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Metallica’s Lars Ulrich: My 15 Favorite Metal and Hard Rock Albums

Drummer goes deep on classics ranging from AC/DC’s ‘Let There Be Rock’ to System of a Down’s ‘Toxicity’

Metallica Drummer Lars Ulrich's 15 Favorite Metal Albums

Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich picks his 15 favorite metal and hard-rock albums.

Gary Miller/Getty

When Rolling Stone began ranking the 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time, one of the first musicians we consulted was Metallica‘s Lars Ulrich. Not only did he co-write and drum on five of the LPs that made the list – including the Number Two pick, Master of Puppets – he’s been one of metal’s most prominent and outspoken mouthpieces for nearly four decades now. He’s demonstrated his impeccable taste in interviews and on Metallica’s numerous “garage days” releases, on which they’ve covered songs by Diamond Head, Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Mercyful Fate and many other artists who also ultimately made the cut on our list. In short, Ulrich and his bandmates’ taste defined the tastes of generations to come.

The list of metal records he prepared for Rolling Stone represent a wide array of heavy styles, from the intricate arrangements of Iron Maiden to the go-for-the-gut punk spirit of Guns N’ Roses. “For each artist that’s part of my ultimate metal or hard-rock albums, I went for what you would call the definitive moment in their catalogue,” he explains. “And for a lot of these bands, they went through a kind of evolution, a kind of a growth and a lot of them have a lot of great records. So what I picked is a combination of what that album represents from the artist and what impact it had on me.”

Ulrich had such a good time breaking down his favorite records, that he decided to dedicate an upcoming episode of his Apple Music Beats 1 radio show It’s Electric to his list. Tune in this Sunday at 6 p.m. EST to hear the drummer to discuss his picks and play cuts from them, and to hear him interview Rolling Stone’s Kory Grow about how the 100 Greatest Metal Albums list came together. Until then, here are Lars Ulrich’s Top 15 metal and hard rock albums – and his commentary on each – presented in alphabetical order at his request.

From Black Sabbath to Metallica, Rolling Stone picks the Greatest Metal Albums of All Time. Watch here.

Iron Maiden, 'The Number of the Beast' (1982)

Iron Maiden, ‘The Number of the Beast’ (1982)

To me, that’s Iron Maiden just literally at their peak. It has the best songs, the best production. It was produced by Martin Birch, who did a lot of the old Deep Purple records and a lot of the Rainbow stuff. It’s just where it peaked. “The Number of the Beast” is probably the best single that they ever released. Obviously, there’s the more commercial single, “Run to the Hills,” which became a big hit. There’s the super deep track, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” – that’s one of those metal epics along with [Judas Priest’s] “Beyond the Realms of Death” and [Deep Purple’s] “Child in Time” that are almost a blueprint for songs like [Metallica’s] “Fade to Black,” “One” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” 

And then there was always cool little stuff. “The Prisoner” has the intro from the TV series, “22 Acacia Avenue” was the continuation of the song “Charlotte the Harlot” from the first album. And this was the first record with Bruce Dickinson, the new singer who took over for Paul Di’Anno and this is where where it all came together: production, songwriting, attitude. It’s also the last album with original drummer Clive Burr, rest in peace. He was a big influence on me. He did a lot of these really, really tough-sounding snare rolls and stuff that was inspiring to me in terms of making the drums not a finesse instrument but more about weight and about, like, attitude – sort of like air-drumming moments. He was sort of on the simpler side, but every single thing he did was super effective.

I’ve always been very open about how Iron Maiden inspired Metallica. We always cite them as a main influence. They were just cooler than other bands. They had cooler record covers, cooler packaging, cooler tour books, cooler T-shirts, cooler stage production. They always seemed like they went above and beyond. They had cooler lighting rigs. They were the most fan-friendly band. I remember my friend got a Christmas card from Iron Maiden and, like, Eddie was on a Christmas card. They had this image thing that was just crazy and really cool and was much more sort of fan-friendly and thorough than any of the other bands.

Judas Priest, 'Unleashed in the East' (1979)

Judas Priest, ‘Unleashed in the East’ (1979)

This is Judas Priest at their early peak. With a lot of harder rock and European bands, there came a point where they wanted to crack the American market and started writing singles – shorter songs – and not necessarily in a bad way, but some started deviating from their point of origin. This is just Judas Priest at their absolute best in a live situation, before the hit singles. 

There’s a lot of deep cuts on it from Sad Wings of Destiny. Obviously, there’s the legendary “Victim of Changes.” It’s just the energy and the chugging riffs and down-picking, like with Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” in it. They were probably the first band, along with AC/DC, that had two guitars that were playing the same thing. Other bands like Motörhead and Deep Purple had one guitar player and they were doing different things, more of a layering thing, but when it came to Judas Priest, they had the guitarists coming together and playing the same riff. It just doubled up and gave it a heavier, bigger sound and made it thicker and more immersive. And if you take “The Green Manalishi,” that has that heavy-metal, open-E down-picking – these guys were at the forefront. This record came out in 1979 but the whole sound started in ’76, ’77, ’78. These guys were way ahead of the game. This, to me, is still the best album of Judas Priest that you can find.

Mercyful Fate, 'Melissa' (1983)

Mercyful Fate, ‘Melissa’ (1983)

Mercyful Fate were obviously a significant, pivotal band on our radar. They were a big part of shaping Metallica’s sound, and for a lot of people in the hard rock underground, they were one of the bands that got their name around. This was their first proper album. It was a huge, huge, huge influence on a lot of the next generation of bands, like ourselves, and they were also great friends and became partners in crime. We rehearsed in their rehearsal studio, we did shows together, and we actually did a medley of all their songs for one of [Metallica’s] “garage” albums. They had two guitars, lots of harmonies and musical adventures – some of the songs are really long. There’s a song called “Satan’s Fall” that’s gotta be at least 10 minutes long, or something.

Their concerts were crazy. [Frontman] King Diamond would, like, recite the Lord’s Prayer backwards before a song, and for one of the songs, they would have some goose feathers and do all of this ritualistic stuff, which King Diamond was super passionate about it. He’s a super cool guy. You know, we were just really into the music. It was just so fresh and so original and we loved those guys. They were really, really like brothers-in-arms for many years.

Motorhead, 'Overkill' (1979)

Motörhead, ‘Overkill’ (1979)

I started hearing about Motörhead in the spring of 1979. I was in Copenhaagen, Denmark, and I went down through the local record store. And I asked if I could hear a couple songs from this Motörhead band, and then the double-bass drumming of Phil Taylor started the song “Overkill.” I had never heard anything that sounded like that. It blew my head off. And then that kind of energy continued – it was so raw. I’d never heard anybody sing like Lemmy, and it was this fusion of, like, punk and rock and metal, and it was crazy. It just added to an energy to it and was completely over the top with these almost exaggerated, cartoon-like lyrics. And the consistency from “Overkill” to “Stay Clean” – I mean “Stay Clean” was a live staple for years – “I Won’t Pay Your Price,” “No Class,” which was almost straight out of a ZZ Top playbook, “Damage Case” which [Metallica] covered, and longer, deeper tracks like “Metropolis” and “Limb From Limb.” It’s just insane. Motörhead was the one band, where no matter whether you were into rock, prog, pop, punk, fucking, I don’t know, ska … you could agree that Motörhead was just the coolest. And, to me, the definitive Motörhead album is Overkill.

Rage Against the Machine, 'The Battle of Los Angeles' (1999)

Rage Against the Machine, 'The Battle of Los Angeles' (1999)

Rage Against the Machine, ‘The Battle of Los Angeles’ (1999)

With Rage Against the Machine, every one of their records is, to me, just essential. On their two first
records, there’s a youthful and incredibly
antagonistic energy, but in terms of the craft of songs
and streamlining everything that this band stands for in my mind, this is where
it all maximized and this is where it came together at the most potent level. 

The Battle of Los Angeles just sounds so fucking authentic. There’s no filter. It feels so instinctive, impulsive and from the gut. Until that time, a lot of hard-rock records were very labored over, including our own. A lot of work was put into them, and this just sounds like four people, playing music in a room, ready to fucking take on the world. And the consistency is just amazing. There’s “Testify,” “Calm Like a Bomb,” one of the great deep tracks, “Sleep Now in the Fire” and some deeper, deeper cuts like “Voice of the Voiceless” – it’s just insane. And when Zack [de la Rocha] is yelling at you, it sounds like he’s like in your face, just talking to you. All great records have that thing where you feel like it’s for you, like it’s talking directly to you.

System of a Down, 'Toxicity' (2001)

System of a Down, ‘Toxicity’ (2001)

The first System record came out and it obviously had a lot of attitude. It was a new kind of sound, and Rick [Rubin, producer] was doing it. You could hear that the music came from different roots and different influences, and I didn’t know they were Armenian at that point; you could just hear different things. And then when Toxicity came out, which was obviously the second record, when you heard “Chop Suey!” that was just amazing.

When that hit the radio on MTV and then the title track, “Toxicity,” and “Aerials” and all the rest of them and I started getting into the record and heard “They’re trying to build a prison … for you and me to live in,” it was just… ah! It was political, it was crazy, it was kooky, it was energetic, it was incredibly, from a songwriting point of view, well-crafted. It was very inspirational on what we did, and I loved the whole thing about how the songs were so short and to the point and that was something we never had a lot of luck with, and it’s just one of the all-time great records.

UFO, 'Strangers in the Night' (1979)

UFO, ‘Strangers in the Night’ (1979)

This is almost the definitive hard-rock live album. With a lot of the bands in the Seventies, the introduction to them for me was through the live album. Then you would go back and seek out the studio records. Labels would encourage bands like Judas Priest, Blue Öyster Cult and UFO to release live albums very early on in their careers after four or five records and they became these definitive double albums from the mid-to-late Seventies. A lot of these bands were encouraged to release live albums very early on in their careers. It was a way to keep the momentum going. 

Strangers in the Night is that live album for UFO, and it opens with “Natural Thing,” and just goes through a few hits like “Only You Can Rock Me” and “Doctor Doctor.” “Love To Love” is also one of those songs that falls in under the hard-rock-ballad blueprint, and you’ve got “Rock Bottom,” which has, like, a seven-minute guitar solo from Michael Schenker. For a lot of the metal guitar players, Kirk Hammett included, Michael Schenker is one of those unsung heroes that never quite penetrated to the outside world the way that Randy Rhoads or Jimmy Page or whoever did. But for musicians and peers, Michael Schenker is one of the all-time favorites for a lot of people. And there’s just a vibe on this album, you feel like you’re at the gig. Obviously, that’s the best kind of live album.

Warrior Soul, 'The Space-Age Playboys' (1994)

Warrior Soul, ‘The Space Age Playboys’ (1994)

Warrior Soul started off on Geffen Records and had the same management as us. We played a bunch of shows with them. They were dropped by Geffen, and this record came out independently in ’94.

If you put on “Rocket Engines,” it fucking starts frenetic – it’s heavy, it’s punky, it’s energetic. Kory Clarke, the lead singer, spits out word after word, attitude after attitude, memorable lyric line after lyric line, and it never lets up for a fucking hour or however long the record is. It just does not stop.

On the early records, he got a little political. He’s talking about Native Americans, he’s talking about Charlie Manson, and he’s talking about the oppressed. But on this record, it almost got punky. It was this weird fusion between punky and a little early New York glam rock, almost like [New York] Dolls, Stooges type of thing. If you’ve not heard this record, I would encourage you to find this record and check it out as soon as possible.

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