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It takes some DAMN GOOD reasoning to give this album such a low rating. The zero implies the absolute nadir of musicality, a level that can only be dreamt of by mere mortals as Fred Durst and your blender. What in Satan's name could this album have done to deserve such a low rating?? It pretty much singlehandedly ENDED heavy metal, that's what. Now, on a strictly musical level, I would give this album a 62 or so. It's not bad. It really isn't. It's certainly not as bad as Saint Anger, proud owner of a former record-low "3%" rating. It's not even as bad as the album that would follow it, And Justice for All, and when all is said and done, it pretty much sums up the averageness of the thrash movement perfectly.
First off, it is where shit really starts to fall apart for Metallica as a band. At this point, you can see the impending death - not just bodily, but creative as well. They are out of Mustaine riffs, and Hetfield isn't exactly the smartest, cleverest cookie in the box, and he's forced to scramble and improvise, so out comes one bashing thrasher, a few more assorted riffs here and there, and then all kinds of half-assed and half-baked ideas that pretty much do not belong in Heavy Metal, the land of the free, the home of the brave... unfortunately, the world caught on to THIS album, this expression of vapidity, and decided that THIS was the way to go.
This album is the Nirvana "Smells like Teen Spirit" of heavy metal. It brought heavy metal to its knees, and castrated it mightily. It is, then, by definition, the most damaging, counterproductive, and overrated LP ever to be released. Even standing it up on its own, and not letting it poison the minds of those that came after it, I wouldn't even put it in the top 10 most influential thrash releases of 1986... it's easily killed by the unholy trinity of Darkness Descends, Reign in Blood, and Pleasure to Kill, which pushed the envelope of metal in three different, related directions. It's not anywhere nearly as enjoyable as expatriate Mustaine's Peace Sells, which was technically brilliant and a whole barrel of fun too, or as dark as Possessed's sophomore effort, or Sepultura and Sodom's full-length debuts. It's not nearly as punk-as-fun as Nuclear Assault's first. Then I could throw in fifteen, if not fifty, other backwash thrash LPs that did nothing for the genre as far as influence goes, but are still a whole fuckload more enjoyable than this one.
So... the songs. There is some ownage here. Battery, for example, is fucking heavy, and works brilliantly well, as a destroyer of worlds. The title track is a bit more calculated, with its main riff gronked from one of the Metal Church demos (also "Over My Dead Body"), and but it dies for a bit in that little Hetfield noodle section in the middle. Say what you will, that part is dumb, and a harbringer of what is to come. Not just because it is dumb, but because it is hailed as visionary - not just on the album, but with this band, and with metal in general. This album didn't do ANYTHING make metal a better, more viable genre... hell, by 1986, everything that was good about metal was pretty much established, it was just a matter of time before all the stupid ideas reared their ugly fucking heads and turned the scene into self-parody. From the inane mindless riff-ennui of Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth, to the stupid dynamic mismanagement of a million bands, ranging from misplaced melodicism of the Gothenburg scene to the awful monotony of Opeth... all of these can be traced back to the vast commercial success of this album. Being "less than thrash" was viewed as a Good Thing. Less than over-the-top, less than expanding the genre, less than creative, less than heavy fucking metal. And of course, as is the human tendency to accept mediocrity, because excellence requires actual EFFORT... people jumped right on this very fucking album. They saw that they did not have to put out an all-out Bonded by Blood thrashfucking mindfuck, or even the complex harmonic beauty of stuff like Peace Sells, with its shredding solos and powerful interludes. If they just put in a obligatory Slow Solo Section, a la Suck Hetfield, they would be accepted as correct by their metal brethren. Rah, rah, put up the horns, thank you for being bland. A thousand Nevermores were spawned by THIS album.
Third song... this probably is the parodic equivalent of Black Sabbath here. Because Black Sabbath were midpaced, creative, and heavy. This is midpaced, boring, and plodding. There is nothing to this song, and of course, it would be viewed as a fucking staple of the "groove-thrash" movement. Robbb Flynnn, he whose contributions to excess are merely putting extra letters on the end of his first name, probably ejaculated twice as hard when he heard this song - and realised he could play shitty and get away with it - than in ANY other time of his life, and that includes his entire career in Vio-lence. This very well may be the song that spawned Machine Head, and of course when Hetfield, through the wall-of-saliva incident, corrupted Diamond Darrell into being a groove monkey, spawned modern Pantera too.
Next up, a cheesy ballad, Sanitarium, which again contains soft sections for the sake of having soft sections. Of course, proper use of dynamics had been completely, TOTALLY invented by about 1976... if Sabotage didn't have it, then Sad Wings certainly did, and anyone claiming to add something new to the idea was pretty much full of hot air. Maybe Rainbow's "Stargazer" can lay a small claim to things, a small claim to have added SOMETHING. And Sanitarum adds nothing. That said, it does not even play the standard cards correctly - there are tons of songs that start off soft and then build up to a frenzied crescendo, and most of them are far more effective than this. See Helstar's "Winds of War" for a perfect example, or even the previous LP's "Fade to Black" for one that works decently well. But of course, there is "Megalomania". And then there is this crap. And that's what this is - unmitigated crap, masquerading as thrash, but being plodding, boring, modern bullshit. This song has absolutely no balls whatsoever. And heavy metal is about BALLS. It's about riffs, it's about smashing a spike through the brains of the listener, making him/her/it perk up and die hard. It's about the slow, twisting zombie passages of Triumph of Death. It's about the flash and the colour and the violence of Chainsaw Charlie. It's about the constant multidirectional bludgeon of From the Past Comes the Storms. It's CERTAINLY NOT about Hetfield moaning "leave me be..." like a thousand other assrape victims to come. But, unfortunately, this is what the world caught onto. This is the illusion that destroyed reality, the feeble cry of patheticness in the night, that virally castrated a powerful genre. Because as Possessed and D.F.A. and up-and-coming bands like Death and Nocturnus were constantly playing loud, proud, and heavy and expanding the genre... and as a thousand other bands like Iron Maiden and Helloween were consistently waving the banner of Judas Fucking Priest... as all of those bands demonstrated vibrancy and life, here was THIS virus, this awful plague of self-mocking stupidity, that slowly corrupted the whole thing from within. And people wonder what happened to metal? People wonder why years like 1993 came along, and why horrendous, backwards bands like Lamb of God and Damage Plan are now on the forefront of the scene? People WONDER - no, it was inevitable, that the mediocrity would rise and destroy everything in its path. All it took was for the metal scene to be inundated with this backwash crap, this horrendous assault that seems so soothing, so relaxing... so "it's OKAY if you suck, junior", so Kurt Cobain before Kurt Cobain himself. Look, this band sucks too, and look at the instant popularity they have. Gresham's Law is a harsh mistress.
So yes, maybe I was mistaken. Maybe this is the album that should be lauded as the avant-garde of the metal scene of 1986. Forget Dark Angel's 286 beats per minute of ultimate heaviness, throw away Reign in Blood's chaotic assault on the senses, and certainly avoid thinking about Pleasure to Kill's death-metal tendencies. Oh no no, none of THOSE albums did jack shit for the metal genre, because the metal genre is OF COURSE about technological backwardsism, insipidity, and playing turned to "4", because only losers like Motorhead play, eat, drink, fuck, sleep, etc... on "11". Save the aggression for the Jager sessions, right Hetfield? The actual music needs to be a complete fucking lullaby. Horror of horrors - though mathematically inevitable of course - the metal genre ate this bullshit up. Again, look at the top bands in pop metal today... the uninspired Iced Earth, who have not had a good idea since 1994, of course proudly declare that early Metallica is their foremost influence. The godawful Machine Head, as mentioned before - groove-monkeys to the core. The lame Testament, who were, other than their lead guitarist, a few screw turns loose in the creativity department - their The New Order (a "thrash classic", my ass) is pretty much a fourth-rate Master of Puppets ripoff, and their latest stuff takes ideas that were more heavily present on this LP, and less so on others.
Fifth up is Disposable Heroes, eight minutes of thrash, showing that, if pressed, the band could still deliver the goods. This, along with Battery, is the highlight of the album. It's competent thrash a la 1984 or 1985, except maybe a bit overlong. That said, if you think this has crushing riffage, you have not heard Exodus's Piranha. Again, if the album were all like this, then it would be an average thrasher, not unlike a thousand others that came out in this year. See Death Angel's "The Ultraviolence" for a quick example. Following Disposable Heroes is the clearly Mustaine-written - at least, in the interesting parts, anyway - Leper Messiah. That middle break is so completely Killing/Peace Sells that the fact that Hetfield could even barely begin to claim that he and Ulrich wrote the song is promptly ludicrous, and more so a flat out fucking lie. I can see Hetfield writing the plodding, Should Not Be-esque beginning and end of the song, but that middle section has the Mark of Dave. I have no idea how this band managed to assign songwriting credits, but the idea of Ulrich coming up with songs is laughable. It is this little fucking troll that can personally be shown to be the anti-metal figure. No, not just because of Napster. Not because of the black album, and Bob Rock, and a thousand other crimes against humanity in the 1990s. He had a hand on THIS album too. Hetfield, by himself, would probably been happy penning silly odes to bludgeonry, a thousand Batteries, each with a slightly lower voltage than the last, and the band would have died its appropriate death by mediocrity. Kublai Khan, anyone? No one's heard of Kublai Khan, and no one should have ever heard of Metallica after 1984 or so. They just got incredibly lucky that Ulrich got kicked out of Metal Church in 1980, and had nothing to do with the east coast scene, where Overkill was busy declaring that they just didn't give a fuck. They just wanted to play live, and repeatedly they compromised their good business sense to continue doing so. Quite a sad thing, that Overkill shot themselves in the face with their selling of their demo to Azra Records for booze money, but when all is said and done, THAT attitude is BY FAR more The Metal Way than anything Metallica could have done. Overkill didn't give a fuck, and just played cranked to 11, finishing their set with Tyrant, and recognising Joey Ramone and Lemmy Kilmister as the twin gods of excess and everything that is right and "fuck yeah!" about the world. Then, there was Megadeth, with Mustaine, who instantly, at the very moment the band was founded, or maybe even before then... when Mustaine was sent back to San Francisco on that four-day bus trip, THAT is when Megadeth became a better band than Metallica would ever be, because Mustaine was right pissed off, and he would outdo, outgun, and outriff the band that had jilted him, because that is the metal way, to be over-the-top and full of dashing creative energy.
Metallica had none of this. Maybe, at the beginning, they had whatever they could steal from their Venom and Diamond Head LPs. Unfortunately, Hetfield probably had his heart in the right place, but he was a complete fucking pussy. He felt the need to declare between songs in 1985 that he would not be saying the words "ooh baby" and wearing lipstick. Paul Baloff took the battle to the other side, issuing an ultimatum to anyone in the crowd wearing a RATT shirt. Bobby Blitz just didn't even mention it, letting the songs do the talking. He was "leaving the poseurs behind". Hetfield just stood on the stage and sulked, because Ulrich was busy cutting his heart out. Ulrich, who had not a whit of songwriting sense to him... he was kicked out of Metal Church in '80 because his drumming was nonexistent at best. He of course had the spark of marketing, where he landed himself a deal on a compilation without a band, or anything other than flyers of Saxon at the Whiskey. And he knew, that the way to make it to the top was not the way of Possessed, because Possessed were too heavy and too rough to be anything but a cult band. He knew that the way to the top was to scheme and to cover one's self in a heavy dose of bullshit. Then, he got lucky, because he had a pal named Hetfield, that really wanted to kill all the record label executives, and combine Hetfield's true extravagance with Ulrich's poseurism, and what you got was a band that appeared to be rebellious. Throw in Cliff Burton's hippie tendencies, and Kirk Hammett's irrelevance, and the image was complete. And at the beginning, the band did have the metal madness, when they wrote silly odes to Weapon like Hit the Lights - empty of social relevance, but completely heavy FUCKING metal. Thanks, Hetfield and Tanner. It's not hard to be a metal kid, and at the beginning, Hetfield was a metal kid. Then Ulrich slowly but surely turned him into a puppet. The album title can be viewed as a proud declaration of Ulrich's conquest of Hetfield, of Metallica, and eventually of the entire scene. The little troll infused mediocrity, and slowly burned the world from the inside out. Hetfield became a raging alcoholic, hanging on to whatever riffs he could remember stealing from Mustaine. Burton's hippie-rock, which was fine for what it is, but had no place in metal whatsoever, soon became the overriding creative force in the band, and of course had to be recognised, because Ulrich knew that if he approved another Hell Awaits, the scene would bury him fast. And of course, it would be ludicrous to imply that he was one-ten-thousandth the drummer the Lombardo was.
So along came Master of Puppets. Random hippie crap, combined with a few random recycled Mustaine moments, all held together by the glue of Hetfield's average riff constructions - perfectly suitable for an average, mediocre, fifth-rate garage thrash ensemble. And Ulrich's megalomania, that realised that this steaming pile of directionless garbage was THE universal solution to bringing him fame. Not that it was any good - precisely because it WASN'T. Because it was mediocre, any idiot with an axe could be like Hetfield now, and if Ride the Lightning sold a whole fuckload of copies, then Master of Puppets, on inertia alone, would sell a whole fuckload more, and thus the seed was set. And that, my friends, is why Lars Ulrich is the worst thing ever to happen to heavy fucking metal.
After the obligatory Mustaine composition comes the long section of hippie crap, that is not only the worst song on the album, but THE final stake through the heart of heavy metal. I hear Orion, and I hear Opeth. I hear a heap of shit that is labelled "progressive" and "visionary", but is really a space-filler. A throwback to the 1960s and the 1970s - stuff that Black Sabbath quickly moved away from, and used only in small amounts. Progressive rock was dangerous stuff, to be used in form only, not in actual substance. Careful with it, and get brilliant stuff like The Writ. Too much results in Fluff. And Iommi was smart to recognise this, but Cliff Burton was not. And he continued to write songs full of this dreck. Ask Hetfield to throw on a few random metal riffs, and what you get is something claimed as "amazing" by all the losers that would also claim In Flames as a masterwork of a band. Of course, this anthem to loserhood has no heart whatsoever, no spirit, no emotional content. Nothing. Thunderhead, this is not. Stargazer? Fuck no. Certainly not anything out of the Diamond Head catalogue. Not Am I Evil, To the Devil His Due, or even Ishmael. Diamond Head got it right, and despite the endless stream of pointers from Lars to their general direction, Metallica did not. But of course, it is easier to derive inspiration from the half-baked. Easy to look at what did not get it right, and claim that to be the best thing ever, simply so that when you make something similar, you can pat yourself on the back and be proud. Thus, Dark Tranquillity, be proud. You sound like complete shit, and have the intensity of zero point zero Iommis, and you are hailed as an excellent modern band. Because you took the Orion approach to things. So, Dark Tranquillity, make sure to send Lars a Christmas card once a year, because you owe your entire career to him. So many bands nowadays do. So many bands would never have gotten off the ground, if "getting off the ground" were not so kindly redefined as "flopping right over and accomplishing nothing" a la Orion.
Then, the last song. Damage Incorporated is the last of Hetfield's contributions to the album... fast and completely insipid. This is not, in any way, shape, or form, to be mistaken for The Burning of Sodom. This is James Hetfield's dying cry as Lars Ulrich finishes him off. In fact, if you look carefully, you can see the exact frame where his heart rips in two. Desperation breeds stupidity, and here is the final desperate act of a man driven to Jagermeister, not because of the grueling tribulations of the road, or of having one's equipment stolen, or because he had to send an ex-guitarist back to the west coast in a box on wheels. It's the final death of a man that thinks he is on top of the world, being the frontman of the most famous heavy metal band in existence... but slowly, subconsciously, realising he is not at all in control, and knowing that he's going to have to put on a smiling bullshit face for however many years, because he certainly can't QUIT the band, but the only way to stay in is to submit to Lars Ulrich, despite all of their public assurances that they are partners in crime. Hetfield is weak, and resorts to over-the-top boasting. Most thrash bands would, of course, do something like this, but somehow none of the Overkill catalogue comes off nearly this pathetic, this fake, this... incorporated. Overkill are rotten to the core in the best sense of the word... Metallica in the worst, most corporate. And at the head of this machine is the midget himself, Lars Ulrich. He holds the world in his hands... his band, his "music", his scene.
Best not to listen, kids. If you have any decency, any individuality, any self-respect. THIS is why I gave the album a zero, because it is the album that will slowly draw you in and destroy you too. Let this be your warning.
"Master of puppets, I'm pulling your strings..."