ballads? Things wind down with a slower instrumental. All in all, MOP is a tad more palatable. But Ride The Lightning, goddamn, it’s like a tank moving at 100 mph, firing heavy artillery shells the whole time. And it’s a better jukebox album. “Fight Fire With Fire” is one of the great Side-One-Track-Number-Ones. Soon after the album’s release, the deceptive acoustic intro would become one of metal’s great clichés. But at the time, it was an incredible fake-out, starting the record with a delicate intro like Ozzy’s “Dee” or “Goodbye to Romance.” Then BANG-FRIGGIN’-POW, one of the fastest, heaviest tracks ever. Lars’ drumming wasn’t particularly complex, but it was amazingly vicious and propulsive. No wonder they’re still going strong. The kind of velocity, it takes you at least 25 years to wind down. I can’t even think that fast, which is probably one reason the songs still give me goosebumps 24 years later.
The title track slows things down a notch, but things stay heavy. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is downright mythic, and might have been late, great bassist Cliff Burton’s best moment. And the album arguably climaxes with cut 7, “Creeping Death,” which isn’t as fast as the pure hell of “Trapped Under Ice,” but it’s one of the most massive rock songs ever. When they wrote the 10 Commandments-inspired “Creeping Death,” they probably didn’t imagine 20,000 or 80,000 fans singing with “Die/Die/Die/Die,” but that song became one of the most amazing live concert experiences — in fact, no, scratch that. They’re about to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on their first ballot; maybe they were thinking about playing the song for the entire world. If Cliff had lived, maybe the Rock Hall even would have let them in earlier.
Akin: Master of Puppets. By far, this is when the band put it all together. The songs are tight. The riffs are furious, and James doesn’t sound like a little boy for the first time. Even the “hits” like “Battery” or “Master Of Puppets” are timeless. And the best song they ever did, “Disposable Heroes,” is here as well. Can’t beat it.
Wardlaw: Gotta give this one to ... And Justice For All. Killer album cover, thumpin' bass ... er, well maybe not so much bass. But at least they won the Grammy for the album, right? Wait. You're telling me that Jethro Tull won that Grammy? How the hell did that happen? ... And Justice For All was one of the cornerstone albums of my youth, right there with Def Leppard's Hysteria and the 5150 album from VH (just to name a few). When you're talking about perfect metal albums, Justice in my mind, provides the blueprint for how it's done. "The Shortest Straw, " "Blackened," "Harvester of Sorrow," "One” — holy crap! You could easily say the same thing about Master of Puppets, Ride The Lightning and Kill 'Em All as well, but Justice is at the top of my list. And since we mentioned those albums, ya gotta give credit to Metallica for one hell of a stretch of releases starting with Kill 'Em All and ending with the Black Album. They mighta "sold out" circa Black Album in the opinion of most, but the stuff they really needed to apologize for didn't come until later. Think Re-Load. —D.X. Ferris