One of the surest signs that I was never as cool as I wanted people to believe I was is that I discovered the joys of Metallica quite late in my earful life. Of course, Enter Sandman was in my sonic lexicon, and the glorious
Nothing Else Matters
has moved me much more than G ‘N’R’s overrated
I had a cassette of Metallica’s 1996 mid-life nugget Load. But the fact that I never went on to buy it in CD form meant that somewhere down the line I missed the bus driven by piledriver-artist James Hetfield.
So to make up for lost time, I not only appreciated the LA band’s back catalogue but was awaiting with wide eyes and growing hair their ninth studio album,
. Somehow, the album makes me think I’m cool again.
The ‘cardiac-arresting’ beginning to ‘That was just your life’ is no string quartet stuff. It’s chunky, almost early Nirvana thrash metal. As the roadrunning riff picks up, the sofa set in my living room is politely told to scram and a pretend one-man mosh-pit emerges.
The end of the line is classic growl’n’riff. Kirk Hammett strums up a storm that master drummer Lars Ulrich chops up for easy eating. The rippling riff of Broken, beat & scarred has a hypnotic bad snakecharmer’s quality to it. Hetfield snarls with deep Nietzsche-influenced life-affirmation: “You rise, you fall, your down, then you rise again/ What don’t kill you make you more strong”. Not quite the Chumbawamba pub-booze classic, I get knocked down, but the basic philosophy’s the same. Hammett’s flashy tinkle-work on the fretboard is an overkill though.
The day that never comes is that mandatory, welcome ‘Metallica ballad’ that tells the listener that Big Boys can be sensitive too. The number comes across as an older, wiser version of the band’s vintage outpourings. In Nightmare long, the guitar strings bend, bringing a whiff of Alice in Chains with it —until chopper blade guitars make salami out of thin air. And when Hetfield does his trademark open vowel bite, “…but your luck runs outaah,” headbangers of the world, you can unite! You have nothing to lose but your upper vertebral bits and bobs.
Cyanide has the wah-wah pedal making a rare appearance. This is a ‘rock song’: hook, verse, chorus, hook, verse, chorus, hook… Perfect for that leather jacket.
To make a sub-industry of one song/song title is no sin. But when you hear The Unforgiven III, you do wonder whether a Richard Clayderman-type piano was necessary in a continuing saga-song. Only fans of Neil Gaiman and other metaphysical fantasy writers will appreciate.
Which brings us to The Judas kiss. The punctuated riffs and drums open up the scope yet again to a mosh-required pit. The anti-Christ-like imagery — “Sanctify your demons”, “Intuition crucify” etc etc —barely matters. This is British 70s heavy metal terrain where silly lines are supposed to make you —a practiced headbanger —feel vaguely theological.
As surely as sin is followed by damnation, The Judas kiss is followed by Suicide & redemption.
The guitars bend, the drums stab and we have a long Grateful Dead-kind of solo metal-style. Not exactly marshmallow frying music, unless you come to the ‘gentle swaying part’ midway into the song. And in the end comes My apocalypse with galloping intent. All stops have been taken off and Hetfield and Co. careen down a steep slope with a quick spitfire of rhyming words.
For latecomers like me to the House of Metallica, this is a solid catch-up album. For aficionados, it’s a happy source of relief that the boys aren’t competing with the likes of Chopin for a change.