A new series in which I take the back catalogue of some of my fav. bands and choose my fav. song from each album. First up…. Metallica.
KILL ‘EM ALL (1983)
SONG: The Four Horsemen
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Whiplash, No Remorse, Seek and Destroy
Ahhhh Kill ‘Em All. The debut full-length release. I have a difficult relationship with this album. I find the production a bit thin and I’m not overly enamoured with Hetfield’s voice. But this is an album of its time. In 1983, Metallica were essentially taking the blueprints of NWOBHM and Motorhead and smashing them together to find their own sound. ‘Hit The Lights’ is, lyrically speaking, the first cousin of Diamond Head’s ‘It’s Electric‘ (which the band made explicit on Garage Inc.). ‘Jump In The Fire’ takes it’s cues from Iron Maiden, with it’s melody-meets-metal sound. Motorbreath…. well that one is self-explanatory.
It’s only really on ‘The Four Horsemen’ that Metallica really indicate the way they will head over the next 3 albums. With it’s ferocious main riff, melodic middle section breakdown and apocalyptical lyrics, it’s the only track on the album that could easily be on any of 80’s albums. I don’t think the influence of Dave Mustaine can be too overstated here. It’s my opinion that he introduced a level of technicality into Metallica that might well have not appeared had he have not spent time in the band. The songs he co-wrote on the album show a keen awareness to structure and variation. Although thank God they changed the lyrics from the Carry On-fest that was ‘The Mechanix’.
So gather ’round young warriors now and saddle up your steeds……
RIDE THE LIGHTNING (1984)
SONG: Creeping Death
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Ride The Lightning, Fade To Black, For Whom The Bell Tolls
Most bands suffer from second album syndrome, it seems. When you release your first album, generally speaking, it’s the songs that you’ve spent months/years writing and honing, gigging and playing for an extended period of time. Second albums can be more problematic. There might be less time to write, pressure with expectations from the fan base or the record label. But in a foreshadowing of what is to come, Metallica defy expectations and release an album that is, for some fans, the best of the Burton-era albums.
‘Creeping Death’ is a monster of a track. It’s angular and aggressive musically, the breathing space provided by the chorus riff is a perfect counterpoint to the relentless verse riff (whilst at the same temp it’s less ‘busy’). Lyrically the songs details the Plagues of Egypt, taking it’s cue from ‘The Four Horsemen’, details impending disaster of a Biblical nature. One of my favourite parts of the song is the growling sound of Cliff Burton’s bass. It’s not hugely clear on the album version, but thanks to Guitar Hero: Metallica, some bright spark has isolated all the related tracks so we can now hear Cliff’s glorious note choice and playing in jaw-dropping clarity.
So let it be written, so let it be done….
MASTER OF PUPPETS (1986)
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Disposable Heroes, Battery, The Thing That Should Not Be
Where do you start with Master of Puppets?!? Each and every song on this album is a classic. The quality of the writing and playing is just outstanding. There’s a reason why the title track is the most played song in the course of the live history (closely followed by my previous song choice…). Often touted as the best album in their catalogue, Puppets holds a special place in the heart of fans. The quality of song writing aside, it’s also the last album to feature Cliff Burton, who lost his life at a tragically young age. This tied in with the longevity of the music has now raised this album to bear-mythic status.
So, choosing one track was really difficult. I did toy with the idea of simply listing the whole album, but that’s not really fair is it? So my criteria became more about the song I love to hear, the song that doesn’t get enough airtime at gigs. And whilst the band played the album in its entirety throughout their 2006 tour, ‘Orion’ is still the track that should get played more. As a bass player perhaps I am slightly biased towards this song, but it IS a great tune. It’s melodic and heavy, melancholic and uplifting, dark and light. Played at his funeral in ’86, Burton left an indelible mark of Metallica’s legacy this is a fitting tribute to him.
Sadly, there are no versions of the full song played live with Cliff. So here’s the stunning album version.
….AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (1988)
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: One, The Shortest Straw, Dyers Eve
So in an interesting twist of normality, Metallica have the difficult second album syndrome on their fourth album. I mean, there’s going against the grain and then there’s going against the grain. Gone was the warm yet incisive sound of Puppets and in its place was a dry, in your face, bass-less treble attack. It’s not without its charms but amongst the catalogue regularly divides fans into those who love it and those who want it remixed. Me? I’m in the former. Not that I would be against hearing a proper remixed version but my fear would be that it would turn into something akin to the Megadeth remixes from a few years back which, for me, radically altered the album. To the point where I choose not to listen to them. Too weird.
My first choice for this album was going to be ‘One’. That was my entry record to Metallica and still stands up as a masterpiece to this day. But that would have that been too obvious. I thought of one of the deeper cuts but this track kept floating to the top. It’s the one song from this album I would put on a mixtape for a Metallica newbie. It’s not wholly indicative of the album, being one of the shorter less proggy tracks, but it still has an abundance of twists and turns that keep the listener on his/her toes. The main riff is just face-meltingly aggressive, the vocals barked at you like a drill sergeant, Kirk’s solo slices through the barrage of metal and Lars starts as he means to go on, by playing his tiny Danish arse off. It’s no surprise that the next album that came along saw the band easing off the accelerator pedal; they must have been knackered.
To begin whipping dance of the dead….
SONG: Sad But True
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Through The Never, My Friend Of Misery, The Unforgiven
Let’s just clear something up before we go on. Bob Rock didn’t ‘make’ Metallica “sell out” or change their sound or any of the other crap that “old school” fans like to trot out so often. It’s been well documented that the band resisted most of Bob’s suggestions and guidance and that it was a struggle to make the record. A band who were used to doing exactly what they wanted collides with a producer who is used to getting exactly what he wanted. But out of this tension (and eventual middle ground) comes the best sounding Metallica album had put to tape up until that point. Gone were the complex structures and time changes of Justice, the outward looking lyrics of Puppets and in came a new more groove orientated style.
Another tough album to pick from. It was a tie between ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Sad But True’. To this day I can and will listen to Sandman in any form. I love that song. It’s just heavy and melodic and fun! It’s one of the first songs I learnt on bass (a lot of open E so no great shakes!), I remember one of my formative bands had a guy in it who could play the solo. We spent about 2 hours just playing this one song. But….. the crunch, the weight, the shear HEAVY of ‘Sad But True’ won the day.
Bob Rock described it as the Kashmir of the 90s, co-manager Cliff Bernstein describes it as music to pull teeth to. All I know is that this is a monster of a track. Now if we could only convince the band to slow the tempo down when they play it live these days…..
I’m inside, open your eyes, I’m you…..
LIVE SHIT: BINGE & PURGE (1993)
SONG: Seek and Destroy
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Fade To Black, Stone Cold Crazy, Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
A live album? Whaaaaat? Well it IS listed as an album on the official discography page of their site. Plus I think that songs are different beasts live, filled with more energy and spontaneity then their studio counterparts. And nowhere is this best exemplified in the 18m08s sing-a-long version of Seek.
Back in the early 90s I was an avid bootleg collector. Trading tapes with even the most tenuous of connections. In fact it was in this manner that I cemented a friendship that would help shape my musical output for the next decade. More on that later. I was aware prior to this official release that Seek and Destroy was something of an extended jam and that it involved the audience a great deal. Again, as a bass player, this was great fun to play along to given that the bulk of the song featured only bass and drums. It gave me a chance to stretch out and jam some fills and whatnot.
So why did I choose this song for this album yet ignore it on Kill ‘Em All? Because this version is the embodiment of Metallica live: a communion between the band and its audience. It would be many years (and almost breaking up) before the phrase ‘Metallica family;’ would be uttered on stage, but in this 1993 recordiing, nothing is more apparent. Watching the video in this box set, seeing James getting in the faces of the front row, grabbing hands, sharing the mic it was confirmation that as much as the energy from the stage dictated the show so too did the energy and passion coming from off the floor.
Hey! Wake up fucks. We ain’t done yet…..