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  • Writer's pictureJulian Guerrero

Metallica Album Tier List

Metallica is undoubtedly the world’s biggest and most memorable heavy metal band, with a discography spanning 11 studio albums across 42 years – not including live albums, EP's, singles, video albums, music videos, and soundtracks. While the band itself is fondly remembered by many, their discography is not. Of course, the old fans from the 80's who liked Metallica for its thrash metal sound, many of whom labeled the band “sellouts” after they released their 1991 self-titled album, often called The Black Album. Then there are those who became Metallica fans because of 1991’s Metallica. Further alienation and mainstream success, though, would be achieved with the band’s follow-up albums, Load (1996) and ReLoad (1997), which saw the band ditch heavy metal entirely and adopt a style more in line with bands like Alice in Chains. The band’s final album before their return to form would be the infamous St. Anger (2003), an album regarded as being Metallica’s worst-rivaled only by Lulu.

And today, I will be personally ranking every Metallica album (except St. Anger) as well as the No Life ‘Til Leather demo, the Garage Days Re-Revisited EP, and the Garage Inc. compilation album.

So, at this point, I can imagine Metallica fans outraged that I would dare to put 1988’s And Justice For All… in B-tier right next to the likes of Death Magnetic (2008,) Garage Days Re-Revisited: the $5.98 EP (1987), and Garage Inc. (1998.) Allow me to explain myself. 

See, many people like to put AJFA in S-tier--typically joined by Kill ‘Em All (1983,) Ride the Lightning (1984,) and Master of Puppets (1986) – simply because it is Metallica’s last classic thrash album. Looking at this from a less biased position, however, you’d see that AJFA has some pretty glaring flaws that would hold it back; some of the songs are unnecessarily long (such as the title track or “To Live Is To Die”), and the album has an egregious lack of a bass track. I probably would’ve looked past the longer songs and put it in A-tier if it’d received better mixing, and had an actual audible bass – yet it didn’t, so it stays in B-tier. For a similar reason, I put Death Magnetic in B-tier.

This album gets a lot of unnecessary hate, I think. “That Was Just Your Life,” “All Nightmare Long,” “The Judas Kiss,” and “The Day That Never Comes” are all solid tracks – certainly not on par with songs like “Trapped Under The Ice” or “Fight Fire With Fire,” but still solid. What honestly ruined this album’s reputation was, in my opinion, the ongoing loudness war and the absurd amount of compression on the album – and very briefly, for those who don’t know, the “loudness war” is an ongoing trend of increasing volume levels in mastering which had reached an obnoxious level by the late 2000s. The compression muddied up the low end (giving it similar problems to AJFA), and the volume levels caused the tracks to digitally distort which ruined the audio fidelity and the listening experience. The issue isn’t as pronounced if you stream the song through something like YouTube or Spotify, but to CD listeners (which was the majority of people in 2008,) it very much is. 

Moving on, we have 1991’s Metallica (also known as The Black Album) in A-tier. This, I imagine, is an incredibly controversial take, considering how much people hate this album; they remember it as the moment Metallica sold out. Still, I stand by it. The song writing on this album is arguably some of Metallica’s best, as is its production. This was also Metallica’s first foray into the use of instruments and techniques not normally associated with metal, such as the Danelectro Sitar (intro to “Wherever I May Roam”) and the e-bow (legato section on “Nothing Else Matters”). That’s not even mentioning the crushing groove some of these songs have – namely “Sad But True” and “Don’t Tread On Me.” No disrespect to And Justice For All… (the very album that got me into metal and Metallica,) but Metallica simply has better production. However, the same cannot be said about Kill ‘Em All which I have placed in C-tier.

Kill ‘Em All is an overrated album, simply put. It’s a good debut album, but it doesn’t measure up to their other albums. A lot of the material is either old or plagiarized (mostly from obscure NWOBHM bands.) This, in combination with the “prepubescent singing” done by James on this record and the amateurish soloing by Kirk Hammett (actual album) or Dave Mustaine (No Life ‘Til Leather demo,) makes the album sound really immature. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as their other work. Songs like “(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth,” “Four Horsemen” (or as it should really be called, “Mechanix plus the Sweet Home Alabama Riff”), “Seek & Destroy,” and “Phantom Lord” are simply not enough to carry it.

Now, finally closing with the rest of their discography, (and glossing over St. Anger), we have Garage Days Re-Revisited (1987), Load (1996,) ReLoad (1997,) Garage Inc. (1998,) Beyond Magnetic (2011), Lulu (2011,) Hardwired… to Self Destruct (2016,) and finally 72 Seasons (2023.) These albums don’t need much explanation for their placement. Garage Days Re-Revisited gets B-tier only for being Jason’s first recording with the band, Load gets D-tier for having too much filler with only a few good songs (“2x4” and “King Nothing”,) ReLoad gets C-tier for being better but still having too much filler, Garage Inc. gets B-tier for “Whiskey In the Jar” and also having most of Metallica’s b-sides, Beyond Magnetic gets C-tier for having songs like “Hell And Back” which honestly should have been on Death Magnetic, Lulu gets E-tier because of how terrible it (with its only redeeming quality being the memes,) Hardwired gets D-tier for being too commercial, and 72 Seasons gets D-tier for being "Hardwired: Part 2". As for Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning, you’d be scarce to find a Metallica fan who would disagree with putting these albums in S-tier.

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Voltak Ackackack
Voltak Ackackack

Kill em All is A tier just for Cliff's Bass work, otherwise I agree with the rest.

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