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Metallica has a fanbase that has, for their entire existence, been pretty much all about jumping ship. Some claimed to only like Mustaine’s contributions, some claim they were lost when Metallica did their first slow song (“Fade to Black” from Ride the Lightning), some were lost with the progressiveness of Puppets, the loss of Burton, the Rawness of Justice, the commercial sound of the black album, the bluesy sound of the Loads, or the stripped back awful St. Anger sound. Regardless of what this band does, there’s going to be a group saying “Metallica is ruined forever,” as well as a group saying everything they do is gold. But I don’t think even St. Anger received as much backlash as their collaboration with Lou Reed, Lulu. A lot of people really seemed to feel that was the last straw. Metallica was pretty much over. Despite a warmer reception for Death Magnetic, it wasn’t enough for Metallica to regain the metal community, and Lulu finally burned that bridge. So, under the pretense of celebrating their 30th anniversary, but more likely as a form of damage control, Metallica released an EP of four tracks that didn’t make it to Death Magnetic. How does this apology fare…?
The album kicks off with Hate Train, which has an intro that, just as it feels like it’s going to drag, starts to thrash, and at about :50 seconds in has what I consider to be a pretty sick solo. Unfortunately, just as the track begins to thrash, albeit with a riff that sounds like the concept was “let’s take the riff from ‘Fuel’ and make it thrashy, James somewhat ruins what promised to be a small victory with the line “HATE!! IS A TRAIN!” This line signifies everything that has been wrong with Metallica for 20 years with me. See. I was ok with Load and Reload musically, probably because I listened to The Black Album before Master of Puppets, so it wasn’t really a shock to me. But my problem with every album since the Black Album has been the lyrics. From “HEY! Tie your tap shoes tightly,” to “My lifestyle determines my deathstyle,” to “LOVE Is a four letter word,” they’ve gotten progressively worse on a lyrical front. You’d think that after James’ face being photoshopped onto a table hours after premiering “The View,” they’d think these lines out a little better. Especially considering that wasn’t even the goofies line on that album (“I would cut my legs and tits off…” “I Waggle my ass like a dark prostitute…”). Sure, Lou Reed was in the driver’s seat, but Metallica was in the vehicle, and their name is on the product. And they supported that music and those words, to the point where Lars claimed he cried listening to it… And “Hate!! Is a train!” is almost wallowing in parody. How about Apathy is a Greyhound Bus? Anger is a Soccer Mom’s Minivan. Sympathy is a Tugboat. And some band needs to rerecord this as “SNAKES!! On a Plane!”
Anyway, The track slows down to a groove riff and goes back and forth between this and the thrashier riffs, though with nothing feeling too out of place, even the slowed down “You took away tomorrow” part. Another note. James’ voice. A lot of people hate how it sounds these days, and especially hate his newfound attempts to sing. I really don’t mind his singing voice though. The problem I have is somehow, when he TRIES to sing with a bark or growl, he just sounds wrong. He does need to stop accenting added –Ah’s and ooh’s, like “DESCEND-AH!”and “STAND-AH!” He really never did this until the 90’s, and even then it wasn’t like this. It’s like he’s doing it BECAUSE it’s become a trademark, not fully realizing the parody it’s becoming. Hate Train’s solo is decent, though there’s a part I refer to as the “railroad crossing” riff, which is almost so goofy in a goofy song goofily named Hate Train that it’s almost a joke. But that riff at about 5 minutes is heavy as hell.
Just a Bullet Away isn’t nearly as thrashy, but is decently heavy, with Lars attacking the drums almost as though he cared. He needs to kill the Kick-Snare-Kick-Snare formula though. The lyrics remain silly “Suck on the barrel, suck until it’s gone dry, for all reflections look the same in the shine of the midnight revolver.” At 4 minutes it ends abruptly and you think, “well that was a decent song,” and then after a quick pause, it goes “Master of Puppets” and gives us a pointless slow part, except where I liked the slow part in Puppets, this feels pointless, and just to pad the song out, since every thrash band from the 80’s seems to think they can’t write a 4 minute song anymore, cause long songs are the shiznit. It goes back up to midpace and kind of half-asses its way across the finish line. Similar sentiments can be said for “Hell and Back,” however it’s a generally better song, and so far, has the best lyrics on the EP: “And when the sun goes hellbound, And the moon does resurrect the night, I'll hide within her, Not much good has come out the light…” overall it’s not poetry, but a lot better than some of the crap lyrics they’ve put out recently.
Then comes ‘Rebel of Babylon.’ Just When you thought this album was going to wallow in mediocrity, comes a track that should have probably been on Death Magnetic instead of say, Suicide and Redemption or even Cyanide or Judas Kiss. This song almost captures, during the verses, the fact that Metallica were once a thrash band. And during the verses, has a decent groove riff with a catchy enough chorus to keep you until the thrash comes back. The song remains interesting through the instrumental section with various riff changes eventually going back the thrash riff it began with. This is defiantly beats out some of the weaker tracks from Death Magnetic.
Overall, the EP drags in some places, the two middle sounds could have been shorted, and the lyrics to Hate Train re-written, but this sounds similar to Death Magnetic, making it decent outtakes to a decent album, serving less as a 30 year anniversary celebration or a new release and more as a reminder that even though they experimented with Lou Reed, they still, presumably, plan to once again get in touch with their heavier side when they next return to the studio. I guess. Or they plan to record Load 3: Unload, and this is just to fuck with their already volatile fan base.