Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Cosmo Lee on Metallica
Just a quick post here to say thanks to Cosmo Lee at Invisible Oranges—the site that launched my Heavy Metal Be-Bop interview series—for his outstanding ongoing series "Metallica: The First Four Albums." To bring you up to speed real quick: Cosmo is, in my opinion, hands down the best writer-about-metal on the internet, and for the past few years (five or so?), he's overseen the Invisible Oranges site. He's leaving IO in a few weeks to focus on other projects, and by way of a farewell, he's been running down the first four Metallica records track-by-track (one blog post apiece, i.e.). It's a really impressive project, and as rigorous as it is, it's not formulaic—he's basically taking each track as it comes, offering focused yet unfettered impressions filtered through his identity as a guitarist and through his lengthy Metallica fandom (i.e., how the music sounded to him as a teenager and how it sounds to him now). Here's yesterday's post on the classic instrumental "Orion"; you'll find the rest of the series linked at the bottom.
In particular, this series has reawakened me to the glory of Master of Puppets. My favorite Metallica album is …And Justice for All, but Cosmo has helped me to see that in a way, side two of Puppets is a prelude to Justice. During the "First Four Albums" series, he has written several times about the "anxiety" of Justice. It's not a word I ever thought to use to describe the album, but I know what he means: Justice is incredibly clenched, obsessive, maniacal in its detail, devoid of fun, exhaustive. The band members look joyless and battle-hardened in the inner-sleeve photos, and this makes sense when you hear the music.
This obsessiveness kicks into high gear on side two of Puppets. The track that grabs me the most is "Disposable Heroes"—stream it above—which has long been among my two or three favorite Metallica songs. I was just listening to it this morning and marveling at the enormous amount of CONTENT in the song. Same goes for pretty much all of Justice: You simply can't believe they're stuffing this much INFORMATION into a rock composition, and not useless technical detail. It all makes total, merciless sense. And set against this proggy maximalism is an anthemic-punk sensibility. At the same time as it was scaling new heights of technicality, Metallica was writing its catchiest songs to date.
Dig the prechorus thrash section in "Heroes"—it reoccurs in the song, but you can hear one example at 3:12—which follows a pattern of two bars of four, then two bars of three. The little rhythmic hiccups created by the three-beat bars are pure pleasure for me. This fast, techy build-up gives way to a brief lead-guitar passage and then a turbulent transition sequence before opening up into a total rock-out chorus (the "Back to the front!" part). This is just one of the countless little journeys that Metallica took its listeners on during this classic mid-to-late-’80s period: a perfect juxtaposition of Apollonian and Dionysian musical tendencies.
It's a pleasure to rediscover these albums that I've loved so long in the company of a writer as skilled and insightful as Cosmo. Read the posts and savor the glory of the music, the absolute pinnacle of metal.