Metallica has been around for quite a while, since 1981, to be precise, and they are a part of the big four. This includes three other bands, Megadeath, Slayer, and Anthrax, and they were pioneers of thrash metal.
Over the years, many things have changed (like some of the band members), but mostly, they remained true to their style. Naturally, as any band that’s been around for such a long time, they experimented with genres and tried something new.
If you are a fan of Metallica, you will probably know all of these songs, but do you know how to play them? Metallica is not an easy band to learn, and James Hetfield is known for his incredible right-hand technique.
Nothing Else Matters
Probably the most popular song by Metallica is Nothing Else Matters. Even if you are not a metalhead, there is a high chance that you know and love this song. And the popularity of it is insane. Probably due to the slower tempo, the song is something that nearly everyone enjoys.
It was released in 1991, on their fifth album called simply – Metallica. However, the fans know it by the nickname The Black Album due to the completely black cover. It was written by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, and Bob Rock produced the whole album.
One of the interesting things is that many guitarists choose to learn the song due to the simple intro, but things get quite more complex as the song goes on.
The next song on the list is from the same album and was the lead single. The primary theme of the song is a child’s nightmare, and lyrics were written by Hetfield. Enter Sandman single achieved platinum certification for more than one million copies across the U.S.
Music for the song was written by Hetfield, Hammett, and Ulrich, and Kirk said that the main riff was inspired by Soundgarden. Enter Sandman easily became one of the most popular songs, not only on the album but in their entire career.
The last part of the song has a bedtime prayer “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” and it ends with Hetfield’s variation of “Hush Little Baby.” The song received praise from both fans and critics.
The Unforgiven is another song from the Black Album, and it only shows its popularity and how impactful it was. The song is a power ballad, and it was written by Hetfield, Hammett, and Ulrich.
Interestingly, the horn you can hear in the intro was taken from the movie The Unforgiven, and it was reversed so they could hide the original source. The song deals with struggles, and internal fights against people who try to subjugate.
Over the years, The Unforgiven managed to stay among the most popular songs by Metallica, and they often played it live. It has an intro on the acoustic guitar and then goes into a heavier verse. It’s fun to play, and it is not as difficult as some other songs on the list.
The song One is an essential part of nearly every live performance, and one of the fan-favorites. It is an anti-war song that talks about a severely wounded soldier. His arms and legs were blown off by a landmine, and he is unable to move, speak, or see.
His only hope is to somehow find a way to communicate with hospital staff, and he is begging God to take his life. The video for the song is black and white, and it has a couple of scenes from the movie “Johnny Got His Gun.”
One is a heavy song, with incredible riffs and fast solos. It starts slow and gets quicker and quicker near the end. It is undoubtedly a challenging song to play, and it might take you a while to play it perfectly.
Fade To Black
Fade to Black is the first power ballad by Metallica, and it was released in 1984 as a part of their second album Ride the Lightning. The entire band participated in the writing of the song, including their late bassist Cliff Burton.
As Lars explained later, he and James were obsessed with death at the moment, and the main theme of the song is suicide. It has an intro on the acoustic guitar, and it gets progressively heavier.
Near the end of the song, there is a solo that found its way to many lists about the best guitar solos of all time. Over the years, it became a part of nearly every live performance, and everyone loves hearing it.
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Another song for Ride the Lightning is For Whom the Bell Tolls. The song was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name, and it deals with the process of death in modern warfare. Both song and the novel were set during the Spanish Civil War.
Cliff Burton wrote the intro to the song long before he joined the band, and he played it with his second band as an instrumental in 1979.
There are numerous live recordings of the song, and it is regarded as one of the most popular tracks by Metallica.
Seek & Destroy
Seek & Destroy is the song from their first album Kill ‘Em All, and it is the first song they recorded. It is also the third most-played song live, and they performed it 1,525 times. The main theme of the song is the urge to kill, but not doing it.
The band claims that the song was heavily influenced by Diamond Head and three solos in Seek & Destroy are derived from Princess of the Night by Saxon.
The song perfectly captures Metallica’s early years, and it is one of the best songs they ever recorded. It’s fast, fun to play, and can be quite difficult, so you might need to practice a bit.
Creeping Death was released as a single in 1984 and on Ride the Lightning. The song was written from the Angel of Death’s perspective, and it is set in ancient Egypt. As you can probably guess, the song was heavily inspired (or based) on the Bible, and the Book of Exodus.
It talks about the Plagues of Egypt, and Kirk Hammett wrote the main riff when he was only sixteen years old. The song managed to reach the first place (on some lists) as Metallica’s best song. Creeping Death is usually among the top ten, and they often played it live.
The main inspiration for the song was the movie The Ten Commandments and the band decided to write the song about the plagues.
Master Of Puppets
Probably the most favorite song on this list for every metalhead. The song has everything. Incredible riff, beautiful solo, and powerful lyrics. It is the most played song by Metallica ever, and they played it 1,670 times.
The song was released on the album Master of Puppets in 1986, and the main theme of the song is drugs. It talks about how quickly your life can change and how you lose all control of your life until you become just a puppet.
Probably the most exciting part for every guitar player out there is the “spider riff” at the beginning and the amount of downpicking in the song. And if that’s not enough, there is an incredible instrumental in the second part of the song.
The Unforgiven II
The Unforgiven II is the “second part” of the song, and it follows a similar theme. Both songs have a similar chord progression, and this applies to videos as well. The song was a part of the Reload album, in 1997.
Some critics did not approve the idea of writing a sequel for The Unforgiven, but others enjoyed this dose of nostalgia. Today, there are many players who prefer the second version to the original, and it was part of the European tour in 2015.
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Another song from Master of Puppets is Welcome Home (Sanitarium). The song was inspired by the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. The song is written from the perspective of a patient locked up in a sanitarium.
Besides powerful lyrics, the song is incredible for playing as well. It starts quite slow, almost as a ballad. But as the song progresses it builds up tempo, and more distortion. The end of the song offers lightning-fast solos with a lot of tremolo picking.
It is a great way to learn since the first part of the song can be quite easy to play but it gets more challenging as the song goes on.
Harvester Of Sorrow
Harvester of Sorrow is the first single from …And Justice for All album that was released in 1988. The song offers raw Metallica at the early stage of their career. Harvester of Sorrow is a story of a man who descends into madness, and how he’s taking his anger on his family.
The song is a classic example of thrash metal, and it’s not that hard to play. It is a lot slower compared to some other songs by the band, and you might not need to practice it as much.
While it is not the most popular song in their career, it’s still at the top, and the band continued playing it on almost every tour.
The Memory Remains
The song is a lead single from Reload, and it was released in 1997. James believed that Marianne Faithfull could add that special something to the song, and he wasn’t wrong. Marianne did an incredible job setting up the whole eerie vibe of the song.
The primary theme of the song is about an artist who slowly loses fame which makes them go insane. For some reason, the song was never popular on their shows even though it was a success. It might be due to the fact that Jason Newstead disliked it.
If you are one of many people who love the song, the good news is that it’s not that hard to play. At least compared to their other songs.
Fuel is another single released as a part of the Reload album, and it received numerous rewards. The song is fast, powerful, and quickly delivers the message. It is a song about speed, and people who love driving cars.
But sometimes, they drive their cars too fast, and they go through life at the same pace. As any Hetfield fan out there knows already, there is a lot of downpicking in this song, and it can be quite challenging to play it correctly.
No Leaf Clover
The song No Leaf Clover is one of two songs written specifically for their S&M concert in 1999. Metallica played live with a symphonic orchestra that was conducted by the incredible Michael Kamen.
No Leaf Clover starts with the orchestra, and it’s soon followed by Hetfield’s clean guitar. The rest of the song alternates between heavier and clean parts, and it sounds really good.
Over the years, the song gained popularity, but on other tours, the symphonic intro is played from the S&M footage.
Bleeding Me is a song from Metallica’s 1997 album called Load. It was never released as a single, but it was part of the S&M performance. It is also one of the rare songs that feature the Hammond organ.
Many people believe that the song is about addiction and people struggling with it, but Jason said that it is about someone going through mental torture. The song alternates between slow and faster parts, and it can be so much fun to play.
James explained that during the Load era, he wanted to stop drinking, and he struggled with it for so long. The song is about bleeding out all bad things in your life, and “pushing to stay with something better.”
Hit The Lights
Hit the Lights is a song from Metallica’s first album Kill ‘Em All. It was a song that dates back to Hetfield’s old band Leather Charm. They recorded the song with James on vocals, and it was one of two original songs they performed on their first gig.
The song was based on the previous version that was never finished which Hetfield and Hugh Tarner wrote. Hit the Lights starts with a drums fading in, and it’s played at 160 bpm. The main riff is played with 16th notes, and it is hard to play.
And if you consider that playing Metallica means playing downstrokes only, you can imagine how difficult it actually is.
Ain’t My Bitch
Ain’t My Bitch is the opening song of the Load album, and it was released as a single in Mexico. As you can expect, the song gained attention from the media due to its title. James later explained that the word does not refer to a woman, but to some problem in general.
Once you consider that, it is obvious that the song is about a person who doesn’t care about people’s problems. The song is heavy (as everyone could have expected) and Kirk plays slide guitar on the record.
The song was an important part of the tour following the album release, but it wasn’t as played as other songs on the recent shows.
Until It Sleeps
Until It Sleeps is another song from the Load album, and it was released as a single. The song received praise from the critics and it was their first number-one song on the US Billboard charts.
The working title of the song was F.O.B.D. because it reminded them of Soundgarden’s Fell on Black Days. Interestingly, during the refrain, the song has the same 6/4 rhythm as the song that inspired them.
James Hetfield wrote the song, and it is about his mother’s struggle with cancer. The music video was directed by Samuel Bayer, and it depicts the fall of a man. One of the main inspirations for the video are paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. Interestingly, Until It Sleeps is the first pirated song ever.
St. Anger came out in 2003, and it was the lead single of the album of the same name. It is also the only album without an official bass player since Jason Newstead left the band prior to album recording. Moreover, it was the last collaboration with Bob Rock as well, who was the band’s producer since The Black Album.
The whole album is still an interesting topic for Metallica fans, and they either love it or hate it. St. Anger song is no different. There are no solos in the song, and there are only fast riffs. The video for the song was filmed in San Quentin prison in California.
Furthermore, the music video features Robert Trujillo who joined the band as a bassist prior to shooting the video.
The Unnamed Feeling
The Unnamed Feeling was the third single from St. Anger, and it was released in 2004. The primary theme of the song is an unnamed feeling, which Hetfield explained as anxiety. It tells a story about the feeling of losing control just before the panic attack.
As with other songs on St. Anger, it is a lot different and yet quite similar to their style. The music video released with the single was directed by The Malloys, and it shows the band playing in an empty room with walls closing around them.
It also shows stories about people experiencing the same feeling through their own stories.
Shoot Me Again
Shoot Me Again is the seventh song on St. Anger, and it perfectly captures the entire album. One of the controversial topics at the time was drum sound and the absence of solos. On one hand, people criticized how drums sounded like empty cans, while on the other, they praised lack of solos, ballads, and pop influences.
The entire album is brutal and direct, and you either love it or hate it. There is no in-between. Shoot Me Again is a song that many claim was inspired by Metallica’s battle with Napster. The band sued the company for copyright infringement and how they allowed users to share their songs peer-to-peer.
As a result, the chorus says “shoot me again, I ain’t dead yet” which symbolizes how they are still standing after all that has happened.
All Nightmare Long
All Nightmare Long is the song from Death Magnetic which was Metallica’s ninth album. One of the unique things about the song is that it’s in drop D tuning, which isn’t something that old school fans are used to.
The song was released in 2008, and it was followed by a video directed by Roboshobo. Interestingly, the video shows an alternate history shown in a form of a mockumentary. The lyrics are inspired by H. P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos. More precisely about Hounds of Tindalos that are incorporated into the whole mythos.
The song is fast, filled with riffs, and fun to play. Needless to say, you’ll need to warm up your right hand to play this correctly.
The Unforgiven III
The final part of the “trilogy” is The Unforgiven III, released on the Death Magnetic in 2008. There are a couple of changes compared to the previous two versions, and this one doesn’t start with a horn.
Instead, there is an intro on the piano, and it is followed by horns in the background. As with the other two songs, the song is a mixture of heavy and soft parts, and the intro on the piano follows the same chord progression as its predecessors.
The story follows the same principle of sin, consequences, forgiveness, and unforgiveness. Interestingly, James said that out of all three songs, this one was his favorite. For all of those that hated the idea of The Unforgiven having a sequel this probably wasn’t the most appealing thing in the world.
The last song on the list is from the album called Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. It was released in 2016, and it is the tenth album by Metallica. The band explained how the song Hardwired was a late addition to the album, and how they decided that they need a fast and short opening song.
For all fans of “old Metallica,” this song might sound like a dream come true. The song is a bit over three minutes long, and it sounds rather similar to their early work. Furthermore, they said that the entire album was inspired by Kill ‘Em All.
Metallica has a rich history that spans for decades. They invented a new genre and then started experimenting with it to create something new and unique. Over the years, there were several lineup changes, but the idea and core principle of the band remained.
Today, almost forty years after Kill ‘Em All, Metallica is still strong and still rocks around the world. There is no doubt that they will release more albums, and they too will be incredible.
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