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Friday, September 12, 2008

PERSISTENCE GAINS RESPECT

I've been a Heavy Metal fan since 1979 when my brother Rod turned me on to Judas Priest's 'Hell Bent for Leather'. The timing could have not been more perfect, for in 1979 a fierce wind began to blow across the land of Hard Rock. It's epicenter was England, and it came to be known as The New Wave of British Heavy Metal. A tidal wave of Heavy Metal bands crashed ashore on both sides of the Atlantic, and indeed it's force was felt world-wide, in Japan, and notably in California.




While I was obsessively buying Saxon and Iron Maiden records, a Danish expatriate and tennis player named Lars Ulrich was doing the same in Los Angles. So strong was the lure of the Metal that Lars hung up his racket in favor of a drum kit and placed an ad in a local paper. That ad brought him his life-mate (no homo) James Hetfield, and Metallica was born.

I've often thought about this. How the members of Metallica were nursed on the same mother's milk as I, but as the seeds germinated, their tree bore much different fruit.




Metallica's gestation period ended in 1983 with the release of 'Kill 'em All', an only slightly classier title that the original, 'Metal Up Yer Ass'.

It wasn't until 1984 that I had the displeasure of hearing a few tracks from 'Kill 'em All', courtesy of a co-worker at a McDonald's in Ocean City, Maryland. The gentleman in question had all the earmarks of what I would come to expect from and associate with a Metallica fan. Not very smart, not very clean, and fiercely and boisterously supportive of his favorite band.

I didn't dig it, Metallica that is, my co-worker was a fun guy despite his fondness for Metallica, and looking back, I respect him for at least being at the forefront of Thrash, which is a sub genre of Metal that hadn't been named yet because Metallica had just invented it.

That's what this post is about, respect, because although I didn't take to Metallica, or the hoards of Thrash bands that would follow in their wake, they were the founding fathers of Thrash. Sure, just as the founding fathers of our country, they didn't just come up with their sound one day out of thin air. Others paved the way and provided some serious shoulders to stand on. Jefferson had Voltaire, Hamilton had Thomas Paine, and Metallica had Motorhead and Judas Priest. Like Jefferson and Hamilton, Metallica took from their influences those aspects that worked for them in their environment. They latched onto the precision, the seriousness of Judas Priest, but jettisoned the more melodic, the more accessible side of the band, and in it's place they dropped in the growl, the danger, of Motorhead.

It was a formula that worked, and indeed, in time, a formula for success.

So, as I've stated, I shunned Metallica, as I did all Thrash. I didn't like the vocals. Being raised on the Beatles I appreciated melody and harmony in a vocal performance, something totally lacking in Thrash, plus I didn't much care for the production. Tinny drum sounds, the lack of bass guitar in the mix, screeching high end barrages of sixteenth notes serving as solos, and the shouting approach to vocals all combined to put me off the genre.

By 84 Metal was dead for me, my Metal had been replaced by Thrash and Glam. Everything was driven to one extreme end of the spectrum or the other; caught in the void in between, I went elsewhere, Punk, Classic Rock, and the emerging synthesis of the entire canon of Rock, Alternative.

Metallica on the other hand blazed a trail of destruction across the world with their relentless touring, amassing an enormous fan base the old fashioned way, the hard way, one show at a time. I was increasingly finding myself inundated and out-numbered by Metallica fans. I'd find myself in conversation with fellow Metal fans, discussing the virtues of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and invariably they'd bring up Metallica, I'd let on that I wasn't a fan, and they'd look at me like I was talking about quadratic equations.

Then I met the Joe man, a true brother, a true friend, and a true Metallica fan. He even liked Anthrax for chrissakes! Joe and I bonded over a great many bands, U2, Jane's Addiction, Bauhaus, he even had respect for Kiss. Joe had good taste, and he liked Metallica. How could I resolve such confounding lack of reason?



At the time, '.....And Justice for All', Metallica's fourth and biggest album to date was selling at an an incredible rate despite the lousy production at the hands of Lars and James. The album sounded dreadful, but people were buying the shit out of it. Metallica's legions of worldwide fans propelled the record to the top of the charts. Without any real radio support, without any MTV presence at all, Metallica had climbed to the top.

Respect.

I hated the record, but you had to give 'em props. They had earned their success.



Then came The Black Album, or 'Metallica' as their landmark 1991 release was titled. Hell, you'd think that Hetfeild had spit on the mothers of his entire fan base, such was the response from the die-hard Metallica fans.

The band had come to realize the mistakes made in the production of ".....And Justice for All". They had money now, and with their new position of strength came the ability to spend some time on the follow up. The band enlisted producer Bob Rock, who's recent success with Motley Crue ('Dr. Feelgood') had him on the top of many a Hard Rock band's wish list for producers.

Bob pushed the band in ways they'd never been pushed. He made them record all the basic tracks live as a band, divorcing them from their previous studio methods of separate tracking, and in doing so producing a groove, a cohesion, that had been sorely lacking. Bob also found room in the mix for Jason Newstead's bass guitar, a huge development in the maturing of the Metallica sound, but it was with Hetfeild that Bob truly transformed Metallica. Bob forced James to sing, or at least shout with unprecedented melody, even pulling harmony parts out of the notorious barker.

The Black Album may have pissed off a lot of the core fans with it's polish, it's hooks and melodies, but those same attributes opened the door to mass appeal, and 'Metallica' definitely appealed to the masses.

I even liked it.

The Joe Man then dragged me to the former Brendan Byrne Arena, the now former Continental Airlines Arena, a place we call the Meadowlands, now the Izod Arena, to Metallica in the flesh. There was no opening act, just a short promo film, and then BAM!, Metallica pulverized the joint. I'd seen Priest, I'd seen Maiden, I'd seen Kiss twice, and I'd not experienced anything like it. If it wasn't for Lars' need to stand up behind the kit after every song to bask in his wonderfulness, I might have even been won over completely. Certainly their cover of Queen's 'Stone Cold Crazy' had me leaping up and down ecstatically, but in the end I just couldn't deal with the personality, well, two personalities, Lars and James.

Kirk Hammett always enjoyed a soft spot in my heart. Maybe it was his Heavy Metal Santana vibe, but more likely it was his lack of jerkness. Newstead was another non-jerk, stalking the stage ominously, flinging his bass about with abandon, no, it was the Jerky Twins, Lars and James, that put me off.

But I respected them.

Their next three albums fell on ever increasing indifferent and disappointed ears. Metallica had lost the plot, and as Hetfield's alcoholism began to poison the bands internal relations, culminating in Newstead's departure, Metallica embarked on a truly bizarre project. They hired a band therapist, returned to work on what would become 'St. Anger', and had the proceedings documented for a feature film.

Therapy is decidedly not Metal, and watching these millionaires whine and bitch about truly asinine matters did not prompt one to raise a fist in the air, but, regardless of what fans now thought of their exposed, flawed heroes, they were thinking about them at least. 'Some Kind of Monster' may have pulled aside the curtain on Metallica, but it made them relevant again.

Exposing themselves was a ballsy move. Again, respect.

They could have called it a day. Shit, they don't need the money, and as I'm sure Lars will gladly tell you, file sharing has destroyed a band's ability to rake in the millions via album sales anyway, but they soldiered on.

Persistence gains respect, and often persistence leads to perseverance. To that end, Metallica made a very smart, very respectable move. They brought in Rick Rubin to produce their next album, the recent release, 'Death Magnetic'. I've only heard one track, the single, I'm sure on the title, but I can tell you that it sounds like the Metallica of old, think 'Master of Puppets' with much better production.

I don't think I'll buy it, but I do respect it.

Comments:
Strange how Matellica's rise occured while we were incommnicato and we both sort of had the same feelings about them. I've definately grown to have serious and mad respect for there stuff and enjoy listen to the latter records. I might go out and rent the therapy flick on your recommendation.
 
SKOM was on VH1 last night... I hope James washed his panties after that one. Lars is douchey, however, Seems like he has always been the mouthpiece of Metallica.. I think its a personality holdover from their past.. his need to promote himself and his band with no support. It does come across as annoying. Maybe it is just a Napoleon complex.
Auditions were interesting.. What was Twiggy Ramirez thinking? Eric Avery, too?!
 
Matellica? Thrash for kids?
 
I get it.
 
I can't wait till November to see Metallica in concert again! The Death Magnetic CD is sickly AWESOME! I have seen them 3 times previous (they don't always make it up here to Portland)...It sucked cause tickets sold out in minutes and when I got to the checkout to buy them I hit refresh cause it started at like 2 mins then went to 11 mins in wait time, etc...Anyways I missed out on them but got them from that tickets for face value site eSellOut anyways: http://www.esellout.com/ResultsGeneral.aspx?kwds=Metallica ~ if anyone else needs tickets for the Rose Garden here in Portland (or I guess anywhere else for that matter) the site ROCKS!

-Arnold
 
Yeah, Lars definitely blew it for me by talking and talking and talking and talking. Battery is pretty cool though.

When I moved to S.F. Thrash was gigantic. I was amazed, as you pointed out, that my early Heavy Metal influences were identical to that of any Thrash fans'. Yet, I never got it.

For me the lack of bass and ultimately the, "all math" no grove aspect kind of makes the genre silly.

I did attend a ton of Thrash shows living in the Bay Area back in the '80's. Metallica was from L.A. but adopted S.F. as home. Thrashers were fond of bashing non-thrash metal as "gay" but most of us didn't quite know what to make of the mosh pit. Some sort of courtship ritual?

I did have the pleasure of seeing Metallica with Cliff Burton open for Ozzy at the Cow Palace in S.F.. Fan-fucking-tastic.
 
Hamilton had Thomas Paine?? What do you see as the connection there? Those are two guys I wouldn't normally put in the same circle in my giant mental Venn diagram of the Revolutionary Era.
 
Adam Smith, 'Wealth of Nations'? I think that must have been what I was going for, hard to tell, stoned then, stoned now.
 
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