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Metallica was a painful part of the vocabulary of the author of this review for more than two decades, and may well have been for many others, but it wasn't for any lack of output. The ongoing and seeming consistent stream of studio and live venue failures had piled up to the point of defying any standards of taste, but for some reason people were eating it all up, hence the lack of an incentive for Lars and company to mend their ways. Somewhere between the sad little excuse for a live EP release from the so-called Live Earth concert and the massively over-hyped partial return to form Death Magnetic, these four west coast thrash pioneers decided to take a detour to a smaller venue for a one-time live performance in the basement of a record store in Tennessee, and although the recorded version of this wouldn't surface until a couple years after their 2008 LP, it marks what sounds like an honest attempt at reviving the older glory days.
In the grand tradition of getting the bad news out of the way first, there are naturally a number of glaring flaws in this performance that bear addressing for posterity's sake. Chief among these is Lars' drumming, which while being performed on a well mixed kit for a live setting, is kinda hit or miss in keeping time on a few spots, and even gets fairly sloppy during the faster areas of the older material (aka the ending of "No Remorse" and most of "Motorbreath"). To a lesser degree Hetfield's vocals prove to be an occasional liability, as he is still toting that country & western swagger to his voice by keeping things a bit too clean, something which he only recently shed from his approach with the release of Hardwired...To Self-Destruct". Metallica's insistence on still having one foot planted in the inferior realm of their later 90s output (the Load albums) comes to head with the inclusion of "Fuel", which sticks out like a sore thumb among all the material their first 10 years.
But not withstanding the gaping imperfections in some elements of the performance, this proves to be worlds better than what occurred in London the previous year. Some of it may owe to the venue being a tiny fraction in size compared to a stadium providing better acoustics and less noise from the audience, but the punch of the guitars and Robert Trujillo's chunky bass work is entirely on point and comes fairly close to reliving the sonic power of The Black Album. They play it a bit safe with the song selections, save that there is a heavy representation of Kill Em' All songs on here, including the uncommonly performed "Motorbreath", which proves to be quite powerful despite Hetfield's vocals being way too smooth and Lars' inconsistent kit work. Out of the songs rounding out the rest of the set list, "Harvester Of Sorrow" and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" prove to be the most effective, in no small part due to the guitar sound being so well captured during the quiet parts.
Though this is something of a novelty item that is meant to appeal to die hard fans who don't mind having a dozen or so live performances by a single band, this is the only live album other than the "Big Four" concert in Bulgaria from the time period between the release of Load and the year 2012 that is worth owning. It's kind of a shame that the band didn't take notice of how well this performance came off in recorded form and applied more of what made these songs great in the first place onto what became Death Magnetic, because they came dangerously close to getting their shit completely back together here.
This is a little more than an EP, but when you consider the bands true live albums sizes, this is comparatively but an EP. And this one is worth getting for the Metallica fan hungry for more good live material. If you have yet to purchase any Metallica live packages however, the starting point should be the absolutely EPIC Live Shit box set, but this is a solid supplement.
Though that is the weakness here, this is little more then a supplement to the Metallica discography. Of the songs played here, ALL of them, minus the first two are already on the Live Shit collection. Even the hidden Frayed Ends of Sanity jam at the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls is basically played in the Justice Medley from before, though that part is cool, since they start playing the song purely because the crowd wanted it. Though it is interesting to hear these songs with the modern line-up, and post vocal cord troubles Hetfield, the track redundancy is an issue.
Although understandable since this was all in one glorious honest take from one show in a basement, and they weren't going to give the fans a concert without the classic tracks. And the performance is so great, with an abundance of fan interaction that I can easily forget that these are the songs I've heard before. James Hetfield is funny and charming as ever, but the whole band talks and jokes with the crowd the whole way through.
The mix is what you'd expect from a Metallica performance. They have all the resources you could want, and they use them. The recording sounds just perfect, with crisp guitars, meaty drums, and clear vocals. The bass could have been a little louder, but what you can hear sounds fine. The crowd is mixed pretty loud, but in a good way. The venue was a freaking basement, so they were right up close and personal with the band, allowing them to talk to the band as much the band talks to them, which is refreshing to hear.
The band has released a few of these shorter live EP's in the past few years, and this is one is actually very good and holds its own due to the charm and personality of the band. The set list has all good songs, albeit some redundant choices. Though No Remorse is really knocked out of the park here. If you only get one Metallica live album, it should be Live Shit. If you only get one of these EP's, Six Feet Under II has some live versions of songs you only can get on there. Though if you want a nice honest Metallica live CD, this one delivers the band in a humble setting, and it gives you every second of that concert. And to me, that makes it a worthy release.