Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hardwired to Spit Out the Bone:
A Review of the new Metallica record


I have despised Metallica since Reload.  They were one of my favorite bands of all time and like most, I loved the first four albums with a fiery passion.  The Black Album came out and I really liked it initially, but repeated listening’s wore on me, and the simplicity of the songs didn’t make me want to come back for more.  Instead, I got sick of it and openly mocked them as “Selloutica.”  And then Load came.  I didn’t know how to process it.  I listened a few times and put it away, thinking I would come back to it and find that I loved it at a later date.  A year went by and I tried again.  Dear God, what was wrong with this amazing band?  And then Reload… 

I was able to look past most of the insults; the cutting of the hair, the openly hostile attitude towards metal, the changed logo, the make-up and the angsty vocals, not to mention the tepid grunge that was Load.  But this, this was a travesty.  The band was aggravated by older fans clamoring for a return to the earlier days and Metallica said they would never do a “Master of Puppets, Part 2.”  But then they go and make “Unforgiven Part 2” and my head nearly exploded.  I didn’t want them to just repeat themselves, but doing a direct sequel to a song no one was clamoring for a return to?  What a slap in the face.

Next came that movie, you know the one I mean.  I could not feel sorry for these millionaires and their problems.  And poor Kirk.  Of course St. Anger followed and I won’t even justify that tragedy with much discussion.  They kept touring, kept having crap Nu Metal bands opening for them, and basically acted like the out of touch rock stars they were. 

Lo and behold, thrash makes a bit of a retro comeback, and suddenly Metallica wants to go prove they’re still metal.  Back comes the old logo, out comes Death Magnetic, a tepid at best album.  It was like they came up with a bunch of riffs and then threw them together thinking the magic would return.  Uh, no.  Nice try and all of that.

Which leads us to the new record.  And I have to say, for the first time in twenty-something years, Metallica put a smile on my face again.

Let’s get to the songs.

“Hardwired” opens the album with a burst of punk thrash speed.  On first hearing, I was taken aback.  The vocals were okay, the drumming was lagging a bit, but the rest, my goodness, was like a kiss on the cheek from a lover I hadn’t seen in years.  There’s bits of Kill ‘Em All in there, and the ferocity of the track works to near perfection.  By the time it was over, I was grinning.  The lyrics aren’t very good, and I have an issue with the cursing (not because I abhor cursing; I love it) because it sounds desperate, like James is saying, “I’m back and I’m still badass, see?”  In any case, an excellent start and a primer of what is to come.

“Atlas, Rise” arrives next and this was where I recognized a pattern that would come to repeat itself throughout the new album.  Metallica was reaching back to past triumphs, drawing on them, and using them to augment their new songs.  And I think that’s a good move on their part.  After all, when you have a legacy like the first four albums, why shouldn’t you pull on that?  This song is part thrash mixed with some Black Album chunk with a whole lot of melodic, twin-guitar stuff going on.  This is just as much Ride the Lightning as it is anything else, and James’ vocals are for once not distracting.  He’s not trying to be Chris Isaac and he‘s not trying to be tough via Chad Kroeger; he’s just letting it come naturally.  And the lyrics are good, too.  Probably my favorite Metallica song since And Justice…

“Now That We’re Dead” comes on like an outtake from the Black Album, same drum sound, same lumbering riff.  And that’s not a bad thing at all.  But…it’s way too long.  A four minute song would have done just fine.  Great solo by Kirk.  This harkens too much to the 90’s Metallica for me, but again, it’s not bad.

“Moth Into Flame” brings back that sweet dual guitar harmony that is gorgeous to my ears.  This is quickly followed by a nice, mid-paced thrash gallop.  The bass sound excellent on this song.  It’s again a look back at Ride the Lightning and again, it’s pretty damned good.  There’s also some modern flourishes thrown in, such as the melodic run about 1:13 into the song.  This is followed by a chorus of the 90’s Metallica and then a cycle back to the mid-paced chunk.  Mix and repeat and throw in a solo and you have the fourth best song on the record. 

“Dream No More” starts sort of like “Sad But True” and sort of continues along the same vein.  It’s another mid-paced song (sensing a pattern here?).  The vocals are alright. The production is tight and there’s nothing to hate about this song, but nothing to love, either.  6:30 is a long journey to take for a song that basically goes nowhere, and a song they did better on the Black Album.

“Halo on Fire” sounds very modern with its beginning, leaning on imitator bands like Trivium for its start out the gate.  And then it settles down into a quiet little ditty that features the kind of vocals from Load that make me want to puke turds and throw them at passing kids as they walk to school.  This song is the weakest on the album by far, and at this point, it drags down the record.  And eight minutes long?  Come on, guys.

Album One closes, Album Two opens.

“Confusion” starts with almost a direct quote/variation of/on “Am I Evil,” and hey, that’s a great start.  Then we get some good chunky riffs, and then it slows down again and we’re back into Load territory on the vocals.  Suddenly, the song feels jaunty and not very heavy, despite that fantastic, hefty riff.  Another mid-paced track that pretty much goes nowhere but again, isn’t terrible.

“Manunkind” begins with something a Metallica fan really hasn’t heard in a long time:  an acoustic opening.  Hello, “Battery.”  And the song kind of jams down on that same gear before sliding into a slick, slithering riff that does its own thing.  And then we’re back to a Black Album gallop but man, it sounds sweet.  The song is bothered by those pseudo-anthemic Load choruses, though, so that takes a couple points off.  Still, an excellent solo by Kirk.  Dumb lyrics. 

“Here Comes Revenge” is more like “Here Comes Another 7 Minute Mid-Paced Song That Goes Nowhere.”  It’s not bad because there’s not a bad song on this record, but it moves along pretty slow, to be honest, and the drop down to melodic James singing doesn’t do it any favors.

“Am I Savage?” flirts with “Fade to Black” in its opening but then swaggers around like a drunk spoiling for a fight.  And then…another mid-paced, six and a half minute song that thinks it’s “Of Wolf and Man” but really isn’t.  A real shame because that beginning promises some great things.

“Murder One,” another song that opens sort-of acoustically, with guitar tones that sound like “One” that lead us to, yes, a mid-paced slugger that swings hard but doesn’t really connect a knockout blow.  Like too many others, it goes on and on and five minutes of your life is gone.

“Spit Out the Bone” finds the lumbering Metallica machine suddenly hitting the gas and getting its “Motorbreath” running.  This song is pure thrash and is just as good as anything great off the recent Megadeth albums.  That’s a compliment.  James gets back to doing the vocals the way they should be done, no straining, no false emotion, just getting to the core of things.  Lars is trying to keep up, as he is almost the entire album.  Kirk is amazing as always and when he and James are on, they remind us of why they are such a formidable guitar duo.  And then, God help us all, Robert comes in at the 2:41 point with a bit of lead bass, the kind we haven’t heard since Cliff (RIP).  What a pleasant surprise!  This song doesn’t feel seven minutes long, it feels like “Fuck yeah, Metallica is back, bitches!”  An excellent way to end the record.

This album is a logical follow-up to the Black Album and would have been a perfect release about three years after.  The fact that we had to wait twenty years to get it is a travesty, but I won’t beat that dead horse any longer.  If you’re a fan of the first four albums, there is plenty here to like, and Metallica give us their four best songs since And Justice…and that’s no mean feat.  The rest of the songs play like high-school reunion memories of the Black and Load albums, but thankfully mostly they are the good memories, not the bad ones. 

A return to form?


A pretty damned good record?



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Hairy-Chested Comedown

I’m not a big fan of multi-artist compilations.  Not because I don’t like music and not because I don’t like diversity, but mostly because whenever there is this kind of collection, it’s inevitable that some of the songs just aren’t as good as others.  Whether that’s because of a difference in taste and style between the bands, or because the compilers have to fill space and are limited by whatever is at their disposal (supporting their particular label roster, a theme they have chosen, etc.), it doesn’t matter.  I always leave a little happy, a little disappointed.

Let me tell you what has not disappointed me yet, and that’s the magnificent Brown Acid series by Riding Easy Records.  First off, we don’t have the problem with limited means and limiting themes.  Their mission is to put to wax (again) some of the greatest lost hard/garage/acid/proto-stoner rock that was around in the late 60’s through the early 80’s.  There is no effort here to support only bands on their label.  The folks at Riding Easy have only one concern, and that’s to rock your bobby-sock’s off.

The first two albums were excellent and I was skeptical they could pull it off a third time.  After all, how much was truly out there left to mine, and of what was left, could it be of the same, excellent quality?

The answer comes quickly, with (literal) screamer “Scream (It’s Eating Me Alive)” by Grand Theft (Seattle, Washington, 1970).  It starts off with the sound of an acid trip gone wrong that is just beginning to spin out of control.  Fast and furious and mean, we get slapped in the face right away that the comedown is coming, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

Song after song follows, pummeling you into submission, like a bully in middle school teaching you the ropes about how things are gonna be from now on, kid.  We get schooled in all kinds of hard rock, each song uniform in its greatness. 

Chook (Australia, 1971) shakes off some of that trippy 60’s acid rock with some thrusting bass, ripping chords, and hungover vocals that sort of lurch along, slightly demented, just enough to make you worry a little about your journey and just how inebriated your driver is.

The Lindholm Brothers (Barrington, Illinois, 1976) jump in after you get left by the side of the road and reassure you with some prime boogie rock, if said boogie rock was performed by some Midwestern boys who had just swallowed speed for the first time.

Diehard (Hollywood, California, 1970) come next, putting it into cruise mode, sweeping you along with some chords and organ that play together to let you know everything is going to be okay.  They’re like that friend that mops your forehead after you’ve vomited; they’re there for you.  But you also wonder, in the back of your mind, if they’re not secretly making fun of you when you’re not around. 

Last song on Side One is the track that is my favorite, a masterclass of 70’s rock that was recorded in 1982.  No wonder Blown Free and their song “The Wizard” didn’t go anywhere when it came out.  This song belongs circa 1972, with its trippy jams and the way guitar chords provide a solid rhythm and the lead just sort of lead you into outer space.  The vocals roar in and take charge.  You know immediately you’re in the hands of people who know what they’re doing, and you wonder why these guys never made it big.  And then you remember, this came out in 1982, for God’s sake, when synth rock was everything.  These guys must have sounded like they came from another planet at the time; an awesome planet full of rock guitars and good, rockin’ hearts.

Side Two opens with a thunderstorm blowing across the ocean, as Factory (East Sussex, England, 1971) sets a dark mood and then rips into some prime early-70’s riffing.  You can almost feel the engine of your muscle car open up and accelerate down the highway, pausing to shift gears when needed.  “Time Machine” is everything later stoner bands would strive to be, trippy and distant and yet immediate.

Inside Experience (Fremont, Ohio, 1967) pops up next with “Be On My Way,” the oldest song on the comp and yet one that sounds like it came from the mid-70’s.  Only the echoey vocals sound of their time.  This is like if the Animals decided to be dirty and sinister, less pop and more rock.  A nice, distorted guitar solo is the cherry on top of this Vanilla Fudge sundae.

Boogie rock returns with Cold Sweat (Denver, Colorado, 1979) and their song “Quit Your Foolin’.”  It’s almost like the guys in Foghat decided to put out a song under a different name just to see what would happen.  This song is all-American, though, just as much out of the summer rock playbook of Edgar Winter as it is from those limeys across the pond. 

And why not start a “Highway Song” off with a reverberating bass and a slight, slow build, only to crash into chords that at once threaten and comfort.  This is the track by Elliott Black (Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1978), a dark take on the Nuge with some flute (yeah you read that right) that comes right at you, delivers it’s punch to the nose, and cruises out like a champ, hands raised in victory, slamming the door behind for good measure.

First State Bank (Dallas, Texas, 1975) push that door back open and tell you that, “Before You Leave,” you’re gonna have to sit back and listen to some vintage Dillinger-style riff rock that’s going to make you smile and shuffle your feet, all while you enjoy that can of cheap beer and the young hotties that just showed up to party.

Last song by Flash Beverage (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1980), “The Train,” growls like Lemmy with a rumbling blues backbeat.  This song is a gutful of beer sloshing around your insides.  You know it’s going to end bad, but still, it feels good.  And when you crawl out of the party, too many cigarettes smoked, too much whiskey guzzled, and a sore on your lip from the herpes you probably got making out with that trashy chick you’d never met before, you smile, knowing you had a damned good time.

Lance Barresi from Permanent Records and Daniel Hall from Riding Easy Records have put out another masterpiece.  Go get yourself a copy, sit back, and enjoy the ride.