We can’t deal with metal without dealing with the elephant in the room: that’s right, Metallica. Love ‘em or hate ‘em you gotta take a stand. Why? Because of (i) what happened between Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning; (ii) Master of Puppets; (iii) In Justice for All; and (iv) the Black Album and everything thereafter.
A lot of the metal community ignores Metallica because Metallica is/was really good, and are really successful and hard to get your head around. But I would submit—no, verily, I do postulate—that any coherent theory of metal needs to deal with Metallica.
I come down on the Yay side of Metallica, for three reasons: first, their records are pretty rockin to listen to; second, the cultural phenomenon of Metallica begs endless fun analysis; and, third, I think St. Anger is really good record.
Reason one: Metallica gets a bad rap because they got Def Leppard popular two albums after making arguably the greatest ever modern metal album in “Master of Puppets.” Understood. I like MOP a lot too. But if you take all their stuff after, it’s still way above average. Putting aside the popularity of the “Black Album”, if it was any other band than the band that made MOP, those later albums would be “lost classics.” There was no second MOP, but guess what? There was no second “Revolver,” “Never Mind the Bollocks,” “Ace of Spades,” “Ulysses” or “Citizen Kane” either. The later Metallica albums are metal constructed in a studio by a band with endless cash to make them sound good. Get over it, rock out and have fun.
Reason two: Metallica is rich enough with cultural importance to make a critic weep. This band made a complete movie about their therapy sessions, and their drummer trades in Basquiats. But they’re selling out, man. The charge is absurd and Metallica are loaded with more irony than Metal Hammer can encapsulte. Example: Metallica were famously denied a Grammy for “One” because of Jethro Tull. Now, after many Grammys and more money than God, they release their “return to glory” “Death Magnetic.” The lamest, most obvious attempt at “getting back to their roots” on that disc is “My Apocalypse,” during which James Hetfield sings: “Crushing metal, ripping skin / Tossing body, mannequin / Spilling blood, bleeding gash / Mangle flesh, snapping spine / Dripping bloody valentine.” Think about a 40+ year old multimillionaire father screaming these words into a microphone in the San Fernando Valley on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s ridiculous. I saw them on this tour, and they played nearly every song on this disc, but not “My Apocalypse.” Probably because they can’t get through it without laughing. So what happens? They win a Grammy in Best Metal Performance for . . . “My Apocalypse.” Weird? A joke? Yes twice over. Someone write a book quick.
Reason three: They release “St. Anger.” I don’t know if you’ve ever met anybody with an addiction problem who recognizes the problem and makes a serious go at spending the rest of his or her life without the one thing they want more than anything in the world, but this album is a pretty honest take on what the early stages of that journey might feel like. Listen with that in mind, and it’s pretty good. And songs like “All Within My Hands” would be classics on a Killing Joke record.
Agree? Or not? Discuss amongst yourselves.