Before we get on with the next twenty selections in this Metallica tribute, I feel it’s pertinent to name some of the ones that missed the top fifty altogether, with some explanations as to why.
First off, none of the covers from Garage Inc made it, nor did Metallica’s vivid cover of Ecstasy of Gold. I felt for this last that every song should be an original composition, though Ecstasy, Turn the Page, and Killing Time are all incredible.
Songs I just don’t like: Jump in the Fire (James’ vocals remind me too much of Vince Neil), Damage Inc (tacked on an album to an incredible seven other songs), Fuel (Could never get into it because reckless driving isn’t my favorite subject matter), The View (But you could have guessed that….)
Songs I like, but just missed: Anesthesia, The Frayed Ends of Sanity, Through the Never, My Friend of Misery, Mama Said, The Outlaw Torn (great, here comes the hate mail…..), Better Than You, Attitude, I Disappear, Some Kind of Monster, That Was Just Your Life, Suicide and Redemption
This should narrow down some of your guesswork the rest of the way, so rather than continue with preliminaries, let’s get to the heart of the list, beginning at number thirty.
30. The Unforgiven II (ReLoad, 1997)
“Could you be there, ’cause I’m the one who waits for you / Or are you Unforgiven too?”
I was once surprised to hear this one in a low-rent gentlemen’s club while the anorexic, disproportionately-tattooed blond on stage mashed into the pole like it was giving away free blow. Actually, perhaps it’s appropriate, since the second carnation of the Unforgiven series seems to be about lost souls understanding one another, and reconciling their place in the world, and follows the original Unforgiven (a child sucked dry by the conformity around him), implying that the child’s place is now among others like him, providing a loose sense of comfort. At the strip club, the lonely patron and the humbled dancer, two souls lost on the path to inner peace, cross each other in search of satisfaction and monetary gain, respectively.
29. Leper Messiah (Master of Puppets, 1986)
“Send me money, send me green / Heaven you will meet / make your contribution / and you’ll get a better seat”
This is such an “eighties” song due to the subject matter, and goes a long way in explaining why my generation backs away from religion as if it were radioactive. Once upon a time, there was a rather unscrupulous couple named Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Christian evangelists that once hosted a wildly popular (as in, yes, ‘lots of people watched’) Christian talk show called “The PTL Club”. Jim was later brought to light as a swindler (misappropriating financial donations from viewers for his own use) and an alleged rapist (who else remembers Jessica Hahn?) and irreparable damage was done to TV evangelism. James Hetfield, already at odds with religion, grilled these shameful shams, among many others from the era, in this one.
28. The God That Failed (Metallica, 1991)
“The healing hand held back by the deepened nail / follow The God That Failed”
Jason Newsted finally gets to shine on bass, and it’s with some of the murkiest, angriest, most brooding licks he’s thrown down under Metallica’s banner. In fact, the entire song is a perfect complement to a pissy mood, with the tuned down harmony consistent throughout. The God That Failed isn’t so much an atheist anthem, but rather James Hetfield barking out his anger over his mother’s death. Cynthia Hetfield believed in Christian Science, which facilitated her refusal of help once she was diagnosed with cancer, resulting in her untimely demise when no surgerical action was taken. With her life ended in direct relation to her faith, Hetfield laments the loss toward that God, the one that “failed”.
“Waiting for the one / The Day That Never Comes”
Twenty years after “One”, Metallica’s fourth track is the first single from its album, and the video accompanying it has a war backdrop. This time, instead of using an anti-war film and writing the song about its protagonist, “The Day” has a more complex storyline to it. Lyrically, it can be interpreted many different ways, and, on the surface, it sounds like an abusive relationship, with the victim as the central figure. Of course, explanations from the band tell a different story, as Lars Ulrich says it was inspired by a father-son relationship, which I hope doesn’t mean that Torben Ulrich is violent (he’s just too awesome to be!). James has stated the song was intentionally vague, so hey, why not enjoy it for what it is?
26. Wherever I May Roam (Metallica, 1991)
“Anywhere I roam / where I lay my head is home”
The mysterious Middle Eastern sitar-like opening is among one of Metallica’s most dramatic intros, fitting of being the entrance theme for whomever Vince McMahon’s villain with curly-toed boots-du jour is this week. The song is a wonderful parallel, drawing allusions to nomadic warriors who travelled for necessity, while the band performing the song is very much nomadic themselves, globetrotting in search of legend, experience, and, at the end of the day, prosperity. Is it any wonder that Metallica took time off to rest after supporting this album on tour?
25. Nothing Else Matters (Metallica, 1991)
“Never cared for what they do / never cared for what they know / but I know”
For every guy that loves Metallica and kinks their neck headbanging to Battery, he has a girlfriend that’s touched by “Nothing Else Matters”. Written while on the phone with his distant girlfriend, Hetfield plucked his guitar strings with one hand, holding the receiver with the other, as the worlds of longing for love and songwriting interlocked with ease. More than three dozen bands and artists, from Staind to Shakira, are known to have covered Metallica’s first true “love song”, and remains one of a handful of Metallica songs that does not feature Kirk Hammett on the recording.
24. King Nothing (Load, 1996)
“Where’s your crown, King Nothing?”
One of Metallica’s most popular songs, which comes from the band’s full thrust into music’s veritable Madison Avenue. The fourth single from Load (following Until it Sleeps, Hero of the Day, and Mama Said), heavy airplay and melodic hooks have made King Nothing a likely Family Feud answer for “Name a Metallica song”. LeBron James haters were quick to match up the message of the song (a wannabe King with nothing to offer) with James’ meteoric fall in the 2011 NBA Finals, as he failed yet again to receive “his crown”. The music video is especially memorable for Metallica performing during a minor snowstorm, with Jason Newsted looking rather unmanly in his oversized hoodie. Was ever proven that the faux king in the video WASN’T F. Murray Abraham?
23. The Unnamed Feeling (St. Anger, 2003)
“Cross my heart, hope not to die / swallow evil, ride the sky”
One of the more somber, ethereal pieces from Metallica’s most introspective album, The Unnamed Feeling deals with the uneasy inclination before a breaking point is reached, definable with a different sense per person. Heavy on bass from the part of Bob Rock, filling in as the band’s fourth wheel (‘Where was that much love for bass when I was there?’ is something Jason Newsted may wonder), the song is as moody as it is airy, with an equally enigmatic video to boot. The video’s metaphor of the walls slowly closing in on the foursome encapsulates the message of the song perfectly, as the road to a psychotic break is gradual, yet with a helpless sense of self-torment.
22. Devil’s Dance (ReLoad, 1997)
“Yeah c’mon, c’mon now take the chance / that’s right / let’s dance”
If you had one hour to seduce a girl into having relations with you, and you could only pick one song in which to help your cause, and it had to be a Metallica song, then, well, this likely has a better shot than Motorbreath. The sleek, slithery feel of the first seventy five seconds is enough to set the mood, bringing to mind a seedy nightlife with neon signs illuminating the temptations in arms-reach. Metallica’s had a number of songs that deal with sin and its many forms, but none of them are as mood-inducing as Devil’s Dance, likely the sexiest song they’ve ever recorded. All that’s missing is a saxophone solo, but hey: this isn’t S&M.
21. Sad But True (Metallica, 1991)
“I’m your truth, telling lies / I’m your reasoned alibis / I’m inside open your eyes / I’m you”
Another one of Metallica’s more famous compositions, and that’s partially thanks to Kid Rock sampling it like he was a Caucasian male member of the Black Eyed Peas. Nine years before Me, Myself, and Irene hit theaters, the template for the plot was set with this study of a seemingly normal person overwhelmed by his dark side, who holds up the exterior for blame and punishment. All the while, the theft, deception, and outright lies spill out of the mouth and body, while the unsympathetic hostage taker within gets away with it all. This is one Metallica song that is truly more appreciated for its familiar beat than for the meaning of the lyrics.
20. And Justice For All (And Justice For All, 1988)
“Justice is lost / Justice is raped / Justice is gone”
Metallica’s ambitious writing for the Justice album netted us this, a song that is a joy to listen to for ten minutes on your car stereo or MP3 player. As part of a concert set list, however, don’t count on it being the set-up for Battery on any given night. The tribute to justice and the legal system going to Hell is not a favorite of Metallica’s to perform on stage, as the song tends to drag in the later minutes. That’s not to say it’s a bad song (I wouldn’t put it #20 if it was), because it works in its recorded medium. The mellow intro with occasional thrashing bursts disrupting the serenity is an artful way of demonstrating how the corruption and decay is kept hidden under blissful ignorance from the constituents.
19. No Leaf Clover (S&M, 1999)
“Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel / was just a freight train coming your way”
S&M was a hit-or-miss album, because while some of Metallica’s classics translated well to the infusion of the San Francisco Symphony (For Whom the Bell Tolls, Nothing Else Matters), others didn’t quite pack the same oomph (Of Wolf and Man, Sad But True). Coming out of the live album, were two new tracks: the decent, if unspectacular, Minus Human, and the “eargasmic” No Leaf Clover, a bittersweet descent from good grace into the rivers of misfortune. While I’m on the subject, is anybody aching for a sequel to S&M? I think I’m just curious as to how Robert Trujillo would look in dress attire. Would he shave? So many gripping questions.
18. Ride the Lightning (Ride the Lightning, 1984)
“Wait for the sign / to flick the switch of death / it’s the beginning of the end”
Movies about the falsely accused (i.e. The Fugitive) give this one substantial power; a lamenting cry from a condemned prisoner who takes his place in the electric chair. While the man in the song admits his guilt, he does offer, “damn it, it ain’t right”. The sense of urgency in the song, provoking thoughts of a horrible end to a horrible life, is among Metallica’s greatest story-telling from strictly an instrumental perspective. While the chair is largely being done away with in the United States, capital punishment is still prevalent in a number of places. The recent execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, via lethal injection, continues the debate to this day. On the other hand, I wonder how many metal maniacs blared this one on their stereos in 1989, in anticipation of Ted Bundy “riding the lightning”.
17. Eye of the Beholder (And Justice For All, 1988)
“You can do it your own way / if it’s done just how I say”
Maybe I’m putting it a little high, but I’ll admit that in this race, Beholder is one of my horses. As a latent libertarian, the song’s message of the restrictions and limitations upon free speech and free expression speak to an issue I’m very interested in. The particular message of one’s viewpoint (‘eye of the beholder’) taking precedent over that an equal’s is what allows hypocrisy to reign in many instances. On the musical side of things, the consistency of the wailing guitars that punctuate the accusations of double standards make this a lost treasure in Metallica’s shuffled deck. The best part is the jam that bridges the song’s halves, about four minutes in.
16. Creeping Death (Ride the Lightning, 1984)
“So let it be written / so let it be done / to kill the first born pharaoh son / I’m Creeping Death”
You know that movie that’s on TV every Easter weekend in which Charlton Heston has that awesome beard? It inspired one of Metallica’s most energetic concert songs! Cliff Burton inadvertently named this one during a viewing of The Ten Commandments, when the Jewish-borne plague (the Angel of Death) wreaked havoc on the Egyptians, killing every first-born male, while sparing the Jews entirely. The “DIE, DIE, DIE” portion of the chorus is a hallmark of virtually every Metallica concert. So the next time you’re hiding the eggs and sucking down your cabbage soup (assuming you do that type of thing), and Charlton Heston shows up on your TV with the slabs of stone, think of Metallica, won’t ya?
15. Until it Sleeps (Load, 1996)
“And the pain still hates me / so hold me Until it Sleeps”
Another song about a cancer-related loss, this time of James’ father, Virgil. Similar to his mother’s cancer death, James sings about his father refusing treatment due to his Christian Science beliefs. However, unlike “The God That Failed”, Until it Sleeps is more about the coping aspects of dealing with the loss, and less about his anger toward what he feels is a flawed system of faith. The video was Metallica’s boldest to date, depicting the members of the band in a surreal landscape inspired by the works of Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. Among the disturbing images set to the somber melody are Kirk Hammett being crucified, and Jason Newsted around mud. I still think the band should have had a dedication card at the end of the video that stated, “In loving memory of our mullets.”
14. Welcome Home (Sanitarium) (Master of Puppets, 1986)
“Sanitarium, leave me be / Sanitarium, just leave me alone”
If sanity is subjective, nobody would be locked away. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the inspiration for Metallica’s ode to the asylum, and the futility of the man in the rubber room. Mentioned in particular from the classic novel/film is the struggle between the patient and the administrator (Randall P. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched) to each have their own way. This was the final single to feature Cliff Burton on bass, with the single being released four weeks after the bus accident. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Metallica doing justice with Sanitarium, and its peaceful intro that leads to the heavy breakdown in the middle. However, in 2003, during an MTV tribute to Metallica, Fred Durst and Limp Bizkit earned begrudging respect from metal mavens for nailing a cover of the song, outperforming the likes of Korn (One) and Sum 41 (Master of Puppets) that night.
13. Harvester of Sorrow (And Justice For All, 1988)
“Anger / misery / you’ll suffer unto me”
As a wrestling fan, the parallel of this song with the demise of “The Canadian Crippler” Chris Benoit is frightening. Benoit, in 2007, murdered his wife and seven year old son before hanging himself, likely due to diminished brain capacity, thanks to years of sickening blows to the head, as well as a falling out within the marriage as a fuse. The song, with its uneasy and wicked beginning, tells of a troubled, mentally-descending man who abuses his loved ones before ultimately killing them. In my eyes, out of every “heavy” Metallica song, Harvester has the creepiest overtones and feel, with the slow-plucked tempo adding shades of foreboding to an already disturbing plot. Paul Konerko, power-hitting first baseman for the Chicago White Sox, uses Harvester as his “at bat” music. Uhhh, should his family be worried?
“Back to the front / you will do what I say, when I say / back to the front”
Harmonically, this is one of best slices of music ever cut from Metallica’s cloth. I feel that, given the divisiveness over the idea of war in America, this song never gets its due, thanks to the subject matter. The premise is unabashedly anti-war, drawing up the dichotomy of the glory men seek in fighting for God and country in foreign lands, while the harsh reality is that many of them are merely pawns in a bloody chess match, and may never make it home to reap heroic rewards. Touchy subject matter aside, the music side of Heroes I would put on par with anything else from its album (yes, that includes the two legendary opening tracks), and it’s a shame that the anti-war sentiment is really what keeps this from being counted among Metallica’s pantheon of classics.
11. The Four Horsemen (Kill Em All, 1983)
“The Horsemen are drawing nearer / on leather steeds they ride”
Ahh, the Four Horsemen. Ric Flair, Arn Anders—woops, wrong Horsemen. In this case, Time, Pestilence, Famine, and Death from The New Testament inspired one of Metallica’s early opuses, one that endures to this day as a concert standard. Controversy surrounds the song, as former band member Dave Mustaine wrote it during his days with Metallica and, once ejected due to his personal issues, Metallica modified aspects of Horsemen, added a new middle section with the help of Kirk Hammett, and released it without departed Dave. Mustaine, however, released the song as is with his new band, Megadeth, in 1985 (under its original title, The Mechanix). In several Megadeth concerts, Mustaine can’t help but take a dig at his former bandmates, introducing Mechanix by stating, “This song is NOT The Four Horsemen”. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the past.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for WrestlingNewsSource.com and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.
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