Monday, August 27, 2012

CD Odyssey Disc 433: Metallica

After a fairly restful weekend, it was back to work today.  On the plus side, back to work means getting to listen to music on my walk to and from the office.  Life is full of positives if you look for them, my friends.

Disc 433 is……And Justice for All
Artist: Metallica

Year of Release: 1988

What’s up with the Cover?  Lady Justice’s statue is being torn down, presumably by her lessers (that’s who usually attacks justice).  Or maybe, since Ms. Justice’s scales are full of filthy lucre, we are to assume that she’s gone astray and it is the good folks tearing her down.  I can’t say for sure.  What I can say is that she was apparently torn down on a cold day.

How I Came To Know It: As I noted when I did my first Metallica review way back at Disc 93, my good friend and former room-mate Greg put me on to Metallica.  “…And Justice for All” was a favourite of mine back then, and so it was an easy decision to purchase it.  I think this was the first Metallica album I bought after I no longer had access to Greg’s CD collection.

How It Stacks Up:  I have five Metallica albums (all the good stuff, minus “Garage Days.”)  It is a tight competition among the top four albums, but I really like “…And Justice for All” so I’ll say it is second.  “Master of Puppets” might challenge it for the silver medal on the right day.

Rating:  4 stars

In 1969 Three Dog Night taught us that “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”  U2 decided years later that “One” should remind us that we’re not alone and that we need to carry each other (twice, in fact).  Metallica’s approaches to the same issues of solitariness on their own song called “One” lead them to contemplate the life of a wounded war veteran with no arms, legs, eyes, ears or mouth lying in a hospital bed forever.  Yeah, they’re kind of hard core.

Metallica’s “One” is an amazing mix of hard and soft, shifting riffs, mournful solos and the beauty that is Lars Ulrich’s double-bass drum, which has spawned so much heavy music that followed, for good or ill.  The song is brilliantly constructed, and as art has long ago surpassed its initial inspiration – the 1971 anti-war film “Johnny Got His Gun” – for both skillful delivery and emotional impact.

Fourth of nine tracks, “One” anchors this record, but it doesn’t stand alone; it is surrounded by heavy waters filled with unrelenting doom.  Metallica likes their topics raw and real, and for all the ferociousness of their proto-speed metal (and it is as ferocious as anything alive today) they have a lot to say as well on subjects as varied as censorship, war, mental illness and the permanent destruction of the earth.

They mostly say it with music.  The lyrics have emotional truth, and James Hetfield sings them with the right mix of strength and frustration.  That said, without the music they lose their impact and read a bit grade school.  The best lines are from “To Live is to Die” which is an almost ten minute track that is largely instrumental.  However, disappointingly the first two lines in the song -

“When a man lies he murders some part of the world.
These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives”

-  are both lifted from somewhere else.  The first line Merlin says to Arthur in the 1981 movie “Excalibur.”  The second is from a poem in the 1977 Stephen R. Donaldson fantasy novel, “Lord Foul’s Bane.”  Fortunately I love both of the source works (and apparently so does Hetfield) but unfortunately Metallica does not credit them in the liner notes.  I guess 1988 was the time rap was sampling the hell out of everything for free though, so why not metal?  Still, the writer in me would’ve appreciated a footnote.

When it comes to the music, Metallica takes a back seat to no one.  “…And Justice” came out in 1988, a time when much of the metal scene was starting to implode into hair metal and the beginning of grunge.  Metallica demonstrates that true heavy metal is alive and well, delivering song after song driven by heavy, headbanging riffs that are surprisingly melodic.

There are only nine songs, all of which are long, ranging from slightly over five minutes to almost a full ten.  Of all nine tracks, only “To Live is to Die” had me glancing at my MP3 player to see if it was over yet, and even it has its moments of symphonic greatness.  The other songs are exactly as long as they need to be throughout.

At 9:44, the title track, “…And Justice for All” is every bit as long as it needs to be.  With competing but equally compelling guitar lines, it compared favourably to Black Sabbath at their best.  The equally glorious “Harvester of Sorrow” has a Kirk Hammett guitar solo that reminded me of Blue Oyster Cult’s Buck Dharma (for those who don’t know me, this is a high compliment).  And when Hetfield goes for the low note on the chorus it feels like he is actually harvesting sorrow.  I’m not sure what farm tool you’d use for that, but I’m confident it would be made out of metal.

With all of these pounding guitars and furious drums pedestrian lyrics like Anger/Misery/You’ll suffer unto me” take on a strange depth that they have no business having.  On the “Frayed Edge of Sanity” they even work in what I think is an homage to the mining song the seven dwarfs sing in “Snow White” and pull it off.

This album isn’t perfect, but if you want some energizing heavy metal that takes no prisoners and eschews having you think about important issues in favour of having you feel about them, then this album is for you.  I certainly enjoyed it.

Best tracks:  …And Justice for All, Eye of the Beholder, One, Harvester of Sorrow

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