It seems weird to think of anything from Metallica as being underrated, but even amongst their classic five album run from Kill ‘Em All to Metallica and even more so for their more divisive nineties output, there are still nuggets of genius that don’t seem to be appreciated as much as they should.
- The God That Failed- The Black Album (1991)
A lot of people rag on Metallica’s mega hit self titled album (from here on referred to as the Black Album) for having taken the heaviness of their previous releases down a notch. This song shoots that narrative down in flames by sporting the single heaviest moment in Metallica’s discography, that being the transition from the intro to the main verse riff. I can’t think of anything in the band’s back catalogue that slams harder than that riff right there. The song is also supremely heavy on the lyrical front, being an emotional rail against the religious practice that prevented James Hetfield’s mother from seeking treatment for cancer.
- Stone Cold Crazy (Queen cover)- Garage Inc. Disc 2 (1998)
The idea of Metallica covering Queen may seem pretty ridiculous at first glance, but people often forget that Queen have quite a few heavy tunes, this one in particular being their heaviest. Often cited as an early speed metal track, it seems fitting that Metallica would put their own spin on it by speeding it up by about 40 bpm and throwing a bunch of double kick onto it. The result is a track that almost falls apart at several points throughout the song. The cover was recorded as a non-album single in 1990, although it’s easiest to find on the second disc of their 1998 covers compilation Garage Inc. It’s got that sort of speeding down the road barely being able to hold onto the wheel type of exhilaration that Metallica weren’t really doing as much at this point in their career.
- Trapped Under Ice- Ride The Lightning (1984)
This song is totally off the rails in the way that most of Kill Em All was, but it also contains a melodic middle section that showcases the improved songcraft the band had grown into for their second album. “Trapped Under Ice” is a reminder how, even while evolving into a more mature sound with every album, the band could still play thrash metal better than just about any other band in the genre. But’s it that half time bridge that really showcases how they were willing to go off in an unexpected, dare I say “catchier direction, even during such a blistering track. It’s a total scorcher that gets overlooked only because it’s surrounded by several of the best rock songs ever written.
- Fixxxer- ReLoad (1997)
Let it be known that I am not a fan of ReLoad in. Coming after five classic albums in a row and one really damn good album in the form of Load, this was, in my opinion, their first true misstep. However, there are some outstanding tracks to be heard on the album, even if they get buried by a lot of mediocre ones. “Fixxxer”, in my opinion contains one of Hetfield’s most heart-wrenching lyrics about using alcohol to avoid one’s personal issues. While the emotional core is mournful, the music itself is absolutely sinister. The intro is subtly nightmarish and the riffage would have made Tony Iommi proud. One of their best closing tracks, but not the best (hint hint).
- Of Wolf And Man (live with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra)- S&M (1999)
This is some total “Night On Bald Mountain” levels of evil shit. For those of you not in the know, S&M is a live album from a series of concerts Metallica did with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The original version of this song, originally included on the Black Album, is great, but not classic Metallica by any means. This however, is absolutely bone chilling. The dissonant string arpeggios and horn swells add so much drama to what was a pretty bog-standard metal songs. And yes, it’s very easy to see this all as overblown, but it’s goddamn awesome and you know it, especially with Jason growling his head off in the background. It’s the perfect soundtrack to hunting werewolves.
- Devil’s Dance- ReLoad (1997)
From the start, “Devil’s Dance” is pure greasy sleaze. Everything about this track is sinister. The stomp that Lars and Jason lock into on this song make this one of the hardest hitting in the band’s discography and really shows the pure power of the rhythm section these two make up. I’ve heard this song called the “Sad But True” of the Load/ReLoad era, and while there’s definitely something to be said for that argument, I feel like the two songs take very different roads within similar instrumental themes. Whereas “Sad But True” is very obviously written to be an anthem, “Devil’s Dance” is more slithery and atmospheric, with a lot of fucked up avant-garde guitar skronk thrown on top for good measure. Like I said earlier, ReLoad is not a great album in the Metallica canon, but “Devil’s Dance” and “Fixxxer” are two absolute gems that deserve more praise than they get.
- The Thing That Should Not Be- Master Of Puppets (1986)
I’ll admit, part of the reason why I love this particular song so much is definitely the lyrics. H.P. Lovecraft is possibly my favorite author of all time, so having a song based exclusively around stories like The Call Of Cthulhu and The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a real treat for me. Lovecraft’s sanity-blasting science fiction horror adapts really well to heavy metal, and few have done it better than Metallica do here. But beyond the lyrics, this is without a doubt one of the heaviest compositions in the band’s songbook. The chug here is absolutely relentless, and the hazy atmospherics slathered on top make for a claustrophobic listen. Combine that with Kirk Hammett’s most creatively bizarre solo ever and you have a truly unique track in the Metallica catalogue.
- Don’t Tread On Me- The Black Album (1991)
Coming off the back of the politically nihilistic …And Justice For All, it’s bizarre to see such a flagrantly patriotic song on the following album. But goddamn, this has to have the most massive chorus in the history of rock music. Few things even come close. The content of the song is total cheese, but it’s so infectious that you can’t help but raise your fist in the air for America a couple of times per listen. There are a bunch of little things that add to the anthemic nature of this song, from the West Side Story quote at the beginning, to the massive tom rolls leading into this beast of a chorus. It’s one of my absolute favorite Metallica songs. Funny thing is that no one else seems to like “Don’t Tread On Me”. The band have only played the song once, and for a band that played three hundred shows in support the album this song was on, that speaks volumes about what the band thinks of the song.
- No Remorse- Kill ‘Em All (1983)
This may be a crazily unpopular opinion, but this is by far the best song on Kill ‘Em All. Better than “Seek And Destroy”, better than “Hit The Lights”, better than “The Four Horsemen”. I don’t care what arguments you may have; you can’t convince me otherwise. I don’t have a whole lot to say about “No Remorse” other than it is a prime example of how to write a badass heavy metal song. There’s so much genius built into this track, from the crazy shredding that comes crashing from the gate to the breakneck upward tempo shift in the last minute of the track, but I’m gonna keep this concise by asking you to pay particular attention to the riff that comes right after “war without end!” That slams like nothing else.
1 . The Outlaw Torn- Load (1996)
It seems fitting that the most underrated Metallica song would come from the most underrated Metallica album. A masterclass in how to construct an epic piece of music using dynamics and mood, the tension and release combined with some avalanche-like crescendos. The word that springs to mind is one that one usually doesn’t associate with Metallica: immersive. The band have constructed an entire world within the nine minutes of this track. That’s something totally unique to this track, and you hang onto Hetfield’s every word. But the final jam and fade out at the song’s end is what gives it a special resonance. The song climaxes at the final chorus and it seems like it’s going to end on the very same dissonant wah pedal riff that started it. But it keeps going, like a mortally wounded man crawling through the desert. The track, from almost nothing, builds back up to a freight train chug before fading out, implying that this character’s journey is far from over. It’s not a triumph either; the musical palette has a chromatically rising chord progression, suggesting a sense of continuing struggle that may well continue for the rest of this man’s life. It’s one of the best album closers of all time, and one of the greatest songwriting achievements Metallica have ever accomplished in my opinion.