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Surprisingly Faithful - 83%

psychoticnicholai, January 11th, 2018

Getting something like this out of late 90s Metallica was a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant and much needed one at that. Garage Inc. is a 2-disc collection of covers from Metallica's vast array of influences spanning 70s rock, NWOBHM, and hardcore punk among other styles. It also blends together some newer covers together with the old Garage Days Re-Revisited EP for a full-featured experience of surprisingly kickass and faithful covers of the original source material. For the most part the songs chosen to cover are great, as is Metallica's rendition of them. with a nice crunch and sometimes a unique approach for the ones that are pretty far from metal or punk. I know a lot of us treat this as more of a side deal than a fully-fledged Metallica album, but given when this came out, and the sheer scale and scope of the album, I say Garage Inc. is actually pretty important if you want to know what songs helped influence Metallica to be Metallica.

Right out of the gate the guys decide to hit you with one of the most aggressive pieces on here, a Discharge cover. If that's anything, it's a sign that Metallica are going to give us a refreshingly heavy, punchy, sometimes thrashy take on these songs. Now, that isn't the only style of cover that's done, but it's the most prominent one, as of course Metallica play thrash metal which isn't very far removed from the speed metal, punk, and NWOBHM that makes up the majority of the covers so it only makes sense to play it close and faithful, but give it your own spin. A lot of these covers are high-speed experiences with a lot of octane being put in the tank. It's the sort of music to rack up speeding tickets to. For the covers of less metallic songs, Metallica decide to get a little more creative in how they bring such tunes into their genre. Radio stations are already in a habit of playing the Bob Seger cover "Turn the Page", but that's probably because it's Metallica doing the Load/Reload style of dusty southern-tinged metal, but doing it very well with a lot of character and atmosphere which is more than can be said of a good 4/5ths of those entire two albums' original songs. Indeed, Metallica feel very much alive and in the spirit while playing these covers, regardless of their original genre.

Most of the covers on here are great renditions of already great songs, but there are some variances in performance that lead to this having (for mostly better and sometimes worse) a lot of variety on the album. Some stuff ends up being really solid despite being very different from the normal Metallica fare which can vary from soaring and melodic, to ripping and angry, to creeping and gloomy. Sure there are a few lame ones like the perennial radio darling "Whiskey in the Jar" which just feels a bit too silly and jaunty, but the lameness is always mild and usually swift to come and go. There are also the times when James tries to cover vocalists who clearly have a better range than him, but that's also a minor complaint as he still fits well with Metallica's renditions of the songs. Some of what gets done on here is actually pretty impressive considering "Tuesday's Gone" features Metallica plus members of Primus, Corrosion of Conformity, Blues Traveler, Faith No More, Alice in Chains, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the very band Metallica was covering. I'm not super into the song with it being full-on southern rock, but i'm still impressed at the sheer number of contributors and how much harmony everybody has during it. Most of what you get on the rest of the album is shredding, speedy, old-school metallic hecticness, but it is interesting to see this kind of variety play out on an album such as this. It shows the lengths that Metallica were willing to go to make their covers seem faithful. Garage Inc. provides some pretty good insight into the varied influences of Metallica and if anything serves as a great segway into some really killer lesser-known acts who probably deserve more attention than they get.

Garage Inc. is a solid piece of Metallica's "side" discography that showcases their influences, their talent, their flexibility, and gives us some gnarly-ass tunes and some new ideas about which bands to check out next. This album probably served as a beacon of hope for Metallica fans in the late 90s who wanted a bit of the old intensity back and it seemed like they were getting some of that with Garage Inc... only for St. Anger to blast that hope into smithereens just a few years later. Still, this was a series of intense, faithful covers that Metallica was very much in their right minds to create.