Where Does Mike Portnoy Rank Most of Metallica’s ’90s Albums?
While Metallica have one of metal's most respected catalogs, not every album was a masterpiece, and bringing up the '90s can be triggering for some Metallica fans. So what does Mike Portnoy think of Metallica's '90s output? The Dream Theater drummer had plenty of time to discuss that era during his recent appearance on The Prog Report's "Wheel of Rock" podcast (as viewed below) in which he and the other panelists tier ranked Metallica's album output, even adding a few more specialty records in to further discuss.
For those unfamiliar, The Prog Report's premise for the series has the panelists spinning a wheel of a band's albums, then breaking down by tier where each album should be placed. The "S" represents the highest ranking, while "A," "B," "C" and "D" follow in descending order. With Portnoy joining the four other panelists, the crew added Damage, Inc., S&M and Lulu to the band's album output, along with a "wild card" spot to adjust the rankings in order for each person to have three cracks at the wheel.
Portnoy, who previously joined The Prog Report in a tier-ranking episode on Opeth's catalog, had already earned a reputation amongst the group for drawing albums in the lower tier of his rankings, and for the most part that held true again.
His first spin of the episode landed on Metallica's 1997 album Reload.
What Did Mike Portnoy Say About + Where Did He Tier Rank Reload?
Earlier in the episode, one of the other panelists had ranked Metallica's Load, and during that discussion, Portnoy explained how he felt that Load and Reload essentially fall together as a "pair" for him.
Discussing that era, he first offered, “I think no metal bands put out a good album in ’96, ’97, ’98. I think if you look at every single band of metal, whether it be Slayer, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Queensryche, even Dream Theater, the albums that were put out around ’97 / ’98, it was a rough time for the whole industry. So I do appreciate …. that they had to adapt. Of course, they’re always leading the way so they wanted to do something that was going to literally put their stamp on it."
"But for me … I had been listening to them at this point for over a decade and I grew up with ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ and ‘Whiplash’ and all of that kind of stuff, so to hear first of all, when I heard the Black Album, that was stunning enough. I was like, ‘Oh man, that’s not my Metallica anymore,’ and then I never realized how much I loved the Black Album until Load came out. I was like, ‘Oh man, give me more Black Album.’ I was like, ‘Man, they are Metallica. Where is the metal?’ They should have changed their name to Rocktallica when they put this album out."
READ MORE: Is Metallica Rock or Metal?
Getting more specifically into Reload and his ranking, he adds, "I’ll cut to the chase. This is a D tier for me. I know that there’s probably two albums here that a lot of people would probably put in D before this …. I actually put this in D, it was to me weaker than Load and Load I already didn’t like as it was to begin with. The only thing going for it, I will say, is ‘Fuel.’ ‘Fuel’ is a song that still stands the test of time. It’s still in their setlist pretty regularly today. So they came out of the gates, first song on the album was a fucking winner, but then the rest of it was much more Rocktallica for me."
What Did Mike Portnoy Say About + Tier Rank S&M?
Lo and behold, Portnoy remained stuck in the '90s with his spins, landing on Metallica's live 1999 orchestral album S&M for his second round.
“I’m not the biggest fan of this to be honest," offered the drummer. "I have no problem obviously with bands playing with orchestras. It seems like all the great bands have done it at this point."
Where did this go wrong for Portnoy? "I was not the biggest fan of Michael Kamen’s orchestrations," he explains. "They sounded very dissonant. They didn’t play to the songs as much as I personally would have wanted [them] to. He was almost creating a very counterpoint dissonant kind of string arrangement."
The drummer admits he was initially excited due to Kamen's work on The Wall and Operation: Mindcrime, but adds, "I think this missed the mark a little bit." In fact, Portnoy says he found an alternate mix where you could play the songs without the orchestra and he listened to that more over time after not being a fan of Kamen's orchestral addition to Metallica's music.
“I get why they did it. It’s kind of a time honored tradition for rock and metal bands to play with an orchestra. I did it with Dream Theater and did it with Sons of Apollo. I just think it missed the mark a little bit. And it was also in the time period with Load and Reload where I was just kind of checking out at that point. So maybe it didn’t hit me as hard because my headspace in the late ‘90s / early 2000s,” he concludes.
As for the tier rank, he notes, “For me, it’s a C. It’s not their worst, so it doesn’t belong in D, but I think it’s definitely not better than anything that’s currently sitting in B.”
What Did Mike Portnoy Say About + Tier Rank The Black Album?
Portnoy ended up with the final remaining entry on the board, narrowly missing out on getting Lulu. Keeping his '90s Metallica streak alive, he received the chance to talk up Metallica's self-titled 1991 Black Album, which ended on a more positive note.
“When you look at the first five albums, it’s my fifth favorite of the first five. To me, the first four are my top four, but this would be five only because of historical purposes," admits Portnoy right off the bat.
"Look, it’s a classic album," he then adds, offering, "You have to give it all the credit in the world for its commercial success and it was a game changer in a different way, in a way that Kill ‘Em All was a game changer and then Master of Puppets was a game changer. This was a game changer as well."
This album was a bit of a journey to acceptance for the drummer, who admitted, "At the time, I didn’t like it. When it came out, I remember being super disappointed. It was just way too polished, way too commercial, way too simple, but after And Justice for All where do you go? They had pretty much done every time signature and extended riff. And Justice for All took it as far as it could go and they got it.”
He concludes, "It may not be your favorite album of theirs, but it’s surely the biggest album, and it’s biggest for a reason. I think they really nailed it in terms of crossover and became the biggest metal band in the world and they’ve been there ever since."
Portnoy placed The Black Album in the "A" tier.
What made Portnoy and the panel's "S" tier? Which divisive Metallica album did the drummer voice his support for? And what Metallica album bonded Portnoy and his Dream Theater bandmates John Petrucci and John Myung before their fame? You can find out in the full episode from The Prog Report below.
Mike Portnoy Plays "The Wheel of Rock: Metallica" With The Prog Report
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