So You've Never Heard Metallica?

A beginner’s guide to the metal legends…

It’s been an important week for heavy metal icons Metallica. Following the recent announcement of plans for a brand new album, the band is also celebrating 30 years since the release of their incredible debut album, ‘Kill ‘Em All’ (originally issued on July 25th, 1983), a set that was initially titled ‘Metal Up Your Ass’, much to record label Megaforce’s disgust.

‘Kill ‘Em All’ isn’t always regarded as the band’s finest work – that was to come later, with the following three albums (1984’s ‘Ride The Lightning’, 1986’s ‘Master Of Puppets’ and 1988’s ‘…And Justice For All’). But there’s no denying that it placed Metallica on the ladder towards becoming one of the world’s finest acts, an influence on the careers of hundreds since.

‘Kill ‘Em All’ preceded the construction of a catalogue that can seem daunting to the Metallica beginner – and believe us, we’ve met them. So, Clash has compiled a selection of tracks to guide newcomers on their way. Yes, we’ve purposefully missed out some obvious ones – ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘One’ – but there are still singles here, as well as some amazing album tracks.

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‘Hit The Lights’ (‘Kill ‘Em All’, 1983)

The song that started it all, written by singer James Hetfield while playing in another band, Leather Charm, before Metallica had even formed. Fusing the abrasive nature of punk with the brutal, yet melodic intricacies of heavy metal, this album-opening cut is an early thrash metal classic.

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‘Jump In The Fire’ (‘Kill ‘Em All’, 1983)

Originally released as Metallica’s second single in January 1984, ‘Jump In The Fire’ is known for its incredibly infectious Dave Mustaine-written guitar riff, as well as the emphatic solo that brings the single to its finale, marvellously showcasing the young Kirk Hammett’s lead guitar skills. Lyrically, the single is written from the perspective of the devil, a theme that took no time becoming fashionable within heavy metal circles.

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‘Ride The Lightning’ (‘Ride The Lightning’, 1984)

Shortly after the release of ‘Kill ‘Em All’, Metallica decided to start working on a follow-up. ‘Ride The Lightning’ was released in the summer of 1984, with a title track as fierce as their first album had their growing audience anticipating. Again crediting Mustaine’s guitar work, ‘Ride The Lightning’ is an storm of lyrical descriptions of anticipating death by electrocution, while the instrumental ethos is almost as electrifying as the track’s subject matter. From the bone-crushing guitar riffs and rippling rhythm, right through to the dual guitar solo, ‘Ride The Lightning’ really does have it all.

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‘Orion’ (‘Master Of Puppets’, 1986)

‘Master Of Puppets’ is generally regarded as Metallica’s most important album, and following the tragic death of founding bassist Cliff Burton, the band’s third instrumental track, ‘Orion’, has become one of their highest-lauded compositions. The bass guitar in itself is enough to show the listener how musically accomplished Metallica had become by this stage. ‘Orion’ is entirely gripping, even without any vocals from the ever-distinctive Hetfield.

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‘Blackened’ (‘...And Justice For All’, 1988)

Following the death of Burton, the future seemed uncertain for Metallica until bassist Jason Newsted joined the band. However, you may notice that throughout the band’s fourth album, ‘...And Justice For All’, the bass is almost absent, having been virtually removed during the album’s mixing phase. Nevertheless, with or without the bass presence of past releases, ‘Blackened’ is an extraordinary album opener. Opening with gradually building, dulcet guitar fills, the striking riffs return to carry another of Metallica’s most impressive fan favourites.

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‘Wherever I May Roam’ (‘Metallica’, 1991)

Before spiralling into a strange commercial vortex during the mid-1990s, Metallica released their eponymous fifth album (otherwise known as ‘The Black Album’), proving to become the band’s most commercially successful studio LP, featuring hits ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘Enter Sandman’. Also issued as a single was ‘Wherever I May Roam’, released in July 1992. Known for the band’s use of Asian instruments, including a sitar and gong throughout the intro, this track’s become a regular feature of Metallica’s enigmatic live set.

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‘All Nightmare Long’ (‘Death Magnetic’, 2008)

Following three relatively unsuccessful studio albums, Metallica released ‘Death Magnetic’ in September 2008, resurfacing the aggressive vigour of the band’s first five albums. It spawned a number of singles, including ‘All Nightmare Long’, a track that witnesses an impressive return to form from the metal titans. Including the emphatic build-up style of ‘86’s ‘Master Of Puppets’, a deliciously infectious guitar hook and Hetfield’s fierce vocal snarls, the track proved that, regardless of past mistakes, Metallica were still alive and kicking. And, as news of a 10th studio LP reaches us, it’s clear that they’ve more thrills to come.

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Words: Jonathan Hatchman

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