10 Metallica Albums Ranked Worst to Best

Here are the Metallica Albums Ranked from worst to best!

If you’re a heavy metal fan, Metallica is a name you should be well-acquainted with. If you don’t know much about these legends and are looking for where to start, this is the list for you. Today, you’ll find that I have ten Metallica albums ranked from worst to best, which should hopefully help you figure out which albums to prioritize when it comes to your listening experience!

Top Metallica Albums Ranked

Master of Puppets, a Metallica album that came out in 1986, ranks as the best Metallica album on this list due to refined vocals and excellent songwriting.  Conversely, the album St. Anger (which released in 2003), ranks as Metallica’s worst album due to overly long songs and a lack of guitar solos from James Hetfield or Kirk Hammett.

10. St. Anger (2003)

St. Anger coming in last shouldn’t surprise many of you, because it’s rather infamous at this point. The making of this album was riddled with friction and controversy, and this lack of direction is apparent in the final product. The songs are too long, Lars Ulrich’s snare drum sounds terrible, and there’s not one guitar solo from James Hetfield or Kirk Hammett on the whole album. 

A lot of the material here resembles the nu-metal trend that was taking over the rock world at the time, and it just doesn’t hold up. 

Favorite Song on St. Anger: “Frantic” isn’t horrible. Clocking in around six minutes, it’s one of the shorter tracks on the album and gets its point across much better than some of the dirge-like tracks that follow. 

9. Reload (1997)

Coming off the heels of 1996’s Load, this album is literally the leftovers from the Load sessions. Much like its predecessor, it’s more of a hard rock or alternative rock album than the blistering, intricate thrash metal Metallica were known for in the 1980’s. 

While this wouldn’t matter if the material was strong, sadly the results are weak and forgettable. We have a full compact disc’s worth of music here, and there just isn’t much worth going back to hear. 

Favorite Song on Reload: “The Memory Remains” is a mid-paced ballad of sorts, but for whatever reason, it works for me. It’s not too heavy or exciting, but it’s a solid hard rock track that remains a crowd pleaser to this day.

8. Load (1996)

My description of this album is largely identical to my description of Reload, as far as the overall sound and feel of the album is concerned. However, the actual material on Load is a whole lot more memorable and higher quality. I’m still not a fan of this direction the band decided to take, but there are a few hard rock tunes here that simply work. 

“The House Jack Built,” “King Nothing,” and “The Outlaw Torn” are some solid rock ‘n roll songs, but there’s a lot of boring songwriting here as well. Tracks like “Hero of the Day” sound closer to Collective Soul or Creed than a Metallica song, and that’s a problem.

Favorite Song on Load: “The House Jack Built” is a heavy rocker featuring some interesting guitar decisions, and I quite like Jason Newsted’s bassline as well. This track has more enthusiasm and conviction to my ears than anything on Reload

7. Death Magnetic (2008)

I have a certain amount of nostalgia for this one—the Death Magnetic tour was my first rock concert when I was fourteen years old. At the time, I was happy to hear Metallica return to the thrash metal sound that made me fall in love with them, but this album isn’t without its share of flaws. 

Rick Rubin’s “brick wall” style of production makes James Hetfield’s vocals sound horrible, and the instruments don’t really have room to breathe. Instead, there’s a wall of sound that grows tiresome after a while. Still, it’s hard to not bang your head and smile to some of these tunes. 

Favorite Song on Death Magnetic: “All Nightmare Long” is a mid-paced thrasher with some killer riffs and a memorable, anthemic chorus. It’s the closest Metallica get to sounding like their old self on this one, and I wish they’d play it live more often. 

6. Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016)

This is the album Death Magnetic should have been. The production has more instrumental clarity, James sounds far less sterile on the vocals, and the songwriting has more urgency and immediacy. While still drawing its framework from their mid-to-late-80’s thrash stylings, you can also hear bits of hardcore punk rock on this album, showing the diverse well of influences Metallica can pull from. 

There are some throwaway tracks here, of course, as Metallica yet again felt compelled to nearly fill up an entire compact disc. But it’s still one of the better records they’ve put out since their glory days.

Favorite Song on Hardwired… to Self-Destruct: “Spit Out the Bone” is a great closer. It’s got the thrash metal elements to satisfy longtime fans, as well as some punk influence for good measure.

5. Metallica (1991)

Commonly referred to as the “Black Album” by fans, due to its solid black album cover, this is probably the most polarizing album of the band’s career. Many longtime fans were alienated by their move to a more mainstream, commercial rock sound. 

But if you judge the album for what it is instead of what it’s not, I think you’ll find it’s a solid collection of radio-friendly metal tracks. There are a few stinkers here—fan favorite ballad “Nothing Else Matters” bores me to tears, but you’ve also got reliably heavy tracks like “Through the Never” and “Of Wolf and Man,” in addition to radio bangers like “Enter Sandman.” 

Favorite Song on Metallica: “Holier than Thou” is an overlooked gem in the Metallica catalogue. It’s probably the thrashiest song on the record, flying by in around three minutes, and I always want to play it again. This one is like a cleaner version of a song you’d find on Kill ‘Em All

4. …And Justice for All (1988)

While this album receives a lot of flak for not exactly utilizing the bass talents of Jason Newsted to its advantage, the songwriting is still top tier Metallica. This is an essential thrash metal album, featuring only one lull in the heavy assault (the epic ballad “One”). 

This is also rather progressive for the band, featuring a lot of complex and lengthy tracks with intricately composed sections. From the mammoth title track to the menacing “Frayed Ends of Sanity” to the breakneck speed closer “Dyers Eve,” it’s hard to go wrong with anything on this one. Bassist Cliff Burton’s death left the band angry and ready to prove they could still be heavy, and they succeeded. 

Favorite Song on …And Justice for All: “Blackened” is a brutal and battering song, featuring environmentally conscious lyrics describing an apocalyptic scenario of an uninhabitable earth ravaged by industrialism. The drums are crisp, tight, and pummeling. The song goes through several different melodic modes without once sacrificing heaviness. 

3. Kill ‘Em All (1983)

The first album on this list to feature the late, great Cliff Burton on bass duties, this is also the album that defined thrash metal as we know it. Blending elements of classic heavy metal and hardcore punk, Metallica hit the scene with a revolutionary release. “Hit the Lights,” “The Four Horsemen,” and Cliff Burton’s bass solo track are all essential. 

While it’s true most of the riffs were written by original guitarist Dave Mustaine (who would later form Megadeth), Metallica really made these songs their own and Kirk Hammett provides a ton of melodic flourishes that take the songs up a notch. The production is raw, and it sounds almost like a garage demo, but this stripped-down approach works. 

Favorite Song on Kill ‘Em All: “Metal Militia” is a track that essentially displays young Metallica’s mission statement. This is thrash metal perfection and you need to hear it if you’re a fan of metal.

2. Ride the Lightning (1984)

More rhythmically varied and structurally compelling than its predecessor, this is where Metallica came into their own. From the experimental classical guitar interlude that opens “Fight Fire with Fire” to the moving ballad “Fade to Black” to the complex instrumental piece “Call of Ktulu,” there isn’t a dull moment here. The production still retains the grit and rawness of Kill ‘Em All, but the songwriting is far more mature. 

Favorite Song on Ride the Lightning: “Creeping Death” remains a staple at Metallica concerts for a reason. This is complex, melodic, brutal, and genre-defining. They wrote the rules for thrash metal on their debut and decided to stretch the boundaries an album later. 

1. Master of Puppets (1986)

This record is Metallica’s masterpiece. It sticks to the same template established by Ride the Lightning and improves on it in virtually every way. Hetfield’s vocals are more refined and mature. The songwriting is lyrically more advanced and thought-provoking, dealing with topics like drug addiction, religion, and the psychology of war. 

The tight and complex musical interplay of the band exudes the confidence and conviction of a group who just knew they were putting a classic on tape. “Battery,” “Orion,” “Damage Inc.” — what’s not to love here? Even if you aren’t a fan of thrash metal, this album transcends the genre and deserves a place in every rock fan’s collection.  

Favorite Song on Master of Puppets: “Master of Puppets” has been played at every single Metallica show since it was written. It displays everything that was ever good about this band. It takes you on a musical journey in eight minutes, ranging from pummeling heaviness to melodic beauty. It took the thrash metal genre to previously untapped musical heights. 

There you have it, the best Metallica albums. There are some stinkers mixed in with some undeniable classics, but their whole discography is worth a listen. While the results didn’t always satisfy my ears, one thing you can’t say about Metallica is that they were ever afraid to take risks and try new things, flouting genre conventions at every turn.

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