The Top 10 Best Metallica Songs Of The 90s

Metallica in a dressing room on their European tour
Metallica in 1996 during the Load era (Image credit: Shinko Musi\/Getty)

Metallica’s first decade saw the San Francisco quartet grow from scrappy, snotty outsiders into the world’s biggest cult band over the course of four peerless albums – Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets and …And Justice For All. The ‘90s were a much more divisive period for supporters of the band, with founding members James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich determined, as ever, to break fresh ground for their group and re-draw the blueprints of what Metallica could be. The result was some of the best, if most contentious, music of their career…

10. Fuel

When Lars Ulrich told the world that, post-Black Album, Metallica were exploring a more “greasy”, dirty sound, he obviously had Fuel in mind. A Battery for the NASCAR demographic, there’s nothing subtle about the dumbed-down petrol head turbo-blues blaster which introduces 1997’s Reload album but there’s no denying its full-throttle roar.

9. No Leaf Clover

One of two previously unreleased songs to feature on S&M, the document of Metallica’s bold collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (the other being the unremarkable –Human), the dramatic No Leaf Clover is one of the band’s most under-rated compositions, with James Hetfield’s bleak lyrics (‘It comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel is just a freight train coming your way…’) accentuated by Michael Kamen’s brooding orchestration.

8. Hero of The Day

Originally titled Mouldy, as James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich considered its main riff reminiscent of Husker Du/Sugar mainman Bob Mould’s guitar style, this slow-burning Load highlight is a masterclass in employing light and shade and push/pull dynamics to take the listener on a journey. The song’s video, meanwhile, is memorable for employing a rare use of erectile dysfunction in the story-line.

7. Wherever I May Roam

Towards the end of the ‘90s, with their cover of Bob Seger’s Turn The Page, Metallica dealt with the mundane, often soul-sapping, realities of being a touring musician, but on this Black Album highlight, with its memorable ‘Rover, wanderer, nomad, vagabond’ refrain, James Hetfield makes life on the road sound positively heroic.

6. Until It Sleeps

The world’s first taste of the controversial and unfairly maligned Load album, this 1996 single is a Southern Gothic-tinged reflective meditation upon death and loss, all the more powerful and affecting for being inspired by James Hetfield’s knowledge that his estranged father Virgil had incurable cancer.

5. Enter Sandman

Metallica’s first single of the 1990s was both their passport to the mainstream and the song by which their decade would be defined. Thrillingly direct, immediate and impactful – in stark contrast to the labyrinthine twists and turns of the …And Justice For All album - it kicked down the doors for the band on US radio, and ensured that the Black Album became first true ‘event’ album of the ‘90s.

4. Sad But True

An absolute beast of a song, Sad But True laughs in the face of anyone claiming that Metallica turned their back on ‘heavy’ music in the ‘90s. Proving the old age that less is sometimes more, its elemental, down-tuned riff is given room to breathe in a spacious arrangement that would have mystified the youthful thrashers who made Kill ‘Em All, lending the track a rare authority and power.

3. Bleeding Me

Dealing with themes of rebirth, regeneration and renewal, Bleeding Me is a perfect encapsulation of Metallica’s mindset when approaching the Load album. ‘I’m digging my way to something better’ sings James Hetfield at the outset of this masterfully controlled, suspenseful eight minute epic, a song undeniably influenced by the singer’s burgeoning infatuation with mid-‘90s stoner rockers Corrosion Of Conformity.

2. The Unforgiven

Though the Black Album was released one month ahead of the fifth anniversary of Cliff Burton’s death, the late bassist’s colossal influence upon Metallica resonates in every bar of this majestic metallic symphony. There are echoes of Ennio Morricone’s iconic spaghetti western soundtracks in this sobering, thoughtful treatise on life, love and liberty, but it would have been impossible without Burton’s schooling of the band in the sturm-und-drang dynamics of European classical music.

1. The Outlaw Torn

The highpoint of Metallica’s ‘90’s output, Load’s closing track is an atmospheric weighing up of loss and regret, which, as with The Unforgiven, unfurls into a widescreen cinematic epic. Metallica were forced to cut a whole minute from the song’s outro on Load to accommodate the CD’s running time - the full length version later surfaced on the B-side of the The Memory Remains single, wryly sub-titled (Unencumbered by Manufacturing Restrictions Version) – but the breath-taking version on S&M shows this remarkable band at their transcendent best.

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Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.