The idea of a band "selling out" is a dumb, reactionary, and luddite concept that discourages growth and experimentation. It's says the past will remain superior simply because it's just that. It's says can't get better, that we cannot improve upon ourselves.
Sorry about that. But look, Metallica are not rocket scientists who meticulously tweaked crafted every note on this album for maximum profit. In fact it's amazing their brains were even still functioning in 1991. Even people generous expectations for this album's probably didn't see it going 16x Platinum and becoming one of the best selling albums of the last 30 years. They made the music they wanted to make and it happened to fill a void and it also happened to totally rule. Metallica has flow. The riffs almost feel effortless. Can't you just see the band rocking the fuck out to "Sad But True" in a smoky rehearsal room, throwing each other shit eating grins between verses? It just flat out jams.
#3 Ride the Lightning
Let this be a lesson in the art of album openers. In a different universe, Metallica sat down together to discuss the track listing for Ride the Lightning and decided that "Fight Fire With Fire" was a good song but maybe a little boring and not the best way to suck people in for the long haul, and that maybe "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was the epic shit-your-pants moment they were looking for. That universe died in a fire. Am I freaking out over nothing? Maybe but these are three stone classics we're ranking here so we're going to have to go by the minutia.
#2 …And Justice For All
What do you do when you when you make one of the best metal albums of all time? You try to make it again, but without one of the best bassists of all time (RIP Cliff). Is this still a great album? Yes. But the leap in evolution is minimal at best and Master did it first. Context is everything. Speaking of which….
#1 Master of Puppets
I guess it's obvious by now but this is a no brainer. A friend of mind once told me that he owned this album for months before he listened past the first track. He was afraid the other songs weren't going to be as good as "Battery." Fortunately, he was an idiot. Yes, Metallica is great when they're straight up thrashing, but perhaps their greatest asset was their ability to EPIC, and this is where it all came together. "Battery" makes you want to weep and eat bricks at the same time. That's no easy feat. And I can think of a dozen thrash bands that tried to put an "Orion" on their album and just ended up making riff barf. This one stands alone.
How would you guys rank these albums?