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The 11 best Metallica songs

Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are our 11 favourite Metallica songs, ranked

Just as it’s impossible to say Metallica without saying ‘metal’, it’s unthinkable to discuss the history of metal without talking about Metallica. Formed out of the Los Angeles metal scene in the early 80s, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and the late Cliff Burton quickly defined the thrash sound and became global titans of the genre.

Recently Metallica (now with the unmistakable Robert Trujillo on bass) were announced as one of Download 2023‘s headliners, playing two separate sets on Thursday and Saturday to reflect the many chapters of their legacy. Here we take on the task of sifting through this massive catalogue of metal mastery for our take on the 11 best Metallica songs.

11. Hardwired

(Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, 2016)

Metallica’s 2016 incendiary return-to-form Hardwired… To Self-Destruct was noted for its similarities to their debut Kill Em All, with its all-out visceral and pacey thrashiness. It’s title track and lead single even recalled ‘Whiplash’ with its wince-inducing drum rolls in the intro, though here they’re even more unrepentant and amped up thanks to a little 21st century production.

10. Battery

(Master Of Puppets, 1986)

The unmistakable opener to one of the most famous albums of all time, ‘Battery’ builds cinematically as wistful flamenco guitars get electrified before the whole thing tumbles into a galloping, mind-melting shredder. An ode to San Francisco’s Battery Street, where the band cut their teeth with early shows, the track is a sign of solidarity with the then burgeoning thrash metal scene: “Cannot stop the battery/ Pounding out aggression.”

9. Enter Sandman

(Metallica, 1991)

We’d be remiss to leave out one of the most unmistakable riffs of all time. This Peter Pan nightmare (“Take my hand/ We’re off to Never Never land”) is a catchy slice of 90s horror, often employed in sports to create a looming sense of anticipation and threat. It’s been used repeatedly in baseball and wrestling, and even recently became Tottenham Hotspur’s walk-on music. The main riff might be a staple for beginners learning the guitar, but you might want to take a few more lessons before taking on that solo.

8. Phantom Lord

(Kill ‘Em All, 1983)

On the topic of solos, we shouldn’t forget the screamer in this deep cut from their debut. This wailing banshee of shred guitar is released around the half-way point, straight out of Pandora’s box, before a gloomy breakdown seems to take the reigns, right? Wrong. Get ready for Round Two.

7. Seek & Destroy

(Kill ‘Em All, 1983)

‘Seek & Destroy’ was the result of Metallica’s first ever venture inside a recording studio, but all those years on it remains one of their most played tracks ever — often as a set closer. It’s not hard to see why, as it’s got one of those immediately recognisable intros the band are famous for, while its closing moments are fully-fledged headbanging gold.

6. Orion

(Master Of Puppets, 1986)

Metallica’s prog-rock space odyssey ‘Orion’ rockets light years away from their thrashy roots for a little while, though it does eventually fall back to earth with a fiery, comet-like trail. The late Cliff Burton’s bass playing is the star of this show, veering away from a complimentary role to treading its own path.

5. No Remorse

(Kill ‘Em All, 1983)

“No remorse, no repent/ We don’t care what it meant”. Though the lyrics of this high-octane banger centre around the lives of a soldier, in a way these lines set out Metallica’s metal manifesto as they arose in the early 80s. Thrashy but with subtle details, tempo and rhythm changes and solos pulled straight out of the depths of hell, this track is a guitarist’s heaven. Nerd trivia: ‘No Remorse’ was also used in the first level of the 1993 cult video game Doom.

4. For Whom The Bell Tolls

(Ride The Lightning, 1984)

It’s all been pretty lightning speed so far, but the sassy, half-time slow-burner should not be forgotten. Taking its name from Ernest Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War novel, the track also features a tolling bell for the first minute or so, following Burton’s legendary and deliciously ominous bass line that’s wrenched and morphed enough to sound more like a six string.

3. One

(…And Justice For All, 1988)

If you’re all riffed out at this point, then take in the complex but oddly calming wonder that is the first few minutes of ‘One’. It’s another war story, based on a tragically wounded soldier (“I’m waking up, I cannot see/ That there’s not much left of me”), with delicate finger-picking that contrasts with the hopeless lyrics. What’s that? You’d prefer some furious, face-melting, demon summoning chugging and shredding? This song has it all.

2. Creeping Death

(Ride The Lightning, 1984)

Right, let’s turn it up a notch. There’s something so arresting and towering about the opening of ‘Creeping Death’, biblical even – fitting, given it’s about the Plagues of Egypt’s Angel of Death. “Slaves,” Hetfield screams, and boy do we cower in submission. We’ve already established Hammett’s shredding mastery, but this is surely one of his most melodic and epic, befitting for a tale of Exodus. Fans know to join in with repeated chants of “Die!” at live shows.

1. Master Of Puppets

(Master Of Puppets, 1986)

Another example of Metallica’s master and slave dynamic, this is truly the boss of them all. It got a lot more airtime earlier this year due to that scene in Stranger Things, but ‘Master Of Puppets’ has long been hugely influential and was even the first metal song to enter the National Recording Registry.

Recorded in Copenhagen in the winter of 1986, it’s a true team effort, with both Hetfield and Hammet taking turns to solo and downpick deep and dark verses, while Ulrich and Burton weave together each of the song’s four parts. Though its lyrics refer to the powerful and dangerous pull of addiction, it’s chants of “Master! Master!” creates an insane dynamic in a live set up, with thousands of metal heads at the band’s beckon call. It’s no surprise, then, that ‘Master of Puppets’ is Metallica’s most played song live.

Metallica play Download, taking place 8-11 June 2023. Tickets are available here.