Band Rating: 2

  • Kill 'Em All
  • Ride The Lightning
  • Master Of Puppets
  • ...And Justice For All
  • Metallica
  • Live Shit: Binge & Purge
  • Load
  • Reload
  • Garage Inc.
  • St. Anger
  • Death Magnetic

    Kill 'Em All (1983)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 11

    While its origins can be traced back to Black Sabbath's Symptom Of The Universe (off the woefully underrated LP Sabotage), thrash didn't emerge as a major offshoot of heavy metal until the inception of Metallica, who not only popularized the genre but likewise provided the definitive interpretation of what the style was capable of. Metallica took the fledgling genre, refined it to near perfection and made it their own, to the point where thrash metal became nearly synonymous with the group.

    Needless to say, as is the case with any product that introduces something radically new or different to the world of rock, the style isn't always implemented flawlessly. Thus there are instances of generic thrash metal, and while at the time of their release they could scarcely be called such, as with the genre in its embryonic stages there was as of yet no such thing as 'generic thrash metal,' there certainly is now, and the songs suffer accordingly. Ergo there are weaker numbers like the opener Hit The Lights, the Motorhead homage Motorbreath, the nondescript Whiplash and the closer Metal Militia; these tracks inarguably rock quite hard, and with regards to technique and tightness they're certainly unimpeachable, and as such they can be considerably enjoyable while they're on. In retrospect, however, they prove difficult to even retain, with little to differentiate them from other tracks, thus greatly impeding their memorability. Ultimately these defects can be attributed to a paucity of good riffs, as throughout Kill 'Em All the quality level is almost wholly contingent on the caliber of the riffs.

    Fortunately the remaining thrashers are uniformly strong, marrying exceptional riffs to the adrenaline rush of their breakneck pace. Phantom Lord and No Remorse practically trample over the listener with their speed and power, providing a template for their successors of precisely what the thrash genre was meant to be.

    Oddly enough, however, it's the slower numbers that constitute the true highlights, a surprising scenario given that Kill 'Em All was designed to illustrate the merits of thrash rather than conventional heavy metal. The epic, multi-part The Four Horseman, with its parade of killer riffs and clever construction, is not only the album's finest track but likewise betrays the band's latent artistic leanings that wouldn't truly manifest themselves until their subsequent albums (part of the song was penned by Mustaine, a short lived member of the group who went on to found the decidedly non-artistic, nearly reactionary Megadeth). Nearly as strong is the stellar riff rocker Jump In The Fire, while the menacing Seek & Destroy is yet another solid metal number.

    The odd track out is (Anestheisa)-Pulling Teeth; neither thrash metal nor conventional heavy metal, it's predominantly composed of a lengthy, innovative bass solo (only featuring other members during its coda) courtesy of perhaps the band's most experimentally inclined member Cliff Burton. The instrumental is quite intriguing, but effective more as a means of breaking up the potential monotony of a uniformly heavy album than as a consistently entertaining musical experience.

    Another liability of the album pertains to Kirk Hammett's guitarwork. While he's quite adept at working in tandem with the other members, almost all of his solos seem interchangeable, barely relating to the songs that contain them. While he'd improve in this department on subsequent releases, for now his solos are competent but unspectacular, never offensive but not much of an asset for the group. James Hetfield's vocals are also more than somewhat problematic, but he too would eventually grow in that regard.

    Ultimately Kill 'Em All is an immensely enjoyable listen, cultivating great rock and roll energy, exploiting the potential of thrash metal to its fullest and conjuring a plethora of catchy, creative riffs. Some might regard it as a guilty pleasure, given its utterly abysmal, juvenile lyrics and almost defiantly anti-intellectual nature, but I find this to be somewhat unfair; there's enough complexity and intelligence to the music that the band's other shortcomings can be forgiven.

    The album is never overshadowed by its historical importance as a crucial document in the history of metal, providing more than enough entertainment when detached from its influential status. While some of the thrash tracks are inferior to others, they're still entertaining in the context of the album, and the superior tracks are all instant metal classics. Even Burton's solo spotlight is at least interesting and creative, making for a highly engrossing experience that one needn't feel ashamed of enjoying.

    Ride The Lightning (1984)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 12

    While its rating may not fully reflect this, Ride The Lightning is a huge leap above Kill 'Em All in virtually every department. Whereas some groups would have been content with simply churning out rehashes of their debut with only a modicum of artistic progression, Metallica eschew the trappings of their more primitive, immature debut and emerge as a vastly reinvented entity.

    This overhaul is apparent even in the lyrical department, an area that's never been the band's strong point. The lyrics are still cringe inducing but at least there's far more diversity in their subject matter, as Hetfield assumes myriad disparate roles, ranging from an inmate on death row awaiting his imminent execution via the electric chair to a man contemplating suicide to even the angel of death setting out to administer the tenth plague upon unsuspecting Egyptians. While the lyrics that accompany these comparatively interesting premises are, as always, clumsy, awkward and inarticulate they're at least more intriguing than their erstwhile juvenile fare, wherein their ambitions never went beyond wearing leather and kicking ass, as they so eloquently stated in the opening moments of their debut.

    The main progression, needless to say, is in the musical department, however; the instrumentation has grown far more complex and multi-faceted, Hammett's guitar solos have advanced considerably from a qualitative standpoint and Hetfield's singing is vastly improved.

    Once again, as is always the case with the group, their primary strength lies in their riffs, and in this regard Ride The Lightning is nearly unsurpassed. Each song boasts multiple catchy, inventive riffs, as if the band was hoarding an infinite supply of them, and it would indeed be a long while until there were tangible signs that they were exhausting their load.

    Each track is at least decent, while most are downright metallic classics. The lone culprit on the merely 'decent' front is Trapped Under Ice, which is simply generic thrash in the vein of tracks like Whiplash off their debut. It still, as is invariably the case, contains some pretty good riffs which help compensate for its overly familiar, nondescript nature, but it's still expendable when compared to the other numbers on the album.

    The album starts with a nearly unparalleled adrenaline rush with the vicious onslaught of Fight Fire With Fire, a terrific thrash rocker played with such speed and precision and featuring such memorable, hyper fast riffs that one can overlook the sheer idiocy of the lyrics. As would become a trend in their subsequent output the band brilliantly employs a soft/hard contrast on the song, as it opens with a pretty acoustic passage before exploding into the relentless sonic juggernaut that is Fight Fire With Fire.

    From there the group segues into the title track. While it's hardly The Mercy Seat the song is nevertheless quite strong, sporting some more great riffs that help evoke the fear and tension of the track's subject matter.

    From there they launch into For Whom The Bell Tolls, the album's best cut. Opening with a lengthy procession of brilliant riffs before transitioning into the main melody the song is a miniature epic, an atmospheric classic that packs more into its five minute length than an average metal album does in its entirety. Every note in the song seems to be perfectly placed, resulting in a nearly flawless metallic masterpiece. While its prolonged introduction of shifting from riff to riff may be its best point, the song even features a vocal melody that's quite strong by the group's standards, also functioning as a showcase for Hetfield's improved vocals as, unlike Mark E. Smith, he learned to sing as opposed to simply shout out lyrics.

    The subsequent track is also a Metallica classic, the much revered suicidal anthem Fade To Black. The song masterfully employs the soft/hard contrast introduced in the opener, alternating between gorgeous acoustic melodies and savage electric guitarwork. While the lyrics are predictably simplistic and banal the song manages to be emotionally engaging nonetheless, as the pathos of the track is fully communicated through the somber, despairing sound of the acoustic section, with the potency of these emotions being compounded by the harshness of the metallic portions.

    Afterwards the album hits a brief lull with the decent but unspectacular thrash rocker Trapped Under Ice, but the CD gets back on track with the catchy metal of Escape, a song distinguished by its irresistible pop refrain. Escape's followed by the ominous, menacing classic Creeping Death, a thrash rocker that cycles through several great riffs over the course of its seven minute length.

    The album's climax arrives in the form of The Call Of Ktulu, a great instrumental that amply demonstrates the band's newfound mastery over complex yet accessible instrumentation. Despite its nine minute length it remains fully involving all the way through, a prime example of the brand of art metal that the band was pioneering.

    Thus Ride The Lightning is an excellent sophomore effort and, ultimately, one of the greatest metallic albums of all time. While sadly enough their lyrical development would never correspond with their musical development, the album is still one of the greatest of its kind, a testament to the band's tremendous growth over the course of a single year.

    Master Of Puppets (1986)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 12

    While often regarded as the zenith of the band's career, it's strange that Master Of Puppets is, ostensibly, a remake of Ride The Lightning, at least in some respects; the track sequencing is nearly symmetrical with that of Metallica's prior outing, with the only noticeable discrepancy being that this time around the album's epic instrumental is the penultimate number as opposed to the final one.

    This only goes to prove, however, that the formula established on Ride The Lightning was a successful one, offering an effective template for the band to adhere to. Furthermore, while nearly every track featured on Master Of Puppets has a direct counterpart on their sophomore effort, the songs are never rehashes, merely reminiscent of one another on a more superficial, purely stylistic level.

    Unfortunately, the band isn't always capable of providing tracks that are qualitatively even with their stylistic analogs; as has often been remarked, while the first side of Master Of Puppets is nearly flawless, the perfect synthesis of thrash and art metal, the latter half, while not bad, is largely a considerable letdown. Metallica were unable to sustain that high level quality for the album's duration, hence the erratic nature of the final half of the album.

    Needless to say, the lyrics are, as always, another liability for the band. This time around, while the LP's hardly a concept album it does consistently return to certain themes, primarily that of dehumanization and subjugation, be they a repercussion of drug addiction, military service or internment at an insane asylum. These complex topics aren't exactly dealt with with any subtlety or precision, resulting in more cringe inducing lyrics from a group that should have, by now, learned to abstain from lyrically ambitious endeavors.

    Despite all these defects, however, Master Of Puppets is yet another heavy metal masterpiece from the band; incompetent lyrical handling of weighty affairs and egregious inconsistency aside, the album manages to attain classic status in the thrash pantheon by virtue of its immaculate first side and, while somewhat weaker, its solid latter half. The group have retained their considerable flair for catchy songwriting while they generate stellar riffs with the same unerring reliability that they displayed on previous outings.

    Furthermore, the band has improved in some departments as well. Hetfield's singing is much stronger on this release, no longer necessitating the studio trickery employed on Ride The Lightning to mask his inadequacies as a vocalist, while Hammett's solos grow better and better with each passing album.

    Much of the album's strength can be attributed to its exceptional first side which, though it transparently follows the blueprints of its predecessor, if anything exceeds the first half of Ride The Lightning on a qualitative level. Thus the opening thrash explosion of Battery is a thinly veiled recreation of the adrenaline rush that was Fight Fire With Fire; it even begins in similar fashion with a gorgeous acoustic passage functioning as a segue into the meat of the song, preserving the soft/hard contrast used to such great effect the last time around. Battery may even surpass its much lauded predecessor, as the acoustic portion is better developed, coming across as a more fleshed out musical work than an intro solely designed to provide the necessary contrast, with no independent merit of its own, as was the case with the beginning of Fight Fire With Fire; Battery also cultivates and sustains a comparable level of intensity to Fight Fire With Fire, also coming across as a more polished affair without dispelling or diluting the vicious rawness that typified Ride The Lightning's opener.

    Battery is followed by the incredible metallic workout that is the title track, a number overflowing with clever riffs, vocal hooks, great guitar solos and ingenious structuring, an example of art metal at its finest. It's easily superior to its counterpart on their sophomore effort, the title track of Ride The Lightning, which is quite a feat given the quality of that death row anthem. Master Of Puppets is simply a heavy metal classic, boasting complex arrangements that less intelligent thrash outfits would be incapable of duplicating.

    While the third track, The Thing That Should Not Be, isn't quite up to par with its Ride The Lightning counterpart For Whom The Bell Tolls, it's still an excellent number, an ominous, menacing song that instills a sense of fear and tension in the listener, with a monstrous lumbering riff designed to evoke a sense of dread and horror while remaining catchy and entertaining the whole way through. This catchiness is further accentuated by a great vocal melody that fits the song perfectly, with these accessible and immediate hooks never compromising the sheer terror of the number.

    What follows may be the best cut off the album; while Fade To Black was an absolutely terrific number, Welcome Home (Sanitarium) is even better, marrying a bleak and haunting yet beautiful melody to the band's usual heavy onslaught, seamlessly transitioning from one side of the song to the other. While one would assume that the elegant, shimmering side of the track would seem lightweight or innocuous when compared with the heavier chapter, this couldn't be further from the case, as the subtle menace underlying the softer section is far more penetrating and harrowing, with each note imbued with a sense of fear and tenebrous mania. This isn't to discount the heavier portions, as they're likewise rather adept at conjuring a similar atmosphere, resulting in an unsettling masterwork that derives its potency not from the pedestrian lyrics that aspire to have this effect but from the dark, unnerving and threatening feel that the music itself conveys.

    Sadly, after this brilliant first half the album begins to waver, never approaching 'bad' per se but still constituting a grave disappointment. Thus Disposable Heroes is a generic anti-war metal workout, with the expected heavy-handed lyrics accompanying the expected martial rhythms; in other words, everything about the song is completely predictable, with no hint of originality or intelligence. The subsequent track, Leper Messiah, contains some great riffs and basslines but still never amounts to much, too routine for a band of the creativity of Metallica, while the closer Damage, Inc. is merely generic thrash in the vein of much of the fare from Kill 'Em All, betraying none of the artistic progression the band had made since their debut.

    This leaves the instrumental Orion, which is indeed quite good, albeit not quite up to the standards of Ride The Lightning's brilliant closer, making for a somewhat lackluster second half to follow such an auspicious start. These final four songs are all at least decent, but the contrast between the spectacular first half and merely decent second serves to expose all of the inadequacies of side two, exacerbating an already pronounced problem.

    Nevertheless the first side is sufficiently strong to merit such a high grade, and even with the midway sharp decline in quality the album can be enjoyed all the way through, making Master Of Puppets a worthy sequel to the incredible Ride The Lightning and elevating the album straight to the top of the thrash/heavy metal hierarchy.

    …And Justice For All (1988)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 11

    Prior to the recording of …And Justice For All, the band's fourth outing, bassist Cliff Burton perished in a bus accident, depriving the group of not only a highly skilled musician but also of one of the primary creative forces in Metallica. While a substitute was swiftly found in the form of Jason Newsted (the auditions for this role were rather extensive, encompassing such diverse talents as the likes of Primus' resident eccentric Les Claypool III), as a tribute to Burton his replacement's basswork is muted throughout the album, one of several such acts of honoring their erstwhile bassist including the spoken word portion of To Live Is To Die.

    Despite their comrade's untimely passing the group preserved, eager to prove that the band itself could emerge relatively unscathed from this catastrophe. Accordingly Metallica opted to produce their most ambitious work yet, with these artistic pretensions manifesting themselves in the form of highly complex, multipart compositions designed to highlight their status as one of the most 'intelligent' metal outfits. To this end they also prolonged each track extensively, leaving the shortest track on the album the five minute closer Dyers Eve.

    Unfortunately, these overly protracted compositions are the album's greatest liability. While the album is consistently strong in the songwriting department, most of the tracks make their points rather quickly, rendering this needless elongation of runtimes extraneous bordering on destructive. Much of the potency of a track is diluted from this endless repetition, a redundancy that's apt to inevitably induce severe boredom on the part of the listener.

    Furthermore, while riffs were always Metallica's greatest asset, what made them so effective was how they were woven into the melodies of their songs. However, all too often on …And Justice For All songs will sound like collections of riffs as opposed to true songs, and no matter how strong the riff it in and of itself won't be sufficient to sustain a lengthy track. Not every track conforms to this description, as there are myriad impressive vocal hooks and melodies on the record, but when a track is reduced to a haphazard parade of random riffs it can't hope to achieve the same effect as a fully fleshed out song.

    Despite these complaints, however, …And Justice For All is a very good album, and a worthy follow up to the likes of Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets. While a fair share of them could stand to be shortened by a couple of minutes, the songs are, for the most part, very strong, boasting killer riffs and memorable melodies.

    While less of a blatant recreation of the Ride The Lightning formula as its predecessor, …And Justice For All does contain some of the ubiquitous staples of the group; thus Blackened is the obligatory inheritor to the legacy of Fight Fire With Fire and Battery, while One fulfills that role for Fade To Black and Welcome Home (Sanitarium). Though these may be transparent sequels, this is hardly a problem; Blackened is yet another perfect opener, stampeding over the listener with a viscous onslaught of energy and riffage, while One is simply a masterpiece. Though it recycles its anti-war message from the likes of Disposable Heroes, bringing nothing new to the table in terms of lyrical insights or intelligence in that department, from a musical perspective One's absolutely brilliant, with its hauntingly beautiful sections fluidly alternating with savage metallic passages. This contrast trick may be over abused by Metallica, but it's still enormously effective, infusing tremendous power into the track.

    Truth be told, nearly every track has something worthwhile to offer; the problem is simply that what these tracks have to offer can be fully conveyed in a time span several minutes shorter than the songs' actual lengths. Not only the tracks are overlong, as this condition afflicts the album as a whole as well. At sixty-five minutes …And Justice For All is very difficult to sit through in one sitting, with its relentless bombardment of thrash and heavy metal overpowering one's senses. After about an hour the riffs, no matter how individually distinctive, will invariably blend into one, either becoming interchangeable or ceasing to register at all.

    There are a plethora of strong tracks, from the previously mentioned Blackened and One to riff rockers like Eye Of The Beholder and The Frayed Ends Of Sanity, and if they were at least mildly trimmed the album could be on par with the best of the band's recent output, but as it stands their bloated length transfigures an otherwise enjoyable listen into an overlong headache. One can only sit through so much heavy metal before one notices the onset of a migraine, ergo …And Justice For All's over inflated length effectively sabotages an otherwise quite accomplished affair. The album is still enjoyable, and well deserves its high grade, but with just a modicum of editing the record could have attained the rank of a heavy metal masterpiece.

    Metallica (1991)
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 10

    Often referred to as 'the black album' (a title that's derived from the pure black cover as opposed to any allusion to Beatlesque nomenclature), Metallica's eponymous outing was the band's mainstream breakthrough, establishing the commercial viability of the group amongst the MTV generation with all of the necessary accoutrements inherent to this position (myriad music videos, frequent radio airplay, etc.).

    This crossover success can be directly attributed to a stylistic shift in the band's sound. On this go round the band eschews the art thrash that had dominated their sound in favor of a new brand of pop metal, with an emphasis not only on riffs but likewise on a conventional pop structure for the songs, complete with sing-along catchy refrains for each track along with more accessible and axiomatically entertaining vocal hooks and melodies.

    The band even went so far as to tone down the heaviness of their material. The extent of this dilution is rather mild, as the album still rocks with a ferocity that surpasses nearly all of the contemporaneous metal outfits, but it's still a tangible adjustment, orchestrated solely to better market their output to a more squeamish crowd who would have been frightened away by the metallic onslaught of tracks like Fight Fire With Fire and Master Of Puppets.

    The songs are also far less complex from an instrumental standpoint, a harsh blow to those who revered the band for their superior intelligence and progressive tendencies; those who bemoan this loss are also likely to scoff at the album's comparative primitivism, perceiving it as a dumbed down style designed to appeal to a less discerning audience.

    These modifications to the band's traditional sound can easily be interpreted as selling out, and there is some truth to that assessment, but this stylistic paradigm shift doesn't mean that Metallica's more mainstream fare can't be quite entertaining in its own right. The band was already on the verge of stagnation with their incessant recycling of the Ride The Lightning formula, and thus this reinvention of the group's core sound helped avert that otherwise inevitable outcome.

    Furthermore this poppier style proves to be highly compatible with the group's sound; Metallica had never shied away from inserting a plethora of hooks into their work, thus establishing a template that was rather conducive to this poppy makeover.

    Most importantly, the band's songwriting is still, for the most part, quite strong, hence tracks like the classic opener Enter Sandman which rocks mercilessly with an instantly memorable refrain and a stellar riff that drives the song forwards. The record does have erratic moments, especially toward the end of the album, but for the most part the material is quite strong, even if it lacks the excitement of some of their earlier releases.

    As a ramification of the new style the band's roots as a thrash outfit are barely evident on the album, as the tracks are uniformly slower paced to better adhere to an archetypal pop structure, and this is something of a problem given that the speed of their songs had always been one of Metallica's chief assets. This is hardly a fatal liability, but the addition of a few of the group's quintessential thrash attacks would have helped disrupt the potential monotony of an album exclusively composed of much slower numbers.

    Another defect is somewhat surprising; given the high quality of the softer passages in tracks like Fade To Black, Welcome Home (Sanitarium) and One it would be natural to assume that the band would excel at the kind of dark balladry that they occasionally engage in over the course of the album. Sadly this is not the case, as tracks like The Unforgiven, while far from bad, are far too bland to reach the heights of those classics; they do make for a welcome change from the never ending parade of rockers, but they fail to constitute the highlights that they transparently aspire to be.

    The album's most egregious mistake, however, is the number of songs; while their previous albums had never exceeded nine songs, Metallica's self-titled outing contains twelve tracks, which proves to be highly deleterious to the quality of the album. It not only makes for a more erratic listen, as the group apparently lacked enough strong material to fill this self-imposed quota, but it also makes for a rather tiring listen, an inevitability when dealing with this many stylistically uniform numbers.

    Nevertheless the album is still quite good, filled with the band's usual stellar riffs accompanied by myriad catchy refrains and irresistible pop hooks. It's not the band's finest hour, as it's impeded by its previously mentioned flaws, but it's still a strong effort, and a welcome change of pace after a streak of overly similar LPs. Sellout or not, the pop structure works quite well for the group, making for an entertaining, if flawed, listen.

    Live Shit: Binge & Purge (1993)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 12

    Given the degree to which it relies on a heavy, energetic and uncompromising sound, one would naturally assume that Metallica's style would be eminently conducive toward producing stellar live albums, and this assumption is verified time and again throughout the boxset Live Shit: Binge & Purge, a three disc behemoth that simply bombards the listener with leaden riffage and manic guitar solos for hours on end. The effect of being endlessly bludgeoned with metallic anthems for the duration of three whole discs can be overwhelming and potentially even headache-inducing, but the overall experience remains exhilarating and entertaining, an ideal soundtrack for head-banging and air-guitar solos.

    The material on the album is culled from a trio of concerts from the band's massive 1993 tour, right after the release of the Black Album had transfigured Metallica from a cadre of cult favorite thrashers into one of the premier rock groups of their era. One might surmise that the group would focus almost exclusively on their MTV-friendly recent output, but this is far from the case; rather than neglecting their early work Metallica showcase material from their classic period as well as their subsequent reinvention.

    These aren't cursory renditions of their older fare, either; while it's true that no songs are dramatically altered from a structural perspective, they're still performed with a level of passion and precision that could never be feigned by a band simply going through the motions. While at times one already familiar with the group's discography might long for more deviations from the songs' original blueprints, they should be appeased by the sheer caliber of the performances.

    It's not as if there are no changes to the original songs, though admittedly the modifications tend to be rather predictable, namely song extensions designed to facilitate more jamming and longer solos, not to mention on a less desirable level the inevitable audience interaction segments that plague most albums of this nature.

    Thus the surprises that the album offers tend to manifest themselves in segments between the main versions of the group's songs as opposed to during the actual proper performances, and this was a sagacious decision given that it enables the real songs to be enjoyed in their entirety while still leaving openings for stage antics of a decidedly more playful manner.

    There are myriad slight touches that help make the album a more charming experience (and I'd even include Hetfield's gratuitous profanity as one of them, as his swearing becomes so ridiculous that it assumes a humorous character). Whether it be shifting a metallic coda into a brief excerpt from Hendrix's Third Stone From The Sun, claiming credit for inventing Blackmore's legendary Smoke On The Water riff or teasing the audience by starting fan favorite numbers and immediately aborting them it's clear that both Metallica and their audience are enjoying themselves immensely, and this mood of levity paired with metallic excesses can be quite infectious, an idiosyncratic blend that can be quite disarming to even the most jaded of listeners.

    Another highlight is a prolonged bass/guitar solo on disc one helpfully labeled as Solos (Bass/Guitar) in the track listing; only featuring faithful interpretations of major songs could have grown wearying, so it's a welcome addition to the concert when Hammet and Newsted get a chance to shine. Each musician receives a solo spotlight, subsequently jamming together with some incredible instrumental interplay. The two obviously share a great chemistry while remaining more than proficient at performing alone, making for a riveting experience all the way through. One may worry that the jamming would degenerate into desultory noisemaking, but Hammet and Newsted elude this peril by employing preexisting work as foundations to launch their solos from rather than simply jamming without a guiding framework. Thus everything from Led Zeppelin's Dazed And Confused to the national anthem are used as bases to ground the jamming in solid melodies, preventing either musician from losing direction or growing too self-indulgent.

    Other welcome surprises include some unlikely additions to the band's repertoire. These include some eccentric covers like Am I Evil? and Stone Cold Crazy which help inject at least a modicum of variety into a setlist that, from a genre perspective, can appear somewhat conservative. It's also pleasing, and rather unpredictable, that Metallica perform four songs from Kill 'Em All, proving that the band's newfound superstardom hasn't come at the expense their earliest history.

    The album certainly isn't perfect; there are certainly some negatives, with the main culprit being the extraneous and grating crowd-interaction segments. Whether it be alternating a song's vocals with the audience (particularly during the seemingly never-ending coda of Seek And Destroy where the crowd was instructed to shout out the title at the proper moments) or merely attempting to make the fans produce as much noise as humanly possible, moments like these simply take the listener out of the album, constituting at best minor distractions or at worst tedious ordeals. This technique may work wonders for a live crowd but it doesn't translate terribly well into a concert album context.

    Nevertheless Live Shit: Binge & Purge is an immensely enjoyable experience, boasting relentless live energy, deft performances and a level of heaviness that would make Black Sabbath circa Master Of Reality proud. Even when the songs fully adhere to their original structures they remain hugely entertaining, and the setlist is beyond reproach, with very few oversights. While classic tracks like Fight Fire With Fire are omitted it's for the best as, given the presence of Battery, it would have been inadvisable to include both an original and its thinly veiled remake. As for which of the two better merited inclusion I'll abstain from casting a vote, as one couldn't go wrong with either choice (or Blackened, for that matter), as while Fight Fire With Fire was the trailblazer they're all prime thrashers from the masters and pioneers of the genre.

    There is still one main drawback to the album, however, which is its hefty pricetag. Boxsets are always pricey, but thanks to a pair of live Metallica DVDs that are included in the package the cost has been further inflated to the point of utter fan-exploitation. Nevertheless, I still feel that the album is a must for any fan of Metallica, providing too much entertainment to miss even when taking its price into consideration. From pure adrenaline-pumping rock to amusingly profane stage banter to stellar solos that eclipse most of Hammet's and Newsted's studio work, Live Shit: Binge & Purge has everything a fan could possibly want from a Metallica stage experience, and it has it in volume as well.

    Load (1996)
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 10

    After a healthy five year sabbatical, Metallica returned to the studio to record over two and a half hour's worth of new material; in a situation like this any sensible group would subject this content to intense scrutiny, ascertaining the quality of each track until they found the ideal set list for a new album.

    Metallica, however, opted to release every last second of the new material onto CD, a maneuver that transcends the term 'excessive;' thus the Load sessions spawned two complete albums, each with a length somewhere in the vicinity of eighty minutes (meaning that had the albums been released prior to the compact disc's emergence as the medium of choice for music, then the sessions would have bred two full fledged double albums).

    The resultant repercussions are quite predictable; Load, the first of the two releases (with Reload being released the subsequent year), is inundated with a massive amount of filler, not to mention a runtime that's quite difficult to take in one sitting, forcing the listener to endure a seemingly eternal bombardment of rage tinged vocals and nonstop heavy riffage.

    The group endeavors to compensate for this potential tedium with an unprecedented (for Metallica, at any rate) level of diversity; the album's a hybrid of myriad disparate genres, assimilating countless styles into a veritable melting pot of rock and roll offshoots, from heavy metal to classic rock to pop metal to grunge to country to blues to balladry.

    While one would assume that this variety would rectify the previously addressed problem, such is not the case; invariably nearly every track, despite any alternate influences, ends up sounding like typical Metallica heavy metal, with the incorporation of new styles being superficial at best when it comes to their actual impact on the music. Metallica may attempt to explore new musical territory, but sadly they're an inherently limited group, lacking the necessary range to pull off this eclectic enterprise.

    Fortunately, while the album is undeniably overlong and bloated, much of the material is still quite strong. Granted there's an unhealthy preponderance of filler on the record, with candidates for the album's worst track including The House Jack Built with its obnoxious passage wherein Hetfield attempts to vocally mimic Hammett's guitarwork and some of the simply drab content on the second side.

    Nevertheless there's much to be lauded on the album as well, particularly terrific rockers like King Nothing and Until It Sleeps. As was the case with Load's predecessor there're parts of the album that barely merit a listen, generic rockers with overly familiar riffs and a modicum of quality hooks; also like its predecessor, however, Load contains myriad strong tracks, and while somewhat feeble and overestimated what diversity there is on the album further ameliorates the quality of these songs.

    As many have espoused, a single album containing the best material from Load and its sequel Reload would be a truly great album, no longer made erratic by featuring the entirety of the sessions the songs on each are culled from. As it stands, however, Load remains an entertaining (if deeply problematic at times) listen, as the group was still capable of generating top tier heavy metal fare. Most of the filler is inoffensive, and even the weaker tracks still rock enough to head bang to (while lacking any meaningful substance in the riffs, hooks and melodies department). Invariably many of the songs lack much in the way of individual personality, and thus will melt together in one's mental jukebox, sporting overly derivative riffs and anemic hooks, but nonetheless the album is redeemed by its best material, tracks that are catchy, memorable and worthy of inclusion on the phantom one album version of the Load sessions.

    Reload (1997)
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 10

    As it's a product of the same sessions that yielded Load, Reload is afflicted with many of the defects that marred its predecessor, sharing not only that's album's erratic character but also its similarly bloated nature, an LP mired in an over inflated track listing with all too many songs that vastly overstay their welcome.

    Like Load, Reload has a runtime exceeding sixty minutes, and once more this proves to be highly deleterious towards the overall quality of the album. Resultantly the ratio between strong material and filler is far too close for comfort, a problem that could have easily been averted had the group simply released only the best tracks derived from the Load sessions as opposed to inflicting the full two and a half hours of studio toil on poor unsuspecting listeners.

    Fortunately, in addition to containing a comparable amount of strong content as its predecessor, Reload has an asset that the group's previous album was lacking; while on Load the band had endeavored to infuse a healthy dose of variety onto the record, invariably the tracks came off as standard Metallica numbers mildly altered so that they could profess to be something beyond the band's normal scope.

    Such is not the case on Reload, where a large portion of the album sounds like something genuinely different from the group's standard modus operandi. This becomes increasingly clear as the album progresses, culminating in tracks like Low Man's Lyric, wherein the group perform a strangely musically uplifting ballad employing such diverse instrumentation as their usual electric treatment married to violin passages and the usage of a hurdy-gurdy. The song sounds little like a stereotypical Metallica track, injecting a welcome shot of eclecticism into the proceedings.

    This isn't to say that all of the more unorthodox tracks work; many merit the title of filler just as much as generic, nondescript heavy metal numbers do, and ultimately there's little correlation between the band's more adventurous approaches and good music. This doesn't reduce the impact of these more variegated songs, however, as unconventional filler is far more palatable than average filler, making the album, if not better than its predecessor, at least more sonically intriguing.

    More interesting filler is hardly the extent of the album's virtues, as there are indeed a number of very strong tracks. The obvious choice for best song goes to the hit opener Fuel, a stellar riff rocker with catchy vocal hooks and a tremendous drive. There are plenty of more obscure quality tracks as well, such as Devil's Dance and Prince Charming; they may not rank amongst the band's best work, but they're still eminently enjoyable numbers worthy of the group's name.

    Predictably enough there is an abundance of filler; as previously stated some of this filler is comparatively interesting, but such is not always the case, resulting in numerous instances of typical derivative, bland heavy metal, the likes of which dominated Reload's predecessor.

    Thus Reload, like Load, is a flawed but enjoyable product, a mixture of prime Metallica material and the inevitable helping of filler. The band's penchant for excess demanded that these two separate albums be made, but this doesn't completely sabotage the output from the Load sessions; they may not constitute the epic artistic statement that the group was trying for, but they're still a pair of pretty good records, and this is enough to ensure that the band's efforts were not wholly in vain.

    Garage Inc. (1998)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 9

    The fruits of the Load sessions had managed to alienate a number of erstwhile diehard Metallica fans who felt that the group was losing sight of their former identity, entering into new territory that was anathema to those who longed for the day when the band was the world's premier art thrash outfit.

    When viewed from this perspective, the group's decision to follow up the much maligned duo of Load and Reload with a two disc, two hour album solely composed of covers almost comes across as a Dylan-esque stunt to drive away their listeners, something akin to his release of the similarly cover heavy double album Selfportrait.

    While this is obviously conjecture, and only half serious speculation at that, it's difficult to find any sort of motive to attribute this mystifying career move to. An album of the nature of Garage Inc. was hardly apt to recover many of the band's spurned devotees; on the contrary, it was far more likely to drive away what remaining fans the group had managed to retain.

    As the group's intentions relating to Garage Inc. pose a seemingly impenetrable enigma, attempting to decipher it is merely a futile endeavor; thus the focus shouldn't be on 'why' Metallica recorded the album, but rather assessing the final product that the listener is left with.

    The album is compartmentalized into five separate sections; the first disc consists of an array of brand new covers recorded by the band near the time of the album's release, while the second is comprised of an obscure EP from 1987, a couple of numbers dating all the way back to 1984, several B-sides and one-offs derived from various recordings conducted between 1988 and 1991 and a quartet of Motorhead covers performed in 1995.

    As had been asserted by many, the performances culled from earlier sessions far surpass the band's recent work with regards to the tightness, ferocity and precision of the instrumentation. The group had largely retained their instrumental chops over time but, nonetheless, were unable to fully preserve the sheer skill and passion that they once infused into their output.

    Despite this fact, however, the group acquit themselves admirably throughout, and thus the quality of the performances is never truly a liability. What is a liability, however, is the fact that ostensibly the album is a seemingly never ending onslaught of mind numbing heavy metal with precious few respites from the thunderous waves of sonic distortion.

    Given Garage Inc.'s status as a cover album one would assume that the double LP would feature tremendous diversity, with a track selection culled from myriad diverse sources. Sadly this inference is wholly unfounded, as the album manages to contain less diversity than both Load and Reload.

    The band didn't stray too far from their most direct influences, and when this is coupled with the fact that most songs receive exactly the same treatment from the group one is left with a decidedly monotonous affair, and one that lasts for over two hours at that.

    The band's choices in terms of track selection can also be somewhat dubious at times; while their rendition of Bob Seger's Turn The Page and their cover of Thin Lizzy's interpretation of the traditional number Whisky In The Jar both work surprisingly well, such cannot be said for the gruesomely overlong version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Tuesday's Gone, while Loverman is a debacle that proves what should be self-evident, namely that Nick Cave's material is far too nuanced, subtle and intelligent to be successfully converted into generic heavy metal.

    These tracks, including the two utter misfires, still rank amongst the most interesting fare on the album, as they depict Metallica actually taking risks and leaving their usual comfort zone. The problem is that far too much of the content was already firmly embedded in Metallica's territory, thus seldom necessitating any level of creative reinvention.

    As one would suspect, covers of the likes of Black Sabbath (represented here by Sabbra Cadabra) work quite well, as they're natural fits for the band, ensuring that, if not groundbreaking, they're at least entertaining. But one can only be entertained by stylistically uniform numbers for so long without growing weary of the angry vocals and abrasively distorted guitars; thus, just as was the case with the Load sessions, had the band simply exercised restraint and moderation with the track listing Garage Inc. would have been a far more palatable experience.

    Ultimately Garage Inc. is moderately enjoyable; the band handles most of the material quite well, and they've selected some quality tracks for the album. It's simply too much of the same for two hours straight, thus invariably inducing boredom and apathy toward the album as a whole. Another legitimate concern is that the band's songwriting is sorely missed at times, as Metallica are vastly more talented than many of the bands they pay homage to here.

    Thus, as a whole, the album is decent, but severely marred by the defects I've alluded to. Garage Inc. simply can't manage to sustain one's interest for a full two hours, a problem that could easily have been rectified either with a more diverse selection of covers, more diverse arrangements for the songs included or a simple trimming of the runtime. As it stands the album is far from bad, but it can't rank up there with far superior cover albums like Nick Cave's Kicking Against The Pricks or Dylan's debut.

    St. Anger (2003)
    Page Rating: 3
    Overall Rating: 5

    After a prolonged hiatus that had many fans believing that the group had been irrevocably dissolved, Metallica re-emerged with the seventy five minute behemoth St. Anger. In a rather transparent effort to recapture their original fanbase, the group, with considerable volume and regularity, broadcasted that the album was a return to their roots, touting it as a reversion to their thrash metal glory days with all that that designation entails, from myriad creative riffs to multi-part epics to complex instrumental passages to attempts to make meaningful artistic statements.

    Unfortunately, the group hadn't even come close to fulfilling the resultant expectations of such a claim in a manner of decades, rendering these promises rather empty and meaningless. By this stage in their careers Metallica were incapable of crafting an album that could achieve even a single one of these goals that they so ill advisedly set for themselves, and the ensuing album not only fails with regards to backing up these reckless promises but likewise fails on nearly every other conceivable level as well, a product that's easily the nadir of the band's legendary career.

    Prior to the recordings Jason Newsted departed from the band, and thus, in theory, St. Anger features the band's third bassist, but this is rather difficult to ascertain given that the basswork is nearly inaudible over the course of the album courtesy of abysmal production (or lack of any production at all) that the group felt would help engender a live-in-the-studio feel in the album that would, once more in theory, ameliorate Metallica's rawness and energy.

    Another casualty of this noxious production is Lars Ulrich's drumming; for reasons that elude me, one of his drums releases a metallic clang whenever it's struck, and for reasons that elude me even further Ulrich strikes this drum on a very frequent basis, often striking it with such reckless abandon that the sound of the album is transfigured into a product akin to an amateurish industrial band jamming in an abandoned warehouse, rejoicing over the unlimited sonic potential of the leftover materials caked in rust and scattered across the floor.

    The production is a very difficult obstacle to get past, but even if one should successfully execute this seemingly impossible feat they'd find limited rewards for their perseverance. The songwriting itself is simply awful, further exacerbated by the band's worst lyrics to date (which is certainly saying quite a lot). The lyrics are uniformly cringe inducing, perhaps good for some unintentional humor but little else.

    Frantic, while far from a heavy metal classic, is easily the best cut on the album, with some ferocious riffage, effective interweaving sections and some catchy (if horrifically moronic) vocal hooks. It's hard not to wince at lines like "my lifestyle determines my deathstyle" and "frantic Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tock," but then again these aren't even candidates for the worst lyrics on the album, so one must adjust to the band's idiocy before even contemplating braving the remainder of the record.

    Nearly every track is abominable, with a pronounced dearth of creative riffs (most of them are far too familiar and predictable) and few catchy vocal melodies, while everything is invariably further exacerbated by the horrendous production that makes every instrument dissolve into one another to the point where attentive listening becomes an invitation for a headache.

    The group wanted the album to sound raw and savage, and they succeeded at that endeavor. They wanted to return to thrash dynamics and in this department they succeeded as well. But these alone are insufficient to craft a good album, a fact that nearly each track present is an irrefutable testament to.

    Were it not for the guilty pleasure (a term I'd never use to describe any of the band's classic work) of the viscerally effective and somewhat cleverly constructed Frantic the grade would be even lower, as the album truly has little to no redeeming values. Atrocious to nonexistent melodies, primitive and drab riffs, lyrics that transcend the term awful and production that infinitely compounds every single one of the many defects on the album come together to produce a heavy metal debacle, easily Metallica's worst outing and a terrible album by any standards.

    Worst of all is the length of the album. Sadistically enough Metallica felt compelled to protract the listener's suffering for as long as possible; as previous mentioned, the album clocks in at around seventy five minutes and, as there are only eleven tracks, each song is elongated to hideous proportions, making sitting through the LP a truly chthonic ordeal. While moderation could hardly have saved the album is could certainly have diluted the extent of the listener's suffering.

    The group also seem to have a loose grasp on the purpose of multi-part songs. Generally multi-part tracks are designed so that a song never gets repetitive, constantly shifting to a new section just as the listener grows weary of the previous one. However, by repeating every single section of every single song over and over again it completely negates the reason for having so many disparate sections, as the listener will thus inevitably grow weary of every section and still be subjected to the same ones over and over again, as if Metallica subscribed to the erroneous notion that a section will feel fresh and exciting if it's temporarily replaced with another section, only to return to the first moments later.

    Thus St. Anger is flawed beyond all imagination, an album far worse than I would have felt Metallica capable of producing. At the end of Frantic one will invariably be tempted to press the stop button and save themselves from the infernal aural avalanche they'll be subjected to should they continue to listen to the album. This is a wise impulse, one that the brain conjures as a means of self-protection, and one I would follow were it not necessary for me, as the reviewer, to persevere despite the trauma of the album as a whole.

    Death Magnetic (2008)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 11

    When a rock group proclaims that their latest album is a return to their classic sound, one's initial response must always be skepticism; generally when a band is in dire straits they'll profess to be returning to their roots on their next release, and there's seldom even a modicum of veracity to that statement.

    Some groups, long divorced from the public limelight or the good graces of the critical establishment, make a career out of this meaningless boast, insisting time and again that their latest release will indeed recall the style of their glory days. All that this erroneous hype does is contribute to the cynicism of an audience that's already jaded from being burned one too many times by the same old trick, hardly a mentality that's conducive toward commercial success for the band in question.

    The reason for this charade varies from group to group. Some bands simply cannot revert to their classic sound, having deteriorated far too much over the years to return to their past glory no matter how hard they try. Others have merely lost sight of what made their peak material so strong, having forgotten their own strengths and weaknesses in the interim years. These possibilities tend to be far more plausible than an actual return to form, and there's no shortage of group-histories to reinforce this assertion.

    Metallica themselves have already perpetrated this fraud on the debacle that is St. Anger. Having been promised a triumphant return to the days of Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets, listeners were instead the unfortunate recipients of aural effluvia that easily constitutes the nadir of Metallica's catalogue.

    Ergo the fact that the band made precisely the same claim on their subsequent outing almost came across as an insult; expecting listeners to fall for the same trick again so soon is the height of absurdity and disrespectful to the intellects of the bulk of Metallica's fanbase (which admittedly, in some cases, is saying quite a lot). Nevertheless Death Magnetic was touted as a return to form, a statement that elicited little more than ironic smirks and contemptuous sneers.

    This reaction, however, only lasted until most had actually heard the CD as, amazingly, Death Magnetic is one of the few such albums that actually fulfilled its seemingly impossible promise, rendering it one of the most unanticipated comebacks in the history of rock music.

    It's been decades since a Metallica album of this caliber has been released, and even more impressively it's actually a worthy follow-up to the band's first four outings, a strong statement given that those products were undisputed heavy-metal masterpieces. Death Magnetic may not reach the dizzying heights of Ride The Lightning or Master Of Puppets, but it is on a comparable level with such classics as Kill 'Em All and …And Justice For All, which is no small accomplishment (especially in light of what the band had degenerated into in recent years.

    Metallica's classic style has finally been restored, leading to the type of vicious yet catchy and immaculately performed riff-fest that's rarely been encountered at all in recent years. No one can pull off this brand of music quite like Metallica in their prime, and while they're hardly in their prime now on Death Magnetic they've made great strides toward duplicating their past successes.

    Death Magnetic is devoid of filler; there are a few lesser tracks, and one may question the impetus for producing yet another sequel to The Unforgiven, but overall the album is remarkably consistent, particularly for such a late period release. Each track boasts a plethora of innovative, clever riffs, and while there's no pandering to the casual crowd that joined the ranks of Metallica devotees in the wake of the MTV generation's beloved 'black album' there are certainly pop hooks, like the infectious refrains of All Nightmare Long and Cyanide.

    Also, in the hands of many copycat rock artists the thrash genre tends to preclude catchy, imaginative riffs, instead simply favoring speed and precision. This has obviously never been a problem that's afflicted Metallica, and on Death Magnetic there are plenty of instances, like the stellar riff on the opener That Was Just Your Life, that were conceived in the tradition of immortal thrash riffs from such songs as Fight Fire With Fire, Battery and Blackened.

    As far as performances are concerned Death Magnetic is unimpeachable (barring the usual complaint that the bass guitar is buried far too low in the mix). Hetfield is in top form, eschewing the self-indulgent excesses that have occasionally marred his work. Hammett, after having been criminally underutilized on St. Anger, emerges as a tremendous force in the band once again, playing myriad, flawlessly executed guitar solos that add immeasurably to each track.

    Needless to say, however, the album is not without its flaws. Though it goes without saying given its long established status as an inherent characteristic of Metallica, the lyrics are abysmal, with such cringe-inducing lines as 'submit infectiously;' this fails to pose a problem, however, as any fan of the group has long since accepted that reality as an inescapable fact.

    What is a problem, however, is the fact that, for a rather stylistically uniform album, Death Magnetic is gruesomely overlong. While when taken on an individual level each track is strong and eminently worthy of inclusion, when taken as a whole the album tends to get rather monotonous, simply bombarding the listener with an endless parade of distorted riffage and pounding drums. This invariably grows both tedious and exhausting, perhaps even headache-inducing, and seriously undermines the overall quality of an otherwise impeccable album, and even a fan of metal will ultimately feel as if he's being abused by the sheer loudness of Death Magnetic by the CD's end.

    Nevertheless Death Magnetic is still a very good album (albeit one that needn't be over 75 minutes in length) and a triumphant return to form from a band that had been long since dismissed as over-the-hill and irrelevant. Filled with exceptional riffs and strong vocal melodies the album is a legitimate heavy metal classic, and while this accolade means less for me than it does for some people I can still state that, despite its flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Death Magnetic and, at times, when I'm in the right frame of mine, I can unreservedly enjoy the CD in its entirety, from beginning to end.