No band from the world of heavy metal has reaped more success than Metallica. Across their forty-plus year career, the Bay Area titans have headlined stadiums in just about every country available to them (hell, they've even played Antarctica), sold tens of millions of records and redefined metal itself multiple times over in the process.
It means their considerable back catalogue is amongst the most celebrated and dissected in all of rock music - but that doesn't necessarily mean all their compositions have been given due credit. While the likes of Enter Sandman, Master Of Puppets, One, Creeping Death et al are rightly legendary, there are plenty of Metallica cuts through the years that deserve more praise. With that in mind, here are ten excellent Metallica songs that, all things considered, are way underrated.
(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth (Kill 'Em All, 1983)
Orion understandably remains the definitive testament to Cliff Burton's mastery as a player and songwriter, but its rough-around-the-edges older brother is still a wonderful glimpse into the supremely talented gentleman that Metallica had in their ranks. Recorded in one take (as underlined by studio engineer Chris Bubacz's intro), Anesthesia is a raw but powerful instrumental that builds from a stirring, imperious bass solo into a spunky, full-throttle, drums-and-bass headbanger. It was given new life courtesy of Rob Trujillo and the San Francisco Symphony during a rousing rendition at Metallica's triumphant S&M2 shows in 2019, being pulled out of the vault for only the second time in full since the 80s. We'd have absolutely no issue with it making another appearance down the road.
Escape (Ride The Lightning, 1984)
While it's understandable that Escape's rushed gestation left a sour taste in Metallica's mouths, it remains a mystery as to just why the song itself is still given such short shrift by band and fans alike. Sure, compared to the epic pounding of For Whom The Bell Tolls, the searing urgency of Creeping Death or the emotionally devastating beauty of Fade To Black, maybe Escape falls a little short, but it's still a hella fun, heads-down chugger with a big ol' earworm of a chorus. Sadly, the fact that Metallica have only played it live once in their entire history tells you everything you need to know about their feelings on the matter, so don't bank on it making a second appearance in a setlist any time soon. Or ever, quite frankly.
The God That Failed (Metallica, 1991)
Those that witnessed Metallica play the Black Album in full to celebrate its 20th anniversary will have noted that the band's decision to play the record in reverse order ended up being a rather savvy one. While the album is undoubtedly a classic, the relatively lukewarm reactions that greeted its deeper, back-end cuts were notable - which is a real shame when it comes to The God That Failed in particular. A seething, rumbling stomper, it packed plenty of the propulsive groove that'd define much of the Load era that would eventually follow. When you're competing with the likes of Enter Sandman, Nothing Else Matters and Sad But True for attention, perhaps you're on a hiding to nothing, but on its own merits? The God That Failed rules.
Ain't My Bitch (Load, 1996)
When you're coming off the back of a run of Battery, Blackened and Enter Sandman, the bar for a Metallica album-opener is particularly high. For our money, though, if you're gonna introduce fans to a bold new chapter, you gotta come in swinging, and Ain't My Bitch swings hard. A driving, catchy-as-crabs lead riff, a sneering, snarling James Hetfield on chest-beating form, a southern-fried solo from Kirk Hammett... it's all worlds away from the thrash metal majesty with which Metallica made their name, but it showed that metal's main eventers were more than at home in the fast-evolving 90s alt rock landscape. Annoyingly, given it's not been played for over 25 years, it's clear the band themselves don't see Ain't My Bitch as essential.
Bleeding Me (Load, 1996)
The Outlaw Torn might be widely regarded as the essential epic from the Load/Reload era, but Bleeding Me is every bit as good and, arguably, even more emotionally resonant. Featuring some of Papa Het's rawest and most impactful lyrics, it dissects his journey into therapy as he finally felt able to unpack some of the traumatic experiences from his life. Equal parts dark and beautiful, brooding and cathartic, Bleeding Me emphatically dismisses any indication that Metallica didn't have anything artistically interesting to say come the mid-90s, and absolutely deserves to be considered in the same company as their more famously celebrated epics.
The Unforgiven II (Reload, 1997)
No, it's not as good as The Unforgiven, and perhaps even trying to produce a sequel to one of metal's greatest power ballads was leaving its sequel on a hiding to nothing in the first place. But The Unforgiven II is still a cracking track, neatly inverting the original's heavy verse/light chorus gimmick to produce a song that is more than able to stand on its own two feet. Seeing as it got released as a single with its own video, you'd imagine Metallica might dust this one off more, but given its predecessor is a setlist staple, perhaps the Four Horsemen simply feel that having a double-dose is a little too much.
Sabbra Cadabra (Garage Inc, 1998)
The funnest Metallica album of them all, Garage Inc enabled the band to pay homage to the heroes that inspired them while putting their own, raucous stamp on some iron-clad classics. The quartet's versions of Whisky In The Jar and Turn The Page are certainly the two cuts from this record that went on to become classics in their own right, perhaps thanks to getting released as singles, but their brilliant fusing of Black Sabbath's Sabbra Cadabra and A National Acrobat might just be Garage Inc's true high point. A vibrant, swinging and perfectly realised forging of two tonally different tracks, Metallica's Sabbra Cadabra features Hetfield on world-beating form, the frontman clearly relishing every second as he bellows his way through those Ozzy lines.
I Disappear (Mission: Impossible OST, 2000)
If their tributes to heavy metal icons on Garage Inc left OG Metallica fans hoping for a return to more old school territories for their next original recording, I Disappear would have thrown them for a loop. A brash, no-nonsense stadium-rock banger, it took the looser aspects of the band's mid-90s shenanigans and beefed them up to stadium-sized proportions. Was it the most intricate, intelligent, challenging music Metallica had made to that point? God, no. Did it absolutely kick ass? Hell yes! I Disappear was the last time for a long time on record that it at least sounded like Metallica were enjoying the hell out of themselves. It'd have been fascinating to know where they'd be now if this was the vibe they ultimately chose to follow through on.
Invisible Kid (St Anger, 2003)
Despite its production still sounding like something that was overseen by a bunch of students trying to make a tribute to Stomp, there are a few cuts from St Anger that have earned a special place in Metallica fans' hearts. Frantic and the title track are generally regarded as decent, full-throttle ragers that sound wayyyyyy better live than on record, while All Within My Hands was polished up nicely with an acoustic reimagining at a handful of live shows. One song that never seems to get a look in, however, is Invisible Kid - baffling, really, given that it's got a great sense of groove and a seriously catchy riff with a vocal hook to match. Admittedly, it does suffer from one issue that has been levelled a lot at Metallica in recent times: it's just too long. Chop its whopping eight-and-a-half minutes in half and you've got a nice, fast, succinct Metallica rager on your hands.
The Unforgiven III (Death Magnetic, 2008)
Yep, we're going here again. In fact, we're just gonna go all out and say it: we'd love to see Metallica play The Unforgiven trilogy in full one day. Starting with a delicate piano riff and a swell of strings, The Unforgiven III eventually welcomes in a familiar burst of horns before delving into a song that proves to be one of the real highlights of Death Magnetic. That core riff is an absolute ripper straight out of the better end of the Load playbook, while the song's epic climax, featuring a doozy of a solo from Kirk, sounds absolutely massive. Again, we can only assume the original's regularity in Metallica's setlists is what stops Part III getting much of a look in, because it really deserves to be played more.