hide caption"Oh, your name is Lars? Like the drummer from Metallica?"
Courtesy of Elektra
"Oh, your name is Lars? Like the drummer from Metallica?"
Courtesy of Elektra
I have never heard Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice for All, the classic '80s records by Metallica.
For some fans, the very existence of these albums grants Metallica an "eternal pass," as Scott Kelly of the legendary metal band Neurosis so eloquently put it, no matter the musical wrongs they've committed since.
It's not that I'm unaware of the importance of these records, or that I'm simply put off by everything post-Metallica (a.k.a. the one with "Enter Sandman" on it). No, my never having heard these albums stems back to middle school. In some futile attempt to unite bratty eighth-graders and doe-eyed sixth-graders, the teachers had the two co-mingle on the never-used recess field for half an hour with a survey sheet only goody-two-shoes like me completed. Ten minutes later, two snickering Beavis and Butt-Head-like stoners walked up to me. Here I was, thinking I could finally finish this damn survey and be done with it. I was so wrong.
"Hey, is your name is Lars?"
"Are you related to the drummer from Metallica?"
NSFW, Lars' nipple ring and '90s ideas of blasphemous religious imagery.
They didn't know it, but their brain-dead logic started years of unwanted associations to Lars Ulrich and Metallica. "Oh, your name is Lars? Like the drummer..." "Yeah, I know." To make things worse, we even have a similar-sounding last name.
The timing wasn't terribly suited for musical discovery, either. It was 1996 and the local rock station played "Until It Sleeps" as if whatever "it" was never slept. Later in high school, my ride listened to the bland, vaguely grungy Load and its slightly better but still vapid Reload endlessly. Oh, and there was that one album with the orchestra — let us never speak of it again.
Like an idea does, hating Metallica burrowed like a blast beat into my brain. Even as I started listening to hardcore and metal in high school, the aversion continued. Once Slayer, Bathory and Black Sabbath entered my world, the idea of Metallica stopped mattering to me. As far as I was concerned, my metal roots were set.
Quoth the Butt-head, "Lars could kick Lurch's butt."
But on a lark, I recently bought Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All. And if the entrepreneurial online seller was trying to hide the fact that these CDs are clearly bootlegs with a cheap sticker price, kudos for a killer facsimile. I'm sure Lars is thrilled.
I've started with Master of Puppets, and it's there I'll stay until I've fully absorbed it. Marathon discography-listening sessions are tiresome, and honestly, don't portray the panorama of an artist the way you might think it would. The story becomes blurred, and in this time of gotta-download-them-all, there's no attention to detail.
After only a few listens, "Master of Puppets" and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," quite simply, are masterpieces. The title track's attention to beauty, in particular, is defiant in the midst of controlled chaos. James Hetfield nearly melodically sings "Your life burns faster" in desperation before the Romantic double-lead guitars sweep us into the next section of chugging rage. It's one of those rare instances where the words are enhanced by the songwriting, a complex musical relationship I'd never expected out of Metallica.
Obey your master: Cut your hair. (Audio advisory: Some language not suitable for all ages.)
Master of Puppets, on the whole, is a vulnerable piece of work, set on edge by insanity, held back by fear. Smartly book-ending the album with straight-ahead thrash anthems, the sequence alternates heavily structured songs like "Disposable Heroes" with the standard verse-chorus-verse of "Leper Messiah." The latter doesn't do much for me on its own, but in the context of its sequence to a moody, almost droning instrumental, followed by the bash of "Damage, Inc.," it's a moment to breathe even while I bang my head.
I firmly believe that you hear an album or a song when you're supposed to. Music tends to align as it should, connecting the a-ha! moments of your sound world through personal discovery and research. It's disingenuous to force an experience on a listener, prescribing an ordered list of what to hear and when to hear it. If Pet Sounds comes to you late, then its pop revelations are all the sweeter. If, for some reason, you heard Slow Train Coming before Blonde on Blonde, working backwards from Bob Dylan's weird twists and turns offers a unique perspective. And, now that Master of Puppets has entered my lexicon, recent epiphanies with Agalloch, for just one small for-instance, are coming into view. For two bands on opposite ends of the metal spectrum, it's a bewildering surprise, but both are committed to gnarled beauty, just with different approaches.