The Thing That Should Not Be: Why You Shouldn’t Give Up On Metallica
From the second they added a slow song to their 2nd album back in 1984, Metallica has been the most divisive band in heavy metal and hard rock. From cries of “SELLOUTS!” to dismissing every album they’ve released in the past 24 years, Metallica has seen it all. But through thick and thin, the band is still trying new things, still giving back to their fans, now more than ever, and are still remaining relevant in the face of stubborn people who don’t want them here. With everything from experimental concert films and fan-voted setlists to playing a show in Antarctica, I’m here to show you why Metallica hasn’t given up on you and why you shouldn’t give up on Metallica.
Suicide & Redemption
Metallica has been a household name for about twenty years now, but it might not be for all the right reasons. Ask anyone who knows next to nothing about heavy metal music as a whole about Metallica, and they’ll ask “Oh, is that the band that had that whole Napster thing?” It took ages for the fanbase of Metallica to get over the fact that the band sued their fans for wanting to listen to their music (and there’s still a good number out there who scorn them to this day for it), and for good reason. But if there’s one good thing to come out of that whole debacle is that it showed Metallica just how important the internet was for getting music to the people who wanted it the most. Four years after that court case put a permanent black mark on Metallica’s reputation, they started recording the entire audio for every single concert they’ve done, and made them available for purchase and download on their website, usually going live within 24 hours of the concert ending. As someone who loves going on YouTube to see concert footage of bands from my specific show, being able to go to a Metallica concert with the knowledge that soundboard-quality (and FLAC) audio of the entire show (along with pictures and videos) would be waiting for me when I wake up the next morning is awesome. No, it’s definitely not free, but it’s cheaper than an album download usually costs.
But all this would be for naught if Metallica was a lame duck for their live shows. Luckily, Metallica has never shied away from exploring their back catalogue, having performed four of their first five critically acclaimed albums in their entirety in recent years. Even around the time their notoriously offensive album St. Anger was released, their live sets usually had just two songs from that album, and lots of deep cuts that they haven’t played much since then. Metallica, just like Radiohead and many other bands, have a general outline for their live shows, but always rotate some rarer songs so they get some airtime. Example – at Metallica’s last Kansas City show, the band performed Fight Fire With Fire and Ride The Lightning from their 2nd album – I don’t think another show on that tour got both those songs together. On Metallica’s latest live album, the soundtrack for “Through The Never,” their interesting take on your typical concert film, they include “…and Justice For All” along with “Hit The Lights” and “Orion,” three songs (especially the first) which are pretty deep cuts for a band with so many hits. In fact, with their live albums/DVD’s since 2009, they’ve recorded a live version of almost every song on their first five releases. For a band to revisit the part of their discography that the majority of their fans singularly worship while still pioneering on is admirable and unique to very few bands.
The 80s cult classic film “This Is Spinal Tap” mocks the over-the-top nature and always-extreme antics of heavy metal bands. You know the film – “This amp goes to 11″, stuff like that. Metallica is the present day Spinal Tap, but in all the good ways. They spearheaded the movement to get the Big Four of thrash metal (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax) to put their differences beside them and play together on one stage for the first time. Knowing the history between Metallica and Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, this was no small feat. The band has gone on to curate two of their own music festivals, the Orion Music + More Festivals, and used them to play some of their seminal albums in their entirety. Now, as Metallica gets ready to tour Europe in a few months, they’ve launched a website allowing everyone who has bought tickets to their upcoming shows vote on their setlist. They’ve said they will play one new song and the rest of the setlist will be predetermined by the fans. This might not be such a big deal for a smaller, club-level band, but as the consistently biggest band in the world for the past two decades or so, that’s a brilliant move to give back to the fans.
Wanting to be as over-the-top as possible, in 2013 Metallica became the first band in history to play all seven continents in one year. Metallica became the first band to play a concert in Antarctica (besides a put-together band of scientists stationed there) and even flew out fans to attend the concert. Sure, they missed a great opportunity to play the songs “Trapped Under Ice” or the Cthulhu-summoning “The Thing That Should Not Be,” but it’s awesome in its own way. For the band’s 30th anniversary, they performed 4 nights in San Francisco with a bevy of guests and only repeated one song the entire stint. Metallica has nine studio albums, an extensive covers album and a back catalog of songs numbering in the hundreds. Only repeating one song is unheard of. Not to mention the band played songs with Ozzy Osbourne, Danzig, Rob Halford, Lou Reed, and more – their reach is undeniable and their ability to have legendary names play with them is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Through The Never
One thing that always gets thrown out there when discussing Metallica is their “sellout” nature. Something people fail to understand is that the word “sellout” in the world of heavy metal (and pretty much music in general these days) does not have the same stigma and meaning as it did 30 years ago. One of the biggest and best metal festivals in the United States each year is put on by the car company Scion, who also puts out EP’s and albums for tons of bands, underground and mainstream. Spotify and Last.FM have stages named after them at death metal festivals, and Taco Bell is giving free food to touring bands. Corporate involvement in music used to be a terrible thing and for the most part it still is, but these few companies are prime examples of people trying to turn that negative connotation around. So when Metallica thanks Coca-Cola for flying them and fans out to Antarctica for a free concert, it’s not selling out – it’s humble.
The last frontier for Metallica now is the silver screen, and with their concert-ish film “Through The Never,” they’ve exploded onto that scene with something unique and memorable. “Through The Never” is half your typical concert performance film, and half surreal ride through an action-packed urban environment that’s as every bit of The Warriors and Pulp Fiction as it is Metallica concert. The band pulls out all the stops in their live set, using pyrotechnics, laser light shows, props resembling album covers and everything in between. But if the movie isn’t your bag, the soundtrack for the album is a perfect combination of aggressive hits and crowd-favorites. In particularly, their recording of their instrumental masterpiece “Orion” might be the best version available out there. James Hetfield has a harshness in his voice that will silence naysayers to his vocal abilities as of late, and Robert Trujilo and Kirk Hammett play their instruments like madmen – speeding up the already lightning quick “…and Justice For All” to make for an all-around solid soundtrack.
So in 2014, Metallica is poised for their most ambitious year yet. Despite the naysayers, despite the curmudgeon’s refusing to move on from the 80s, despite the deck being stacked against them, they will persevere and they will continue to bring metal to the masses for years to come.
Pick up Metallica’s excellent soundtrack album “Through The Never” at Mill’s Record Company today! You won’t be sorry – METAL UP YOUR ASS!