Review Summary: I never opened myself this wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. Life is ours, we live it our wayyyyyyyyyyy Heyyyyyyyyyy-AH!
When I was 11 years old I had absolutely no concept what the term “sell-out” meant any more than I would have been able to engage in a discussion with a C-level business executive on how the ramifications of multi-channel, rules-based marketing can effectively enhance a business’ total operating income through customer relevance and effective targeting. The mind of a child might seem primitive to the intellectually pious yet is probably the purest form of critical thinking possible. Devoid of pretention, over-analysis, jadedness, and carrying the ornate ability to straight up cut through the bullsh/t because they can’t conceptualize the bullsh/t is even there, children often make the best critics. Think of how you listen to albums now and compare it to when you were a child. Chances are you enjoyed the experience a hell of a lot more then because instead of trying to analyze any deep social meaning, whether or not the band’s new direction is in alignment with trends (and of course whether or not they are selling out), and every other tiresome, nauseating thinking point our adult brain juxtaposes after years of trying to be smarter than we really are; you very simply heard what you heard and you liked what you liked. Sometimes the music sucked, sometimes it was ok, and sometimes it could literally change a life. With absolutely zero f*cks given about the concept of selling out, “Metallica” altered my 11 year old existence.
The setup to this scene is stunningly depressing. Aside from the soul-ripping experience of my parents’ divorce and being forced to move to a new town, my music collection at that age was absolutely appalling. Sure I had been reared on 80’s pop radio which remains unequivocally awesome, but my tape collection was littered with Color Me Badd, Vanilla Ice, C & C Music Factory, and New Kids on the mother*cking Block. When I acquired my first CD player (an event as important as a kid getting a touch screen IPod today), the first two discs given to me were Amy Grant’s “Heart in Motion” and Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit.” It was a supremely ironic stage, my music was transcendently upbeat, but my general demeanor due to the fallout of divorce was reprehensibly poisonous. There was no outlet, no channel, and no pathway to unleash this burgeoning rage which inevitably manifested in school. This was the only time in my life where I acted like a punk, raging against authority while jamming “Ice Ice Baby.” A wise sage (still one of my best friends) took notice one day. Leaning on his older brother’s music collection, seriously this dude was the most METAL person I’ve ever met, he handed me a tape. The cassette was overpoweringly black, which a barely visible coiled snake in the lower right hand corner. He gave it to me on a Friday, and said not to say another f*cking word to him until I listened to it. The next time I saw him it was similar to a scene of a disheveled crack addict begging their dealer for more, because that tape held unmitigated, unstoppable power.
I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, routinely forget the most basic, fundamental aspects of my own life, and generally at times walk around a haze, trying to piece together fleeting memories and attach some sort of significance. But I remember every second of that day 20 years ago when I first jammed what would end up being the most important album in my life. “Enter Sandman” gets a lot of sh/t today for having a basic riff, the lyrics where Hetfield adds an unnecessary “AH!” to every sentence finalizing syllable, and suffering from over-saturation, but my initial response the first time I heard it was simply what-the-f/ck-is-this. It was an endorphin high similar to the first time you nail a girl, the brain is exploding with something you can’t identify but would sell your soul to recapture the feeling. From this, the opening riff from “Sad But True” exploded my face, in the best way possible. I remember looking through the album artwork and thinking Kirk Hammett was the lead singer, because his picture actually looked the most evil. I read through the lyrics and thought how pissed my Mom would be if she found this, which only made it better. “Holier Than Thou” was the first thrash song I ever heard, and I dubbed “The Unforgiven” as the greatest song ever, at least until I got to “Nothing Else Matters” and changed my mind back to “Sandman” once I immediately replayed the album after it ended. I had no idea Hetfield was quoting Carl Sagan on “Through the Never,” all I knew is it was arguably the most badass thing I’d ever heard, a sentiment echoed by the still powerful “Wherever I May Roam,” and the criminally underrated “Of Wolf and Man,” which had a riff that would have caused me to jizz my pants if I had been able to yet. It was raining hard that day, and I remember gazing outside at a wilting garden during the seminal bass intro to “My Friend of Misery,” still one of my favorite songs to accompany a downpour. All told I listened to the album 10 times over the weekend; the brain yet to be dulled by astonishing levels of booze and years of hazy experiences was sharp enough to have the entire thing memorized by Monday morning.
The rest is history. “Metallica” was the gateway drug to a lifelong obsession with hard and heavy music. It was the catalyst to an absolute devouring of all things hard rock, and I honestly would consider my life much less living without all of the experiences I’ve had due to this obsession. This album is criticized for the very reason it sucked me in; it was absolutely a sellout designed to glean new fans, and that is exactly what it did with me. I didn’t know at the time that every one of their previous albums was far superior, but I can’t say I would have appreciated them quite as much if I had heard them first. “Metallica’s” accessibility was the epitome of temptation, a sultry stripper waving you over to embrace the simpler, more carnal things in life. At a time when MTV and radio still ruled, the album was a watershed event. It was enormous, and it’s almost impossible to describe how transcendent it was unless you were actually there. Looking back on it today, I notice the drumming is average at best, the riff work pales in comparison to their first four albums, the lyrics are at times laughable, and the Bob Rock influence ended up destroying the band, but I just don’t care. “Metallica” is still held aloft for me at times through the sheer power of nostalgia, but objectively speaking it is still the greatest radio-orientated metal album ever made. My 11 year old self could not have known it was actually the first step in their downfall. To me, it was the first step in what turned out to be one of the most important pieces of the rest of my life. My grades and attitude improved exponentially, and it is entirely safe to say that my life was actually improved by metal. It probably wouldn’t have happened without this album. M/.