Metallica – “Helping Hands… Live & Acoustic At The Masonic” (2019)

As soon as I got the email from Metallica a few months back about their upcoming live (and acoustic!) charity double-album Helping Hands… Live & Acoustic At The Masonic I ordered a copy.  I’ve been a fan of the band since the 1980s, I know how good they are live, and… and… it’s acoustic?!  Could be amazing.  Or it could suck royally.  But there’s only one way to find out.

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My vinyl copy arrived unexpectedly today (I’m writing this on February 2), and it’s a beautiful package – gatefold, some great photos inside, and the records on blue marble vinyl.  Plus tucked way in the back of one of the openings I tracked down my download card.  Pretty much everything I could ask for.

I was surprised to see the album opens with “Disposable Heroes”, an insanely fast and powerful song that truly lives up to the label “metal”.  How were they going to do an acoustic version of this?  Well, they did.  It has an oddly folk feel to it, more in the English tradition, complete with mandolin rhythms.  It was quite a way to start, and it came together pretty well.

From there we move on to the first cover on Helping Hands… – Deep Purple’s “When A Blind Man Cries” off the 1972 album Never Before.  A full third of the album’s songs are covers:

  • “When A Blind Man Cries” by Deep Purple from Helping Hands (1972)
  • “Please Don’t Judas Me” by Nazareth from Hair Of The Dog (1975)
  • “Turn The Page” by Bob Seger from Back In ’72 (1973)
  • “Veteran Of The Psychic Wars” by Blue Öyster Cult from Fire Of Unknown Origin (1981)

Metallica are no strangers to covers, and they’ve put out versions of at least some of these in the past, so no surprises here.  Plus they often choose deep cuts, which is more interesting than playing the hits.

A number of the Metallica tunes lend themselves quite well to the acoustic treatment.  Songs like “The Unforgiven”, “Nothing Else Matters”, and “Enter Sandman” didn’t require much alteration to work in a more chill delivery, and all of them sound fantastic (the recording quality is excellent).  As an old school fan, however, I was hoping for a bit more early material on Helping Hands…  Unfortunately we only get two songs from the pre-Metallica (aka Black Album) era – the aforementioned “Disposable Heroes” from Master Of Puppets and the second-to-last number “The Four Horsemen” from Kill ‘Em All.  I’m surprised “One” didn’t make it because it would have been a perfect fit, and I think “For Whom The Bell Tolls” could have been epic.  I’d have happily traded a couple of the covers for a few more originals (but not “Turn The Page”, which is tremendous).  Kudos to the band, though, for including “All Within My Hands” from the much-maligned and very underrated St. Anger (♠), an album that I suspect will someday get its due and be seen as a something unique in the Metallica cannon.

Helping Hands… is a win and a worthy addition to the Metallica catalog.

(♠)  “All Within My Hands” is also the name of Metallica’s charitable foundation which provides money to a range of local and national charities.  Helping Hands… was a fundraiser for that foundation.  You can find out more about it HERE.

The Best of 2017

Unlike many Life in the Vinyl Lane blogs, I’m writing this one on the same day I’m posting it.  It’s Christmas morning, and out my living room window I can see the rare Seattle white Christmas in effect as we got about three inches of snow last night, which is a nice touch (it’ll be even nicer if it’s all melted off the roads by time I have to leave for work on Wednesday morning…).  But since we don’t have kids and both of us have very small immediate families, this morning is much like any other winter-time weekend, only with different holiday-themed coffee cups.

Going into 2017 I decided to start keeping a log to help me with my year-end lists, and while I wasn’t as diligent as I’d have liked it still was a big help, especially in the area of new releases.  There was a lot of great new music this year!  In fact, there was so much that the choices weren’t all that easy to make.  Since Holly and I both have project management backgrounds, though, we were able to come up with a solution – we created a scrum board of our favorite 16 releases of 2017 and then used a random number generator to select which one we would play every night as we worked our way through them.  And I’m glad we did, because there were some albums from earlier in the year that had fallen off our radars a bit, and man they sounded great when we came back around to them.

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In preparation I also spent a few hours combing through the top albums lists of various major (and minor) publications and blogs.  Perhaps even more so in years past I was struck by two things.  The first is how few of the albums on other lists I’ve heard.  In fact, when it came to the major pubs (think Rolling Stone, SPIN, NME…) I literally had only heard ONE album on any of these lists – Songhoy Blues’ Résistance, which appeared at #31 on the Rolling Stone list, though nowhere else.  The only other one I found was in The Quietus‘ top metal albums list, having heard and reviewed Sólstafir’s Berdreyminn.    So at least there’s that.  Only Dr. Rok’s list of Top 20 Icelandic releases yielded any common ground – I’ve heard 14 of these, which probably is indicative of the real issue here, which is that I listen to a lot of Icelandic music, and that stuff doesn’t generally make the year-end lists with a few exceptions.  And that brings me to my second observation.  I’m surprised how many of the bands on these lists I have never even heard of.  In fact, on most lists I’m lucky to have heard of maybe a quarter of the artists, sometimes less.  For a guy who writes a music blog, I sure don’t seem to know much about what’s happening in music.

All that being said, the scrum board has been taken down and the votes tallied.  So without further ado…

Top 5 New Releases In 2017

  1. Neysluvara – Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Midnight Champion – Legend (Iceland)
  3. Suero – Farmacia (Argentina)
  4. Space Cadaver – Space Cadaver (US – New Orleans)
  5. Sports – Fufanu (Iceland)

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There were two albums I knew were going to be in my Top 5 even before the scrum board experiment – Neysluvara and Midnight Champion.  They were clearly head-and-shoulders above all comers in 2017.  While Legend held an edge over Hatari by virtue of the fact that they put out a full album while their island-mates only gave us a four-song EP (and one that was only on CD to boot!), we were both simply blown away by Hatari.  Neysluvara‘s brand of IDM has been pumping out of my iPod almost non-stop over the last two months and it doesn’t get old.  If I’m being honest Hatari probably gets a little extra lift by the fact that we saw them live this year and they blew us away.  I get that that shouldn’t impact a top album kind of thing, but as Holly pointed out, this is a blog and music is a personal experience, and it’s hard to separate out those personal experiences from the music itself.  So as much as I love Midnight Champion, both musically and lyrically, I’m giving the top spot by Hatari.

Suero had fallen off the radar for a while and revisiting it reminded me of just how good it is.  If there’s one thing that separates it from Space Cadaver and Sports, it’s the sonic experimentation the Argentinian’s do.  Sure, it’s all electronic music; but it’s all over the board, from pure dance numbers to crazy experiments.  And I’d be lying if the personal connection we made with the Sima brothers earlier this year on our visit to Buenos Aires didn’t have an impact on my feelings about this album.  Space Cadaver is unquestionably my favorite metal album of 2017, and while I think it’s only available on cassette you owe it to yourself to get a copy and go buy a cheap boom box at the pawn shop so you can listen to it (or, of course, simply buy a download, you know, if you’re lazy like that), and Fufanu hit it out of the post-punk park with Sports.  From a genre standpoint I’m very happy with this Top 5 list as there’s great stuff here for people of almost any musical taste.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Farmacia (Argentina)
  3. Kuldaboli (Iceland)
  4. Revenge of Calculon (UK)
  5. Egyptian Lover (US)

I’ve already touched on the top two bands on this list, so let me move on to the next three.  Kuldaboli’s Vafasamur Lífsstíll 2015-2016 came out at the very end of 2016, and if I’d heard it then instead of early this year it probably would have made my top five new releases list last year – it’s that good.  I got to see him perform live at Lucky Records during Airwaves this years as well as chat with him for a few minutes – good dude.  We caught Revenge of Calculon live in the cramped, damp confines of Dillon on the last day of Airwaves and they killed it with their brand of electro-movie-horror-funk and since then I’ve picked up all four of their 7″ records.  As for Egyptian Lover… how had I gone this long without ever having heard the Lover before??  I can thank our friend Ingvar for this one.  We were chatting about music over dinner when he visited Seattle and was dumbfounded by my lack of Egyptian experience.  The next day at Silver Platters he walked up to me with a box set, pressed it in my hands, and said “you need to buy this”.  And he was right. Takk, Ingvar!

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

  1. “Tug of War” b/w “Give Me the Knife” – Connections
  2. Driving the Bats Thru Jerusalem – Bonemen of Barumba
  3. 20 Jazz Funk Greats – Throbbing Gristle
  4. Special Offer – Sensational
  5. Suero – Farmacia

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Four of the five items on this list have some kind of personal connection, actually resulting in me becoming connected with the artists.  The totally random pick-up of the Connections 7″ led me to former member Nolan Anderson and his lovely wife Catherine, who today perform as the Mad Andersons.  I was able to provide a ripped copy of the songs to Nolan, which he hadn’t heard in decades, and that made me feel really good.

My post on Bonemen of Barumba somehow found its way to former founding member Mark Panick, who stunned me when he posted on Facebook that he liked the fact that I obviously “got it” in terms of what the band was doing.  We later connected online, only to come to find out that we have a friend in common – the one and only Ingvar of Reykjavik’s Lucky Records.  Mark even sports a Lucky t-shirt in a video he was in earlier this year.  Ingvar struck again with Sensational, who I turned him onto during his trip to Seattle and who he then, against all logical odds, ran into randomly on the streets of NYC just days later.  That led to me Facebook messaging with Sensational a bit and buying some mail order from him.

Oddly enough Iceland also played a part in us connecting with Ariel and Diego Sima of Farmacia in Buenos Aires – their album Suero was put out on cassette by Reykjavik’s Lady Boy Records.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the brothers while in Argentina and picked up a bunch of their back catalog from them.  As for Throbbing Gristle… this one was purely about acquisition.  My local record haunt Vortex posted on FB that they’d just acquired a bunch of experimental stuff from a local DJ and I immediately wend down to the store where I scored a couple of great condition TG titles, a great opportunity to explore some of the early works of the pioneers of industrial music.

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. Hatari – Gamla Bíó, Reykjavik
  2. Sir Mix-A-Lot – Nectar Lounge, Seattle
  3. Metallica – CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  4. Revenge of Calculon – Dillon, Reykjavik
  5. GusGus – Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik

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I thought I had this list wrapped up about a week ago.  And I did.  At least until we headed out to Nectar Lounge on Dec. 23 and caught Sir Mix-A-Lot live, which forced me into a last-minute revision.

I covered the Hatari, Revenge of Calculon, and Gusgus shows in my various posts from Iceland Airwaves this year, and actually did the same about Metallica when I wrote about the live CD of this actual show.  Each of these shows gave me something different.  Hatari was a brilliant performance, an integration of stage presence and music; Metallica was a chance to revisit my youth, the first time I’d seen the masters of thrash live since the late 1980s; Revenge of Calculon was one of those great unexpected surprises you sometimes get at live shows; and Gusgus… what more can I say about Gusgus?  They gave us a 90 minute set that had the crowd swaying and dancing the entire time and were musically brilliant as always.

As for Mix-A-Lot, he’s Seattle hip hop royalty and his 1986 debut LP Swass spent a lot of time in the cassette player of my ’84 Mustang when I was in high school.  He did shows on back-to-back nights at the intimate Nectar Lounge (max capacity 400) in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood last weekend and we had a blast at the Saturday night gig.  In addition to some new stuff, Mix gave us a ton of classics like “Testarossa”, “Beepers”, “My Hooptie”, “Swass”, and even a little “Buttermilk Biscuits”.  Of course he also played his mega-hit “Baby Got Back”, but as a Seattleite and long-time Sir Mix-A-Lot fan there was one song I HAD to hear, and he gave it to us – “Posse on Broadway”.  Rest assured Mix fans, he’s still got it.  Posse up!

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
2.  Daybreak Records, Seattle
3.  Disko Obscura, New Orleans
4.  Skully’z Recordz, New Orleans
5.  Extremem Noise Records, Minneapolis

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Smekkleysa, Reykjavik
4.  Tempo Musica, Buenos Aires
5.  Reykjavik Flea Market

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I swear, much of these lists don’t change don’t change from year to year.  It would be a weird for Easy Street not to be #1 for me in North America given how often we go there, though the relatively new Daybreak Records definitely gives Easy Street a run for its money in the area of used vinyl.  Our trip to New Orleans didn’t yield a ton of music, but Disko Obscura’s collection of great synth albums was well worth the visit and the guy over at Skully’z turned us on to Space Cadaver and some good punk and metal stuff, which was cool.  I’ve been to Minneapolis a bunch of times, but somehow never made it to Extreme Noise, an oversight I was glad to correct this year – tons of great punk and metal there.  We have a trips to Portland (OR) and Denver already on the books for the first half of 2018, so I definitely have some more good record shopping in my future.

We didn’t do as much international travel this year has we have in the recent past, only visiting two countries – Iceland and Argentina (hard to say we “only” got to take two international trips this year… we’re super-fortunate to be able to travel as much as we do). Unfortunately the one thing we found to be expensive in Argentina was vinyl, which was seemingly completely out of whack with reality.  I found some exciting early punk stuff, but at $150+ per record US I just couldn’t do it.  I broke down and picked up a couple of titles, but our best success was in the tiny Tempo Musica where we loaded up on local CDs thanks to a lot of help from the owner (and some recommendations from a couple of guys working at a food truck earlier in the day!).  The rest of the shops are all in Reykjavik and you’ve likely heard me prattle on about them endlessly in the past, but all are great places to check out should you find yourself in Iceland.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti
  2. Lou Reed:  A Life by Anthony DeCurtis
  3. Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 by Cyn Collins
  4. Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!: The True Story of Frank the Shank and L.A.’s Deadliest Punk Rock Gang by Heath Mattioli and David Spacone
  5. I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell

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I didn’t do as much music reading this year as I have in years past – probably only 7-8 books total.  That being said, I’m comfortable in recommending all of these to you.  Art Sex Music is head and shoulders above the rest, giving us as it does a glimpse into the 1970s experimental scene in the UK by Throbbing Gristle member and artist Cosey Fanni Tutti.  Tutti isn’t afraid to let us know anything about her life and art, and her seemingly near-complete transparency makes for a powerful, if at times sad, read.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and her work.  DeCurtis’ book on Lou Reed was deeply researched and I was primarily drawn to the more pure biographical aspects of the narrative, not so much the minutiae of Reed’s individual releases.  Complicated Fun is an entertaining and informative oral history of the Minneapolis scene, one that in many ways is reminiscent of Seattle’s, while the last two are entertaining first person tellings of hard punk rock lives.  It also features our very own Kevin Cole from Seattle’s KEXP radio, as Kevin was a noted DJ and record store owner in Minneapolis during the era.  it’s a small, small world.

 

Well, there you have it, my faithful readers.  Thank you, as always, for your support and comments.  While at times the pure need to write overwhelms me to the point where I feel like it’s something I have to do in order to not spontaneously combust, Life in the Vinyl Lane doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it’s put me in touch with some amazing people over the years, perhaps no year more so than 2017.  And it’s these connections that make it a truly special experience.  So no matter where you’re reading this, I say “thank you”, and I’ll see you in 2018!

Metallica – “August 9, 2017 – Seattle, Washington” (2017)

The first time I saw Metallica perform live was in Seattle at the Kingdome on July 27, 1988, the second-to-last stop on the Monsters of Rock Tour featuring them, Kingdom Come, Dokken, Scorpions, and Van Hagar.  It was right before …And Justice for All came out and of my group of friends at the show that hot summer afternoon I think I’m the only one who knew any of their music, though it’s not like I was a big fan, I’d just heard Master of Puppets a handful of time at my friend Jason’s house.  It was a hell of a show.

The second time I saw Metallica live was almost exactly 29 years later, in a different stadium that stood literally where the Kingdome used to stand before it was imploded in 2000.  We were at the south end of the stadium toward the top of the lower bowl… roughly in the same spot I sat for Monsters of Rock.

Two shows, one band, 29 years apart, and in almost the identical cartesian location.  It trips me out just thinking about it.

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In many ways the shows couldn’t be more different.  Metallica is mainstream now, with pyro and huge screens and entire tractor trailers (literally) full of merch, a far cry from the underground thrash band that was on the verge of exploding with their first major hit.  You can hear Metallica playing in supermarkets now.  It is what it is.

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As for the merch, Metallica have been putting out their live shows for quite a while, and with my ticket purchase I got an email offering me a two CD copy of the Seattle show for something like twenty-five bucks.  Now I’ve heard about these live recordings, both complaints about the sound quality form prior tours and the complaining on Discogs about how these things have totally f’ed up the Metallica discography.  But I’m 40-something-years-old and don’t need a Metallica shirt or poster or coozy, so why not get a recording of the show?

Well, it showed up in mail the other day.  And it’s pretty damn good.  I assume this was mic’ed through the soundboard, and it’s clear the crowd up front was also mic’ed because you can hear them throughout the recording, something that wasn’t audible from my seats out in what was the first base line of the ghost of the Kingdome.  In fact by time “For Whom the Bell Tolls” kicks in I find myself wanting to pour a big Jack Daniels and close the laptop.  So I think that’s what I’m going to do.

If you are on the fence about one of these CDs for a show you attend, they’re worth it.  Now if you’ll excuse me…

Metallica – “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct” (2106)

He didn’t know who was more nervous about the impending conversation, him or his 12-year-old son.  “Come on over here, Jimmy.  I’ve got something to talk with you about.  Now that you’ve reached a certain age, you’re old enough to know about this.  Hell, I’m not stupid, you’ve probably already heard the other kids talking about this at school.  Well, they’re a bunch of kids just like you, and chances are none of them really have any idea what they’re talking about, so I want you to hear it from me.  To hear the truth of it.  And after I explain everything, we can talk about it more of you have any questions.  We can talk about it any time you want, Jimmy.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Jimmy, I need to explain Metallica to you.”

You see, Jimmy’s dad was Jimmy’s age back in 1988 when Metallica released their fourth non-demo album, …And Justice For All.  He’d discovered the band thanks to their music video for the song “One” because it was all over MTV and you couldn’t miss it.  It was long and edgy and in black-and-white and it was the coolest thing Jimmy’s dad had ever seen.  So when his brother’s friend Pete came over, Jimmy’s dad tried to impress the leather-jacket-wearing-16-year-old with, “Hey Pete, you should really check out this new band called Metallica.  They rock super hard.”

The silence was so thick it was like being imbedded inside a solid object, all the air sucked from the room and with it the only means of conducting sound waves, the type of true, pure silence that philosopher’s can only dream happens when a tree falls and no one is around.  Jimmy’s brother looked at him with the fires of hell in his eyes.  Pete just gave a sneer.  Then pouched Jimmy’s dad in the shoulder as hard as he’d ever been hit by anyone in his entire life, even that kid who played varsity football.  He tried not to show how much it hurt.  Pete’s sneer turn to a sight grin as he uttered one word:  “Poseur”.

Metallica fandom is a complicated thing, with many fans both loving them with an intensity that would be creepy in just about any other aspect of life and hating them with the kind of bile and ire normally reserved for the worst scum of the earth.  And where one falls in the spectrum of the Metallica universe can have detrimental, and even painful, impacts on a young man’s life.  Jimmy’s dad knows this, and he damn well wants to make sure his so knows it too.

While a certain percentage of Metallica fans fall into various nebulous sub-categories, at the highest level Metallica fandom can effectively thought of as a Pascal’s Wager (♦), with the value of each cell ranging from a high of +10 to a low of -10, with higher scores denoting a person’s “Metallica Esteem Score” in the eyes of hardcore fans, and scores approaching -10 increasing your chance of being punched in the shoulder by someone named Pete.  As you can see below, there are two key criteria for determining a Metallica Esteem Score using what I’m dubbing as “Metallica’s Wager”:

  • Were you a Metallica fan before the video of “One” came out, or not until after?
  • Do you prefer Master of Puppets and the prior albums, or Metallica (The Black Album) and the later albums?

It looks something like this:

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You’ll certainly note that even though -10 is technically the lowest score in Metallica’s Wager, one group of people seems widely enough hated by the core fan base that they break right through the scoring floor, approaching a level of cold resentment that can only be compared in nature to absolute zero degrees on the Kelvin scale.

If you’re more than a casual fan of Metallica you’ll quickly see the importance of … And Justice For All in this wager.  You may be asking yourself why that album wasn’t the tipping point in the column headers, which in fact refer to the albums immediately prior to and immediately following the band’s 1988 release.  And the answer is that in addition to the seminal, game-changing, paradigm-destorying, what-the-hell-just-happened moment that was the release of the band’s first music video (and MTV actually playing it at times other than “Headbanger’s Ball”) for the song “One” off of that album, it’s also one of only two statistically significant things that all sides of the Metallica debate can agree on:

  • St. Anger is the band’s worst studio album (♥), and
  • … And Justice For All sounds kind of flat because they mixed the bass completely out of the album.

Sure, there are folks out there who will cite the achievements of Justice, which has was a pretty damn good album, and I suppose if you look hard enough you’ll find literally handful of people who find St. Anger to be the band’s crown jewel (♠), or some other weird combinations.  In fact, my own fandom somewhat defies this Wager – while I was clearly a pre-“One” Metallica fan, I really like …And Justice For All, I love Master of Puppets (it’s in my personal “All Time Top 5”) and Kill ‘Em All, but I’m not a big fan of Ride the Lightning at all.  Plus I think that Death Magnetic is one of their best works, and I actually like a lot of St. Anger (I said I like a lot of it, not that I love it… don’t look at me like that!).  But in the end, Metallica’s Wager is pretty solid and explains most scenarios and I probably align most closely with the +10 box, though I have to be careful about sharing my thoughts on Lightning or Magnetic.  They won’t earn me a punch, but usually a dirty look and sometimes a firm rebuke.  Jimmy’s dad knows how it is.  You want to be as close to that green box as you can get, because right next door is nothing but pain and shame.

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So what does this have to do about anything?  Well these were the thoughts running through my head as I sat down to give my first listen to Metallica’s new album, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.  Since Metallica saw it fit to add a download card to the vinyl release, I picked up a version on red wax and promptly downloaded the whole thing when I got home.

Metallica can’t buy a break with certain segments of their own fans.  They were blamed for selling out for playing the Grammy’s, then mocked for losing the metal category that first year… to Jethro Tull.  There are many who feel any post-Cliff Burton album sucks.  They picked their most dysfunctional period as a band to have a documentary film crew make a movie about their creative process.  Hetfield cut his hair.  Guys got married and had families and “just don’t rock as hard as they used to.”  Mind you, they’re still selling bazillions of albums and selling out arenas and stadiums.  But there’s that old school sub-core of fans who still feel like they were somehow betrayed by the band circa Justice.  Can they be brought back into the fold?  Death Magnetic helped. The question at hand is what kind of Metallica album will this one be?  Will it appeal across multiple Metallica’s Wager squares?  Or maybe, miraculously it could be the unifying element needed to span across all four boxes, the so called “God Particle of Metallica Fandom”?  That’s a lot to ask of any album, but let’s give it a listen and see.

The new album opens with “Hardwired,” a song that certainly feels like it would have been right at home on the band’s prior album Death Magnetic, a sort of Metallica playing a more updated and contemporary version of early Metallica.  “Atlas, Rise!” gives us classic NWOBHM style riffs with James Hatfield’s less-shouted-more-sung modern-era of vocals, a coy blend of the old and new that isn’t quite fast enough to qualify as thrash today, though it might have back in the early 1980s.  It even has one of those majestic interludes given over to soaring guitar and rising drums.  Side A closes with “Now That We’re Dead,” which scared me for the first five seconds by opening with a Neil Young “Rockin’ In The Free World”-ish kind of riff before metaling things up bit with more 1980s guitars, reminding me a bit of Priest’s “Green Manilishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)” or some sleazy Mötley Crüe.  The whole side has a retro feel to it, harkening back to metal’s first glory era of studded leather and motorcycles and cheap beer.

“Moth Into Flame” opens side B, and now Metallica is getting thrashy in the best Ride the Lightning sense of the word.  These opening riffs kill, and Hetfield’s back to spit-shouting his vocals like he used to back in the day.  “Am I Savage?” (♦) brings a slower heaviness, though one that could use a bit more in the low end and at times wanders off into St. Anger math rock land, while “Halo On Fire” is an also slow but much less heavy classic mid-life Metallica tune.  So far we’re six songs on and Metallica is giving a little something to everyone in their fan base.

The second record begins with “Confusion,” which starts off with martial-music-like hints of thrash before changing to more Load-era Metallica.  “Dream No More” is intriguing, as it’s by far the least Metallica-esqu song on the album so far, sounding way Alice In Chains-ish, a solid rocker and one of the better tracks on Hardwired.  Side C comes to an end on “ManUNkind,” a mid-tempo rocker that’s fairly shredding guitar solo is definitely the song’s highlight.

The home stretch kicks off with “Here Comes Revenge” and some classic old school Metallica riffs, not quite full-on shred mode, but enough to get you up out of your chair, and then… they slow it way down and we move into a slow-building-fast-back-to-slow cycle.  “Murder One” simply isn’t as hard as it’s name implies it should be, and the whole thing comes to a close with “Spit Out the Bone.”  Now this is what I’m talking about, high velocity machine gun drumming and full steam ahead!  This is probably the fastest track of the dozen, bringing it to the finish in style.

Hardwired is definitely a Metallica album through and through, with only “Dream No More” seeming to break with sounds the band has already established on other albums.  The first four tracks and “Spit Out the Bone” are my favorites, though that says as much about my general preference for the band’s earlier material as it does about anything else.  Double albums like this are usually criticized for containing some “filler,” i.e. songs that could have been easily left off to strip it down to an even better standard length LP.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that the songs you think could be removed will say a lot about which era of Metallica you prefer, and maybe, just maybe, what we really have here are six songs for the diehard and another six for the fans of the newer stuff.  And maybe that’s what Metallica needed to do to reach their entire base.

Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is in the vein of Death Magnetic, though probably a slight move back to the middle of Metallica’s career.  I don’t think it’ll unite the Metallica world, but then again I’m not sure what could. Chances are, though, that regardless of what Metallica era you’re a fan of, you’ll find some stuff to like on Hardwired.

(♦)  The intent of Pascal’s Wager was to prove that it was logical to believe in the existence of God.  Some people feel it is also useful in proving that Metallica’s early catalog was far superior to their later work, though these folks don’t actually see it as a wager at all, instead viewing it as simply self-evident reality.

(♥)  I’m not counting Lulu as a studio album since it’s a collaboration… which is the only reason this isn’t Lulu.

(♠)  At least there’s some shaky, grainy footage of what *might* be a bigfoot… we don’t even have that for this hypothetical St. Anger super-fan.

(♦)  This is where I discovered that the running order is different on the vinyl than on the download; so while I was listening on my iPod, I continued playing it in the same order as the vinyl version.

Metallica – “Kill ‘Em All” (1983 / 2014)

There’s no reason for me to write about Kill ‘Em All.  It’s not like anyone reading this has never heard of Metallica, and I certainly don’t have any secrets or amazing insights about the album to share with you.  But last Friday I took a day off of work to drive down to Tacoma and hit up the 10th anniversary sale at Hi-Voltage Records, and with everything in the store marked down 20% I picked up all kinds of stuff, including this vinyl re-release of Kill ‘Em All.  Somewhere along the way I lost or got rid of my CD copy without ever having ripped it, so I haven’t heard the album in forever.

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I wish I could tell you how insightful I was, and how I was way into Metallica when this record came out in 1983.  But that would be a lie – I didn’t discover Metallica until sometime right after Master of Puppets.  In 1983 I was buying copies of Shout at the Devil and Metal Health, plus the tape copy of Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger that I felt compelled to hide so none of my metal loving fans would know that I secretly liked “The Reflex.”  Being young and trying to live up to some kind of image is hard.

But I suspect that somewhere along the way I probably at least flipped past Kill ‘Em All at the mall record store, nestled between Madness and Mötley Crüe (or, as I once wrote it inside my three-ring binder (remember those?), “Motley Crew,” which ensured I was roundly mocked by my friends).  Did I see the cover, with its sledgehammer and pool of blood?  Did it freak me out?  Maybe, but not enough for me to remember.

You also don’t need me to tell you what an insanely bad-ass song “Seek & Destroy” is, because you’ve almost certainly heard it yourself in all of it’s perfectly formed awesomeness.  It’s like a road map to how to make a metal song.  Metallica later got faster and harder (then less fast and less hard…), but “Seek & Destroy” begs you to throw up the horns and sing the chorus along with James Hetfield.

I’m not one of those people who think Metallica “sold out.”  Sure, I prefer some of their earlier stuff – my favorite albums are Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All.  After all, don’t music fans often find themselves particularly fond of the band’s sound from when the person first “discovered” them?  I know that’s true for me.  But I also really, really like Death Magnetic and even think there are some gems on St. Anger (mostly “St. Anger” and “Shoot Me Again”), a comment bound to get me some strange looks and have at least a few people threaten to take my computer keyboard away so I can’t embarrass myself further with my complete lack of musical taste.  No, I don’t think Metallica sold out.  Instead I prefer to think that the rest of the music world “bought in.”  The mainstream moved toward Metallica just as much, if not more, than Metallica moved toward it.  If they’d just kept rehashing Kill ‘Em All they’d be little more than a musical footnote.  Instead it was the long fuse that brought metal a wider audience.

So good work, Metallica.  Kill ’em all.