Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Right Kind of Monster

Hello. My name is Eric, and I'm a metalhead. Yes, when my peers were listening to Morrisey and the Cure, I was attending Van Halen concerts and buying Iron Maiden tapes. As a consequence, my reactions have been very mixed watching what's happened to Metallica in recent years. Sure, Lars Ulrich has had a reputation as a whiny bitch for a while, but while his crusade against Napster, as he put it, made him "the most hated man in rock and roll", there is a more nuanced position to see there-- if you don't overlook, as many did, Metallica's explicit policy for over a decade now of allowing, even encouraging, fans to bootleg their live shows. The irony there, of course, is that for most bands that aren't Metallica, the live shows are the ones that make them money, and the CDs are usually a net loss.

But I'm not talking about the causes and effects of piracy on content producers and middlement, I'm talking about Metallica. The band that played music to make your ears bleed by. The band that kicked so much ass in the '80s that they were practically synonymous with hardcore metal (Poison fans can go sit in the corner-- they were early '90s anyway). After "Metallica" (a.k.a. the Black Album), a lot of people, myself included, felt they'd lost their edge; they were heading in a more bluesy, melodic direction. James Hetfield was singing on this album! WTF!

Since that watershed album, they released Load and Reload, two albums that definitely continued the trend, going even further outside Metallica's traditional territory. None of this was bad, mind you, and I applaud them for daring to be experimental, but it wasn't the Metallica we all grew up with, the one that was badder-than-thou to, well, pretty much everybody. This was a kinder, gentler Metallica. They then came out with Garage, Inc., a mixed collection of covers "Stone Cold Crazy" rocked, and even "Whiskey in the Jar" wasn't bad-- but Metallica covering an Irish drinking song?!? WTF?!?), and S&M was an interesting take on a Greatest Hits album, recorded with the San Francisco Symphony. The only sad part was that given their direction, it wasn't anywhere nearly as surprising as it might have been had it followed "And Justice for All", or even "Metallica".

But now we have "St. Anger", and hot damn, Metallica is BACK, motherfucker! This is the album I've been waiting for all these years, and it's why I loved Metallica in the first place. Though it's sadly devoid of ultra-bitchin' guitar solos from Kirk Hammett, this is the hardest disc I've heard in a LONG time. There are a few missteps-- the lyrics for "The Unnamed Feeling" just sounds like they're trying too hard-- but songs like "Shoot Me Again", "Some Kind of Monster", "Dirty Window" and my favourite, the lead-off song "Frantic", hit me right where I live.

This is a Metallica that's angry again. But they're not teenagers anymore either-- they're not just angry, lashing out indiscriminately. James Hetfield went into rehab shortly after starting this album, and came out with a clearer vision, I think, than he's ever had as a lyricist. This is a healthy anger that isn't directed at himself, nor even the world in general, but specifically at the parts that get in the way of what he wants. It's hard to put into words, but if there's any Metallica fans out there that haven't got this album, do. You'll see what I mean.

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