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A few (thousand) words about my favorite band… METALLICA

Charlie Crane, Music Critic

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DISCLAIMER: Even though I issued a survey asking you to suggest a band for my next article (with the Beatles getting the overwhelming responses), my co-writers at QV Ink–as well as Mr. Forrest–persuaded me to simply write about what bands I genuinely knew a lot about, instead of researching bands that everyone else wants. I will get to the Beatles eventually, but for now, enjoy this week’s article on Metallica. Thank you!

This week, we’ll dive into the magnificent world of thrash metal. Specifically, we’ll be looking at the most commercially and musically successful (though arguably so) metal band, Metallica. Formed by singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich in 1981, Metallica was the epitome of metal in the mid to late ‘80s and early ‘90s, producing some of their best work in that time period.

Since there are about umpteen subgenres of metal, let me explain exactly what thrash metal is. Thrash is characterized by fast tempos, aggressive style, and low-register, complex guitar riffs. The genre was first introduced to the general public with (who else) Metallica’s 1983 debut album, Kill ‘Em All with the band’s original lineup being Hetfield and Ulrich, along with Dave Mustaine on lead guitar (he would later go on to form metal band Megadeth after being kicked out) and Ron McGovney on bass. Notable hits on Kill ‘Em All include “Seek and Destroy”, “Jump in the Fire”, and “Motorbreath”.

After the initial success of Kill ‘Em All, Metallica executed its first major lineup change. Mustaine was fired due to alcohol abuse in 1983 and McGovney left in 1982; they were replaced respectively by Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton. (Cliff had played on Kill ‘Em previously.)

The new lineup would be used in Metallica’s next two legendary albums, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, respectively released in 1984 and 1986. Ride the Lightning, with notable tracks like “Creeping Death”, “Fade to Black”, and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, was the last Metallica album to feature songwriting contributions from Dave Mustaine.

Master of Puppets, the first album to not feature songwriting contributions from Mustaine, has received excellent reviews from its listeners, becoming one of its most widely known albums. Along with its title track (which is one of their most played songs live), notable tracks on Puppets include “Battery”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, “Disposable Heroes”, and “Orion”. However, the Master of Puppets experience for Metallica in 1986 was both a blessing and a curse. Puppets, on one hand, is hailed as possibly the greatest thrash album in history, and is praised by many Metallica-influenced musicians. However, on September 27, 1986, tragedy struck. While on tour to promote Puppets, Metallica was riding in a tour bus in Sweden when the driver suddenly lost control and swerved, causing the bus to be overturned several times. Hetfield, Ulrich, and Hammett survived, but Burton was pinned under the bus, killing him.

Cliff’s death was the first major setback for Metallica, but they bounced back quickly with the 1988 release of …And Justice for All, with the recently acquired bassist Jason Newsted, who would become one of Metallica’s most energetic members, playing a key factor in their live shows, including their beloved Seattle ‘89 concert.

However, in an ironic twist, the bass is the most controversial subject in Justice; the album was infamously mixed so that Newsted’s bass was barely audible, much to his displeasure. This action became the butt of many Metallica jokes over the years.

Straying from the “error 404: bass not found” side of things, Justice featured some of Metallica’s most progressive and lengthy songs, its most notable tracks being “One”, “Blackened”, “Harvester of Sorrow”, and “…And Justice for All”.

If Metallica’s chart success was started with their first four albums, then 1991’s Metallica (commonly known as The Black Album) sealed it. Selling over 16 million copies worldwide, Metallica became Metallica’s best-selling album, with the band releasing 6 Black Album songs as singles: “Enter Sandman”, “Don’t Tread on Me”, “The Unforgiven”, “Wherever I May Roam”, “Nothing Else Matters”, and “Sad but True”. The Black Album was also the first Metallica album to feature producer Bob Rock, who would be with the band until 2003’s St. Anger.

However, The Black Album showed the very first change in Metallica’s style; they began to drift towards a more hard rock sound, albeit still heavy. This change in sound was much more pronounced in the following albums Load and ReLoad. The latter albums showed an alternative rock style in addition to a hard rock sound, receiving mixed reception from critics and fans alike. In my opinion, Load and ReLoad are very underrated albums, and they pretty much get hate only because Metallica “fans” (*cough* *cough* posers *cough* *cough*) only wanted fast and heavy music and couldn’t accept that Metallica wanted to mix up their playing a bit.

However, Metallica’s career, both in personal and commercial terms, took a turn for the worse in the early 2000s. This started with Lars Ulrich’s lawsuit against the file sharing service Napster for illegal sharing of Metallica’s unfinished song “I Disappear”, resulting in the case being settled out-of-court and over 300,000 Napster users being banned from the service; this event resulted in major negative responses from fans. To make matters worse, James was going through a bad case of alcohol abuse, creating further personal tensions within Metallica. All of the band’s conflicts (which happened during the recording of the aforementioned album St. Anger) are also shown in the documentary Some Kind of Monster. Finally, the most devastating blow came in January of 2001, where bassist Jason Newsted left Metallica permanently; this left the vacant bass slot for recording St. Anger to be filled by longtime producer Bob Rock.

The hour’s worth of songs on St. Anger are considered to be the most drastic departure from Metallica’s original sound, with the album using drop C tunings, raw production, and no guitar solos. Although the album received mixed reviews upon release (with fans particularly complaining about Lars’ trash being essentially a snare drum), St. Anger still was somewhat commercially successful, selling nearly 6 million copies worldwide. Notable tracks include the title track, as well as “Frantic”, “Some Kind of Monster”, “The Unnamed Feeling”, and “All Within My Hands”. In my personal opinion, St. Anger isn’t a complete piece of trash, but rather an album that is easily forgotten.

Metallica finally took a step in the right direction with 2008’s Death Magnetic, in which Lars exploited more technically complex drum patterns, particularly in the tracks, “My Apocalypse” (which won a Best Metal Performance at the 2009 Grammy Awards), “The Day That Never Comes”, and “That Was Just Your Life”. Lars’ new style, along with more technical guitar solos from both James and Kirk, helped propel Metallica towards their previous thrash metal roots. The only major criticism that Death Magnetic got was because of its occasional abysmal sound quality due to an overly compressed dynamic range. Other than that, DM is a killer album and is definitely worth listening to.

Last but certainly not least is Metallica’s latest album, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, released in November 2016. While not totally on par with Metallica’s earliest albums, HtSD is still awesome, with tracks such as the similarly titled track, ‘Hardwired”, “Spit Out the Bone”, “Dream No More” (my personal favorite), and “Moth into Flame”. Hardwired also marks the longest gap between two studio albums for Metallica (8 years, between 2008’s Death Magnetic and Hardwired). As of the time of this article’s writing, Metallica is undergoing a WorldWired tour to promote the album.

Unfortunately, Metallica’s live performances have been criticized mainly due to a large amount of people saying that Lars’ drumming has gotten much worse (Just look at almost any recent live Metallica video and you’ll see what I mean). Listeners have also criticized Kirk’s lead guitar work, saying that it has become sloppier as time goes on. However, Metallica will always be a huge inspiration for me and I hope you will take the time to appreciate their work.

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A few (thousand) words about my favorite band… METALLICA