Monday, November 26, 2007

No. 252: Metallica

Band: Metallica
Album: Metallica
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: A record that both influenced and pulled from the mainstream, the “Black Album” (as it was known) produced the band's largest commercial success, by far. It came out at a weird time, right before “Nevermind,” yet managed to keep pure (ish) metal in the spotlight. Songs like “Sad But True,” “Enter Sandman” and “The Unforgiven” remain in the culture to this day, 15 years after the album was released.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm totally clouded by my childhood in this one. This album was hugely popular when I was 10-12, which is the exact age this album is likely written for. Pre-teen boys love this nonsense and – like many albums on this list – it is such a part of my childhood that I know it backwards and forwards.
Best song: “Sad But True” is the best pure rhythm song on the record, with Ulrich and Newsted providing the thump while “Enter Sandman” is an unforgettable riff.
Worst song: “The Struggle Within” isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Again, this album is in my blood, so I would say, undeniably yes.

It's hard not to think of both The Beatles' White Album and Spinal Tap in reference to this record. Metallica is the type of band that eventually turned into Tap (constantly losing bassists, going through alcohol-fueled near-breakups, etc.) and the famous line in the movie reminds one of this album's cover. It cannot be more black.

Still, nearly anyone my age has this album memorized. The first time I had long hair, I mimicked Jason Newsted's circular headbang to “Through The Never,” I envisioned myself walking up to home plate (and still do, to this day) to “Enter Sandman” and “Sad But True.” I've driven to work crooning along with “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters.”

It's tattooed on my brain. What can I say?

Is a lot of it nonsense? Absolutely. “The God That Failed” is a lyrical misstep on par with Reznor's attempt to channel Nietzsche. I still can't figure out if “Don't Tread On Me” is sincerely patriotic or ironically pro-America. I'd venture that it's really pro-America for two reasons. The first is that the Gadsen Flag snake is the gray figure on the cover, and “Don't Tread On Me” was the phrase on said flag. The other reason is simple and could be totally wrong. I was young at the time (so, my memory is probably wrong), but I don't know of anyone who protested the first Iraq war – going on at the time – other than Ministry's “N.W.O.”

Metallica was the first real thrash metal band to have any real success. Certainly, this record kept the thrash to a minimum and had a more pop overtone to it. But, still, it had the elements – specifically, songs like “Through The Never” and “Enter Sandman” have really hard parts to them – of a thrash metal record. In some ways, it brought back metal's credibility in the face of grunge and the idiocy of hair metal.

And it's written for pre-teen boys. The lyrics are easy to remember, they overlay awesome guitar riffs and they say basically nothing. That final point, particularly, is a standard of one of the album's best tracks, “Sad But True.” The inner monologue/dual personality thing is patently ridiculous, if you deconstruct it, as its largely based on some idiotic horror movie (our good friend Wikipedia claims “Magic” from 1978) and represents the same ethos that “Fight Club” and Smashing Pumpkins' “Disarm” does; Duality. Hippy hooray. Who cares? That shit is high school English class stuff. We all know it.

Still, that riff is undeniable, as evidenced by the several times that hip hop and nu-metal groups sample it. Kid Rock himself had a hit sampling it in “American Badass,” a truly horrible song.

That's the whole record in a nutshell. Great riffs with mostly nonsense lyrics. Still, it's tattooed on my brain, so I adore it. “Metallica” is awesome.


aengus said...

hows it goin' - first off, i've been following your quest for 500 for a few months now (thanks to an alert from Kelly Dwyer one of the days he was guesting on True Hoop) and I really respect your quest. seriously, fuck jann wenner - he and jerry rubin are like the poster children for the 60s selling out and becoming corporate garbage. and, while I frequently disagree with your reviews, I always look forward to reading them as part of my daily routine. so thanks, and keep up the fine work.

I've been waiting for an album I really wanted to comment on but this one seems as good as any. I understand the nostalgia factor. I was 10 when Siamese Dream came out and I thought it was like the greatest thing ever - even though I've since realized that's it pretty much a 3rd rate ripoff of Loveless I still know the damn thing by heart and enjoy listening to it once every blue moon. however, the Black Album sucks. it really, really sucks. I think that people tend to give it more of a free pass because of the abject garbage that came after. part of the problem is that even when they weren't awful Metallica was way overrated, besides Cliff Burton's general badassedness - there were just so many better thrash bands in the 80s - I gather that you're not much of a metal dude (though neither am I, really) - but Reign in Hell, Seven Churches by, Celtic Frost's first 2 EPs, early Sepultura, Sodom, Destruction, Kreator, etc. are all vastly superior. One thing I whole-heartedly agree with you about is the ridiculous exclusion of metal, hardcore, etc. and especially hip-hop (ONE GODDAM HIP-HOP ALBUM IN THE TOP 100!?! MOBY GRAPE IS 255 PLACES HIGHER THAN ENTER THE WU-TANG? AARGH!) at the expense of every piece of lame pyschedelic trash that blew out of San Francisco in the late 60s. man, fuck Jann Wenner for real.

also, you're probably right about "Don't Tread On Me". Metallica's lyrics were never exactly hallmarks of poesy to be sure, but there's a definite anti-war theme running through some of their earlier stuff (notably, before Cliff died) - see "Disposable Heroes" especially.

Justin said...

Magic is a terrible movie. I mean, Anthony Hopkins and a dummy ripping off the best part of "Dead of Night." But honestly, I think more fondly of that movie than I do about this album, and I used to really like this album and I've never really liked the movie.

I'm glad you can point out the ridiculousness of it. Just realize that people love crap like Starland Vocal Band for the same reasons you like this.

R.J. said...

Aengus, yes, you're right, it is pretty bad. I'm a metal fan and I do enjoy Metallica's earlier albums, but I'd be a total hypocrite to deny that I know every word of the album. I suspect that has something to do with the fact that the record came out when MTV was at the height of its powers and pounded this record into pre-teen boys' heads.

And, Justin, yes, I absolutely understand that people like Starland Vocal Band (and, say, The Carpenters) for the same reasons I like this album. I am not necessarily proud of it; It just is.