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The Crushing Excellence of Metallica

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The Crushing Excellence of Metallica

M.

Have you heard “Spit Out the Bone” off the new Metallica album Hardwired...to Self-Destruct yet? It’s the last song. It’s ridiculous! It’s fantastic. Brutal. Tight. 1985 James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich would never imagined they would put out anything near what they have accomplished with this track in 2016. It’s insane. It’s the kind of track that makes a band.

I’m a little speechless.

Imagine that.

Metallica in Moscow, Russia, April 24, 2010 - copyright Yulia Grigoryeva / credit Yulia Grigoryeva / Shutterstock.com

Metallica in Moscow, Russia, April 24, 2010 - copyright Yulia Grigoryeva / credit Yulia Grigoryeva / Shutterstock.com

Why? Metal. Specifically, Metallica.

Let’s talk it out.

Yes, I’m a metal head to the depth of all that is me. However, what’s kinda weird is, I’ve never been a huge Metallica head. I don’t know why. They have absolutely made great metal for 35 years now.

Case in point: Master of Puppets. Without a doubt, not only one of the top metal albums of all time but the top thrash metal album of all time. I love Metallica’s first five albums…yes, that includes the Black Album (which we’ll talk about when it’s time. It’s not time). I mean…that’s epic musical shit!

Did you know the Black Album still outsells every metal album every week to this day? It was released 25 years ago. How? Why? That statement says a lot about metal in general, and Metallica specifically.

I remember back in 1988 when the Monsters of Rock Tour was announced. The show was all the rage for every metal head in the world. Van Halen headlined, and Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica, and Kingdom Come filled out the bill. That’s a fucking great lineup! As the tour started, I kept hearing one universal review: “Metallica are not only the real deal but blowing everyone off the stage.” That’s a serious statement.

Here was Metallica, who had just released their first video in the MTV age with “One” (the band is a victim of super close ups throughout the video and bad lip syncing. Not ideal for their first venture into MTV land), off an album that honestly sounded horrible.  Yet they were laying waste to the top bands on the tour.

Sidebar: There is no other more frustrating album in the Metallica discography than ….And Justice for All (St. Anger doesn't count because it never happened.  We're clear on this right? Good!).  It was their first album without Cliff Burton, who died tragically in 1986. While on tour in Sweden, the tour bus flipped several times due to “black ice” on the road. Cliff was pinned under the bus. Worse? Rumor has it that Cliff won a bet with Kirk Hammett for which bunk he would sleep in (drawing the Ace of Spades of all things. Queue the scary music!!!!!). He chose the wrong bunk.

Photo by M.

Photo by M.

Ok…didn’t mean to get all melancholy there. Life happens.

Moving on, Justice is a tough listen for those with a musical ear for sound. The album has great songs (Blackened, Eye of the Beholder, One, Harvester of Sorrow, Dyers Eve) but it’s mixed as if there is no bass. But…There is bass!! Jason Newsted, poor newbie and replacement for Cliff is mixed out of the album. It sounds thin. Tinty? Is that a word? Treble is high. Bass drum is strong. Bass guitar is mixed at .00004 on a scale of 1-10. It’s a maddening listen. Lars and James kept messing with the mix to the degree that Jason is there but he’s not there.

I was into Metallica but I wasn’t into Metallica. I was into Sabbath, Iron Maiden (obsessed), Slayer, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Mötley (their debut is still one of my all-time faves), Def Leppard, Van Halen (obsessed with their first four albums), W.A.S.P. (SO MUCH WASP!), Dokken, Scorps, Ratt, Dio, Ozzy, Queensrÿche, Venom (Black Metal DNA), Deep Purple…the normal.  

I also wanted to take a sledgehammer to all things Warrant-Poison-White Lion AND FUCKING WINGER! They are my Coldplay band of the 80’s. Me. Don’t. Like.

Now here we are in 2016. Metallica are not only still going but they are a complete force. This is not a musical nostalgic statement. This is a band that has put out an album of music that any band would be proud of at any time in their career. Metallica have not only proven to be better than everyone else and endure it all but their album is ridiculously good. From a metal and music point of view, it’s impressive.

How? That’s my question. How does Lars keep playing this well? He’s about to turn 53 and he’s hammering the hell out of the kit. These are not easy songs to play for 22 yr old Lars much less any other accomplished drummer. The tempo is not speed metal but thrash/hard rock/heavy metal. If that last sentence confused you, that’s ok.

#RiffLife!!!! ⚡️ #metallica #worldwired

A photo posted by Metallica (@metallica) on

James (lead singer/guitar) has never sounded better.  It’s not the mix, technology, pro-tools, etc. It’s him. It’s who James has made himself into at this point in his life. He’s not a natural singer by any stretch. Yet, he’s singing extremely well. He’s playing extremely well. He’s pushing Metallica forward to places that few other bands have ever been able to go. The list is small.

From the time period of the 80’s, who is still going strong?

  • U2 – Incredible live band and the same four guys since their debut in March 1980.
  • Iron Maiden – SELLING OUT EVERYWHERE worldwide. STILL. Unreal. Their last album was released in 2015 and was universally critically acclaimed. Did I mention it’s a double album. DOUBLE!
  • AC/DC - Still Selling Out and probably the greatest hard rock band ever ever.
  • The Cure – They still matter more than you know.
  • Depeche Mode – ^ Ditto ^
  • Slayer - Still a force and seem to be getting better.
  • Megadeth - Several different band formations.  Problem: Dave is an asshole. There, I said it.
  • Guns n Roses - More of a touring/money-grab band at this point.
  • Bon Jovi – Probably one of the rare bands that still sell out everywhere and the group is still intact since those early, awesome, “Livin’ On A Prayer” hair band days.
  • Def Leppard – Same as GnR and actually more frustrating since they don’t even participate in any online music streaming services. They have been fighting with their label for years now and all of us are hurt for by it.
  • Kiss – Barely counts. It’s rock’s version of a perpetual retirement tour, ala Stones…or something.

There are a few more, sure… but really, it’s hard. Life changes so much and to still be rockin as Hall & Oates (1972), Journey (1973), even Duran Duran is not easy 36+ years later. None of these bands are putting out new music (we won’t count DD’s “Paper Gods.” I mean…wtf?).

Yet..Metallica. 35 years later and for a metal band with these tempos? Um….no. With this quality? Nope. It’s just surreal to listen too.

Back to the album. They made a video for every song. The best video is the tribute to the biggest loss in our metal family – Lemmy. Short of Ozzy passing, Lemmy is our epic center of all that is metal.

There is no Metallica without Lemmy. Nope…Little 16 yr old Lars followed Mötorhead around for a week in Europe and Lemmy invited him to hang out in the studio over the next month while they recorded. Little Lars was bitten hard peeking behind the curtain and watching Lemmy toil away. With his speed-Jack-and-Coke lifestyle (I mean, the guy was a roadie for Hendrix in the late 60’s) and his sense of humor, Lemmy was and will always be just pure metal. The guy was hard as a coffin nail and the nicest loving guy at the same time. No question.

At the core of this Metallica reboot (if you want to call it that) is the music. It’s real. Genuine. Thoughtful. Not a fucking power ballad in the mix. Just real music. To the core. I love that Metallica put in the time to make this album. They didn’t need to, but they needed to. It’s like that.

Metal heads are all about protecting and loving their musical family. Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Slayer, Tallica, Scorps, TOOL… this is our family. We will always go and see them when they come to town. You’ll never see a metal act able to pull a permanent residency in Vegas. A couple of weeks? Sure….Nothing more. It’s just too much outsider music to sustain that type of constant fan attraction. However, come through our town twice a year and it will sell out. Every single time. Come out. You’ll just see a sea of black shirts. It’s hilarious and great. One of the reasons is Metallica. They have kept it going. As a metal head and music head – we’re all lucky.

There is so much more to write about this album but I just can’t. You just need to hear it and get deep into it. I can’t stop. I’ve been watching Metallica videos from 1984-2016 for weeks now. Nonstop. My YouTube channel hates me right now. It wants a break. No.