KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

METALLICA Part 1 – Thoughts On An Artist / From Whiplash To Battery

Metallica Photo (from Kill 'Em All)I should begin this series by confessing that for many years I wasn’t a Metallica fan, and even though I now own nearly everything in their discography I’m still only vaguely familiar with the bulk of their output. I grew up listening to a lot of hard rock & early heavy metal but I’ve never been a metal-head, and especially in the ‘80s during my high school & college years I had very little interest in modern metal. I didn’t dislike it but there were plenty of other genres that kept me entertained during that time. Even when Metallica was defeated in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category at The Grammy’s by the mighty Jethro Tull (who are a great band but certainly not “metal”) I watched & listened from afar as I questioned metal fans’ fury about a silly award, all the while preferring more melodic strains of metal (Whitesnake & Queensrÿche are two examples) whenever I felt like doing some headbanging. It wasn’t until around 1997 or 1998 when I picked up four classic Iron Maiden LPs…and discovered some amazing music that I had dismissed for nearly 15 years…that I began to open myself up to some of the metal acts that I had ignored for so long. After acquiring the entire Maiden & Judas Priest catalogs, I began checking out Metallica, one CD at a time & in no particular order.

Metallica Photo (circa 1984)As someone who loves progressive rock, I was initially drawn to the epic side of their music. Even though none of the individual band members were virtuosos like so many of my prog heroes, with the possible exception of original bassist Cliff Burton, I admired their songwriting ambition & appreciated how they maximized their abilities (this is not a criticism of singer/guitarist James Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett or drummer/spokesman Lars Ulrich, who are all very talented but not necessarily awe-inspiring as individual players). I also watched as the metal community seemed to turn on them when they became multi-million-selling MTV icons, and laughed as old fans judged them based on the length of their hair and mocked them for “selling out.” Although I haven’t embraced their music as fully as I did with Iron Maiden, I’ve grown to appreciate them more each time I play one of their albums. With this series I will finally give their music the time it deserves, and I hope my perspective as a non-metal-head might inspire others like me who might have written them off. Based solely on the first three albums, which I’ve spent plenty of time with this past week, their songwriting is a lot more sophisticated than I expected, even as they pummel the listener with some of the fastest & heaviest metal of its time.

Of all Metallica’s albums, their debut Kill ‘Em All (1983) was probably my least-played until this week. I remembered it being raw, aggressive & not very tuneful, but now I know I Metallica - Kill 'Em Allwas wrong. I suppose it is pretty raw, but considering they were signed to an independent label (it was later reissued by Elektra) and were young & inexperienced in the studio, it packs a lot of punch. The loud, fanfare-like intro to album opener “Hit The Lights” sounds like the final moments of an encore, which then gives way to lightning fast riffing. It’s hard not to love a song that begins with the lyrics, “No life ‘til leather, we are gonna kick some ass tonight.” This one is all youthful energy, and I like how they shift from fast verses to more galloping choruses. “The Four Horsemen” clocks in at more than 7 minutes and covers a lot of ground in that time. It’s ambitious with lots of tempo changes, biblical lyrics & several distinct sections for the guitar solos. This is one of a handful of songs on which original member Dave Mustaine (who was kicked out before they recorded the album and went on to form Megadeth) gets co-writing credit. I’m impressed that they did that instead of pretending he had nothing to do with those songs, which is what many bands would have done. “Motorbreath” is super-fast, like an out-of-control train. I especially love the atmosphere created by the guitar riff between the end of the chorus (“It is going to take your breath away”) and the following verse. With that title it’s not surprising that this song owes a lot to Motörhead, and I was surprised by the seemingly positive lyrics about living life to the fullest. Perhaps I misinterpreted them. This song might be a bit “metal-by-numbers,” which is the case with a few other tracks here, but their infectious energy won me over. “Whiplash” sounds like the second half of a Black Sabbath tune, after they’ve completed the sludgy doom-and-gloom section and taken things up several notches with tom-tom heavy percussion, a driving rhythm & chugging guitar. It’s also another one that’s indebted to Motörhead, as they describe their view from the stage of an intense metal crowd: “Adrenaline starts to flow, you’re thrashing all around, acting like a maniac…whiplash!”

Mustaine co-wrote “Phantom Lord,” which has a great bass-led intro before turning into another speed-metal workout. Although there’s a nice, mellower section at around 2:30 it never loses intensity, and Hammett really shreds on this one. “No Remorse” is slightly slower yet still heavy & driving, and Hammett is featured even before the vocals enter. Motörhead named their 1984 compilation No Remorse, possibly as a show of respect to Metallica (?). This harrowing tune is the first of many war-themed songs they would write (“Blood feeds the war machine as it eats its way across the land, we don’t need to feel the sorrow, no remorse is the one command”) and features numerous tempo & mood shifts. “Seek And Destroy” features an instantly memorable lead guitar hook, and it reminds me of Judas Priest or The Scorpions. Even with the angry, apocalyptic lyrics (searchiiiin’, seek and destroy!”), this song breathes more than the others. “Jump In The Fire” isn’t a great song, but I like the memorable repetitive 8-note riff and the way Hetfield sings, “Jump in the fi-ya!” “(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth” is an instrumental designed to show off Burton’s impressive super-fuzzy bass, which he plays like a lead guitar. Album closer “Metal Militia” is blistering speed-metal that doesn’t do much for me. It sounds like some of the earlier songs, just not as good. I’m really pleased by how much I grew to like Kill ‘Em All, which came as a complete shock. They would refine their sound on the next few albums, but now I know why so many people consider this one of the great debuts of all time (and not just among metal albums).

They streamlined their sound without losing any of the aggressive energy from their debut on Ride The Lightning (1984). It’s a collection of eight songs that feels a lot more Metallica - Ride The Lightningsprawling than its concise 47-minute running time, probably due to the fact that half of the tracks clock in at more than 6 minutes. “Fight Fire With Fire” opens up quietly, with pastoral acoustic guitar, until the metal kicks in 40 seconds into the song. Hetfield really barks out the lyrics in the verses, then gets more melodic for the choruses (“Fight fire with fire, ending is near…bursting with fear”). There are two guitar solos. I believe the first one is another Hammett shred-fest, while the second is more tuneful, making me curious if that’s Hetfield. “Ride The Lightning” is about a prisoner awaiting execution by the electric chair. I love the melody & vocal performance at the de facto chorus, “Flash before my eyes, now it’s time to die.” There are lots of heavy, chugging guitar riffs driving this one along, as well as another two-headed guitar solo. “For Whom The Bell Tolls” is based on an Ernest Hemingway novel about the horrors of war, and it begins with a clanging bell followed by a stop-start riff with thumping kick drum before a slower, menacing beat takes over. This is probably the tightest arrangement they’ve displayed so far, and that simple chorus with the chugging guitar riff is a killer.

“Fade To Black” is their first power ballad, although it’s a lot darker than that term would suggest, with lyrics about a man contemplating suicide. This song takes us on a musical journey, from the quiet intro with melodic lead guitar over fingerpicked acoustic to heavier power chords at 2:00 and then a big shift two minutes later at “No one but me can save myself, but it’s too late.” There are hints of Black Sabbath and a fantastic extended guitar solo through the outro. “Creeping Death” features biblical lyrics about the plagues in Egypt, and is the closest they’ve come to sounding like Iron Maiden (especially in the intro). It’s an epic right from the start, and has an amazing hook at “So let it be written, so let it be done…”

Album closer “The Call Of Ktulu” is a nearly 9-minute instrumental that’s mostly midtempo even as it moves through various distinct sections. The incredible guitar work Metallica Photo (Live circa 1984)elevates this to a near-classic, although at times I found it a little too repetitive. Without lyrics to guide the listener, the music needs a little more diversity, but that’s really a minor criticism. It shows a different side to Metallica that a lot of fans probably weren’t expecting at the time. The other two songs have some notable parts but aren’t at the same level as the ones I’ve already discussed. “Trapped Under Ice” includes a cool chorus (“Freezing…can’t move at all. Screaming…can’t hear my call”), and the slower chorus in “Escape” (“Out for my own, out to be free…”) is a nice change of pace. I completely understand why Ride The Lightning is considered a metal masterpiece, and even though a couple of the songs aren’t as strong as the others, those six songs are as good as it gets.

Metallica - Master Of PuppetsI’m not sure if they topped themselves with Master Of Puppets (1986) or merely matched the grandeur of the previous album, but there’s no doubt that the first five songs form a phenomenal set of music. “Battery” begins acoustically with a flamenco vibe, two guitars interweaving nicely. Eventually this gives way to a mega-fast tempo with lots of stops & starts. This sheer aggression points toward Pantera. “Master Of Puppets,” which deals with the wielding of & abuse of power, is the longest song on the album, and possibly the strongest as well. Featuring another killer riff and an amazing stop-start intro, it’s filled with hooks like “Obey your…master, master…” and “Just call my name ‘cause I’ll hear you scream.” The arrangement is impressive, shifting to a slower ballad tempo with melodic guitar leads and later returning to speed-metal with a searing guitar solo.

“The Thing That Should Not Be” finds them in Black Sabbath territory again, even adding in a slightly psychedelic effect in the verses that makes Hetfield sound a little like Ozzy Osbourne in his prime. It could be the basis for an interesting sci-fi/horror movie. I love the hook at “Hunter of the shadows is ri-sing…im-mor-tal.” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” is a massive tune. Based on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, it’s a moody ballad about a sane person locked against his will in a mental hospital. It builds slowly & effectively until it’s a full-on driving metal tune, and it points to the big hits they would have a few years later. “Disposable Heroes” begins with an extended instrumental section that acts like an overture, and there are great riffs, alternate time signatures (including a rare 6/8 feel) & strong lyrics about a young soldier being “bred to kill.” The music perfectly captures the anger & futility of the lyrics (“Soldier boy, made of clay, now an empty shell; Twenty-one, only son, but he served us well” and “Back at the front/you will do…what I say…when I say”).

Metallica Photo (circa 1986)The latter portion of the album suffers by comparison to these first five monster songs, but it’s not all filler. “Orion” is a long instrumental with a mostly steady beat, chugging bass & guitar and various solos. I especially like the shift to a slower, quieter section with twin melodic guitars (or is that one guitar with an octavider?). “Leper Messiah” is their attack on people who hide behind religion for their personal gain (“Send me money, send me green, heaven you will meet”). I wonder if there’s any connection to David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” which included the term “leper messiah” in its lyrics. For me, Master Of Puppets ends on a weak note with “Damage, Inc.,” a fast metal-by-numbers tune that was probably a lot of fun for headbangers in concert, but I feel like they’ve done this better several times before. That doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of this amazing record, which is rightly hailed as one of the benchmark albums in the history of heavy metal. Sadly, it was their final record with Cliff Burton, who died in a bus crash while the band was touring to promote the album. It’s hard to imagine how they dealt with that loss and somehow returned with the biggest albums of their career. For the next week I’ll be spending time with those albums, which sent Metallica through the stratosphere, as well as the live album/video package that documented this era of their career. I look forward to discussing those with you in my next post. Until then, please let me know how you feel about the three albums discussed here. I have a feeling there are a lot of people who have been passionate about them for three decades, in the same way I’m still passionate about so many artists & albums from that time. I may have been late to the Metallica party, but I’m making up for lost time.

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81 comments on “METALLICA Part 1 – Thoughts On An Artist / From Whiplash To Battery

  1. stephen1001
    September 12, 2013

    Nice – I didn’t see this series coming but I’m glad it’s here!

    I don’t have Kill ’em all, but from the early adopters I know, many seem nostalgic about this early period.

    Fade to Black is one of their finest – I’d argue my favourite metal ‘song suite.’

    That Battery intro was a brilliant way to start Master of Puppets and I may still be tempted to call it my favourite in the discography. I’ve never paid much attention to Metallica lyrics but I certainly would approve of a David Bowie connection!

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    • Thanks, Geoff. Believe it or not, I didn’t see this series coming either. Since I wrapped up my last series I had another artist in mind (a band featuring a pair of brothers with a vast catalog, which I’ll get to later this year or early in 2014), but then I took a trip to Paris and after a visit to the American cemetery at Normandy, the cover of Master Of Puppets popped into my head. When I got home I started playing the first three albums and realized it was time to revisit their discography, considering how unfamiliar I am with most of it.

      I was truly surprised at how fully-formed their sound was on Kill ‘Em All. I was expecting a raw, unpolished hit-and-miss affair, but it’s produced extremely well and their songwriting chops were already pretty impressive.

      I didn’t mention it in my post, but the use of “Master Of Puppets” in the movie Old School was one of those moments where I realized how great a song it is. For someone still just getting into their music at the time, it sounded so fresh & aggressive. That song & “Battery” are true monsters.

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      • stephen1001
        September 12, 2013

        Future series with a pair of brothers – I like the tantalizing hint, I’ll try to make an educated guess about which group it will be!

        I found that with the Oasis album I had on recently, very few bands have that fully-formed sound right off the bat. Perhaps that’s why Oasis & Metallica have suffered from in-fighting over the years, by skipping over the infancy stage they never really developed conflict resolution skills!

        Absolutely re: the title track. I think because those first few tunes in the MOP tracklist are so strong that I often forget it tapers off from there, lead with strength I suppose.

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      • Excellent point about Oasis having their defined sound right out of the gate. I was as big a fan as anyone at the beginning, and I continued buying all their albums even though nothing lived up to those first two for me. I did really enjoy Noel’s solo album, and I await more from him. Once I started listening to their b-sides (around ’95) I looked forward to the day that Noel would release his own music. I hope they eventually get back together, but I like Noel’s voice & want to hear more of it before a full-fledged Oasis reunion.

        I won’t confirm or deny that they’re the “brothers” group I mentioned earlier. I may do one more artist after Metallica before I tackle the sizable discography of the band in question.

        Glad you agree not just about the title track from Master Of Puppets, but also that the album trails off at the end. It’s hardly noticeable because those first five songs are so massive.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        September 13, 2013

        My guess to the brothers band is gonna be… AC/DC?! Maybe the Allmans?

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      • mikeladano
        September 13, 2013

        The Kinks!

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        September 13, 2013

        Oooohhhh good call!

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      • mikeladano
        September 13, 2013

        It’s a fun game!

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      • Another good guess. Hmm, who’s right? And have we overlooked anyone? (I know, this is silly, but it’s Friday…the perfect day for silliness)

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        September 13, 2013

        Er… Black Crowes?… were the Doobie Brothers actual siblings? Hahaha

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      • Black Crowes is also a possibility (I’ve got the whole catalog), so let’s add them to the list. That’s funny about the Doobies. I always think of their appearance on “What’s Happening,” when one of the characters asks them, “which Doobie you be?” I have the Doobies box set but that’s it, so maybe one day I’ll do a “Compilation Or Catalog?” post about them.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        September 13, 2013

        I’m not all that sure I even know any Doobies songs! I loved the Crowes but lost touch after By Your Side.

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      • Depending on how old you are, you must know at least a handful of Doobies songs. They’re staples on various radio formats. I’m pretty sure the 4-CD box set will be enough for me, but if I spend some time with it and really love most of the songs, I might be willing to delve into the individual albums. Damn my completist mentality.

        I kinda hated The Black Crowes when they first came on the scene. My attitude was, “I already have Stones & Faces albums, so why do I need these guys?” It was years later that I came around and realized how good they actually are. I think the song “Wiser Time” is what won me over. What a fantastic groove.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        September 13, 2013

        I’m 38 but I’ve never been a radio listener really. I’m not sure how big they were in the UK.

        I was fairly ambivalent about their debut but their run from Southern Harmony to Three Snakes was fantastic. My love for The Faces came later too which probably helped!

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      • Not sure how big they were in the UK, so maybe you don’t know any Doobies after all. Here in the US it’s impossible to not know at least a half dozen of their songs.

        Totally agree about the Crowes’ great run of albums. I’m not an expert on any of them but based on my relatively limited knowledge they’ve been pretty consistent throughout their career, even after those peak years of commercial success.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        September 13, 2013

        I didn’t enjoy By Your Side or Lions so that killed my interest off a bit. I may look into latter day albums at some point. I did get the Lost Crowes album. I thought that was great.

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      • Since I got into them after Lions was released, I didn’t listen to the albums in any particular order, so I didn’t go into the albums you mentioned with any special expectations. Whenever I revisit their catalog, it’ll be interesting to hear everything in chronological order. I agree that Lost Crowes is excellent.

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      • Good guesses…and definitely bands with worthy discographies (I own everything by both of them). Not that I was looking to create a mystery, but what the hell… The artist in question will be revealed later this year.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        September 13, 2013

        Well I’ll look forward to the big reveal! I’d be excited to read about any of the artists that have been mentioned.

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      • Thanks HMO. I’ll get to all of them eventually, but there’s one in particular that I’ve been eager to tackle. I’m still surprised that I went with Metallica at the last minute. So far I’m enjoying that decision (listening to The Black Album for the second time in as many days as I type this).

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      • Phillip Helbig
        October 3, 2013

        Allman Brothers? Kinks? CCR?

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      • All good guesses, Phillip. I was hoping to be done with the Metallica series by now and possibly on to the next “mystery” series, but I’ve been dealing with a family emergency for the past week which has kept me away from music for the most part. I’m hoping to finish my third Metallica post next week. After I’m done with them I might do one more smaller catalog before moving on to the “brother band.” I will need some serious time to devote to that music, and I want my mind (and schedule) to be clear when I do.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        October 4, 2013

        By jove! I think I know who it is! I’m worried that if I guess correctly I’ll ruin your surprise though… can I email you my guess? (I’m feeling pretty confident, can you tell?)

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      • Sure, but do you promise not the spoil the surprise for everyone else if you guess correctly? My email address is the name of the blog at gmail.com.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        October 4, 2013

        I promise. Going to send email now. If I’m wrong then I’ll tell everyone what my guess was but… dunno… I really feel like it’s the winning guess!

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      • You had a good guess but it’s not who I’m thinking of. I have been listening to some of their music for the first time lately, though.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        October 4, 2013

        Damn! I felt SURE it was going to be them! Never mind… back to the drawing board…

        If its not them I might as well say. I guessed Sparks. It was the “vast catalog” that made me think it might be them.

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      • As I said, it was a really good guess and the timing was excellent because until a couple of weeks ago I had never heard a note of their music. I promise all will be revealed within a month or two, and the suspense will finally be lifted…as if anyone really cares. Haha.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        October 4, 2013

        I can’t say I’m all that familiar with them at all. They could be a good one to do in future. Ah well, just have to wait and see. I’ve ran out of brother bands now!

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      • Phillip Helbig
        October 4, 2013

        Let’s at least come up with a list of all brother bands: CCR, Kinks, Allman brothers, AC/DC, Oasis. Are there any more?

        And, of course, sister bands. Heart. Any others?

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      • Jesus & Mary Chain, Bee Gees, Crash Test Dummies, Kings Of Leon, Spandau Ballet, The Beach Boys (who I’ve already written about here), INXS, Hanson, The Jackson 5, The Black Crowes, Stone Temple Pilots, The Everly Brothers, Van Halen. I’m sure there are plenty of others, but ironically The Doobie Brothers is not one of them.

        As for sister acts, I think The Breeders had a pair of sisters. And then there’s The Carpenters with a brother and sister.

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      • mikeladano
        October 4, 2013

        Boy I sure hope it’s Hanson next!

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      • I can admit that they’re not the brother band I’m thinking of, but I’m also not ashamed to admit that I love Hanson. I was as dismissive of them when they hit it big in the 90s as most non-teenage girls. Every generation needs their boy band, but I was already 30 & had no interest in their music. Surprisingly, their subsequent albums are REALLY good and they’ve become excellent writers, singers & musicians. Also, Taylor Hanson sang with Tinted Windows, featuring Fountains Of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha and Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos, so he got some credibility there.

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      • mikeladano
        October 4, 2013

        Is it still the same three guys?

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      • Yep. They’re all grown up, married & have kids of their own. They seemed like a manufactured pop group when they started, with lots of additional writers & musicians on record & on stage, but I recently saw a concert of theirs on TV and it was the three of them with two additional musicians. If you’re into classic melodic pop with strong harmonies & maybe a hint of Motown, you can’t do much better than Hanson (the 1997 version of me is appalled by this part of the conversation).

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      • mikeladano
        October 4, 2013

        Good on them! They have then achieved a transition that so many before have failed to do successfully.

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      • Exactly. And thanks for not mocking me for admitting my love of Hanson, although I know you’re too open-minded for that.

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      • mikeladano
        October 4, 2013

        No mocking Rich. I’m a guy who admitted to owning Puff Daddy. And I have a Poison review coming. That’s pretty far removed from Metallica’s brand of rock!

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  2. mikeladano
    September 12, 2013

    Oh man. I can’t believe you’re doing this. Just when I have a 2-part Metallica feature coming in a few weeks. Already linking to this one to cross-promote 🙂

    Anyway, I’m going to come back and read this a second time (just woke up) before I leave you any sort of musical comment. I will say that on first read, I think you nailed it — all my thoughts and feelings about this group of songs and albums. And this is a good “chunk” to choose, with the death of Cliff effectively ending an era of the band.

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    • That’s good timing on our parts, Mike. I’m looking forward to your Metallica series, and I’ll gladly reciprocate the cross-promotion once that series is posted. I have to imagine you’ve been a fan since the beginning, or close to it (I know you’re a few years younger than me, so perhaps you were a bit too young in 1983 to get into Kill ‘Em All), so our perspectives on their music might be very different. I’m glad we’re pretty much in agreement regarding these first three albums.

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  3. Brian
    September 12, 2013

    nice Rich! Glad you’re digging on the first three. They are by far my favorite Metallica albums (with Lightning at #1 and Puppets #2). I do enjoy “Justice” and parts of the Black album but I really felt like they fell off after that, though I did enjoy their last album a bit- their playing and production was back but the tunes on the new one don’t match the first three. “Fade to Black” is my favorite track by them and one of my favorite metal songs of all time. While you’re revisiting early Metallica I’m doing the same with Motorhead and was absolutely floored at how good (nearly perfect) that their “Overkill” record is. They are surely the biggest influence on Metallica, though tons of New Wave of British Heavy Metal acts as well as Sabbath, Priest etc.. influenced them as well.

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    • Always happy when we’re on the same page, Brian. I may end up liking some of the later albums more than you do simply because I’m coming to them with no expectations. I remember the uproar from old fans who thought they sold out once the Black Album became huge, which I guess I understand because that’s happened with artists I’ve loved from the beginning of their careers.

      Based on my basic knowledge of their catalog, I’ve always gravitated towards “…And Justice For All” because of the progginess of it, but it would be so much better with the bass restored to the mix. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

      Agreed about those early Motörhead albums. I only own the “No Remorse” 2-CD compilation which is nearly perfect, but I made digital copies of a friend’s Motörhead CD collection about 10 years ago and was impressed by how consistently good they are. I have to be in a particular mood to play them, but when that mood strikes they’re perfect.

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  4. Brian
    September 12, 2013

    Rich- so funny. I did the EXACT same thing with Motorhead. I’ve had “No Remorse” since high school and thought it was a one stop shop for them. I can’t believe how many great cuts are on “Overkill” and “Ace Of Spades” that aren’t on “No Remorse”. Next up is “Bomber”.

    I think the same thing about Justice. Great songs and concept but tinny sound.

    I tend not to have too much of a fan mentality toward bands (I save that for football) so I wasn’t hating on them b/c of selling out or whatever. I have all of those albums and gave all of them a chance. “Black Album” has some great stuff and some not so great stuff. Most of the rest of the stuff just kind of bores me though there are a few good songs on everything besides maybe “St. Anger”. That all being said I’ll be you do end up liking them more than me anyway.

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    • I think you’ll be enjoying “Bomber” as much as the other ones. Seems like we’re in headbanging mode at the same time.

      I’ve already begun listening to the next batch of Metallica albums. There’s definitely a stylistic & sonic shift at the Black Album, but what’s wrong with that? Every band needs to evolve (unless you’re called AC/DC). It’s funny to me that I’m just now getting to know the Black Album while more than 10 million people had it as the soundtrack of their lives 20 years ago.

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  5. Heavy Metal Overload
    September 12, 2013

    Totally stoked about this new series! I’m with you on all your observations here. I’d say Ride and Puppets are Metallica’s peak. Puppets has more consistency but Ride has a batch of their greatest songs so I’ve always felt them fairly equal.

    I also liked your observation about their individual talents. I’ve always thought them better than the sum of their parts. Things definitely get more… interesting from here on. It’ll be fun to compare everyone’s take on the later albums. Kudos on another top notch post!

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    • Thanks, HMO. Happy to hear that we share similar feelings about these albums. Were you a fan from the start? It seems easy to love the first three albums, but I have a feeling I might have some different opinions about the later releases compared to longtime fans.

      Also glad that you agree about their individual talents. I wasn’t sure if anyone would yell at me for that comment, but as a lifelong musician I feel qualified to make that assessment. The important thing is the songwriting, as well as their execution as a unit, not as individuals. And so far, they’ve succeeded on all counts.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        September 12, 2013

        I wasn’t a fan from the start. Although Kill ‘Em All was my first album of theirs. They had just released Justice when I got into them.

        I like them all as musicians but they do have more effect and chemistry as a unit. Although it’s worth pointing the massive influence of Hetfield’s crunchy, muted rhythm playing on Metal guitarists.

        It is easy to love this batch. It will get more divisive from here so I can’t wait for the next instalment!

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      • You were still a much earlier fan than I was. Having worked at record stores starting in 1983 I was aware of them but had absolutely no interest in modern metal. Even though I didn’t own any of their albums until the late-90s I was familiar with any of their songs that got radio play or videos on MTV. I was always turned off by Lars’ personality. As a drummer myself my opinion was that we should be in the background, keeping the beat & keeping our mouths shut (unless you’re also the singer). He came across as an opinionated jerk and that turned me off to them for a long time. I’ve mellowed as I’ve gotten older and that kind of thing doesn’t bother me anymore.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        September 12, 2013

        I never minded him too much although he has his moments! In fairness, he may have been the only band member that was willing to be the band’s publicity mouthpiece in those early years. Hetfield was certainly always too private/shy for that role.

        I mainly liked Lars enthusiasm for his Metal influences. It was very infectious and useful in finding other great bands. Metallica were a great gateway band for me.

        Like

      • That’s a great point about Lars’ enthusiasm for (and promotion of) metal. I guess he used his fame to shine a light on lesser known bands (like Diamond Head), so it’s hard to fault him even if his public persona was occasionally a little irritating to me. I will not let my previous feelings about their personalities affect my appreciation for their music as I work my way through their catalog.

        Like

  6. mikeladano
    September 12, 2013

    Well Rich, I have re-read this analysis and I can’t say that I disagree on anything. I think you pretty much nailed these three albums. Like yourself, I was late getting into Metallica. None of my friends were really into them. I didn’t get into them until Load actually, and then I worked my way forwards from Kill ‘Em All after that!

    Right now I’m listening to Live At Grimy’s, a loose 2010 EP mostly based around these albums. No Remorse is a highlight for sure, as is Sanitarium. I think I might extend my Metallica series to include this one, I’m digging it!

    Like

    • Thanks for re-reading, and I’m glad we’re on the same page. It’s cool that we have similar backgrounds with their music. Considering your love & knowledge of hard rock & heavy metal, I would’ve expected you to be a fan from the ’80s.

      I have a digital copy of “Live At Grimey’s” so I’ll probably include it at the end of this series. What kind of series will you be doing on them? A full catalog review like mine, or something different?

      Like

      • mikeladano
        September 12, 2013

        It’s a miniseries, and the way it’s shaping up, it’s shaping up to be a series on Live EPs. I’m having a blast revisiting these. It’s just coincidence you chose to revisit the same band!

        Like

      • I think it’s a great coincidence. I’m really looking forward to your series, even more than I would have as recently as last week, since now I’m in the perfect mindset for it.

        Like

  7. 80smetalman
    September 16, 2013

    Cool take on what is often thought to be their three best albums before they were accused of selling out. I have to admit that Master of Puppets is my all time Metallica favourite. I think after that, they lost the hunger that they had in the earlier days.

    Like

    • Thanks. Were you a fan from the early days? Since I came to their music many years later, it’ll be interesting to see if I have the same reaction as you to their later material…although I can tell you that after several listens of the next couple of albums, plus the expansive live set, all of which I’ll cover in my next post, they seemed pretty motivated. Maybe they lose the hunger a little later in their career. I’ll figure that out over the next couple of weeks.

      Like

  8. 80smetalman
    September 17, 2013

    Master of Puppets was the album that got me into them and that led me to listen to their first two. The Black Album is very good although the sell out accusations came on that one due to the ballad Nothing Else Matters.

    Like

    • You were definitely way ahead of me when it comes to Metallica, but then again most people in my age group liked them before me. You might be right that the “sell out” tag was due to that ballad rather than the fact that they had a mega-million-selling album, since “…And Justice For All” was already a huge seller. I’ll consider that when I’m putting together my next post later this week.

      Like

  9. soulcrusher
    September 28, 2013

    They first started to hear the sellout calls with Fade to Black so they were pretty much already ignoring it by the time TBA rolled around.

    Also a little correction. Cliff Burton was not the original bassist, just the one on the first album. The first recording of Metallica was on Metal Masacre 1(The start of Metal Blade records) and bass duities on that and the demos you will hear about from time to time were handled by Ron McGovney. He used to post on here from time to time. He also has many fans of the band on his facebook page and much of the time posts things, mostly older pictures, of his time in the band.

    Like

    • Didn’t realize fans were already crying “sellout” as early as “Fade To Black.” I’m finding that Metallica fans are very finicky and possessive regarding everything about the band.

      Thanks for pointing out the history regarding their bass players. My goal here isn’t to provide a detailed history lesson of Metallica. I’m merely documenting my feelings about each album immediately after spending time with them and finally getting to know them. When I referred to Burton as the original bassist I was simply talking about the period during the albums that I own. I’m sure my readers will appreciate your clarification, as I did. I’ve read some interesting things about McGovney, and for anyone reading these comments I urge you to look into his story.

      Like

  10. Phillip Helbig
    October 3, 2013

    “I grew up listening to a lot of hard rock & early heavy metal but I’ve never been a metal-head”

    That much is obvious from your hairdo. 🙂 Perhaps Rob Halford has made the bald head acceptable in metal circles, but I’m not sure how cool that is if you are not a gay biker.

    The Tull Grammy was a classic. Chrysalis didn’t even send them to the ceremony since they thought they had no chance, so Alice Cooper accepted the award on their behalf. However, it was hard rock and heavy metal in one category. While Tull aren’t a metal band (though a couple of tunes approach that territory), they are definitely hard rock (or at least that is one aspect of Tull).

    “It wasn’t until around 1997 or 1998 when I picked up four classic Iron Maiden LPs…and discovered some amazing music that I had dismissed for nearly 15 years…that I began to open myself up to some of the metal acts that I had ignored for so long. After acquiring the entire Maiden & Judas Priest catalogs, I began checking out Metallica, one CD at a time & in no particular order.”

    Same here, though it was almost 15 years later. I now have all the Iron Maiden studio albums with Bruce and several live albums. I’ve probably heard them more often than most of the CDs or vinyl records I’ve owned for much longer. However, Judas Priest, Def Leppard etc have never done it for me (not to mention thrash metal, hair metal etc). I recently saw Saxon and was nonplussed, though I keep hearing that their first few albums are good. I’ve never been able to get into Metallica, though, except for a few songs. (The “audition a bass player” scene in Some Kind of Monster, though, is worth the price of admission.)

    Unfortunately, my hair began to thin out around the time I discovered Iron Maiden (I had been aware of them for almost as long as they had existed, but never heard any of their music), mainly as a result of chemotherapy (I would have kept a thick head of hair otherwise). It used to be down to my waste—which immediately outed me as not being a metal head, since it can’t be so long that it would cover up the embroidery on the back of the jean jacket.

    I am seeing 7 metal bands next week (Fates Warning, Divided Multitude and The Omega Experiment on Monday, Master Plan, Mystic Prophecy, Jaded Heart and Siren’s Cry on Wednesday—I’m still on the lookout for good metal. I’ll see if any of these catches my attention.

    Where I’m more confident I’ll find something to my liking are the likes of Rainbow, Black Sabbath etc, i.e. 70s hard rock (though I’m still looking for the hard rock/heavy metal shibboleth.)

    Like

    • Although I should be offended by your hair comment, it’s hard to argue that my smooth head is as far from metal-head requirements as you can get. I’m very happy being follically challenged but when it comes to headbanging or even drumming, there are times a full head of long hair would be nice. I remember you’ve mentioned about your chemotherapy treatments. How well has your hair grown back since then? I really hope that experience is completely behind you.

      Good point about Tull being somewhat “hard rock,” at least as far as Grammy categories are concerned, but that particular album was relatively mellow (although Martin Barre’s guitar work was usually pretty heavy when he wasn’t channeling Mark Knopfler on songs like “She Said She Was A Dancer”).

      Until we started conversing last year I assumed I was the only one in my age range who got heavily into Maiden so many years after the fact. Like you I’ve sought out other similar metal bands but, even though I’ve gotten into heavier music in the last 15 years Maiden continues to be the band that everyone gets compared to and so far no one else has had the same impact on me. I don’t remember if I’ve asked how you feel about Dream Theater, Symphony X, Fates Warning or Iced Earth. All four are stacked with incredible musicianship & progressive/prog-metal songwriting. I would be surprised if at least one of them didn’t make an impact on you. Glad to hear that you’ll be seeing one of them (Fates Warning) shortly. Their new album, which I just got yesterday, is very good but I need to give it a few more listens before I can make a final judgment.

      There are plenty of great less-exposed 70s hard rock bands in the vein of Rainbow or Sabbath, so I’m sure you’ve got plenty of years of non-stop music discovery.

      Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        October 4, 2013

        “I remember you’ve mentioned about your chemotherapy treatments. How well has your hair grown back since then? I really hope that experience is completely behind you.”

        I had chemotherapy at the end of 2004 and at the end of 2008. Both times, all hair fell out, but, as usually happens in such cases, grew back, but differently—thinner, different colour, at the beginning curlier etc. It never got back to what it had been before, and got thinner after it grew back, so I decided to cut it short. I have the classic male pattern baldness, more or less, but with a thin crop of hair on top. I would rather have none there at all, then maybe the rest could grow long again. Now, I keep it short, especially on top. Other hair, however, was hardly affected—I’ve always had little body hair but a full beard, and that didn’t change. I might end up looking like the keyboarder in Dream Theater. 🙂

        I’ve listened to some Dream Theater, but, at least when I did so, it didn’t really click. I saw Portnoy with Flying Colors and, to be frank, was a bit disappointed, but this might have to do with the fact that—based on the members of the band—I expected something more progressive. It was more straight-ahead rock.

        “Dream Theater, Symphony X, Fates Warning or Iced Earth”. I often read the last three mentioned in comparison to Maiden, and the first in comparison to Rush (at least Rush during their prog-metal period). I have a list of probably 200 bands I need to check out (not all heavy metal). I’ll get around to them eventually.

        Like

      • As always I wish you the best of health going forward. Hopefully your hair issues will be the only negative effect. I too had male pattern baldness at an early age (early 20s), and I started shaving it when I was about 28. I’m 47 now and haven’t looked back.

        Much as I love Dream Theater, not everything they’ve done is a masterpiece. Their albums can be overlong and sometimes James Labrie’s vocals can get a little grating (even though I do really like his voice). Their heaviest album, Train Of Thought, is also one of their best, but to me the pinnacle of their discography is the second disc of Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. I think it belongs among the pantheon of prog-rock classics. I know how you feel about Flying Colors, but I have to say that once I approached it without the expectations of a prog supergroup like Transatlantic I came to love the album. I’m looking forward to the live CD & DVD coming out this month. The singer’s voice really grew on me.

        I know how you feel about the bands-to-check-out list. Mine keeps growing…and I love it in spite of the fact that I’m always struggling to find the time to listen to everything. Its amazing to think that I would barely have enough time if I only listened to new releases by artists I already like…but of course I have to add all kinds of previously unexplored artists into my collection.

        Like

    • Phillip Helbig
      October 8, 2013

      “I am seeing 7 metal bands next week (Fates Warning, Divided Multitude and The Omega Experiment on Monday”

      I really must start my own blog. I hope to do so by the end of the year.

      Brief review:

      The Omega Experiment: Band from the US who wore normal clothes (if you consider Megadeth and Pink Floyd T-shirts normal clothes) and, interestingly, a fully bearded bassist. 2 guitars (one of them played by the singer), bass, keyboards, drums. I couldn’t hear the keyboards much. The drummer was quite good technically, the others OK. Musically: everything I don’t like about much heavy metal: growl vocals, musically too simple, too aggressive. I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics. Some nu-metal influences.

      Divided Multitude: More traditional band from that heavy-metal hotbed, Norway. Guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, singer. All with long hair (but the singer’s was a bit shorter) and all with full beards (except the singer). Many of the criticisms of The Omega Experiment apply here too, but less severely. They were dressed in traditional, though not extreme, heavy-metal attire: leather pants etc The standout for me was the keyboarder. In contrast to the rest of the music, his contributions sounded like something from Kansas’s Leftoverture.

      I’ll reserve judgement on Fates Warning. I liked them much better than the other two bands and will be checking out their catalogue. The younger guitarist had a 7-string guitar. All looked rather heavy-metal (or hard-rock or, to me, just normal), except the bassist, who sported some sort of Mohawk variation. Normal clothes (T-shirts, lumberjack shirts etc). People often mention them when I say I like Maiden. I suppose they are more like Maiden than, say, Celtic Frost, like the Beach Boys are more similar to the Kinks than, say, Black Sabbath. But within the metal universe not that close.

      Like

      • Thanks for the reviews, Phillip. If/when you start a blog I will definitely be signing up. Your write-ups on The Omega Experiment and Divided Multitude don’t have me clamoring to hear them, although of the two the latter sounds more of my speed.

        Glad you seemed to enjoy Fates Warning and you’re thinking of checking out their catalog. I don’t have much of their earliest work, when they were a straight metal band with some prog tendencies, but the compilation “Chasing Time” is a great introduction to that era (and it includes some of the late-80s/early-90s material when they became more progressive). If I had to pick one album of their to check out, though, it would be “Disconnected,” although you can’t go wrong with anything they’ve released in the last 20 years (which sadly only includes 5 studio albums).

        Like

    • Phillip Helbig
      October 17, 2013

      “Master Plan, Mystic Prophecy, Jaded Heart and Siren’s Cry on Wednesday”

      Review time. The blog should start within a few weeks, maybe sooner, definitely by the end of the year.

      Second on the bill were Jaded Heart. Someone coined the term “butt rock” for rock which is OK as far as it goes, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Latter-day Aerosmith etc. Interesting Japanese guy on guitar, but apparently he was stepping in for the regular guitarist, who was taking time off with the kids (many of the members are from Sweden). Good at what they do, but not my cup of tea and a bit too generic. Almost treading on “live your own caricature” territory.

      After them came Mystic Prophecy. Nomen est omen? As far as the stage and appearance of the musicians go, and the music to some extent, yes: typical Sabbath-inspired dark metal fashion. Then the singer appears with a cowboy hat, square, thick-frame glasses and Elvis (or Neil Young) sideburns. Bizarre, to say the least. Again, a bit too generic.

      Master Plan were a bit better, but still too generic. (Is this criticism starting to sound too generic)? The last two are generally classified as power metal, but they are quite different from, say, DragonForce, which to me is a typical power-metal band.

      These three bands did confirm, though, that the Gibson Les Paul really is the best hard-rock/heavy-metal guitar.

      The first band had a guitarist sporting a 30-fret Ibanez. Not a bad sound, but the Les Paul does sound better. Otherwise, though, Siren’s Cry (from Vienna, Austria, but apparently with a rather cosmopolitan background) were the best band of the night. Reminded me a bit of Nightwish, not just because of the female vocalist. (I think she is the only rock vocalist I’ve seen with braces—on her teeth.) Many pundits compare them to Symphony X but, not being familiar (yet) with the latter, I can’t comment. It is rare that I buy a CD at a gig, even if I like the band, but I did this time and it was worth it. Yes, I have better CDs, but it is quite enjoyable. Had they not been the first of 4 bands with a 25-minute set at 7 P.M. it would probably have been a better concert—not that it was bad, though. I actually had several minutes chat with the singer when she was looking for a hairband during one of the breaks. Very nice, very approachable and down-to-Earth.

      Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        October 17, 2013

        An obvious closing italic tag missing or mis-typed at the end of the first line.

        Like

      • Thanks for the review of this multi-band show, Phillip. As someone who’s very picky about his metal & hard rock, it usually takes a lot to convince me that a new (or new-to-me) band is worth spending time with. Based on your reviews, it doesn’t sound like any of them would be. I really enjoy your passion, and your writing style really puts me at the venue, seeing & hearing each band. Well done. Whenever your blog is up & running, let me know so I can add it to my favorites & put it on my blogroll. That might even send a handful of my readers your way, eventually. Every little bit helps, of course.

        Cheers!
        Rich

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        October 18, 2013

        Well, if you like Nightwish you might like Siren’s Cry. I have the first Nightwish album and a “best of”. I think I like the first album best. It is actually quite good, but perhaps they shot all their powder on the first album. (They now have a new, more conventional singer, with a completely different style than the first one, who was with them for several years.) Nightwish is probably the typical symphonic-metal band, whereas Siren’s Cry is somewhere between symphonic metal and progressive metal.

        I buy CDs from only a fraction of acts I see live. In a live setting, even if the music isn’t that good, there is always something to see and something to learn.

        Like

      • Never heard Nightwish, but I’ll keep them in mind since I do have a soft spot for symphonic metal when it’s done well.

        I’m the same way regarding my purchasing habits when it comes to bands I see live. There have probably only been a handful of artists over the years where I bought their music after seeing them in concert. I usually see artists I already enjoy, but if I was the kind of person who went to music festivals that might be different.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        October 18, 2013

        “Never heard Nightwish, but I’ll keep them in mind since I do have a soft spot for symphonic metal when it’s done well.”

        It surprises me that you’ve never heard them. I guess they are the symphonic-metal band. Check out their first album, Angels Fall First. Go for the re-issue with some interesting extra tracks.

        I just noticed this piece of news from their Wikipedia page: “In October of 2013, Nightwish made Floor Jansen and longtime session uillean pipes player Troy Donockley permanent members of the band.”

        I’ve seen Troy Donockley many times, as he is one of the leading figures on the UK folk-music scene. Donockley becoming a permanent member of Nightwish is like thinking of Fairport Convention when reading about Metallica! (To be fair, Nightwish has always had an acoustic, even folk, side, and folk music in Finland, like in neighbouring Sweden, is very much a living tradition. Think of Neil Young or Jethro Tull—not in terms of music, but in terms of hard rock/heavy metal on the one hand and acoustic songs on the other.)

        While they do have a distinctive style (some might say that they originated the symphonic-metal style), their songs sound quite different, so be sure to give the entire album a listen.

        Just yesterday, I was reading about foreign students in Finland. It turns out that, whatever subject they’re studying, the prime reason for choosing Finland is the vibrant heavy-metal scene there.

        Like

      • Remember, metal isn’t my favorite genre, so there are definitely holes in my collection. I will definitely look into “Angels Fall First” thanks to your recommendation.

        Interesting story about foreign students in Finland. They may not get an education in school, but they get to hear & see some amazing bands. And that’s what’s really important, right?

        Like

  11. Phillip Helbig
    October 3, 2013

    “Sadly, it was their final record with Cliff Burton, who died in a bus crash while the band was touring to promote the album. It’s hard to imagine how they dealt with that loss and somehow returned with the biggest albums of their career.”

    Interestingly, Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief, certainly one of the most influential and one of the best folk-rock albums of all time, was recorded after a motorway accident which killed their drummer, Martin Lamble, as well as Richard Thompson’s girlfriend and seriously injured others. They considered breaking up, but didn’t (and still exist today).

    Let’s see: Trujillo played with Ozzy. There are many links between Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and Don Airey played on Tull’s Crest of a Knave tour. At this time, Dave Pegg was playing in both Fairport and Tull. (He joined the former for Full House, the first album after Liege and Lief. (Again, many thought they would break up after Sandy Denny left. How do you replace Sandy Denny? You don’t. The others started singing, Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick and, a bit, Simon Nicol. Simon Nicol is still with Fairport (though he left for a few years in the 1970s) and is now a really, really, really, really good singer. Not that he was bad in the past, but nothing special. However, he has a completely different voice now. He also gets my vote for the most underrated guitar player of all time.

    Like

    • I hadn’t thought about Fairport Convention when I was listening to the early Metallica albums, but it’s true that both bands suffered significant losses early in their career and somehow came out stronger on the other side. I have all of the Fairport albums with Richard Thompson & a handful of later ones, but I don’t know enough about Simon Nicol to pick out his vocals. I’ll have to explore more of their catalog & specifically listen to his guitar work. It must be hard living in the shadow of a guitar genius like RT.

      Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        October 4, 2013

        “I hadn’t thought about Fairport Convention when I was listening to the early Metallica albums”

        I’m probably the only person in the world who does that. 🙂

        “I have all of the Fairport albums with Richard Thompson & a handful of later ones, but I don’t know enough about Simon Nicol to pick out his vocals.”

        Simon did only the odd vocal (in more ways than one) until their re-formation (not reformation) in 1985, after having been in limbo for a few years. He was then the only real singer left. (In the line up with Bruce Rowland, he did sing more than he had in the past, though.) Also around this time, perhaps slightly later, his voice broke, becoming not only deeper but also better in quality.

        “It must be hard living in the shadow of a guitar genius like RT.”

        I think that that is no problem, at least as far as performing in Fairport goes. When a band celebrates it’s 45th year, the contributions of those who were in the band for 4 years, and that 40 years ago, gets put in perspective. Richard Thompson, of course, is a writer, while Simon Nicol is not. That’s a big difference, of course. Richard is also something of a guitar hero. Simon is more low key (and, looking like a pre-facelift Kenny Rogers and wearing Bermuda shorts doesn’t conform to the guitar-hero image), but his guitar playing is impeccable. He plays mostly rhythm guitar, but can hold his own with fast jigs with essentially anyone. Maartin Allcock wrote many tricky tunes when he was with Fairport, but they were never a problem for Simon to play live. I’ve also been listening to some Swarbrick and Nicol albums; they toured as a duo, mainly during the Fairport limbo. Just guitar, fiddle and two voices. Some excellent stuff (but not heavy metal).

        Like

      • I absolutely love how you can take a conversation about Metallica and shift it to a discussion about Fairport Convention so seamlessly. Thanks for pointing out the differences between Simon, Richard, Maartin, which I hadn’t really considered. RT is a great writer, guitarist & singer (well, not great in the traditional sense, but he has a singular voice that can only be him). Not everything he’s done has been a classic, but he’s done enough brilliant music over the last 45 years that should warrant him a much bigger audience…even though he seems very content with his existing fanbase.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        October 4, 2013

        Some RT quotes:

        It seems to me if you play an electric guitar there’s only five conceivable settings.

        They think that you must be a genius if you never say anything.

        I think with the Internet it’s become much easier to cultify anyone.

        Any dead guitarist. [on his source of inspiration]

        I’m not sure the English understand irony either. But they are more used to it.

        A “musician’s musician” — you know, what that really means is, obscure and poor.

        It’s easy to ignore Californian culture because there isn’t any. Do you detect any Jan And Dean influence in my songs? [RT has lived in California for a while.]

        Yes, I coached my son’s [soccer] team in Los Angeles. If you have a European accent of any description then you are the coach—you don’t need any other qualification.

        Like

      • All great quotes. He’s like a Borscht Belt comedian with serious guitar chops. When I first heard his music about 20 years ago I always assumed he was so serious, and one of the great discoveries was how witty he is…especially on stage. I’ve seen him numerous times now in all kinds of settings, and he never fails to deliver a kick-ass show.

        Like

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