Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Damage, Inc." / Metallica / Master of Puppets

Oh, Metallica…*sighs, shakes head*

Back in high school in the late 80's, Metallica was probably my favorite band. To this day, one of the best shows I've ever seen was Metallica and the Cult (with Steve Jones!) at Atlanta's Lakewood Amphitheatre on the "...And Justice for All..." tour in 1989. Then came the pile of crap called the "Black Album". Then came forcing Jason Newstead out, then Lars and Napster, a shameful episode that found a band taking its fans to court, more crap albums, and you have what you've got now.

Seriously…they went from this:

To this:

Metallica is a band at which I can pinpoint the first time I heard them. I was on a family vacation to Jekyll Island in 1986 between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I was all about the classics at that time – Zeppelin, Floyd, Rush, etc. I met a kid down at the condo at which we were staying who was into music too. I had just bought Electric by The Cult and was really digging that “tape”. I told this kid to check it out, and he slipped it in his walkman.

He took a listen, grinned, and said, “Not too bad. Now you listen to this” and then handed over Master of Puppets.

Just the imagery of the tape cover told me I was in for something new and exciting, something semi-dangerous and challenging. As I stared at the picture of rows of graves under a blood red sky, I hit play and heard the first chugging chords of “Disposable Heroes”

Some seven minutes later, I turned the tape player off and looked at the kid. I’m sure my eyes were big as saucers because of the big smile on his face, “Good stuff, huh?” he said as he took his tape back.

It wasn’t as if I hadn’t ever listened to anything out of the mainstream. In ninth grade I tried on punk for size, but it was nothing to the euphoric feeling I got from Metallica.

This is one reason I hate them so much today : to go from being so great and important (not just to me, but important musically) to geezers today feels like a complete betrayal. Add to that Lars Ulrich’s and James Hetfield’s general douchiness , and they are just so easy to hate (pity Kirk Hamnett, who always seems like an easygoing fellow, and the sting of bass players - Cliff Burton, Jason Newstead and currently Robert Trullilo – who forever seem like the coolest dudes in the group whenever they are in it).

So let’s remember the good times with “Damage, Inc.”, shall we?

The final song off of the aforementioned Master of Puppets, it’s one of the group’s most famous and lasting. It begins with some slow, building guitar work from Kirk before breaking into the classic Metallica crunch at 1:20. Even for a Metallica tune, it’s a damn scorcher, roaring along at breakneck speed.

At 1:50 they introduce the five-chord hook of the song, a descending riff which is one of the most recognizable in their canon. The lyrics tend toward the trite (“Living on your knees, conformity / or dying on your feet for honesty”) and cliched (”Fuck it all and fucking no regrets”) but have some nice imagery of blood, wild animals (razorbacks, jackals, hunt, instinct) and general mayhem (steamrollers, slamming, agony).

It’s more or less a “We are badass, don’t fuck with us” tune, the type they used to write in their sleep (“Hit the Lights”, “Whiplash”) before they completely quit trying.

Anyway, some last few cool part of Damage I love: the whispered song title, the bridge / breakdown at 3:14, the little drum fill and the “Go!” at the end of it (3:47) leading into Kirk’s killer solo, and my favorite part has always been the little syncopated twist they put on the main riff at the end of the song (5:19).

It’s really bittersweet to listen to the first four Metallica albums – Kill Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice for All. Those albums are about as close to perfection as hard rock music gets, and it’s just a shame to consider what’s become of them. I heard they can still bring it live, but they lost me long ago, unfortunately.