Metallica is releasing box sets of both Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning, possibly bringing new attention to their earliest and most virile content. Each box set includes several vinyls and CDs worth of material, ranging from newly remastered (and possibly brickwalled) versions of the albums to live concerts and demos of the albums’ tracks. While the mixture of vinyl and CD content and the frequently iffy nature of studio demos lead me to wonder exactly how useful these box sets are, the actual songwriting content is sound, and it could possibly help a new generation of metalheads learn crucial lessons about how to make metal; good foundations for more advanced studies like Slayer and Morbid Angel. The albums are available for preorder from Metallica‘s online store, and the official releases will be on April 15th.
In the latest of what are assured to be profitable sporting events, Metallica will perform their 4th “Metallica Night” at AT&T Park on May 6th, 2016, alongside a baseball game featuring the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies. This ungainly combination of baseball and metal music is sure to make a lot of money. Now, stadium performances are a pretty common choice for bands of Metallica’s commercial stature, but they’re usually not interleaved between innings of baseball like this. Furthermore, the Giants host an enormous amount of special events to liven up their seasons, so maybe their acquisition of Metallica’s services isn’t so out of the ordinary. In the end, an opportunity for those who like both (they of exquisite taste), and the punchline of a joke that’s yet to be written for everyone on DMU.
Attitudes toward metal differ between Europe and the United States with the UK in the middle. One thing remains certain: until metal started prettying itself up with accepted genres like lite-jazz and indie rock, and adopting socially cherished “civilized” attitudes, it got nowhere on a big scale.
In vaunted music magazine NME Lars Ulrich (Metallica) attacks the perceived class divide between hard rock/heavy metal fans and the “sophisticated” mainstream rock audience:
In an interview for BBC 6 Music, the Metallica drummer and founding member complained about the media’s attitude to hard rock. He continued: “People have short attention spans in 2014… They like things broken down into easy, digestible sound-bites. It’s like, Metallica at Glastonbury, what’s the sound-bite? ‘Here comes the big bad heavy metal band to our precious little festival.’ I don’t think it’s genuinely like that… but there obviously are people who snub their nose a little bit at hard rock, and look at hard rock as inferior or lower-class, some sort of lower music form or something, and [think] that the people who listen to hard rock are less educated.”
Speaking about the same festival, the Glastonbury pop fest in the UK, Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) voiced a similar viewpoint but more from another angle — mainly an angle of attack:
He said: “In the days when Glasto was an alternative festival it was quite interesting.
“Now it is the most bourgeois thing on the planet. Anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me.
“We’ll leave the middle classes to do Glastonbury and the rest of the great unwashed will decamp to Knebworth and drink lots of beer and have fun.”
American fans are used to this. In movies and books we are portrayed as the blue collar dropouts who work in garages and smoke too much dope to compensate for failure at life. This reveals both a snobbery against blue collar labor that is unconscionable, and the pretense of those making the distinction. They like to think they’re elevated to a higher grade of person because they’ve choked down eight years of education and work in office jobs (and only smoke expensive dope from exotic locales).
This stereotype both serves media interests and belittles metal. It enables the media to have an easy cue for its “bad boy” characters and to sell products based on that “rebel without a clue” image, but it also lets them subtly inform the rest of us that they, the writers and producers, are obviously much higher in the evolutionary chain than us neanderthals.
Indie rock and lite-jazz appeal to such people. The more precious and deliberately weird their music is, the more “educated” they assume they are. In the meantime, it’s metal fans out there who not only keep music from falling into an abyss of self-congratulatory clones, but also keep our infrastructure running. Whether we’re blue collar or something else, we’re realists… and we make sure stuff works while the rest of these clowns are posing.
For their performance at the Grammy awards, Metallica paired up with Chinese pianist Lang Lang for a performance of their dramatic protest song “One” originally from …And Justice for All.
According to VH1, the bond was formed in just 45 minutes of practice time the day before the performance. As you can see below, the result was smoothly integrated despite this lack of extensive practice.
Metal and classical share a defining trait in that both use narrative composition, or knitting together riffs to develop a theme over the course of a piece. This is in contrast to pop music, which is essentially binary, formed of a verse-chorus pair and a “contrast” via a bridge or turnaround. Thus Metallica’s knotwork of riffs and Lang Lang’s melodic development through structured composition are entirely compatible.
The question remains whether metal will adopt this outlook as anything other than a surface aesthetic. If it does, expect metal songs to get more densely riffy and longer with contorted structures like progressive rock, which derived its song structuring principles from classical as well.
Why is Metallica’s debut classified in your website as Speed Metal and not Thrash Metal? What defines Thrash Metal and why are Metallica and Kreator placed under Speed Metal? The second question really being what defines Speed Metal?
What is speed metal? Speed metal is the music formed of the hybrid of NWOBHM and punk music. NWOBHM itself was a fusion of Black Sabbath and the “metal-like” hard rock genres of the time, including some progressive rock, given an underground and DIY outlook. The definitive speed metal album is the first Metallica work, but we could also look to Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament and Prong.
What is thrash metal? A marketing term for “speed metal.” Some argue that it’s a separate genre, namely speed metal with “broken beats” or d-beats, but the fact of the matter is that the d-beat-influenced drumming was already part of speed metal. Musically, anything regarded as “thrash metal” is speed metal. Hence use of that term instead.
Now, as to Kreator — why is it speed metal? Kreator is on the line between speed metal and death metal but ultimately has more in common with later speed metal like Destruction and Sodom than it does with outright death metal. It was a previous generation to the music that expanded in the late 1980s through early 1990s.
What is thrash? Thrash is a hybrid form of heavy metal and punk music preferred by thrashers, i.e. skaters. This music evolved out of the explosion of punk music at the end of the 1970s and the tendency of bands like Discharge, Amebix, The Exploited, the Cro-Mags and others to take on metal riff-styles, especially as inspired by Slayer and other heavily punk-influenced bands. However, many thrash bands used riff influences from NWOBHM or before, with Black Sabbath being prominent.
The reason we separate speed metal and thrash is that they are different movements. Speed metal is metal that incorporates some aspects of punk; thrash is a metal/punk hybrid that generally uses punk song structures and metal riffs, laying the groundwork for grindcore. There’s also no point in expanding the speed metal franchise into many different sub-types when all are essentially musically identical.
Thirty years ago, a struggling band from California unleashed their first album and changed the world of heavy metal forever. The genre that they may not have invented but certainly formalized was speed metal, and it represented the start of heavy metal’s journey away from verse-chorus rock into the dual worlds of hardcore punk intensity and progressive rock song structures.
At first, these changes were less obvious. Kill ‘Em All owes a huge debt to the heavy metal that came before it, and embraces many of the conventions of rock music as well, but it funneled them through a singular filter and achieved a uniformity of sound. In addition, this new style crept in with a number of innovations, like the use of introductions and instrumentals to change song structure, that presaged where this new subgenre would go.
From a casual observer’s position, the first Metallica album isn’t that far removed from its predecessors. The dual influences of UK heavy metal and hardcore punk are clear, as is the distinctive feature of speed metal: the muted strum that produces a choppy explosive sound from percussive lead rhythm guitar, allowing the construction of more complex riffs by making the power chord a building block instead of a place where the riff rests, as open chords are in rock.
Kill ‘Em All showed a new blueprint for metal that developed the extremity of Motorhead with the intricate riffery of Judas Priest and other NWOBHM bands, making for a brainy album that relied on speed to cram all of its power into songs of a normal length. In addition, the speed kicked it up to a new level of complexity in riffing. Speed reveals the sparseness of a riff, and so the one- and two-note riffs of the past would seem immensely repetitive at a faster pace. Thus the riff itself grew with speed metal.
Conceptually, metal grew up with Kill ‘Em All as well, at least partly. Yes, there were some embarrassing songs that sounded like West Side Story retrofitted for violent Northern California speed metal gangs. But more importantly, there was an epic view of existence. Songs about fate, about the fall of civilization, and dark lore that reveals the topics feared by daylight conversation all gave the album a weight beyond its (merely) heavy riffs. Like hardcore punk, this was the howling voice of the apocalypse at our door.
One of Metallica’s most important contributions was to liberate the riff from the drums, hence the “lead rhythm guitar” designation that appeared with many speed metal bands. Following the lead of UK crust punk bands like Discharge, Metallica viewed the drums as a background timekeeper which framed the riff loosely rather than accentuated it, and thus the riff could change without the drums changing. This allowed the riff to change more frequently without forcing tempo changes, although the band delighted in abrupt and surprising tempo changes as well.
Speed metal took this pattern and ran with it. While its antecedents are clear, such as the proto-speed metal of Satan/Blitzkrieg and Motorhead, and the fast-fingered intricate melodic riffs of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the new speed metal band from California turned up the intensity and pushed aside conventional song structures. This set metal free from the world of rock, and laid the groundwork for the next generation, which would not only inherit the true lawlessness of hardcore punk, but build up complexity to be closer to the world of progressive rock.
LOS ANGELES – In the wake of increasingly insipid albums and unprecedented overexposure for Bay Area quartet Metallica, many former fans have realized to their horror that the band’s 1983 promise to neither stop nor quit has turned from a blessing to a curse.
“Man, when ‘Kill Em All’ came out, I wanted that band to last forever,” recalls ex-Metallica supporter Dave Lathrop, “That song ‘Whiplash’ was like a covenant between the band and the fans — ‘we’ll never stop, we’ll never quit, ’cause we’re Metallica’ — that they’d always be there. Who knew that they’d actually make good on it?”
Metallica, who have repeatedly maligned their valued legacy in metal music with songs such as “Ain’t My Bitch” and a squishy sonic turd on the “Mission Impossible 2” soundtrack, continues unabated and are currently in the middle of a new tour in support of their obnoxious new album, “Death Magnetic.” With no reported plans for the band to retire, original fans of the band’s pre-1990 releases are despairing of ever seeing an end to it all.
“I know what they said,” states former fan Jim Dooley, who has hated Metallica for the past 18 years, “Yeah, ‘Cause we’re Metallica’, I got it. So when are they going to fucking stop already? Christ.”
Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine has been vocal these past few weeks of pushing through one final Big 4 tour before Slayer hits the nursing home. He believes, however, that there’s no chance Metallica will be in. Mustaine, committed to getting a piece of the Slayer retirement pie, goes on to say he’ll headline a big 3 tour (minus the big 1) or perhaps start a new big 4 with two other thrash metal giants…. (more…)
It’s actually happening. After decades of “will they” speculation, directors picking up and dropping the project, rumors of Twilight actors playing Varg Vikernes, and a boycott by virtually every member of the original scene the Rory Culkin led bastardization of Norway’s finest Lords of Chaos premiered at Sundance this week. In the ultimate defeat, death, and burial of Norweigian black metal- a movement opposed to everything commercial, financial, and mainstream- we will soon see a polished Hollywood narrative of this beloved movement pollution theaters across the globe.
I have no way of knowing if anyone will read this letter. It joins the others which have been hidden in the knot-hole of the ancient tree on top of the mountain that locals simply call “the big one,” to which I make a daily pilgrimage. My life has become oriented around what I can only describe as a portal to the future.