The 10 worst Metallica songs

James Hetfield of Metallica stands with his hands over his ears
(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

We here at Metal Hammer adore Metallica, which is great, since they happen to be the most monolithic band in our genre. Even if you’re someone who claims to not like Metallica, you do secretly, because heavy music as it is today and all of the bands that inhabit it are driven to do what these pioneers did: expose hard-hitting anthems to new, unfamiliar ears.

That doesn’t mean that everything Metallica have done is perfect, however. Trailblazing requires the odd failed experiment, and below are the dregs of the dregs. Exit light, enter shite, these are the 10 worst songs to ever sully one of the Four Horsemen’s studio albums.

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Escape (Ride The Lightning, 1984)

We know you’re angry. To many people, shitting on ’80s Metallica is an attack as personal as shitting on your lawn. But our hands are tied! Even the band hate this Ride The Lightning deep cut, having written it as an out-of-character pop-rocker to satisfy outside pressures for a ‘hit’. Escape has only been aired live once, during a 2012 performance of the album in full, and even then James Hetfield whined during the preamble. “Are there any other songs we haven’t played?” he complained into his mic.

Don’t Tread On Me (Metallica, 1991)

Don’t Tread On Me was supposed to be the ointment after the anti-American bite of …And Justice For All. However, in saluting the “Land Of The Free” so hard, Metallica smacked themselves in the face. The song’s opening guitar melody is awkwardly lifted from West Side Story, then the lyrics assault the ear with threats of warmongering: “Once you provoke her, rattling of her tail!” Hetfield has denied this midpoint lull in the Black Album is pro-war, but admitted in 2001 that it’s “probably not one of my favourite songs musically”.

The Struggle Within (Metallica, 1991)

When you google The Struggle Within, there’s a result that reads, “People also ask: What is the most unpopular Metallica song?” Not exactly a promising sign. This closing stampede is very much the black sheep of the Black Album: a reach for the band’s ’80s thrash volatility on a record that spent the preceding hour distancing itself from it. That the open-E-string riff sounds cookiecutter and Hetfield’s vocals are amelodic ramblings only makes things all the more jarring. Damage Inc. and Dyer’s Eve this most certainly ain’t.

2 X 4 (Load, 1996)

When Load came out, James Hetfield joked that 2 X 4 is about a piece of wood. It’s not, but it’s about as interesting. Although Metallica’s controversial sixth album is threaded with standout moments, from the artsy excellence of Until It Sleeps to the climactic Bleeding Me, this song’s exactly what the detractors say it is: a cliched hard rock plod that lasts too long. Hetfield’s jock lyrics don’t even sniff the poetry of many other Load cuts, while his hums of “Friction, fuuuuuuusion” beneath the chorus are borderline atonal.

Better Than You (Reload, 1997)

When Metallica united in 1981, they immediately leapt into the foxhole with their diehard fans. Alongside fellow musicians and the most ardent metalheads in San Francisco, the band waged war against hair metal hedonism and expelled it from their city. So imagine seeing these one-time underdogs make it big then pen a track declaring themselves Better Than You. The Grammy-winning(?!) Reload single is ostensibly a declaration of Metallica’s competitive spirit, but its dick-swinging only intensified how spurned old-school followers felt at the time. Plus the music’s as dull as a whiteboard pen.

Bad Seed (Reload, 1997)

Bad Seed starts with a splutter. And we don’t mean it opens with some kind of musical misfire; James Hetfield legitimately coughs this track to life. We’re going to be charitable and assume this is some Killing Joke Wardance reference but, moving past that, the music that follows is just forgettable. Even if you’ve never heard this Reload dud before, you can anticipate every move it makes well in advance, and the knucklehead staccato chords sound like the first half of a riff that can’t be bothered to complete itself.

Shoot Me Again (St Anger, 2003)

Plenty will be disappointed that this list isn’t just St Anger’s tracklist. But, as much as everyone (including the band) jabs at Metallica’s most divisive album, the truth is that most of its songs have a decent riff or idea at their core. It’s just that wild shit like the snare drums and overstretched run-times distract from them. In that vein, although Shoot Me Again boasts some muscular rhythm guitar, it can’t overpower how unlistenable the picking at the start is, nor the quasi-rapped bollocks of “Shoot me again, I ain’t dead yet!”

All Within My Hands (St Anger, 2003)

Strangely, All Within My Hands can be an argument both for and against Metallica being the greatest metal band in the world. On the one hand, yeah, the song’s shit. It lobs all the piss and vinegar in the house but is still a nine-minute slog, bombarding you with melody-free wails and rubbish-bin drums: fire and fury with all the impact of a cinder. Yet, the St Anger finale’s acoustic/orchestral rearrangement on S&M2 is the ultimate glow-up, somehow pulling layers of tragedy and grandeur from the muck of its original form.

Suicide & Redemption (Death Magnetic, 2008)

After fans’ rejection of St Anger, Metallica desperately made Death Magnetic a beat-for-beat recreation of their ’80s thrash masterclasses. It had the mandated ballad at track four (The Day That Never Comes), the all-guns-blazing final thrasher (My Apocalypse) and, of course, a big instrumental as the penultimate song. Suicide & Redemption is the most desperate-feeling of those throwbacks, reaching for the grandeur of Orion but simply finding a series of incongruent riffs and solos. Those constituent parts seem like they’re only here because they didn’t fit in anywhere else.

Manunkind (Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, 2016)

If you were a philosophy student and said aloud, “Mankind? Hmph, more like manUNkind!”, your teacher would cringe and give you an F. How Metallica deemed the sentiment to be worthy of a song title is beyond us, but at least the music it’s labelling is similarly uninspired. This cavalcade of hand-me-down alt-metal riffs and lacklustre hooks follows the also-bobbins Confusion to make the opening of Hardwired…’s second disc a real upward climb. Thank fuck the thunderous Spit Out The Bone is waiting for us all at the summit, eh?

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.