Metallica's Top 10 Greatest Riffs: 'Enter Sandman,' 'Master of Puppets' & Beyond

A salute to the trailblazing fretworks of guitarists Kirk Hammett & James Hetfield.

Let’s give thanks for Metallica this Thanksgiving, because today -- Black Friday -- is now “Blackened Friday.” Rising to the occasion by helping small businesses during the biggest shopping day of the year, the band is offering a special midnight release of the double vinyl for Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, their 10th studio album, which was officially released Nov. 18.

Fans can get in line at one of the over 100 independent record stores throughout the country that are participating in the Blackened Friday event; also up for grabs will be music, prizes and additional limited edition exclusive items to be given away free with purchase. For those who can’t make the midnight release, stores around the world will host Blackened Friday events during normal business hours, which will also include music and giveaways of limited edition items.

To pump you up for the release, we’ve put together the band’s 10 best riffs, just because. Prepare your eardrums, folks.

10. “Fuel,” Reload [1997]

Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire, and -- wait for it -- one of Metallica’s most recognized opening riffs, thanks to its appearance in a number of video games (like Hot Wheels Turbo Racing) and usage by NASCAR, among other sports companies. The intro track off of 1997’s Reload was the album’s third single. It was also the final Metallica album to feature longtime bassist Jason Newsted; proficient as he and previous bassist Cliff Burton were, it's not like you can hear their instrument much beneath all this riffage... 

9. “Trapped Under Ice,” Ride the Lightning [1984]

1984’s "Trapped Under Ice” is exactly what you want thrash metal to be. Never letting up, the song starts off strong but really kicks like a mule just after the 30-second mark and again after the one-minute mark.

8. “Fade to Black,” Ride the Lightning [1984]

Another early number, “Fade To Black” is a softer, more emotional side of the band that lets its vulnerability shine. Stripping back some of the heaviness (note: only some), the song takes a new twist just before four minutes and rides in another direction with a highly evocative riff-turned-solo.

7. “Hit the Lights,” No Life 'Til Leather [1982]

The first Metallica track on the very first Metallica EP (and LP), the band couldn’t have picked a better way to introduce itself. “Hit The Lights” is a heavy metal-hardcore punk fusion that’s guitar-driven, especially because each major riff is preceded by a very brief drum solo that gives just enough pause to throw you off guard each time the guitar kicks in.

6. “Blackened,” …And Justice for All [1988]

1988’s “Blackened” also reels you in with its pummeling guitar, fast tempo and frenzied drums. Listening to those relentless riffs is like hitting fast-forward on your senses. Found on …And Justice For All, it was the band’s first studio album without bassist Cliff Burton, who was killed in a bus accident in 1986. He was replaced by Jason Newsted, who played with Metallica until 2001.

5. “One,” …And Justice for All [1988]

Does it need to be seven minutes long? Probably not, but we’re cool with it because 1988’s “One” has more than one beautiful guitar solo that never fails to give us chills. Our favorite creeps in around the 3:14 mark, which is right before the song turns your brain upside down with juxtaposing heaviness. Around 5:46, the clean (yet walloping) solo is up there with Eddie Van Halen’s work on “Eruption.”

4. “Orion,” Master of Puppets [1986]

This instrumental, also off of 1986’s Master of Puppets, is a spotlight on the band’s impeccable musical arrangements. Reeling us in with a drum-led groove that builds and builds, the real treasure is a little after four minutes in when things slow way down and a super sexy, seductive yet eerily sorrowful riff grabs your attention and holds it for the next three minutes.


3. “Creeping Death,” Ride the Lightning [1984]

Off of Metallica’s second studio album Ride The Lightning, “Creeping Death” is incessant, raw and all-encompassing of a special energy unique to the band’s early days, when their songwriting was taking a turn towards the more complex. The second riff right after the opener (leading into the lyrics) is the biggest kicker of them all.

2. “Master of Puppets,” Master of Puppets [1986]

The opening riff to this famous Metallica number (the 1986 album was the first thrash metal record to go platinum) is a speed guitar rollercoaster of dizzying proportions. It peaks even more though when the dual guitars roll in. "Obey your master, your life burns faster"… and also your fingers because this track is aggressive, jump-off-the-couch, guitar-playing material.

1. “Enter Sandman,” The Black Album [1991] 

We’ve all banged our heads to this classic Metallica track, which is so classic Metallica that it’s been spoofed by everyone from Weird Al Yankovic, who gave it a hilarious “Enter Napster” spin, to Jimmy Fallon and the band itself, who recently played it on The Tonight Show with classroom instruments. The first heavy riff just under 25 seconds in is our go-to because it has potential to obliterate your eardrums if you’ve got the volume cranked high enough.


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