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, 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!