(The album so poisonous that just creating it ended three marriages!)
With the so-called "Black Album," Metallica penetrated the enchanted realm of mainstream adoration and reaped the attendant benefits with all the relish four still-young hot-blooded males could muster. Sixteen million sold in their home country, thirty million worldwide. Metallica is the first demarcation between the band and their original fanbase.
At least you can hear the bass!
"Enter Sandman"--Their most famous song, whether you want it to be or not.
Don't fool yourselves, Metallica yearned to be rock gods from week one. They wanted those all-access passes to the world. You don't acquire those passes by selling a few hundred thousand records and playing the same thousand-capacity venues every tour. You get it by offering tasty bait for the potential listener to bite down upon. The listener who likes heavy music, but clean heavy music, with a polish so keen it gleams. Metallica wanted those people, and their monies, and with "Enter Sandman" they got 'em. Got 'em like an Alligator Snapping Turtle gets fish.
Fuck it. This is still a fantastic song. "Enter Sandman" makes me proud to be a fan of heavy metal. Immaculately structured, wonderfully executed, so evil and addictive it might as well have been released by Cadbury. Those guitars are the perfect tone for rock radio. Lars is already past his prime, but damned if doesn't beat the tom like Aunt Polly. It's not the band's fault idiots fell in love with their song.
I'm sure many hardcores had their stomachs plummet to their feet when they began hearing "Sandman" everywhere and realized that ubiquity is truly the enemy. Now everyone knows their secret! Aww. But no fan, no matter how many shirts or bootlegs they boasted in their collection, could know the agony of Dave Mustaine. By the fifth note, that guy knew he was destined to be number two for all eternity. He'd sell millions on his own merits, and it just wouldn't fucking matter. Because Metallica. Of course he dealt with his frustration and jealousy like a champ, claiming that his former band ripped off "Sandman"'s iconic riff from Excel's "Tapping Into An Emotional Void," which had been released just two years earlier. There is an undeniable similarity…but there are also a finite number of notes and chords for musicians to utilize in the creative process. More striking to me is how some people cannot let go of the past, even though they've achieved their own great success.
"Sad But True"--Now this? Is overrated. I'll blast "Sandman" any day. "Sad But True" comes on, I'm like, "Next song!" Everything reeks of effort and stale beer. The drone-y chorus is cool, but again, I so rarely even make it to that point.
On a related note, Kid Rock sucks more than burnt cinnamon rolls.
"Holier Than Thou"--Oh God, the production. With any testiculation, those guitars would sound fit to break brick. Instead they come off like Harry and Ron's first attempt at entering Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross. Great job, Bob Rock.
Brook no quarter! Suffer no fools! Willy no nilly! Post no bills!
"The Unforgiven"--The first of two ballads, and the only one that doesn't cause my face to swell up and my throat to constrict.
I still get baby goosebumps listening to this tender tale of one man's bitterly defiant stand. Hetfield's crooning is easy to poke at, but that's a disingenuous reaction. Yes, someone bemoaning their fate can be crazy annoying. But we're all prone to fits of dramatics. So as much as I want to snort, roll my eyes, and bust out a crappy imitation, I just can't. "You label me/I label you/So I dub thee Unforgiven." Ohh, you fucker, I can't hate this.
"Wherever I May Roam"--A sitar-sprinkled ode to the touring life. Metallica play, like, a lot of live shows.
When Bob Rock compared Hetfield's lyrics to the likes of Dylan, Lennon and Marley, he had one stanza in mind:
And the road becomes my bride
I have stripped of all but pride
So in her I do confide
And she keeps me satisfied
Nothing about this one evokes a obscenely-lit backstage area overflowing with drugs, alcohol and girls who look 16 going on whore. Pass.
"Don't Tread On Me"--The intro sounds like "The Shortest Straw" fighting off other songs.
Given that the band's last album was an unrepentantly critical look at the United States government, this jingoistic nut-grab is somewhat surprising. But then I remember…it's bad when the government treats us poorly. However, if those very same corrupt assholes wanna rain down death and pain on some other country? LOVE IT OR KICK ROCKS, MUTHAFUCKAS!
America vs. The World is like Jets vs. Sharks: as long as Rita Moreno is around, everyone is winning.
"Through the Never"--Metallica get universal--literally. Less excavated insight and more unshredded common sense, but that's pretty much to be expected. The chorus is so gloriously arrogant. There's a moment that Hetfield and band are one, it's brief, but it stings. It vibrates. It lingers.
"Nothing Else Matters"--I forever judge dudes who rung up their local rock radio station to dedicate this song to their especial ladies. Even if they regret their actions sincerely some twenty years later.
People in love can write great love songs. This is not a revelation. "Maybe I'm Amazed," for Christ's fucking sake! If you can listen to McCartney and not feel awe…then I guess you have a different opinion than me. That's cool. And I'm just using that one song as a superlative example. Any genre of music can boast numerous engaging love songs, even if they turn out a bit twisted or dark. Love is love, as they say.
Metallica gave us a straightforward romantic ballad that is as soft as Kirby sleeping on a bed made out of marshmallows. James Hetfield is so earnest, his emotions laid so bare, his singing so making me want to introduce strychnine into my diet. He is so into this woman, the way she has impacted his world so…impactfully, that he straight-up kicked Kirk Hammett in the face and said, "I'm doin' the solo on this one baby, yeah-yeaaah!"
All due credit for taking a chance. All due blame for blowing that chance. You will find me nom-nom'ing a bowl of rotted squash before you ever find me listening to "Nothing Else Matters."
And the woman he wrote it for isn't even the one he ended up marrying and having a quarter-dozen kids with! Also yeah, all the stuff in the lyrics about "open minds" and the importance of "trust" is super-rich coming from a homophobe with a history of philandering.
"Of Wolf and Man"--"I hunt/Therefore I am."
The very same words inked on Ted Nugent's left buttock, circling a deer head.
When it comes to songs that feature "Wolf" in the title, you're not going to top Duran Duran, so don't bother. "Of Pig and Man." Now that's fucking adamantium.
"The God That Failed"--One constant on the album are these nonsensical solos that start from absolutely nowhere. Kirk, my dear, you are letting down the team.
Hetfield's continuing story of the pain and abandonment he felt over his mother's unnatural death. The son is bitter as ever, but now moreso at Great Sky Man. The music remains stoic, lest he begin cracking and crying.
"My Friend of Misery"--The lessons are as follows:
Think--but not too much.
Fight--battles, not wars.
Write songs--four minutes long, not six
"The Struggle Within"--A high-energy Justice throwaway, but it contains one of the few sweet 'n' tasty solos to be savored on the whole album. The chorus is so good that it becomes self-conscious halfway through and sabotages itself. Very underrated track in their discog.
Metallica's first sell-out disc is….pretty good (though there are clear indicators that simplifying and streamlining their sound will make for much worse music in the future). Kirk Hammett's solos are mostly devoid of ingenuity. When it comes to great metal drummers, Lars Ulrich has officially dropped out of the discussion. Hetfield's syllable-stretching epitomizes metal, as does his rhythm work. Jason Newsted…was actually discernible in the mix. It's tempting to overrate Metallica through retrospective goggles, but I resist.
Just remember, guys: "If you can't handle Slayer, listen to Metallica."