1988 saw Metallica with three albums behind them and, following the death of Cliff Burton two years before, with a new bassist in the form of the never-to-be a long-term feature Jason Newsted. Within the band it seemed new ideas were developing and many see this as their last truly ‘metal’ album, the one before they went stratospheric with the release in 1991 of ‘The Black Album’.
Going back 30 years, I recall being a little unsettled by the ‘stop-start’ and stuttering nature of the tracks, some which seemed to have three or four ideas for songs jammed together in one. It took me some time to get into it, in fact it may have been years later, when the follow-up album blew my mind, that I returned to it and tried again properly. Now as time has moved on and, as the band have made this style their own, it all seems perfectly sensible. Perhaps at that time I was hearing the birth of a more progressive metal.
Just listen again to ‘One’ and hear it swing from an almost acoustical phase right into a full-on wall of metal via some frantic shouting and then stop, all too quickly. The somewhat overlooked, and hardly ever played live, ‘To live is to die’ carries on the bizarre behaviour with an acoustic piece inexplicably slotted in between neck-breaking riffs of full-on Metallica.
So here we have nine songs, none of which runs to under five minutes, and enhanced from the somewhat flat previous production. The stand-out tracks are still ‘Blackened’, ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ and of course ‘One’, all of which have featured in the band’s live set-list throughout the years. Strangely very few of the others have, some only being played on the odd occasion. That maybe says a lot…
The lyrics of the album are a bit more in-depth from the shouting and aggressive nature of the ones on their previous releases and deal with the environment (yes you read correctly, some rockers other than U2 have conscience) in ‘Blackened’, and the obvious subject of corruption featured in the title track. For me, ‘One’ is still and odd choice of subject, written from the perspective of a limbless war veteran pleading for death. Like most fans I only got that when I saw the video the band produced for the track some years later, at which time it all made sense.
The 30th anniversary re-mastered version of Rolling Stones’ No 21 ‘Greatest Heavy Metal Album of All Time’ is certainly worth a listen, even to us owners of the original LP… and the CD which eventually replaced it. In one playing it should go some way to explain how the bad evolved from the rough and ready ‘Kill ‘em all’ to the slick multi-million selling, stadium filling, Grammy winning, behemoth that they are in 2018.
Live, Metallica are a sight to behold, even if you’re not that into them, and should be on everyone’s gig bucket list. They’re back in the UK in June next year playing stadium gigs in London and Manchester. Get there!