Some Thoughts on Metallica

21 Nov

The one, the only.

These guys? Millions of albums? Really? Yep.

For several years when I was a young rocker, Metallica were my favorite band. This was about the time Master of Puppets broke. They were opening for Ozzy, and amid the Mötley Crües and glam metal bands (which I can now appreciate), here were four scruffy guys from southern California on the cover of Hit Parader looking real and ugly, who did not make videos, and who pounded out metal that swirled and convulsed like nothing else before. It was at once musical and fierce, determined and defiant. Right place, right time. Props to Ozzy’s team for recognizing real talent.

This was when Master of Puppets was the cool record (or, more likely, tape) for those in the know, and the idea that some shaggy stoner could walk onstage in his Misfits shirt and rock the crap out of symphonic-scale metal to mass appeal was beyond most people’s thinking at the time.

Cliff Burton

Cliff Burton, Original Metallica Bassist. 2.10.62–9.27.86. Click for a rare interview from 1986.

Nearly as much was made in their mainstream rise of the band’s wearing street clothes onstage instead of spandex. They were one of the first acts I can recall receiving this level of press who said, “we don’t care what you think — this is who we are,” when it came to their appearance and their sound. It must have amused them to field so many questions about their “look,” but it opened the door to discussion of the music: uncompromising and finely crafted. Their image and attitude were simply uncompromising. Of the four band members, late bassist Cliff Burton personified this the most. He wore bell bottoms, played a nondescript Aria Pro II bass through distortion, and even made the rest of the band relocate from Los Angeles to San Francisco (where he lived at the time) before he would consider joining. Bold, loud, ugly. If you don’t like it, so what. I can’t picture Burton playing on much of the band’s 1990s material, but I can sure envision him approving of what they’re making these days.

Later came Garage Days Re-Revisited (still good), and the kinda-dissapointing and bittersweet And Justice For All. I ate Justice up, even though the production suuuuucked, and they finally did a video. I caught them on tour with Queensrÿche and my neck was literally sore the next day from headbanging. Hey, I was 15.

Following a zillion plays of Johnny Got His Gun on Headbangers Ball, a few years of courting ever-more inevitable superstardom, then comes the Black Album. I observed from afar and promptly lost interest. Follow several more years of mainstream whatever, and… I don’t even know because I didn’t keep up. Blah, blah, blah… St. Anger.

Now, St. Anger is my favorite Metallica album ever. It’s a complete F-you to everyone, including their fans, who some have theorized actually appreciate masochism. Whatever — this is finally a record for the band, by the band, as ugly as they want to be, with Bob Rock on bass (producer, also of Bon Jovi fame, through those several albums I never bothered to keep track of). I like to think of this as his redemption for years of arena-grade guidance. By the way, respect to Jason Newsted for hanging in there all this time. I hope he’s set for life and that they’ve all made peace with each other.

Jason Newsted’s band in 2011: Papa Wheelie [article from Contra Costa Times on 11.11.11, One Louder Day]


St. Anger. Not Pretty.

I could write 1000 words on St. Anger alone, but that’s not the point of this post. St. Anger represented so much for these guys, now millionaires, adults, sober, going to therapy… good grief… and yet they make this noise. It’s a deeply satisfying, ugly, abrasive run from beginning to end. And there’s a DVD of them playing every single track. It’s not just a few singles and some filler. They mean every note. They took a ton of crap for it at the time, and especially for the accompanying documentary, but the music still pushes the envelope like none of their other records since the last they created with Burton, Master of Puppets.

Following St. Anger comes Death Magnetic. I credit Robert Trujillo’s integrity (scroll to 4:26 for Hit The Lights) and talent for spurring on the other three to prove they have it in them. On  initial listens, I thought it was OK. Since then, I’ve seriously come to appreciate and rock out to it regularly. My favorites are That Was Just Your Life and the excellent All Nightmare Long. What got me into this record was watching them execute Nightmare live. They composed this late in their career and play it with as much conviction as anything else, even from back in the day when I was a teenaged headbanger.


So say what you want about their less-favorably-percieved moments. Their decade or so of eh-metal. My faith has been renewed. I will admit I don’t understand Lulu, and it’s really easy to say it just plain sux, but I can’t help respect their attitude for birthing such a beast. Steven Hyden, editor of The AV Club, one of my favorite entertainment media sites sums it up well:

Worst album of the year that
gave me the most pleasure

I’m not defending Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu; most of the horrible things written about it are true. But I can’t think of another album—not even the records I loved most this year—that I enjoyed thinking about more, or hashing out with other music fans. It is a bad record, and painful to listen to—but it was a pleasure to talk about.

  —Steven Hyden, TheAVClub (@Steven_Hyden)

Time will tell how it holds up in the pantheon, but considering Death Magnetic and St. Anger before it, I’m still intrigued enough to remain interested in what they do next. Not many bands at it for 30+ years can anyone say that about. Also: holy crap, we’re old.

What do you think? Are you still somehow a fan of a band you discovered in junior high that’s still around? Are there any other acts whose career arc matches that of these guys?  Is Lulu ahead of its time or completely indulgent and unlistenable? Let us hear from you in the comments!


10 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Metallica”

  1. Roseanne Salyer November 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    read your comments on Brian Eisley’s blog. Loved it. I know that many people have listened to Lulu once (either loved or hated, mostly the latter), I can’t stop listening. I have been a fan of Lou’s, since the 70,s and Metallica, since they got together. While I have not loved everything either has done, I will always listen to Lulu. Lou’s words, which really need listening to, are poetic, nasty, gritty and amazing! I am addicted to their live playing at the radio show, in Germany. It plays live incredibly. Watching them you see how much they love it and love playing together. Tune in, if you haven’t seen it. Available on Lastly, as a woman in my early, ahem, 60’s, I have not found much of anything I like to listen to on the radio, in a long time. We’ll not have to worry about hearing any of this album there. But, I have my computer and all is well. It should be noted that all 5 guys have said they did this one for themselves. As we know, Metallica has always done that, just our luck that we love most of what they have done. Thanks for your comments. Keep rockin’.

    • rsmithing November 27, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

      Hey, thanks for commenting! I’m glad to see a genuine appreciation for Lulu, even though I’m not such a fan. And you make a great point about how into it they are live, which just adds to their credibility, IMHO.

  2. Guls November 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Interesting retrospective on Metallica. I really liked their stuff back in the day – first one I heard was Garage Days.. blasting through from the other side of my bedroom wall ‘cos my sister was a fan. Loved Ride…, …Puppets and Metallica can take or leave the rest. I do applaud their choice to go out on a limb and confront expectations rather than continue in the same vein and in that context St Anger and Lulu get more kudos from me than Death Magnetic which I find a bit safe – a bit of a pastiche of their earlier styles.

    • rsmithing November 24, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

      Thanks for weighing in, dude. Interesting that your first perspective was, of all things Garage Days! And I’m glad you brought up Ride the Lightning — it is indeed a mandatory classic, almost as much as Puppets.

  3. tokyo5 November 23, 2011 at 2:47 am #

    >St. Anger is my favorite Metallica album ever.

    That’s hard to fathom, for me! I loved Metallica…their “holy trinity” (the first three albums) were among my favorite records when I was in high school. And I still listen to them on my I-pod now.

    “Justice” and the “Black” album aren’t as good…but still great!
    But everything Metallica has released since Cliff died has been downhill…worse than their previous releases.

    I tried to ignore this pattern…but when I bought “St. Anger”, I couldn’t overlook it anymore—Metallica have lost touch with their talent.
    I’ve given up on them!

    >Are you still somehow a fan of a band you discovered in junior high that’s still around?

    KISS! Actually, I “discovered” KISS when I was in elementary school…and they’re still “the hottest band in the world”!

  4. booshben November 21, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    Agree with you on St Anger, pal – I think it’s a very honest album. Although the song arrangements are ridiculous and there’s THAT SNARE SOUND.

    For me, Magnetic seemed as though the band were taking advantage of the thrash Renaissance we’re currently experiencing with bands like Trivium and Evile. Having said that, there are some good thrash riffs in there.

    • rsmithing November 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

      Thanks for commentng, man. I listened to these both all the way through yesterday. And I will admit, a full record of the St. Anger snare really is a bit much. One more reason to me that Death Magnetic represents evolution while making good use of their roots.

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