Years ago, I made a critical comment about Metallica to a friend of mine. It was something along the lines of: I didn’t understand their musical direction anymore. My friend suggested that I was being too doctrinaire. I’ve been thinking about that for a long time. For me, it’s always been Kill Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and And Justice for All. I liked Metallica (the black album) well enough; though, I thought the vision for that album was mostly about making the music simpler in order to facilitate commercial success and mega-stardom for the band. After that, I didn’t pay attention to them. Load was a load. St. Anger had potential but seemed very uneven and kind of thrown together. The rest since then I’ve done without.
This last week, I looked up some of the bands I haven’t listened to in years, including Metallica, and now I remember why. Country?* Opera? Okay. On one hand, I like that. It’s weird to have a bunch of guys who used to write songs about Cthulhu, retribution, witches, and serial killers do something entitled “Mama Said” with twangy steel guitars and Stetsons. I like that in a perverse kind of way (though I wished there could have been at least a small human sacrifice going on in the background of the video).
On the other hand, I really, really tried to like Death Magnetic. But after exploring it and thinking carefully about the songs, I had to conclude there was something missing. It has never felt anything but soulless to me—and not in a good Lovecraftian sort of way. It’s like they were trying hard to recapture some of their early sound. Without a doubt, they’re highly capable musicians. But it felt cold, technical, overproduced, and uninspired the way “Fuel” always feels—like I’m hearing Metallica Revisited, like they’re now a tribute band to their earlier selves.
So today, sitting at my computer, thinking, well if I’m going to be doctrinaire, then let me be doctrinaire, I clicked on a YouTube copy of Machine Head’s The Blackening and nearly leapt out of my chair. THIS. THIS was what I felt when I first heard “The Four Horsemen.” Machine Head isn’t trying to sound like early Metallica, but sometimes they do. And they have that same edge—a certain emotional authenticity along with the technical precision. It was something Metallica once brought to rock. I think it’s gone to others now.
* Apparently this is on Load and I simply disbelieved / edited it out of my conscious awareness back when I first listened to the album. I’m sure there’s a repressed memory of hearing it somewhere back there.