Metallica on Stage

Winner of the Bronze Medal in Data Journalism and of the Community Award in the inaugural Information is Beautiful Awards (2012). Listed in the 20 Great Infographics of 2012 on

This is an examination of Metallica’s concert history from 1982 to 2012 (not included) with a focus on the numbers of songs played live and the albums that they belong to. I and my friends at Çilek Ağacı took the raw data from (plus in the last part), groomed it and visualized it with our own tools.

The colors of the albums – a key feature of the whole visualization – are chosen according to the album cover artworks; Metallica fans can easily understand which color corresponds to which album without reading their names. As a convenient surprise, new albums (Load, Reload and St. Anger) that are stylistically different from the old ones are all tints of orange-yellow and this provides a natural visual grouping in the charts. (Try to see this grouping when you look at the charts.) Death Magnetic, which is their newest album but musically much closer to the old ones, has its brownish gray shade (again, taken from the real album cover), and that separates it visually from the Load – St. Anger period.

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In the first chart, the number of concerts given each year is plotted. In the second chart, the bar heights represent the absolute numbers of songs played from each album. The album release dates are marked on the grid columns with the corresponding colors.

The years 1982–91 are a very intense period for Metallica; they write a vast majority of the songs that are played live even today, and are involved in extensive touring. We can see that in the eves of the first four albums, Metallica continues to play gigs. With the self-titled fifth album, the band starts to quit touring and takes more time for songwriting before releasing albums. Maybe this is one of the sources of the famous “problem” (according to the oldschool first-four-albums metalheads) with the new albums; maybe Metallica shouldn’t be left alone before albums. This idea is consistent with the case of Death Magnetic which is not written in absolute isolation according to the chart, and has largely won the hearts of oldschool fans.

The year 1992 sees the climax of touring in Metallica’s carrier where each album reaches their all-time maximum play counts (except Justice), all dominated by the “Black Album”s overwhelming numbers.

Looking at 1996–97 we observe that Load-Reload songs seem to go well with the Ride the Lightning songs in a way that the remaining of the first-four-albums don’t. Interestingly, Reload never reaches the explosive levels of playing of Load after its release but it enjoys a more stable carrier afterwards (thanks to Fuel and The Memory Remains) compared to Load, ultimately not falling too far behind it in total play count (1115, 696).

St. Anger comes after the longest break in Metallica’s touring history (for obvious reasons) and lives the short and brutal life of a monster. (It is seen as their worst album by the oldschool fans.) It’s clear that Metallica aren’t happy with playing St. Anger songs live. It seems like Death Magnetic songs arrive to put St. Anger out of its misery; this is the only case in Metallica’s history where a new album entirely cuts the play count of the previous one. It can also be seen that Death Magnetic songs enjoy the company of the older songs instead of Load-Reload.

In the second part of our examination is a map of the places where Metallica has played live. The opacity of the red outer circles correlates with the number of concerts given in that city. The details about the northern- and the southern-most gig venues where Metallica has played are given in trivia boxes.

In the third part we see the total play counts by albums and songs. As expected, the most played songs are from the old albums, and the least played are from the new ones. But what if there was a way to compare the real “performances” of the songs in concert setlists, independent from their release date? To address this question, in the next part, we introduce the concept of Power.

Song Power is calculated by dividing the total play count of the song by the number of concerts after its first playing date. Album Power is the total play count of the songs from the album divided by the number of all songs played in all concerts after the date when a song from that album was first played (which may be before the release of that album) and then divided by the number of songs on it. This is a normalization to eliminate the advantage that the old songs have (they had more time to be played) in order to create more neutral rankings. You can also say that a song with the Power value 0.945 has a 95% chance of being played in the next concert. The Album Powers are additionally normalized with respect to the numbers of songs on the albums. (The Album Power values on the chart are multiplied by 10 for presentation efficiency.)

We see that the rankings change when we eliminate the time factor. Enter Sandman takes the lead as the most Powerful song and Death Magnetic, their latest album, beats all the old albums in Power; this means that Death Magnetic had a greater share of setlists after its release than the other albums did in their own lifetimes in average. Two songs from Death Magnetic are already in the Top 10 Most Powerful Songs list, prevailing over classics like For Whom the Bell Tolls and Seek & Destroy. Another way of thinking about Power is this: given enough time, Death Magnetic may well be in the top ranks of the Total Count by Albums list whereas Load, Reload and St. Anger do not seem to be moving from where they are. (Note that if we did the same analysis in 1997 we would have been saying a similar thing about Load; time will tell whether Death Magnetic’s Power will subsist.) S&M with its two songs presents an interesting case as it moves on top of the “Orange Albums” thanks to the song number normalization.

This part also contains the complete list of Metallica songs never played live in their entirety; among them are songs that are played in part (for instance, until the second verse part) or have been featured as riffs in a jam. Here Reload sticks out as the album with the most songs that are never played live. Kill ‘Em All and Master of Puppets are albums that had all their songs played live at least once.

In the fifth part we plot the Song Power on the y-axis with song durations on the x-axis. Here the first thing that strikes us is a pattern of orange-yellow squares tiling the lower part of a diagonal line between the upper left and the lower right corners. This tells us that songs from the Orange Albums tend to lose their Power as they get longer in duration; there isn’t one song from Load, Reload or St. Anger among the 19 songs located above that diagonal. This plot also gives insight about the natures of the individual albums thanks to the color-coding; for instance, it is easy to see that the black squares are grouped in the left half of the plot, meaning that the album Metallica consists of shorter songs in average.

Finally we make a comparison between the personal listening statistics taken from and the concert setlists (after 2002 when was founded). On the left are songs that have a greater share within than within setlists in total, and the songs with greater share within setlists are on the right of the axis. This chart suggests that the band may further please the audience by playing songs from the left end (The Unforgiven, The Unforgiven II, etc.) more in concerts. The fact that there are fewer songs on the right side and their bars are much higher than the ones on the left side tells us that the setlist and statistics have different distributions: there are songs that Metallica plays on almost every show and there are songs that they have never played live whereas listening statistics are much more homogeneous.


Personal addendum: In addition to all the objective analysis above, I would like to state as a fan that I love the Orange Albums as much as I love the old ones, and I am thrilled to see them played live.



Praise on Social Media

  • andypotter (Andrew Potter) Lustig and also insane 🙂
  • jmlacroix (Jean-Michel Lacroix) L’infographique le plus intéressant de 2011.
  • nag_acharya (Nagaraj Acharya) Whoa! This is for those of you who are doing a PhD on Metallica.
  • tmbrntt (Tom Barnett) not exactly a metallica fan but this is an all-time favourite infographic.
  • bquarant (Brian Quaranto) The infographic bar has been raised again.
  • clipperhouse (Matt ☼ Sherman) OK, this is actually an infographic. (Most “inforgraphics” are just lists done in Illustrator.)
  • DannyJWillis (Danny Willis) My new favorite data visualization ever.
  • dkastner (Derek Kastner) Here’s an infographic that’s actually informative, novel, and presents data effectively.
  • Fitoria (Adolfo Fitoria) La mejor infografía de todos los tiempos.
  • Brian Fitzhugh An infographic that is actually interesting.
  • Leah Root Wow! This guy put more research and effort into this than most people do for research papers or companies do for financial statements. He needs to be a CEO of something. A real ‘Master of Puppets’ 😉
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