Thursday, February 09, 2006

Old Album (and a concert) in Retrospect

CDs in Play and on Review: Metallica, ...And Justice for All.

I have a mission, to listen to at least 75% of all the albums I own. Whether they be in vinyl, CD or cassette formats I intend to do it. No small feat, but I bought them so I should make use of them. There are other better reasons of course - what do I see in these albums now.
One such album is Metallica's ... And Justice For All.
During High School and just after I was a huge Metallica fan. This was Metallica before they released their eponymous fifth album, the so-called "Black Album". For that album they brought in Bob Rock. Bob Rock has always been, to my mind, the master of schlock. He was fine for acts like David Lee Roth, Cher and The Cult, who depended on varying amounts of schlock in order to propel their career. But this was Metallica. The band that defined what good metal was and spawned a number of imitators. This was the band that blew away The Cult on the Damaged Justice tour in May 1989.
Two weeks before the show my friend Elijah and I met the guitarist from the Cult, Billy Duffy, at the now defunct Warehouse Records on Granville Street. He was amiable enough, willing to talk to us and whomever else was around. (which wasn't much, we were the only actual customers in the store) My friend Graham had met The Cult's lead singer, Ian Astbury, and thought he was an out and out prick - tonnes of attitude. Duffy had attitude but was, as I said before, amiable enough. That amiablity ended when the subject of their upcoming tour with Metallica came up. Suddenly he turned bitter and was on about Metallica being nobody and how "the Cult has the following in Canada, they should be opening for us!"
After that it was cheap shots at The Who, who were mounting their reunion tour for an orchestrated Tommy. The "Everybody's Broke but Townsend Tour" I believe he called it. To be fair, he was right about The Who. I saw the show: the sound was horrible and it was overblown and excessive. (not in a great Rock'n'Roll kind of way either) Still, The Cult owe a lot to the likes of The Who, so a bit more respect was in order. Just look at the cover of their album, Sonic Temple: Duffy strikes a Townsend patented pose. The day after the Damaged Justice show, Province reviewer, Tom Harrison's review headline read "Metallica is, The Cult is a Wannabe". The Cult's show was a predictable and by the numbers rock show - Astbury even dry-humped the stage à la Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison. Metallica was just simply better and there was no doubt about who the headliner should have been.
One of the great things about Metallica was that they didn't receive a lot of industry support or regular air play. Local station CFOX seemed reluctant to even advertise the Damaged Justice tour as a Metallica tour. The adds they ran for the show focused soley on The Cult and their DJ's at the time were very vocal about their support of The Cult and not Metallica. Still, ...And Justice for All sold millions of copies in a very short span of time (within 2-3 days of its release, I believe) by word of mouth alone. The band hadn't even made a music video up until they released ...Justice, so they didn't get any exposure from the likes of MTV either. Their first video was "One", a depressing seven minute and twenty-four second opus based on Dalton Trumbo's anti-war novel and film, Johnny Got His Gun. (using clips from the film throughout the video. It was actually considered to be groundbreaking at the time) Much Music in Canada, once a progressive entity, gave it quite a bit of airplay, MTV did not as I understand it. Metallica may be one of the last real DIY success stories in music.
...And Justice For All was the beginning of the end for an era of metal. It came out at a time when hair metal bands - like Poison or Motley Crüe - were riding high but was shortly replaced by bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Ministry. Metallica blew the doors open for a much harder and heavier undercurrent though, and thrash bands from all over came out of the woodwork. I would also say that Metallica opened the doors for hardcore punk/skatepunk bands like Bad Brains and Suicidal Tendencies to build a broader audience. (punk and metal were tightly segregated communities at the time)
Listening to album after such a long time away from it reminds me that ...Justice is a dense album of complicated arrangements, difficult time signatures and lengthy songs. (only two songs clock in at under six minutes) Criticisms of the album's production - exceedingly dry guitar tone, a clicky sounding bass drum, and no discernable bass lines - have some validity, but I have never been that concerned about fidelity. Rather, I have always found that the dry production underscores the seriousness and mood of the album in a way that the richer production of someone like Bob Rcok couldn't have pulled off. And ...Justice is a serious album: from The environmetally conscious "Blackened", to the unconciously Huxlian world of "Eye ofthe Beholder", the anti-war song "One" to songs about James Hetfield's upbringing. ("Dyer's Eve" and "Harvester of Sorrow") Aside from a love of H.P. Lovecraft's work, the band always avoided the Dungeons and Dragons and bimbos and beer related themes that plauged much of the metal of the 1980's. They were the kind of band that appealed to the angry and intelligent teenager that I was.
When the Black Album came out, I made real attempt to like the album. Like most people I liked "Enter Sandman" when it first came out and even jammed on it from time to time, but it burnt out quicly for me. From there the band's idea were becoming more publicly know, and songs with redneck sentiments - "Don't Tred on Me" - just ended up pushing me entirely away. I found myself unable to listen to Metallica at any length for quite some time. (over a decade in fact) The first time I heard Metallica would have been back in 1986, just after Master of Puppets came out. Odd that just short of 20 years from my first experience with the band, I should get back into their music again.
Sort of long. meandering and a bit off point, but hell... it's my blog. Go get your own.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Nick said...

Hey Dude, followed the link from your flickr page. Agree with you about "Justice", its one of my most favorite albums. But dude you should give the black album another chance. Pretty respectable. Load and St. Anger are shitty, but with other songs like "Unforgiven", "Sad but True" and "through the Never how can you really go wrong?
Still, its been a long time since I popped Justice on the player so thanks for making me think about it. Peace.

12 February, 2006 23:44  
Blogger Magnus said...

Some great riffs for sure, but like a friend of mine pointed out to me - they really needed Cliff Burton. I seem to remember liking "Through the Never" but "Unforgiven" is territory I fear to retread.
Aforementioned friend also picked up Cliff'em All on DVD, so I am looking forward to see that.
If you have a flickr page post a link or just send me a message through flickr itself.

14 February, 2006 13:01  

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