Metallica Albums Ranked from Best to Worst


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Metallica albums ranked – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Tim Saccenti

Here’s Audio Ink Radio’s list of Metallica albums, ranked

When it comes to heavy metal music, there’s no denying that Metallica brought a blistering sound to the masses. While the band started off as a pillar of the underground thrash scene, that all changed with 1991’s “The Black Album.” With that record, Metallica appealed to a new, much larger fanbase of music fans and made the term “metalhead” common lingo.

Metallica are certainly influential, so it’s a bit surprising that they have under a dozen studio albums in their catalog. However, each of those records holds its own special place in metal history. Read on for all 11 Metallica albums ranked, including their latest release, “72 Seasons.” Note that we only included studio records on this tally and no collaborative albums. Reach out to us with your choices via social media.

11. “St. Anger” (2003)

“Lulu” would have taken this spot if we were including it on this list, but since that was a collaborative album, we aren’t featuring it. So, “St. Anger” is our pick for the worst album in Metallica’s catalog. That said, Metallica haven’t released any terrible records. But, “St. Anger” drew some anger from critics and fans, largely due to its production and the terrible snare drum sound. Still, that didn’t stop it from charting all over the world and even going platinum.

10. “Reload” (1997)

Metallica’s “Reload” features songs recorded during the “Load” sessions that didn’t quite make it. After releasing “Load,” the band decided to flesh out the remaining songs from that record’s sessions, and the result is “Reload.” This record has plenty of strong songs, such as “Fuel” and “The Unforgiven II.” But, it does play as a continuation of “Load” instead of its own, imaginative entity. “Reload” also marked the final Metallica album featuring bass player Jason Newsted.

9. “Load” (1996)

“Load” ranks just a hair above “Reload” on this list, mainly because it’s apparent that Metallica chose the strongest songs of the session to release first. Metallica unleashed “Load” five years after their blockbuster 1991 album “Metallica,” aka “The Black Album.” Since the latter album was such a massive success, people had big expectations for the follow-up. With “Load,” Metallica demonstrated that their new, mainstream sound was here to stay. The album was less thrash and more melodic metal, with some blues thrown in for good measure.

8. “72 Seasons” (2023)

Now it’s getting to the point on this list where it’s difficult to rank one Metallica album over another, because they’re all close in their strengths. The band’s latest release, “72 Seasons,” is a stellar release and sees the group going back to their thrash roots. At this point, Metallica could put anything out and top the charts, but “72 Seasons” proves they’re still hungry to make quality music. While the album doesn’t have many songs that will likely become legendary “singles,” it’s still a refreshing blast of the heavy. Read our review of Metallica’s “72 Seasons” here.

7. “Hardwired…to Self Destruct” (2016)

Upon its release, “Hardwired…to Self Destruct” marked Metallica’s first studio album in eight years. With it, Metallica showed that the downtime didn’t deter their spirit or skill, as “Hardwired” displayed the band’s thrash leaning with blistering, fast and fresh songs. Songs such as “Hardwired,” “Moth Into Flame” and “Atlas, Rise!” rose to the top of the metal and hard rock charts, and the album itself debuted No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. The band also went platinum, showing that heavy music is alive and well.

6. “Death Magnetic” (2008)

Following the less-than-popular “St. Anger,” Metallica had something to prove with their next release. Prove, they did, with “Death Magnetic.” Fans embraced the album’s thrash sound and strong songwriting, and those listeners helped make the album become Metallica’s fifth to debut at No. 1 on the chart. Metallica also performed several “Big 4” shows following the release of “Death Magnetic,” so it was a very special part of Metallica history.

5. “…And Justice for All” (1988)

Metallica’s “…And Justice for All” came at a difficult time for the band. They had recently lost bass player Cliff Burton in a tragic bus accident, so this record marked their first with Jason Newsted in the fold. Fans and listeners criticized the album for making Newsted’s performance muffled and almost impossible to hear. But, this is simply a fantastic album. It also features one of Metallica’s most popular songs of all time, “One.”

4. “Metallica” aka “The Black Album” (1991)

But the time Metallica released “The Black Album,” they were already the most popular metal band in the world. But, “The Black Album” did something that few thought was possible: open Metallica, and heavy metal, up to a new, larger audience. “The Black Album” marked Metallica’s first to go No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. It also featured a bevy of singles that are still Metallica’s most recognized, including “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven,” “Sad But True” and “Wherever I May Roam.” It was plainly an easily digestible heavy metal album, and it brought many new fans along the way. Of course, it alienated Metallica’s more underground following, but that was to be expected.

3. “Kill ‘Em All” (1983)

“Kill ‘Em All” helped launch the entire thrash metal genre, as the Metallica debut became a mainstay in every metalhead’s collection at the time. The up-and-coming band’s harsh, raw, fast and feracious attack was new and novel on “Kill ‘Em All.” From the beginning, it was obvious that Metallica was a force that wasn’t going to go away. “Seek and Destroy” is reason enough to make this record one of Metallica’s greatest of all time. Moreover, Dave Mustaine wrote some of the songs on the record, just before he was let go from the band.

2. “Master of Puppets” (1986)

Ranking “Master of Puppets” as the No. 2 greatest Metallica album of all time, and not No. 1, was a very tough call. When it comes to Metallica’s catalog, many point to “Master of Puppets” as being the real turning point in their career, even above “The Black Album.” Moreover, it’s simply one of the greatest metal albums in metal, period. The band recorded “Master of Puppets” in Denmark with producer Flemming Rasmussen. They made magic happen, as “Master of Puppets” contains many of Metallica’s greatest songs, such as “Battery” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” “Master of Puppets” also marked Metallica’s major-label debut and, sadly, final record with bass player Cliff Burton.

1. “Ride the Lightning” (1984)

Metallica’s debut album, “Kill ‘Em All,” went viral before the term even existed. Hence, they quickly followed it up with “Ride the Lightning” a year later. The album sounds anything but rushed, though. It features some of the best songwriting of Metallica’s career and the metal genre to date. From its epic opening track, “Fight Fire with Fire,” to the now legendary “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Creeping Death,” there is so much strength in this record. One could say “Ride the Lightning” is the perfect Metallica album. That’s why it tops our list of the best Metallica albums of all time.

Want more metal? Find Audio Ink Radio’s list of the best thrash metal albums of all time here. Also, find our comprehensive list of Foo Fighters albums ranked from best to worst here.

Anne Erickson
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Posted by Anne Erickson | Features, Interviews, Metal, Music

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