Mar 24

The evolution of Metallica spans close to 30 years; starting from their in-your-face Kill ’em All album all the way to their latest release, “Death Magnetic”, Metallica has explored early underground to major commercial success. Now in the golden age of their existence, what have we learned from this influential force upon music?

I am just going to do a quick overview of the band’s career along with how and why I think their ‘sound’ changed over the decades. Being a hardcore fan of their music and influenced as a musician myself, I see split their career into three distinct phases.

Beginning Years (Kill ’em All => And Justice For All…)
The beginning years of their career started with early success from their first album, Kill ’em All. The four horsemen were ready to pound their way of playing metal down the music industry’s throat. Original band line up included:

  • James Hetfield (Vocals, Guitar)
  • Lars Ulrich (Drummer)
  • Dave Mustaine (Lead Guitar)
  • Cliff Burton (Bass)

Before the release of their first album, Dave Mustaine was quickly replaced by Kirk Hammett, and he later went to form the band Megadeth. Although Mustaine’s involvement with the band was shortlived, I think his guitar work contributed to a lot of the songs on Kill ’em All, including the song “The Four Horsemen”, which he released on Megadeth’s first album (Killing is My Business… and Business is Good!) titled as “Mechanix”.

The early stuff just flat out rocked your skull and those first 4 albums are what many hardcore fans consider the highlight of their entire career. Each album had a unique taste to it but was better than the previous. The guitar had free reign and Hammett’s solo work on “Fade to Black”, “Search and Destroy”, “One”, and “Master of Puppets” was amazing. Each album showed progressive maturity and musicianship but always grasped onto the foundation of raw, pure metal.

Long hair = Awesomeness.

After Kill ’em All, Metallica released “Ride the Lightning” (my favorite album). This album proved to critics that we are no fluke and we just want to keep playing metal. The album explored some new sounds for the band, including the instrumental, “The Call of Ktlulu”. The melodic, classical intro to “Fight Fire with Fire” also showed a new side of Metallica, showing how flexible their song writing was. Of course we can not forget the band’s metal-ballad, “Fade to Black”… Without a doubt this is my favorite song off the album and probably out of their entire catalog. The willowing intro followed by a powerful series of riffs and chords that create a perfect metal/ballad hybrid. The song’s exiting guitar solo by Hammett is constantly ranked in the top 5 guitar solos of all time due to its melodic and technical genius.

Cliff Burton contributed to over half of the song-writing on this album, which allowed his unbelievable musicianship to shine… Since, as I will point out later, Burton was a key component to keeping the metal alive in the band.

Shortly after “Ride the Lightning” came the band’s 3rd album, “Master of Puppets”. This album definitely has an overall sound distinctly different from the subsequent records. The band kept a classic metal sound and explored new tones that made the album more critically acclaimed than the last. This album is very riff-heavy… Some of the best riffs of all time are on this very album. The album-titled song “Master of Puppets” has an array of original metal riffs that lash out and remember-able for ages.

“Master of Puppets” launched the band into pre-commercial success, selling out medium sized venues and giving the band international attention. After a couple long years touring, the band was about to embark one of their most creative albums yet, “…And Justice For All”.

Cliff Burton... R.I.P.

After three powerful albums, Metallica wanted to really take the time to ‘learn’ music and expand their technical repertoire. The album is probably their most complex and definitely stands an artwork in music history. The revolutionary double-bass drums in “One” followed by electric guitar solos put Metallica on the mainstream map once again.

Sadly, Cliff Burton was killed when Metallica’s tour bus crashed during a European tour, so bass replacement Jason Newsted had some large shoes to fill. The band remembers Cliff in the album with the song, “To Live is to Die”, which Burton help write before he was killed. Cliff was a major component to the band’s creative song writing and up-to-now success… The rest of the band fed off his energy, so his loss definitely plays a big part on the upcoming down-falls in Metallica’s career. Simply said, “When Cliff died, he took Metallica with him”… from his death on – Metallica used a cliff-influenced foundation and moved in a new direction.

Middle Years (Black => ReLoad)
One of the most drastic changes now is arguably the ‘tone’ and overall ‘sound’. Metallica used to have this raw and deep metal sound that pulsed down your veins. Enter Bob Rock, acclaimed music producer too Metallica by the horns to create a commercially successful album titled “Metallica” (or just the “Black Album”).

Bob Rock appreciated the band’s sound but knew they could expose their music to a larger outlet if they ‘trimmed’ down their songs and made them more radio friendly, which is exactly what happened. The album easily has 7 singles regularly played on the radio and gave the band a plethora of new fans. Old fans appreciated the album but knew something was ‘different’… it wasn’t fully detectable at the time, but something was about to change… and it did… Enter, sadly, the album, “Load”.

The new look of Metallica fed into the perception of Sell outs

Sadly, It seems that once hard metal bands that have had the large commercial success, such as Metallica, usually have a hard balancing their original sound while creating new innovative paths. This was apparent in the band’s next major album, “Load”. Although another commercial success featuring 5 singles like “King Nothing”, “Until It Sleeps”, or “Hero of the Day”, the album showed signs that old fans were dreading… mainstream sound and doomed by commercialization…

The chords weren’t as strong and the riffs weren’t as powerful. Songs were poppy and Kirk Hammett’s sound was drastically changed with reduced solos and a new ‘Wah’ based solo that I am not a fan of. Metallica was just a victim of commercialization, so in order to attract a broader audience, Bob Rock knew what to do.

Later Years (St. Anger => Death Magnetic)
In an attempt to redefine their sound, Metallica harshly continued to move in the wrong direction after both of the “Load” albums. Although a few hidden gems are found on these albums (more on Death Magnetic), most of the songs lack any of the old metal elements that made Metallica so popular to begin with. The songs appear to be lost, disconnected, and boring. The overall tone of the band is completely different than the heart pounding Seek and Destroy riffs from Kill ’em All. Besides the obvious production of the band being more ‘New Metal’ (almost like Korn, Slipknot, and so on…), the actual musicianship seemed careless and unoriginal. A lot of the guitar solos seem forced and the vocals just don’t mesh like they used to. The band was often called Alternica, due to the songs similarities to bland alternative music at the time.

What does the future hold for Metallica? Hopefully some drastic changes. We still love you though...

I make every effort to open my mind and give their new sound a chance, but I have a hard time rediscovering Metallica’s new image. It is almost embarrassing for me to even listen to it. Hopefully their next album will show signs of rekindling some of the past with some of the more raw tone that we all loved. Metallica has become immune to criticism in the past with legal issues and public scrutiny from the Napster incident, but it is time for them to listen to their old school fans and go back to their roots. We know they can do it because they were the ones that mastered the thrash/metal hybrid so well to begin with. Long live rock and roll and remember… METAL UP YOUR ASS!!

  • LONG LIVE METAL. The best years were the Burton years. Burton brought classical motifs to thrash and revolutionized bass distortion and wah. Mustaine also co-wrote the Phantom Lord on Kill Em All – another great one. It was probably good they got rid of him early though, because he has been in and out of rehab about 5 times.