When it comes to rock and heavy metal bands, has there been a band that has been capable of making as big an impact as Metallica? Probably not, and let’s face it, they are a tough act to follow.
But do you know what else has been challenging? Trying to narrow down their songs to provide you with only the best 25 Metallica songs of all time. They have been responsible for so many rock classics that it’s not easy to decide which ones to leave out.
But anyway, after much thought, here is our list of the 25 best Metallica songs of all time.
1. No Leaf Clover
This had to be first on the list simply for its uniqueness. Proving that rock and the pure melodious tones of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra are a perfect symbiosis of ecstatic sound that many ears enjoy.
This song is characterized by a feeling that this is rock for stadiums, but it also includes some classic Metallica, whereby you feel the tempo and noise build as the song progresses. This song is intense in its approach, and Hetfield excels with his vocals throughout and manages to incorporate some real emotion into the lyrics.
Feast your ears on this absolute Metallica treat. It will blow your mind and may even pull you back to Metallica if you have stopped listening to them.
2. Holier Than Thou
The thing about this track is that people often feel it’s against religion when that’s not the case. Instead, Hetfield is raging about people in the music industry and the role they can play in making a band stars or discarding them.
But the anger and irritation inside of Hetfield comes across loud and clear throughout this track. But here’s the thing, even Metallica view this as one of their silly songs. In saying that, it’s still impressive how they portray that angst in classic Metallica style.
3. Until It Sleeps
Following the theme of the pain of his mother’s death, this song has a mix of hard rock riffs and soft ballads that keeps the viewer entranced by the pain of losing a loved one. The visuals are a feast for the eyes, and the melodious tones keep you tapping to the beat despite the backdrop to this song.
This song is often viewed as representing more of an alt-rock approach for Metallica, and it’s certainly not as heavy or dark as some of their other songs. Taken from the album Load, there’s something of a grunge feel to it all, and many feel this song was responsible for opening up Metallica to new listeners as it’s just a bit more laid-back than most of their other songs.
4. Through The Never
This is just one of those songs that were made just for itself, and there is no hidden meaning, just excellent full rounded riffs with a strident tone that keeps you glued to the lyrics for hours. Make sure to play it on replay. This is where the magic begins. This could be the personification of head-banging at its finest.
The impressive thing is that this song only lasts for four minutes, and that’s short compared to some of the others they have produced over the years. The guitars are hypnotic and spellbinding, while Hetfield does his usual stunning vocals to drag you along through the song.
5. The Shortest Straw
An earlier treat that shows this band’s diverse journey into softer melodies, it contains more brutal riffs and an unapologetic journey that cuts a jagged pathway through the song, leaving the listener bewildered but longing for more. Many say you either love or hate this song, but either way, it will grow on you if you love Metallica’s honest and gritty beats.
But for us, the thing that stands out is that this song will be heaven for people who love guitar riffs. It just feels as if Metallica seeks to include as many as possible in just a few minutes, leading to a complexity in the song that simply grabs your ears and shouts in them.
For many, this represents Metallica pushing the boundaries and taking you to the absolute limit of what they want to do with their music. At least they make the journey to the edge feel as if it’s worthwhile.
If anyone had any donuts of Metallica’s relaunch in 2016, this track put paid to any doubt in a nanosecond. Probably a favorite for many devoted fans, many declared, “Now you are talking!” to this hard-styled primal feast of progressive rock.
It’s almost as if Metallica felt they had a lot to say in what would be an epic album, and they thought there was no better way than to simply launch into it with this song that lasts a shade over three minutes. They show they still know how to rock and thrash out the song via gigantic riffs, insane drums, and those customary growling vocals from Hetfield.
If you thought Metallica would have calmed down after all these years, this song will make you think twice.
7. Ride The Lightning
Simultaneous head banging from James and Cliff in perfect synchronicity is one of the most memorable moments in this live show from Metallica. The track is older but still relevant today, with excellent lyrics, perfect guitar, and a profound base underscoring the entire song.
In this instance, the riffs explode onto the scene with sheer precision and add so much to the song’s overall feel. This track from 1984 indicates that Metallica always had so much to say about life in general. Okay, so they tend to do it with so much anger in their voice, but the balance throughout the song, even with so much passion, is astonishing.
8. Carpe Diem Baby
The guitar and bass will carry you unwittingly into this song as though you’ve been caught off guard. Stay for the ride though; you’ll be enthralled and soothed at the same time. The most notable thing about this song to many fans is the lyrics.
There’s no doubt they make you really think about what it all means, but let’s not forget the instrumental side of things here. With stunning solo guitar sections combined with the song having a serious edge to it, the song is heavy but also a crazy amount of fun to listen to.
9. Fight Fire With Fire
Inspired by the Cold War, this song was from their Ride the Lightning album from 1984. What we love about this track is the way it kicks things off with an acoustic set that is fanciful and melodic in nature. But this represents the peace before war, so it makes sense that the music comes across in the same way.
But then, you need to wait for it because Metallica eventually kicks in their signature heavy sound, and just hold on because the speed they play at is impressive. You just get the feeling that they blend the instrumental perfectly with the message they want to put across.
10. …And Justice for all
Reeling from the shock of losing Cliff Burton in 1986, the band went on to finally release the album featuring new bassist Jason Newsted. The fast tempo of the track forms a backdrop to the lyrics, which focus on war, injustice in America, and government injustices at the time. This is an epic song that lasts for almost 10 minutes on the album of the same name.
But here’s the surprising thing. This song comes across as more in line with prog-rock rather than your typical Metallica sound. Look out for some crazy drumming in this song as well. Actually, it’s one of the main points about this song, and considering how long it lasts, then it displays unlimited stamina for them to continue to blast it out non-stop for minute after minute.
11. The Thing That Should Not Be
For some fans, the release of The Thing That Should Not Be struck a chord. It was the last album in which Cliff Burton played as a bassist before his death. The album artwork also depicted the bands’ sense of loss as it featured a graveyard and hands from heaven holding strings to the cross like gravestones. Hard to listen to lyrics and a melancholy feeling inspired by Black Sabbath influence, this song remains a memorial to Burton and the desire of the band to hold on to their heavy metal influence. Still, it remains one of the band’s most outstanding tracks on the album Master of Puppets.
You can almost feel the depression and sadness hanging over them at the time coming through in this song. It indicates Metallica is not all about anger and screaming out about different things. Instead, it’s packed full of emotion, and you will undoubtedly feel their sense of loss as well.
12. Am I Evil?
First released in 1980 by Diamond Head, a British rock band, the song enjoyed more fame once recorded by Metallica in 1984. The song was surprisingly successful after being released on the B side of Metallica’s single Creeping Death.
They released this as it was one of their own favorite songs, and they have certainly done justice to the original. This song involves some crazy rocking out with an absolute hardness to it and your typical Metallica thrash sound. It’s a song that flew under the radar, and that is a real shame when you sit back and listen to it because this song is a real standout even though it’s a cover version.
13. Harvester of Sorrow
Released in 1988, this song was the lead single from their fourth album. This song has a sense of anger, with a sense of politics and the death of humankind running throughout. Also, they bring a sense of justice into the lyrics, meaning the song moves through different emotions in the space of just a few minutes.
There is a more laid-back feel to aspects of this song, so it makes you sit up and take notice since you don’t expect this from Metallica. But just when you think it’s not quite what you are used to, Metallica swings in with thumping drum beats that just take the song and the feelings in the lyrics up to a whole new level. It’s an awesome song, and it is worth you taking the time to read the lyrics and understand what it’s all about.
14. Enter Sandman
This song was the lead single from their fifth album and was released in 1991. The focus is all on nightmares, and in particular, those had by children. It was a platinum-selling single that helped introduce them to a new generation of listeners who had never previously thought about heavy metal music.
For some individuals, this is something of a one-riff song and is markedly different from your typical Metallica songs. It begins with an acoustic guitar before they bring in some frenzied tom-tom drums to add a different sound. But that point about it being a one-riff song is not even something to worry about because of what a sound it makes throughout the song. If it wasn’t for this riff, then the song would fade into obscurity.
With a sinister feel to it all, this song takes you down a dark path of what goes through our mind while we sleep, leaving you lying in bed with one eye open.
The lyrics in this song focus on anger and how to control it, but the song itself deals with the thrash scene from San Francisco in the 80s. Starting with a smooth and clean acoustic guitar, it’s followed by a drum and bass sequence.
After that, a melodic sequence kicks in with double guitars before descending into classic thrash metal riffs, which then take over and control the rest of the song.
This song clearly has a purpose behind it all, and what you get here is a song that allows Metallica not only to tell you about their roots but also indicate they plan to stick to those roots, which is something they have certainly achieved.
16. Master of Puppets
This song comes from the album of the same name from the mid-80s, but at almost nine minutes long, it’s one of the longest tracks on the album.
It all kicks off with thumping drums and thrashing guitars, indicating they mean business with this track. Hetfield blasts into the song with his distinct vocals as he pushes across the message they want to portray through those nine minutes.
But then, just when you think it’s all over, this song drops down into a gorgeous guitar solo that has a haunting aspect to it. This shift in tempo and style adds a new level to the song, and even Metallica believe it to be one of the best they have ever produced.
Released as a single from their album …And Justice for All, this song is dark in its subject. It focuses on a soldier in WW1 who has had his limbs blown off and is blind while begging God to take him. It’s a morbid subject, and the song simultaneously comes across as quite distressing.
Incorporating a deep guitar sound with a double bass drum, they even replicate the sound of a machine gun to convey the message with genuine enthusiasm. Starting off as quite a clean song, it builds tempo while it also becomes heavier in its nature.
This is one song that also didn’t receive too much in the way of play on the radio, thanks to how violent the lyrics and message tend to be. However, if you listen to it, then it’s still classic Metallica.
18. The Memory Remains
The first thing to mention about this song is that Marianne Faithfull appears on backing vocals. The first single from the album Reload. It was released in 1997.
Hetfield felt that Faithfull had weathered vocals that fitted in with the overall feel of the song they were putting together. The song is all about a fading star where only the memory of them remains, making this quite a touching song in a typical Metallica style.
Expect more of a winding melody throughout the song while they blast through the guitar parts with passion and power. It’s explosive but deep at the same time.
The third single from the album Reload, it was a song that achieved a nomination for a Grammy in 1999. It was viewed as one of their more moderately successful songs; it’s also seen as a real fan favorite for all those hardcore fans worldwide.
The song is all about living life in the fast lane, and that’s a feeling you get from the lyrics and tempo of the music. It has a frenzied approach to it all, but there’s also something about this song that throws it into the realm of alternative rock.
But it’s the message in this song that stands out. It’s one you need to listen to and see how it applies to your own life.
20. Wherever I May Roam
If it’s riffing you love, then Wherever I May Roam is right up your street. We know it kicks off with a slightly bizarre guitar intro, but hold on because this song builds through that intro and then explodes with absolute ferocity. Released in 1992, it was the fourth single from their fifth album.
We love how they bring every string instrument into the song and a special mention to the sitar-like guitar feature. Also, we cannot forget the 12-string bass that’s also included in the musical setup here. Still a favorite at concerts, even orchestras have been involved in the playing from time to time.
Keep an eye out for the solo as performed by Hammett; it’s going to blow your mind with the way he moves through the different scales. This song is sick, and it’s more than deserving of its place on our list.
21. Sad But True
Released in 1993, this song was part of their self-titled album from 1991. This song is considered one of the saddest they have ever produced, so expect it to pull on your heartstrings. The lyrics are haunting and will touch you to the core.
With a focus on blind faith in religion, it tells you to open your eyes and see what’s going on around you. However, there’s a clear melodic feel to it all, and it feels like more of a quiet and thoughtful song, unlike anything else you will hear from the band. Also, expect a gritty feel to it all.
22. Creeping Death
Released in 1984, this song was the lead single for their album Ride the Lightning. Hammett wrote the guitar riff when he was just 16. This is a dark song with references to dying in the middle with other references to religion as they used the story of the 10 Commandments to influence them.
With additional references to plagues, this is a heavy song told by the Angel of Death. The subject may be dark, but Hetfield brings it to life with his usual vocal skills that dance throughout the song, keeping just enough anger and rage in his voice to really strengthen the message they want to get across.
23. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
This is another ballad by Metallica, and it’s seen as a follow-up to Fade to Black. it starts with slower guitar sounds followed by a blast of drums before Hetfield gets to grip with his vocals. The chorus comes along with a heavy amount of distortion while there’s a feeling of pain throughout the song.
This song is meaningful and focuses on an individual in an asylum who never thinks about getting out. It’s heavy stuff, and yet it’s all put together beautifully at the same time.
This song comes from the 1988 album, …And Justice for All, and it’s a song that is quite haunting in its approach, along with the strong message that is dark and devious throughout. But along with that dark message is a song that is complex in its approach.
With a focus on a song all about the human race destroying itself, it jumps around from a speed perspective to the point where it becomes quite dizzying in its approach. But this song signifies Metallica at their thrashy best, which is a huge reason you should spend some time checking out the album to which this song belongs.
25. Nothing Else Matters
This song shows that Metallica can also produce some power ballads, as seen by Nothing Else Matters. It incorporates several different instruments into the song, including heavy strings and acoustic guitar blasts. This song comes across as real heartfelt Metallica, and it’s produced at a significantly slower pace than you would expect.
Also, let’s not forget the vocals. They are quite haunting on this song and utterly different from the norm from Metallica. It’s a stunning power ballad, and it makes you wish that Metallica produced more ballads if they are capable of producing a song this good.
Barry has worked as a freelance writer for over a decade and has developed an eye for detail when it comes to unearthing cool and interesting facts.
His love of music stems from his student days checking out up and coming bands playing in the darkest corners of bars and clubs in Edinburgh.
The love of uncovering something new also remains with him. With an appreciation for music that’s best described as eclectic, his musical tastes range from Eric Clapton to Eminem through to Snow Patrol and Incubus. The memories that music can bring back to the fore is something he tries to portray in his writing.
For him, the voyage of discovery and unearthing something new is what makes this task of writing for MusicGrotto.com so interesting.