After three incredible albums in the ’80’s Metallica were still only rock music’s most popular cult band.
Alongside Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth they had spearheaded a movement (thrash metal) that, like the Olympics’ Beach Volleyball, had yet to convince the mainstream that it should be taken seriously. Yes – that’s it. Metallica were the beach volleyball of rock. What a perfect analogy. Brilliant. Pulitzer prize material, is this.
What do you mean “Rubbish”?
The band had more serious matters to deal with than strained metaphors however as a tragic coach crash on 27th September 1986 resulted in the death of bass player Cliff Burton – for many the heartbeat of the band. Burton was the cool one in the band – a bit like One Direction’s Harry. He showed just how cool he was by wearing bell-bottomed trousers way sooner than it was fashionable to do so, and topped off the look with a fetching line of cowboy hats. His bass playing was immense (he used a Wah Wah pedal in his bass solo) and he exuded an authenticity and coolness that couldn’t be faked. Like a cross between Neil Young and a young Clint Eastwood, which isn’t bad by any means…
So it was all the more unexpected that in the face of this adversity, Metallica went out and accidentally made what might just be their best record.
This was because twenty five years ago there was still a divide between traditional rock fans – the Deep Purple and Uriah Heep brigade, (with their long unwashed mousey coloured hair, dirty faded denim jackets and laissez faire attitude to personal hygiene) and their younger brothers, who liked comic books and surf shorts. Thrash was noisy and tuneless, the older brothers complained. The guitar work lacked feel or emotion, unless that emotion was “Very Very Angry All The Time”…
“We hear you” said the younger brothers…”But if it’s too loud, you’re too old”. And then they danced around those new mosh pits things in an annoying way.
In the case of an outfit like the UK’s Venom or Anvil, thrashers were seen almost as comedy bands. They played fast because that’s all they could do – said the older brothers. Where were the tunes?
Alongside less pressing issues such as O level exams and adolescence this was a thought process I also went through. The first Metallica song I heard was Battery, on the Friday Rock Show. Gentle Spanish guitars gave way to stunning power chords and were instantly appealing. But then…what was this? Noisy tuneless guitars like buzz-saws. Weird drumming where the rapid snare seemed out of synch with the guitars. I wasn’t sure I really liked “thrash”…
I told a friend about the new “thrash metal” phenomenon and played him a recording of Battery that I had taped from the radio. I said “This is apparently the best thrash metal band. Imagine how bad the rest are”. Yes I did.
But then I played it more, and after a while it clicked. Iron Maiden suddenly sounded a bit slow and ploddy. The mosh pit seemed more fun and welcoming. Quietly, I bought the Puppets album and then ones by Anthrax, Megadeth and Helloween…then Slayer.
I still remember telling my friends that I’d succumbed to the dark side and bought a “thrash record”. They wore a pained expression when I told them, like the look a father might reserve for his son when catching the latter sneaking a biscuit from the cupboard.
And then I played them a couple of tunes. They soon changed their minds. I’ll tell you which record I played another time….
Record #85: Metallica – Battery
Speaking of Deep Purple, Metallica are one of the bands that feature in an official re-recording of Deep Purple’s classic Machine Head album. The album also includes covers by Iron Maiden, The Flaming Lips, Jimmy Barnes and Chickenfoot. Re-Machined – A Tribute To Deep Purple’s Machine Head is on sale via Classic Rock Magazine on 4th September with a general release on 25th September.
Categories: Heavy Metal