It never ceases to amaze me how unappreciative (stupid?) heavy metal fans can be sometimes. This culture, far beyond any other in music, has always been notoriously possessive of its bands. However, more recently, I'm seeing great big jugs of Hate-O-Rade flowing all over the place, and some of the targets of the venom make me question whether people are genuinely committed to the music, or if they simply enjoy bitching on the interwebs. When a rapper drops a classic joint and struggles to equal, much less surpass said joint's quality or impact with subsequent releases, heads don't tend to dedicate their every fiber to assaulting them from message board to message board. The door is even left open for them to redeem themselves later on. The same CANNOT be said when it comes to the all-encompassing fan experience associated with submerging oneself into the universe of metal.
I can understand the negative behavior when some new jack artist barges its way into a long-standing subgenre; "borrowing" all that they are from established groups; only to eventually be outed as the smelly garbage that they are and disappear within what seems like only moments. But that's not even the type of act fielding the wrath I speak of. I'm talking about what has been getting hurled at Metallica over the last few years. Even the mighty Slayer hasn't been immune to it of late. I know, I know... There are only two original members left in the Slatanic Wehrmacht. Shit does happen, but it's fucking Slayer for fuck's sake! And you know what? Metallica doesn't deserve it either.
Any band that manages to stick around for a substantial number of years will have a career chart reminiscent of a roller coaster. It's not always going to be the best of times. There will be moments of greatness, as well as mediocrity; probably some unadulterated crap too, but that's what you get when you manage to stay the course for multiple decades. Imagine if parents adored their babies through to their teenage years, yet made a regular practice of abandoning; even loathing that same child once they became an adult because their lives became more complicated. You, as a fan, must commit—warts and all—while having every right to be critical when it's called for. But throwing anything, or anyone you have loved away forever due to an occasional err in judgment is unacceptable. As long as the sincerity and love of the music is front and center—respect is due.
When Lars Ulrich and co. kicked things off in '83, their sole desire was to update what had become a crucial, albeit stale diet of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest style NWOBHM. They took their newfound love for punk groups the likes of Discharge and G.B.H. and combined it with the metal that was already in their blood. Finally, their debut, Kill 'Em All, hit the punters' ears and shit was on! With only one album under their belt, Metallica had become the up-and-comers in the metal game. They were killing it with their brand of unadulterated metallic thrash, and in most fans' eyes, could do no wrong. Metallica changed the game in a BIG way, and some might say they actually saved the entire metal genre.
A year later, the band unleashed one of the greatest sophomore long-players of all time, Ride the Lightning. One only needed to hear the rapid-fire riffing of album opener "Fight Fire With Fire," or the soon to be classic "Creeping Death" to know that Metallica had taken what they'd started and improved upon it tenfold. However, it is with this second album that the "keep it real" brigade began to voice some pretty ill-conceived opinions. Naturally, as the group's popularity began to increase—strictly amongst other metal fans mind you—the ultra-die-hards were pissed off as Metallica was no longer their little secret. I get it. It happens with regularity, but I don't really get it. So what if the guy who liked Mötley Crüe last month began to dig 'tallica too?! You don't have to get high with the kid before the show and headbang arm-in-arm with him. In addition, the group dared to include (it still sounds ridiculous to repeat) a "ballad" as part of the Lightning collection. I was down for the more extreme side as much as the next underground metal enthusiast, but not for one second did I consider the dark-as-dark-gets "Fade to Black" to be a problem, much less a betrayal. SMH.
Two years later, with the release of the album that ultimately put Metallica on a much larger map, Master of Puppets, the group had finally nailed its sound. Another rager in the form of "Battery" kicked things off in fine fashion, and the rest of the album was nearly perfect. It was the most "mature" thrash album yet to come to market. What could possibly be wrong with that in the eyes of "fans," you ask? I'll tell you what. With MOP, Metallica entered the consciousness of the aging and far less modern metal-sophisticated Ozzy crowd; in large part due to going head-to-head with the old man on an arena tour which found Metallica crushing Mr. Osbourne into dust on a nightly basis; thus "officially" announcing themselves as the new kings of heavy metal.
The Pink Floyd-loving asshole on your high-school football team now liked the band too, and many of Metallica's earliest supporters, i.e. the tape traders and 'zine writers, who had painstakingly helped build the band up... began to viciously tear them down. Large segments of the metal brigade were quick to move on to the next in the faster and heavier sweepstakes as if Metallica had broken into their homes, banged their wives and taken a gigantic dump on their floor. WTF? Did any of these first three masterpieces suddenly disappear? No, they did not. That's one of the beauties of music. It's forever, and we must offer thanks to whatever mystical higher power there may be for that. How many groups of ANY genre of music can even create three incredible albums over the course of their career, let alone in fewer than four years? Not to mention the fact that in order to reach any audience at all, the band had to slog it out on the road; tour after tour after tour in less than ideal conditions, all to play thrash metal to as many people who would dare to pay attention. But wait, there's more...
When Cliff Burton perished in a bus accident traveling through rural Sweden on September 27, 1986, one can only imagine the impact this had on the surviving band members, as well as Cliff's family. The unique collective mission of James, Lars, Kirk and Cliff was brought to a grinding halt, and the future was understandably unknown. The sorrow and the despair was absorbed by every fan and musician ever touched by these four individuals collectively known as Metallica. Eventually, after answering the question as to whether or not to even continue on as a band, the search for a new bass player was underway, and the fellas settled on Flotsam and Jetsam four-stringer Jason Newsted. Garage Days Re-Revisited was the first recorded output to emerge with Jason manning the low end, and all seemed as if it would be okay.
The newly configured foursome forged onward and entered the studio to track their first genuinely "controversial" album, ...And Justice for All. Why controversial? For one thing, it is widely viewed as the album with NO bass. Particularly strange considering their new recruit, Mr. Newsted, was quite an accomplished player. We came to find out that they were ultimately hazing Jason, and for all intents and purposes, punishing him for becoming Cliff's replacement. If you think back to what James, Lars and Kirk had been through considering Cliff's passing, you might even be able to understand it somewhat. Nonetheless, to allow those emotions to affect the overall outcome of your album's production makes you wonder at least a little as to whether or not moving forward was the correct decision. Still though, the band was largely given a pass by their fanbase (save for the crew of utter assholes who couldn't stop comparing Jason to Cliff, rather than appreciating the band's bold decision to keep going despite surviving the unthinkable). That said—what they did not universally receive a pass for was the creation of their first ever music video for the gripping epic, "One." The clip was clearly concocted on Metallica's terms. Hell—it clocks in at nearly eight minutes, and the subject matter is unsettling to say the least. Why would a music video channel even bother with it? But they did; namely MTV, and a lot of heads went nuts at the idea that their heroes had now given in to the MTV generation by making a video in the first place. No surprise—the complaints were loud, numerous and unrelenting.
Do we even need to get into the Black Album saga?!?! The band makes the album of their career (and most every other band's career for that matter) and the noise just gets louder, and louder and more intense. Metallica had crossed some inexplicable, invisible line. They had come to be considered "mainstream," which save for their now explosive popularity, is STILL way off base. Metallica was still considered to be the Rosa Parks of the music industry. Did the band ever get the same well deserved respect enjoyed by groups such as U2, or the Stones, or any other arena level band of the same era? Fuck no, they did not. But still we cried like big spoiled babies with almost every move they made. Go ahead and try to tell me the Black Album sucks. While you may not dig the somewhat palatable nature of the production, if you hate it, you're just that—a fucking hater with no perspective.
In no particular order, there are a handful of missteps one can associate with Metallica post their cycle for the Black Album. There was the blatant reach to be considered "alternative" that was Load and Re-Load, complete with overly calculated haircuts, and let's just call them "costumes," not to mention the painfully mediocre at best music. Then of course there's the Napster debacle. While the group had every right to protect themselves from evil file sharers, Mr. Ulrich presenting the names of a few hundred thousand of their fans in court left a shitty taste in a lot of people's mouths, and pinned the mighty Metallica as the "establishment." Something no metal band ever wants to be associated with.
Beyond those two moments (three, if you count Load and Re-Load as separate entities), the rest of what is oft debated with regard to Metallica is merely opinion, and nothing more. St. Anger and its louder than everything else in the mix, cheap trash-can snare sound. The, in my humble opinion, extremely brave Some Kind of Monster documentary (what other band of that stature would dare to show themselves in that light?). Lulu, which probably seemed like a decent idea at the time, is something the group had every right to go for. Death Magnetic, which is mastered so loud it actually distorts when you listen...
The point here is; why do so many metalheads choose to shit all over THIS band which has done so much good for US over the course of almost 35 years??? Seriously—if you're reading this—it's probably directly or indirectly a result of Metallica's efforts. If heavy metal had continued down the path it was on in the late '70s/early '80s, where would we be? We would have been left with millionth generation Maiden rip-offs... and hair bands. Can you imagine that? Should Metallica have prematurely broken up after Master of Puppets because a few ingrates believed they should have? Should the group have simply re-hashed the same damn album over-and-over again; each sounding like a combo-platter of their first three simply to appease the purists?
Motherfuckers need to recognize that we OWE a ton to these bands we like. Wait—make that—LOVE! They're not just little toys we get to play with for a bit, and then throw them against the wall once we've (prematurely) finished with them. These super-humans and the music they create alter the trajectory of our lives, and we should be more respectful as to how we return that respect to them. If they truly betray you, that's an entirely different situation. Do what you gotta do. But if you take a small step back, it's easy to decipher which bands deserve a fan's acrimony, and which DO NOT! If you hate the latest album by an artist who is largely considered to be the greatest at their craft in the entire world, go ahead and hate it, but don't act as if said band were never the blueprint for your identity, and that the albums of theirs you couldn't possibly live without were never made. It's wrong; I'm sick of it, and I'm lettin' you know!