One of the most awesome things about blogging is that inspiration can strike at any moment, and it come from the least expected of sources. Last month, I received a comment on my iTunes Diaries post about Slayer from the mind behind Games I Made My Girlfriend Play concerning Metallica. The comment read, in part:
I would love to read your thoughts on Metallica. Perhaps an iTunes Diary post about Master of Puppets is in our collective future?
I responded in kind as to why nothing from my Metallica collection would qualify for the iTunes Diaries (in short: I own the albums on CD and the iTunes Diaries posts are about single songs I download from iTunes), but the thought remained. Why not dedicate a post to Metallica? Though I don’t possess every Metallica album and can’t claim to be the band’s #1 fan, I followed Metallica closely for awhile, and my iPod just wouldn’t be “my iPod” without its music.
In thinking about how to best approach a musical, compilation-type post like this, I decided to arrange the albums in the order in which I was introduced to them, rather than simply chronologically or by some other scheme. That just made the most sense, because Metallica hasn’t always fit so snugly into my musical life, and the moments I came into possession of their albums were unique. But don’t worry, I’ll refrain from drowning this whole operation in nostalgia. If anything, shorter will be sweeter. I’ll touch upon likes and dislikes and maybe get into the musicality of each album (lightly that is — I’m no musicologist). And as I said, this won’t cover every Metallica album, just the ones I have. Onward then! And into the void…
…And Justice for All (1988)
Like what I imagine to be a majority of suburban kids without many social links to the outside world, the radio was my haven for many angsty years. That’s where I first met Metallica, thanks to the band’s “One” becoming a Top 40 radio hit. It was love at first listen, and “One,” as well as …And Justice for All, remain favorites after all these years if only because they remind me of simpler times. Of course, Metallica never would have been acceptable for general listening in my parents’ house, but through a bit of sneakery, I managed to procure a copy of the album on cassette. I spent many a night quietly thrashing to myself while trying to finish my math homework.
Listening to this album brings back all those old memories, only now peppered by new insights. I can see why this became popular at the time — it’s an accessible metal album that’s not terribly angry or controversial (at least as far as thrash goes). Awkward if inwardly confident teenage me was easily all over this shit. All FREEDOM and POWER and METAL. Now, it’s more like, “could we please just get on with it?” This is a long, rambly album that’s almost symphonic. Still, it remains very musically sound.
If I had to pick a favorite track at gunpoint, it’d be “The Shortest Straw,” because it’s short (compared to other songs on the album) and plenty thrashy.
Master of Puppets (1986)
In high school, all the heshers of any ilk worse Metallica shirts. Those truly in the know at the time went with duds that sported the album cover of Master of Puppets. In fact, if it hadn’t been for seeing all those band shirts in school, I might not have dug at all into Metallica’s back catalog. I was happy listening to …And Justice for All, until I first heard Master of Puppets. Thanks to a neighbor, I ended up with an old cassette dub of the album – it was super scratchy, but the music…holy christ,THE MUSIC. Master of Puppets is an album with sheer will and drive. Maybe the songs run a bit long, but there’s so much force behind them that they don’t feel lngthy. Each song has purpose, making for a very cohesive album where one song builds upon the next.
More than any Metallica album, Master of Puppets highlights just how goddamn beautiful metal can be. “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” possesses a rolling, roiling sense of hope and despair that’s larger than life. At the same time you have “Leaper Messiah” with mean, convoluted guitar riffs that are so totally badass. Also, I’m a sucker for instrumental metal. Seriously, when a song is just that good, like “Orion,” you don’t need words. And best of all, Master of Puppets is not a distracting album. Like, if you want to roll with in the background while blogging, it’s good for that. If you want to thrash, either by yourself or with others, it’s good for that too. The album almost lulls you into a stupor, which is then totally broken by “Damage, Inc.”
If I had to pick one track at gunpoint, it’d be “Disposable Heroes” – when all you want is fast and loud (with a social message).
Metallica [The Black Album] (1991)
The Black Album carries with it more memories than I could possibly conjure up for this post. It was a constant fixture during my final years of high school. In fact, for close to a year, it was just about all I listened to, and I still play it in full regularly. To this day, the opening of “Enter Sandman” remains one of my most favorite song/album openings.
But The Black Album is those polarizing albums where people are either in the “love it” or “hate it” camps, and I’m pretty much in the “love it” sect. It definitely brought Metallica into the mainstream, much more so than …And Justice for All. The Black Album simply flows well. Though I will admit that I occasionally skip over the intricate yet overplayed “Nothing Else Matters, “as well as “The Unforgiven,” because I’m just not a fan of metal ballads. (Though the instrumental track to “Nothing Else Matters” is excellent. Very reminiscent of Led Zepplin and musically quite gorgeous.)
If I had to pick one track at gunpoint, it’d be”Through the Never” mainly because I love the syncopated chorus. Plus, it’s less creepy lyrically than “Enter Sandman,” if a little more gloomy.
Kill ‘Em All (1983)
When I first met my husband, one of our earliest conversations revolved around Metallica. And by “conversation,” I mean something like me saying “Hey, you have a bunch of Metallica albums! You’re awesome!” and him responding “You like Metallica? You’re awesome too!” It was his copy of Kill ‘Em All that made me rethink everything that I knew about not only Metallica, but thrash metal as well.
Because Kill ‘Em All is, like, the punk of thrash metal. It’s super grindy and super fast. The kind of stuff that makes your teeth hurt. Forgive my fandom-jizzing all over this keyboard, but there’s no denying that this is an AMAZING album. It’s quick, loose, loud, energetic, over the top, and brilliant in all ways thrash metal. Its don’t-give-a-fuck mentality is so perfect. The album simply revels in madness. I mean, is there a more incredible bass solo in the world than the one in “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” Okay, I’m sure there is, but that one rocks. “Whiplash” is one of those songs that makes my fingers ache just by listening – that raw guitar sawing! It’s jubilant and absolutely crazy! Though if you look up “utterly insane” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure the intro to “Metal Militia” is there.
If I had to pick one track at gunpoint, it’d be “Whiplash,” obviously. (Though a close second is “Seek and Destroy” for its mad, deliberate attitude.)
Garage, Inc. (1998)
Chalk this one up to my husband again. He got it mostly for the Misfit covers. I continue to listen to it because it is a mostly fantastic compilation of covers. And that’s saying something, because I don’t have lots of cover albums. And I really can’t say why that is, because I usually find cover albums pretty enjoyable.
Anyway, Garage, Inc. is not just any cover album, but a Metallica cover album. As far as cover albums go, this one, with no less than 2 CDs, is pretty damn great. Yes, it’s hit-or-miss at points, but that really depends on your preferences concerning interpretation. The range of artists they cover is pretty awesome – Nick Cave to Motorhead, the Misfits to Queen. And they proved righteously that they could handle a wide range of sounds – from super-mashy punk to quiet melodies. Garage, Inc.‘s problem is that it’s a bit bloated; though the compilation on the second disc moves as brisker pace than the compilation on the first, so there’s that. “Turn the Page” is far too long and too gritty for its own good. It lacks the compassion of Bob Seger’s original version. “Loverman” sounds too menacing and almost revelatory. And that’s saying something considering Nick Cave. Also, no James Hetfield spoken word, thanks.
If I had to pick one track at gunpoint, it’d be “Last Caress/Green Hell,” because it’s the Misfits, goddammit. (ALSO, tread carefully ye sensitive souls not familiar with “Last Caress.”)
But because this is a dual album, that means I get to pick a second track! (Hey, my blog, my rules.) And that’s “Breadfan,” because it fuckin’ rocks.
Ride the Lightning (1984)
Rounding out my rundown is Metallica’s classic Ride the Lightning, which I re-heard late in life. And by late, I mean, somewhere around four or five years ago when we found the CD in the dying music section of a Best Buy. (Our cassette tape of the album had gone the way of the dodo not all too long before.) I don’t really know why the album slipped between among the band’s other offerings. I’d heard songs from it, but prior to getting the CD, I don’t recall listening to the album all that often. But non-excuses aside, Ride the Lightning is a fun metal masterpiece.
One of the things I like best about Ride the Lightning is how it ebbs and flows between fast and mid-range thrash. It’s almost “pretty” at parts and surely served up as a great taste of bigger things to come from the band way back when. Ride the Lightning is also a massive album with little chaff. An it’s quite emotional, as most of the songs touch upon death. There’s tons of incredible guitar work at play — hard, grinding, pulsating, rhythmic, almost obsessive in quality. I love the sweeping yet metal grandeur of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” And the albums makes me immensely happy with the final cut, another great instrumental, “The Call of Ktulu.” It’s not as great as “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth,” but it’s still pretty damn good in its own right
If I had to pick one track at gunpoint, it’d be “Fade to Black,” and yes, that’s despite my earlier protestation of slow metal. It’s a deep, dark, and thoughtful song. And I like it. So there.
(Though “For Whom the Bells Tolls” resonates strongly mainly because of its remix from the Spawn soundtrack.)
Alrighty Metallica fans, now it’s your turn. What is your favorite Metallica album and why?