With the release of 72 Seasons, Metallica issued a blunt proclamation that they have absolutely no intention of slowing down - certainly not in their work ethic and especially not in regard to the speed of their music. From the machine gun burst of the title track to the screeching velocity of Lux Æterna and Room Of Mirrors, Metallica gleefully flaunted their ability to unleash sharp, tightly-focused riffs at blazing speeds. That electrifying combination of speed and precision is the very essence of thrash - the genre that they pioneered along with the other members of the Big 4 and bands like Exodus, Testament and Death Angel. With that in mind, we set out to compile Metallica’s ten fastest songs. Which was no simple task.
One of the main issues is that the quality of speed in music is both subjective and objective. Some songs feel supersonic due to the blistering speed of a guitarist churning out triplets with every drum beat, as with the verse section of Spit Out The Bone (starting at 1:09). That song feels like you’re standing in front of a turbofan jet engine right before takeoff. Objectively, however, Spit Out The Bone is fast but its tempo - measured in Beats Per Minute (BPM) - falls well short of other Metallica tracks. Conversely, The Four Horsemen, which can feel like a bit of a mid-temp chugger, is actually one of their empirically fastest songs, clocking in at a breathless 204 BPM. On average, Metallica’s fastest album is Kill ‘Em All, with a median BPM of 159.5, with Master Of Puppets coming a close second at 158.
Compounding the challenge is that there are many sites that provide BPM for most songs but they rarely seem to agree - sometimes the sites differ by a few BPM, while in other cases, the difference is dramatic. Some sites have Master Of Puppets down at a modest 105 BPM when it’s much, much faster. We decided to simply go with a single source - the BPM identified on the sheet music on Songsterr - a user-curated archive of tablature for guitar, bass and drums that includes the tempo for every measure of a song.
Finally, because Metallica songs often include multiple parts with very different tempos, in some cases, we went with an average tempo or with a song’s predominant tempo. This is why relying on a single BPM site doesn’t give the whole story.
Incidentally, the world record for BPM by a drummer is held by Tom Grosset, who earned the title of world’s fastest drummer by hand-drumming at a brain-freezing 1,208 beats in 60 seconds. He beat the former record-holder - Dream Theater’s Mike Mangini - by five strokes.
Here, then, in descending order, are Metallica’s ten fastest tracks:
10. Hardwired (2016) — 178 BPM
Metallica opened 2016’s Hardwired...To Self-Destruct with an absolute belter. Gone was the lurching jock rock posturing of the Black Album and the sonic experimentalism of St. Anger; Metallica had well and truly returned to the biting aggression of their 80s output. Right out of the gate comes the title track, humming in at 185 BPM and holding fast for three breathtaking minutes. In Metal Hammer’s review of Hardwired.., Dom Lawson referred to the track as, “a vicious burst of prime thrash with an irresistible chorus and enough spirit and venom to silence anyone who thought Metallica were too old to nail this stuff anymore.” Years later, it still sounds as good as anything they’ve ever done.
9. Rebel Of Babylon (2011) — 182 BPM (avg)
The closing track of the 2011 EP Beyond Magnetic has only been played live once — at the band’s four-night thirtieth anniversary residency at The Fillmore, in San Francisco. Though it didn’t make the cut for Death Magnetic, it’s a fist-pumping romp with tempos exceeding 200 BPM during some of the verses, while slowing down in several interludes. But even during the solo, the track maintains a feverish tempo, beginning at 176 BPM and getting progressively faster. A deep cut well worth revisiting.
8. St. Anger (2003) — 186 BPM
Spoiler alert: nothing from Lulu makes this list. But from Metallica’s next-most-maligned album comes this absolute scorcher. At 2:37, the band swing into a pummeling cadence that, after ten seconds, enters a whole new temporal realm. This occurs throughout the song — after a couple of interludes for vocals and a breakdown at 3:41, the band push the pedal all the way down. Look beyond the tin can rattle of the snare and you’ve got some of the band’s quickest work to date.
7. Blackened (1988) — 190 BPM (avg)
One of the band’s fastest tracks is also one of its most complex. Certain sites list the BPM as just under 130, which is baffling, considering that out of the song’s nineteen tempo changes, only two fall below 185 BPM. The majority of the track is played in double time, averaging a skin-peeling 192 BPM. Then there are the track’s multiple time signatures, which flutter between 4/4, 3/4, 5/4 and 7/4 throughout the track. You practically need the janitor from Good Will Hunting to put all of this together. Ironically, though bassist Jason Newsted’s contributions are all but inaudible on the original track (on pretty much the whole album), this is the only song on ...And Justice For All on which he receives a writing credit — for composing the main riff.
6. Dyers Eve (1988) — 194 BPM (avg)
...And Justice For All closes with a venomous screed penned by Hetfield against his parents for leaving him woefully unprepared for the hostile world that awaited him. With its otherworldly, double-bass-driven tempo, it’s hardly surprising that the band didn’t attempt playing the full track live until 2004. Tempos shift at an outrageous pace - at some points hitting 218 BPM - then slowing down into the low-90s before ratcheting back to 195. The majority of the measures hover between 190 and 197. Since then, Dyers Eve has made infrequent appearances in their setlists and when they do play it, Lars leaves out the marauding double bass section, reportedly admitting that it’s ‘too difficult to pull off live. In our recent chat with drummer Jon Dette (ex-Slayer, ex-Testament), he cites the track as the hardest one to play in the entire Metallica catalogue for this very reason. Still, for the listener, it’s pure thrash heaven. Side effects include elevated heart rates, annoyed neighbours and speeding tickets.
5. My Apocalypse (2016) — 196 BPM
The closer to Death Magnetic didn’t just push the band to the limits of endurance with its mach 5 tempo; it also notched the lads a 2009 Grammy award for Best Metal Performance. Not too shabby for the shortest track on the album. This is an example of an already-speedy tempo seemingly revved up faster by the blinding triplets of the rhythm guitar.
4. The Four Horsemen (1983) — 204 BPM
As a matter of taste, metal fans remain split between Metallica’s The Four Horsemen, off of Kill ‘Em All and former Metallica shredder Dave Mustaine’s version, Mechanix, released on Megadeth’s Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good! (1985). But there’s no doubting that both versions cook and Metallica’s version remains among their fastest, with the majority of the song requiring 204 paint-stripping BPM - obviously not including the Lynyrd Skynyrd-inspired breakdown.
3. Fuel (1997) — 208 BPM
Presumably there aren’t many funeral doom songs about the rush of adrenaline from driving fast, although we’d love to hear one. This track, from Reload, remains a live show mainstay, appearing over five hundred times since its live debut in 1997- and for obvious reasons. Unlike other Metallica tracks, it has a single, searing tempo that never lets up. Unsurprisingly, NASCAR used the track as their official theme song for a few seasons, starting in 2001.
1=. All Within My Hands (2003) — 212 BPM
A tie! Though Metallica are known for kicking off their albums with a show of force, they closed St. Anger with this speed-drenched banger. There are a couple of slower interludes but the vast majority of this track clocks in at a neck-snapping 212 BPM, which is good enough to earn a tie for first place. While the track isn’t exactly their catchiest song, Metallica used its name for their non-profit, which has delivered millions of dollars to various causes across the globe.
1. Master Of Puppets (1986) — 212 BPM
What? Master Of Puppets? With that slow, melodic breakdown in the middle? Yes! Though some BPM sites list its tempo at a glacial 105 BPM, the sheet music fixes the tempo at 212 for most of the track, while some estimates run as high as 220 BPM. One of only two tracks from Master Of Puppets credited to all four band members (James Hetfield, Cliff Burton, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett), it is the cornerstone of the Metallica canon and recently found a whole new generation of fans when it appeared in a climactic scene in the latest season of Stranger Things. Its nine-minute runtime nearly doubled most of the mainstream rock songs at that time, leading to scarce radio play and yet it remains one of the most beloved and enduring songs in metal history.
Metallica's latest album 72 Seasons is out now. The band headline two nights of Download 2023 next week.