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The famed epic radio break out. - 75%

hells_unicorn, March 11th, 2011

I’ve always had the view that when dealing with a metal album that crosses over into the mainstream, the general rule is that the singular song that is most responsible for propelling it into its status embodies all that is both right and wrong with the entire album. This view largely came into being with regards to my view of Metallica’s first break into MTV culture “One”, a video that robbed me of my 9 year old innocence when I first saw it, subjecting me to nightmares, and giving a little extra punch to my father’s stories about the correlation between war and hell. Indeed, this song was my actual introduction to real metal, and left an impression that still shapes my views on it to this day.

Nevertheless, after a little more than 20 years of reflection of this song and experiencing the highly varied and eclectic genre that birthed it, I’ve come to note a certain duality to it. On the one hand, this song is an ingenious melding of balladry and fast paced thrashing, the former element including some occasional borrowing from the introductory material of “Fade To Black” (though rhythmically reinterpreted). But on the other, this is a song that functions more on piling ideas on top of each other more so than really moving in a progressive direction. The acoustic sections are actually quite tantalizing and the drum work is mildly intricate, but Hetfield’s vocal melodies are extremely flat and anti-climactic, all but fading into the mix save perhaps the adequate lyrical content. When things pick up towards the latter half of the song, so does Hetfield’s vocal assault, but ultimately the guitars are what drive this beast along.

The remaining elements going on about the song are of varying consequence, but definitely deserve consideration. It’s well known that the bass is all but a non-factor on all of “…And Justice For All”, but this song as actually among the few examples where a greater bass presence would have complemented the song rather than clashed with the arrangement, particularly during the quiet sections. By contrast, the lead guitar plays an even more key role here than it has otherwise on previous albums, building upon the melodic tendencies of earlier ballad songs/sections from the previous 2 albums, and coming to a head at the climatic shred section, which is among the few solos present on Metallica’s albums that lends itself to recall rather than mere identification.

For the prospective buyer who has yet to purchase “…And Justice For All” but has seen the famed music video for this song, this is a pretty revealing sample of what the album is in its fullness. It is an album that places a little too much emphasis on repetition and goes longer than it needs to, but is not devoid of powerful material. Seeking out this single isn’t really necessary as the chunkier, nastier version of Diamond Head’s “The Prince” is also to be found on “Garage Inc.”, but as with all famous songs, taking an occasion to reexamine why the song moves or annoys you is not a waste of time.