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Metallica 

American hard-rock and heavy-metal were somewhat pedestrian and mainstream in the early to mid 80s, although the hardcore punk movement (BLACK FLAG, FEAR, et al) was luring back the punters, but then out of the underground mist came thrash/speed-metal protagonists METALLICA. High in energy and voltage, and without kow-towing too much to their sound and ideals, the mainstream success of their classic eponymous set in 1991 (at a time when grunge was seen as rock’s flag-bearer), was significant to a new generation of head-bangers.
Formed in Norvale, California in 1981 by Lars Ulrich (a Danish-born drummer who’d previously filled the stool for DIAMOND HEAD on a UK tour and whose songs METALLICA would later cover) and rhythm guitarist/singer James Hetfield, the group’s embryonic years owed as much to the ethos of DIY/punk as it did metal. Recruiting Lloyd Grand on guitar, the band recorded their first demo 7-inch `Let It Loose’. In early ‘82, Lloyd was replaced by future MEGADETH main-man Dave Mustaine (on lead), while Ron McGovney was brought in on bass for a cassette-only demo release, `To Life ‘Til Leather’.
After a brief period of relative stability, Mustaine was fired for drunkenness early the following year, as his replacement Kirk Hammett more than equalled his prowess and posture. By this point Cliff Burton (ex-Trauma) had already joined on bass following the departure of McGovney; this was the classic early METALLICA line-up that played on the first three albums, redefining the boundaries of metal and touring constantly.
Moving to New Jersey around this time, the quartet signed to John Zazula’s Megaforce label and unleashed their high octane debut set, KILL ‘EM ALL (1983) {*8} – licensed to Music For Nations for European release. While it certainly wasn’t without cliche, both lyrically and musically, there was a vibrancy in the speed and loudness of their sonic attack that drew on NWOBHM (IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST and the aforementioned DIAMOND HEAD), particularly in `Seek & Destroy’, a track that would come to be a staple of the band’s live set. The record also featured, horror of horrors, a track that consisted entirely of a bass solo: `(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth’. The presence of Mustaine still ghosted the band as four of the ten-strong set, namely `Jump In The Fire’, `Metal Militia’, `Phantom Lord’ and the 7-minute `The Four Horsemen’, took pride of place here.
But METALLICA weren’t trying to resurrect the indulgence of the 70s, their follow-up opus RIDE THE LIGHTNING (1984) {*8} confirming METALLICA’s status as one of the most inventive, promising bands in the metal canon. The group had welded a keening sense of melody to their visceral thrash, alternating between grinding, bass heavy, mid-tempo uber-riffing (the title track and `For Whom The Bell Tolls’) and all out pummelling (`Fight Fire With Fire’ and `Trapped Under Ice’). They even came close to ballad territory with the bleakly beautiful `Fade To Black’, arguably one of the best tracks the band have ever penned.
Then came MASTER OF PUPPETS (1986) {*9}, a masterful collection that rightfully saw METALLICA hailed as one of, if not the, foremost metal act in the world, at the heavier end of the spectrum at least. Opening with the relentless fury of `Battery’, followed by the epic, breath-taking dynamics of the title track, the album was almost flawless from start to finish, again using the combination of all-out thrashers alternated with bowel-quaking grinders (`The Thing That Should Not Be’, `Creeping Death’ and `Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’) to maximum effect. The album went Top 30 in the States without the help of a hit single or even radio play, eventually achieving platinum status.
The band subsequently toured with metal godfather, OZZY OSBOURNE, playing to rapturous crowds wherever they went. Disaster struck, however, when on September 27, 1986, the band’s tour bus crashed, Burton losing his life in the accident. METALLICA decided to carry on, replacing Cliff with Jason Newstead (ex-FLOTSAM & JETSAM) and fulfilling their touring commitments.
The following summer, the band released an EP of covers, `The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited’, a hotchpotch of inspired re-workings from the likes of DIAMOND HEAD (`Helpless’), BUDGIE (`Crash Course In Brain Surgery’), HOLOCAUST (`The Small Hours’) and The MISFITS (`Last Caress – Green Hell’). The record made both the UK and US Top 30, the US edition containing an extra former KILLING JOKE track, `The Wait’.
Their next album proper, …AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (1988) {*7}, was marred by overly ambitious structures and complex arrangements as well as a poor production, subduing the trademark gut intensity. Nevertheless, there were moments of brilliance, most notably with `One’, a distressing first person narrative of a soldier kept alive on a life support machine. The song almost made the UK Top 10, winning the band a Grammy the following year for Best Metal Performance. Chunky riffs and prog-metal-like excursions, there are some memorable tracks on board here, namely `Eye Of The Beholder’, `Harvester Of Sorrow’ and two near-ten-minute epics `To Live Is To Die’ and the title track’.
With their eponymous transatlantic chart-topper, METALLICA (1991) {*9}, the band entered the major league alongside the likes of R.E.M., U2 and contemporaries NIRVANA as one of the biggest rock bands in the world. The aptly named Bob Rock had given “The Black Album” a cleaner, “big rock” sound that complemented the more melodic and accessible material contained within. Not that METALLICA had gone limp on the Beavis & Butt-Head element of their fanbase, `Enter Sandman’ was as crunchingly heavy as ever, yet the single possessed a sufficiently strong melodic hook to see it go Top 5 in the UK. With `Nothing Else Matters’, METALLICA really had penned a WISHBONE ASH-esque ballad, replete with strings, which saw the band notch up another Top 10 UK hit. `The Unforgiven’, `Wherever I May Roam’ and `Sad But True’ also clocked up some chart status, while non-singles `Of Wolf And Man’ and `Holier Than Thou’ slipped into one’s subconscious with ease.
Dropped in as a stop-gap between studio sets, LIVE SH*T: BINGE & PURGE (1993) {*5} was an exhaustive boxed 3xcd set for catch-up fans. Recorded in Mexico City earlier that year, the record(s) were rather retrospective, while there was room for three covers, including former B-sides `Am I Evil?’ (DIAMOND HEAD) and `Stone Cold Crazy’ (QUEEN).
After undertaking the biggest tour heavy rock has ever seen (obliterating co-headliners GUNS N’ ROSES in the process), the band came back with another work of mature rock majesty, LOAD (1996) {*7}. From morbid metal to LYNYRD SKYNYRD-style rootsy acoustics, METALLICA once more developed and expanded their sonic palate, gaining widespread acclaim. The album (premiered by hits `Until It Sleeps’, `Hero Of The Day’, `Mama Said’ and `King Nothing’), went on to sell almost ten million copies, the band headlining the American Lollapolooza tour to promote it, again blowing most of the other acts away.
Not exactly the most prolific of bands by now, METALLICA surpassed themselves by releasing a successor to “Load” the following year, entitled, appropriately enough RE-LOAD {*6}. Comprising works in progress that would’ve had to have been shelved, this album was finalised in between touring and studio commitments, the best pieces stemming from `The Memory Remains’ (revealing backing vocals from MARIANNE FAITHFULL), a sequel in `The Unforgiven II’ and a third spawned hit `Fuel’. Many fans of the opinion that this was even better than its predecessor; lengthy finale epic `Fixxxer’ among its best curveballs.
Expanding their “Garage Days” covers EP to a double-disc extravaganza in GARAGE INC. (1998) {*6}, fans could possess all the METALLICA re-treads under one roof, the old and the new and everything in between were all on board here; namely `Free Speech For The Dumb’ + `The More I See’ (DISCHARGE), `It’s Electric’ + `The Prince’ (DIAMOND HEAD), `Sabbra Cadabra’ (BLACK SABBATH), `Turn The Page’ (BOB SEGER), `Die, Die My Darling’ (The MISFITS), `Loverman’ (NICK CAVE), `Mercyful Fate Medley: Evil – Curse Of The Pharaohs – Satan’s Fall – A Corpse Without Soul – Into The Coven’ (MERCYFUL FATE), `Astronomy’ (BLUE OYSTER CULT), `Whiskey In The Jar’ (trad/hit: THIN LIZZY), `Tuesday’s Gone’ (LYNYRD SKYNYRD), `Blitzkrieg’ (BLITZKRIEG), `Breadfan’ (BUDGIE), `Killing Time’ (SWEET SAVAGE), `So What’ (ANTI-NOWHERE LEAGUE), `Overkill’ + `Damage Case’ + `Stone Dead Forever’ + `Too Late Too Late’ (MOTORHEAD); further outtakes have included `Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue’ + `Cretin Hop’ (RAMONES).
While other heavy rock acts floundered under the weight of 90s expectations, METALLICA continued to innovate and energise a tired genre, even, God forbid, cutting their hair(!) in line with their new standing as the post-modern kings of metal. In the spring of ‘99, Hetfield, Ulrich and Co were planning an orchestrated performance with composer Michael Kamen at the helm of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, a “best of” double-disc live album S&M {*5} hitting a bemused public as Xmas approached.
Three years into the new millennium and with more than two decades into a genre-defining career – Newstead had made way for Robert Trujillo – METALLICA and fifth member/co-writer Bob Rock returned with ST. ANGER (2003) {*6}, the sonic brutality and unalloyed rage that had perhaps been missing in their recent work was on show here. Judging by the fear and loathing within these pulverising grooves, Hetfield’s recent stint in rehab seemed to have unlocked a fearsome closet of skeletons, the frontman raging at the world and, in the process, unleashing a momentum that had his band members caged-in from the opening bars of `Frantic’ and the title track; `Some Kind Of Monster’, `The Unnamed Feeling’ and `Dirty Window’ as threatening and confrontational as anything that blasted from the band from any era.
In 2004, METALLICA released their warts ’n’ all documentary film/DVD/mini-CD, SOME KIND OF MONSTER {*4} – one had to bow to their master therapist, Phil Towle. Not exactly a bona fide full-set although running in a 45 minutes (which used to be par for the course), one could easily file this under a compilation, although mostly recorded in Paris, France 2003 to promote “St. Anger”.
Five years seemed to be the cut-off period in which albums would surface, and DEATH MAGNETIC (2008) {*7} resurrected the METALLICA of old – Hammett afforded space and time in the studio to perfect the group’s long-lost guitar flourishes/solos by enigmatic producer Rick Rubin. Hetfield, Ulrich, Trujillo and Hammett melded the chaos of their previous battles in the studio with a tight and intense revisit of the thrash-y halcyon days. From the perennial sequel, `The Unforgiven III’ to `The Day That Never Comes’, `The Judas Kiss’ and `Cyanide’, each lengthy piece seemed meticulously menacing. Three years down the line, one would either hate or loathe the unsettling but unique collaboration that was LOU REED & METALLICA’s `Lulu’ set.
While anticipating the possibility of some fresh material, the rockumentary bug was upon Hetfield and Co for stop-gap motion picture soundtrack delivery, THROUGH THE NEVER (2013) {*7}. While it was best described as a live double album accompanying a cinematic movie (and featuring an opening with the legend scores-meister, ENNIO MORRICONE), it was basically a run-through of their best-ofs, much improved on talk-show “Some Kind Of Monster”. You name it, it’s here, METALLICA in their element, live and extremely dangerous.
Prophetic and poignant in its doomsday title, METALLICA’s first studio set in eight years, the double HARDWIRED… TO SELF-DESTRUCT (2016) {*8}, was a pounding display of classic speed metal. Half a dozen tracks on each drama-fuelled disc, the record embraced old-school heavy-metal, while air-guitar groovers might yet adopt a Mohican-styled crop while thrashing to the aesthetics of machine-gunning sprawls from `Hardwired’ to `Spit Out The Bone’. Fierce, fast and furious on its way to a nihilistic netherworld, the No.1-selling set had great moments in `Atlas, Rise!’, `Now That We’re Dead’, `Moth Into Flame’ and `Dream No More’, while the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Hetfield, Ulrich, Trujillo and Hammett) were as uncompromising and empowering as ever.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/BG-GRD/LCS // rev-up MCS Jun2012-Nov2016

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