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Popular music: metallica

Throughout its history and to the present moment Metallica always stood out not as a merely inventors of speed metal genre but primarily as a distinctly “intelligent” metal band. Its legacy is immense as Metallica is given credit for “inventing” the speed metal genre, the band served as a role model for the whole generation of metal bands flourishing in 1980s. That generation followed musical examples and patterns set by Metallica in their Kill ‘Em All, Master of Puppets, and other band’s albums.

However, it is important to realize that Metallica unlike the majority of groups in this genre is not about development of aesthetics of intensity and shock. Since 1991 Metallica’s music has been always a subject of controversy and debate among critics. This paper aims to focus primarily on controversial and transformational aspects of Metallica, as it is what makes Metallica a distinctly “intelligent metal band. ” Metallica’s first single was their song “Hit The Lights” on a compilation titled Metal Massacre in 1982.

In early 1983, the lineup of James Hetfield (vocals and guitar), Lars Ulrich (drums) and Dave Mustaine (lead guitar) was joined by Cliff Burton (bass). Later that same year, Mustaine (now of the band Megadeth), was ousted and replaced with Exodus’ Kirk Hammett, and the band’s first record, Kill ‘Em All, was recorded. Metallica toured North America and Europe in 1984, and signed with Elektra Records, who released Ride The Lightning.

By 1985, the band was headlining tours, and they played Castle Donnington’s “Monsters of Rock” Festival (for 70,000 people) as well as Bill Graham’s “Day on the Green” Festival in Oakland, California (for 80,000 people). Metallica’s third album in four years, Master of Puppets, was released in 1986, a year that also saw the band open for Ozzy Osbourne on tour. It was during a 1986 tour of Europe that the band’s original bassist, Cliff Burton, died in a bus crash. His replacement, Jason Newsted, joined the band in time for tours of Japan and Canada.

In 1988, the band’s fourth full-length record, … and Justice For All, was released, and the band’s first video (“One”) was shot. Their breakthrough single, “One” was performed on the Grammys in 1989. In 1991, Metallica released the self titled Metallica (or as it is commonly known, “The Black Album”). The band toured on and off from the release of this album until the recording and release of their 1996-97 albums, Load and Reload. In the mid-eighties, Metallica were as alternative as today they are mainstream. In short, their roots are authentic.

“Indeed,” as Dan Snierson wrote in Entertainment Weekly, “the Bay Area band’s do-it yourself indie roots are undeniable”(Snierson, 1996: 37). This signals a reception or valuation of authenticity. Vinny Cecolini called Metallica the “Kings of Metal” in Hit Parader’s “The Year in Hard Rock” issue(Cecolini, 1997: 22-23). In his Guitar Legends article “Garage Days Revisited,” K. J. Doughton wrote about the early music of Metallica on Kill ‘Em All. “Some called the music thrash, while others preferred the term “power metal.

” Whatever the label, Metallica’s unique hybrid of sounds created a whole new genre”(Doughton, 1996:104). The band’s historic valuation as authentic or as worthy of value is supported by J. D. Considine’s review of Metallica’s recorded history previous to Load in the Rolling Stone Album Guide: “Innovative, incendiary and influential, Metallica almost single-handedly reinvented thrash, transforming it from monochromatic hyperspeed sludge into a music capable of remarkable depth, resonance and beauty” (Considine, 1992: 191).

Metallica, then, have been historically viewed as perhaps the most exemplary of the genre to which the band’s music had historically belonged (that of thrash/heavy metal). Jeff Spurrier wrote in an article (originally published in 1988 and republished in Guitar Legends Metallica issue) titled “Metal Militia” that Although Metallica is one of the leading proponents of speed metal, the band has distinguished itself from its peers with complex song structures, issue-oriented lyrics, long songs that defy handy radio formatting and an appreciation for melody even within the over-amped environment of metal, a genre not known for subtlety.

(Spurrier, 1996: 12) The first instances of negative valuations of Metallica as inauthentic came in 1991 in response to the band’s Metallica album. The historically authentic band was labeled as “sellouts” (and inauthentic) in regard to suspicious features of the new album: the band had chosen a mainstream producer and the songs were (to some extent) more radio friendly. Indeed, by the mid-1990s, Metallica appeared to be part of mainstream rock music.

Their visibility resulted largely from the commercial success of the Metallica album (1991) and the lengthy world tours undertaken from 1991 through mid-1994. The increased presence of the band during the 1990s also developed in concert with a wide range of commentary by critics and fans that encourages an investigation into the rhetoric of marketing and promotion and their effect on the reception of Metallica’s nineties music. Changes in Metallica began in 1991 with the release of Metallica and continued right through the release of S &M and the Napster lawsuit in 2000 (Weinstein, 2000:115).

A nearly unending undercurrent of controversy accompanied the band’s success as Metallica’s audience swelled on the massive commercial accomplishment of Metallica. At the same time, the band’s status as “thinking man’s metal” and its position as a subcultural and underground metal icon came into question from a number of perspectives. The most visible controversy, particularly following the release of the Load and Reload albums in 1996 and 1997, indicted Metallica for “selling out” (Weinstein, 2000:116).

Celebrated for years for its intelligent detachment and an aesthetic that eschewed more traditional images of love and sex, Metallica became the object of intense accusatory rhetoric the moment those ideas began appearing in its music. One of the most notable and controversial aesthetic changes accompanying the Load and Reload albums was the visual image put forth by Metallica in the album art. Both album covers display a new version of the Metallica logo, one featuring a far more curvaceous reinterpretation of the straight lines and sharp angles of the eighties version.

More significant was the actual album cover artwork itself. For both albums, the band chose pieces from the collection Blood and Semen by New York avant-garde artist Andres Serrano, who, using his own bodily fluids, created nine abstract smears in response to the AIDS epidemic (Weinstein, 2000:118). In addition, the inside photographs of the albums dispense with the leather-jacket-and-jeans look of earlier albums and instead feature the band members in a number of different poses and costumes, with Hammett and Ulrich often sporting heavy eye liner.

The Load artwork in particular contains the most surprising visual imagery, with the band dressed in 40s-style swing clothes and pimp suits smoking Cuban cigars while drinking brandy from large snifters. In both the online forums and the fan club letters, most accusers pointed to the more stylized visual image that accompanied Load and Reload and the embrace of mainstream media – centering on MTV – as evidence of a general softening in what the Metallica should represent, both in terms of musical style and masculinity.

It is significant that for all the elevated rhetoric regarding hair length, music videos, and copyright much of the impact of the selling out controversy resides at the level of musical detail (Crawford, 2001:115). Indeed it is unlikely that the intensity of the selling out controversy would have been lessened if the band kept their long hair, for fans would still be confronted with the very different musical aesthetic of Load and Reload.

From critical perspective, these albums introduced guitar techniques and performance styles quickly heard as a general “bluesy-ness,” and getting at what made Metallica’s music sound “bluesy” means understanding how seemingly minor details of performance articulation can balloon into major anxieties about genre and identity (Zasky, 1999:53). For instance, if one analyzes song “Mama Said” from Metallica’s Load, it becomes evident that this song seems neither to sound like a typical Metallica song or one from the genre of heavy metal.

In terms of structure it could very well be a typical eighties rock “power ballad,” featuring a strummed acoustic guitar, muted drums, and an expressive, distortion-filled section 2/3 of the way through. “Mama Said” also continues the balladic style laid out in “Nothing Else Matters,” itself a development of the paradigm initiated with “Fade to Black” (Holm-Hudson, 2002:168). While each of these three songs share the presentation of personal and emotion-laden lyrics, important aural markers distinguish “Mama Said” according to familiar and widely recognized patterns of musical interiority.

Moreover, “Mama Said” marks a significant change in the way James Hetfield presented the idea of subjectivity in his songs, and the content of this song offers an important perspective on his general self-fashioning after the huge commercial success of the Metallica album. Typically a term used by small children, the word “mama” in adult popular culture represents a way of looking up to a mother-figure in an endearing, respectful manner.

It has appeared in many “advice” songs by both black and white artists over the course of the twentieth century, and each time it generally maintains the sense of respect even if the advisor and advisee are not consistent across all examples. Hetfield’s use of this specific form of address, though, places him into a kind of sentimental and nostalgic world typically derived from images of rural white family life. Importantly, “mama” functions here, and in other examples, more as a marker of social class than race, and indicates an identification (or at least the desire for identification) with a working class background.

In this context, the word “mama” perhaps recalls lyric imagery familiar from country music, a genre which has, particularly since Hank Williams in the early 1950s, developed specific rhetorical techniques for the exploration of male interiority as expressive of the true self (Weinstein, 2000:139). Already from the first word of the song, then, we have a significant set of verbal images quite unlike the kinds of non-specific emotionalism and reflection found in “Fade to Black” and “Nothing Else Matters.

” Moreover, at the first chorus of “Mama Said,” the full band is prominently joined by what at first listen sounds distinctly like a pedal steel guitar. A most remarkable instrument in the context of a Metallica song given its nearly singular association in the rock imagination with country music, its melodic swoops and perfect resolutions convey desire but also stability, matching a sentimental accompaniment to the son’s quiet but firm need for emotional closure.

In call-and-response fashion, the steel guitar answers each lyrical statement by the singer, affirming his wish to “Let my heart go” and to “Let your son grow. ” “Mama Said” distinctly looks back over Hetfield’s life in philosophical and metaphorical terms, providing an often-tortured reassessment from the vantage point of many years in the future. Although the songs on the earlier Metallica albums may have explored interiority and the extremes of the human psyche, they did so in a more general, exploratory way.

In the past, it was never obvious that any occurrence of the personal pronoun “I” should have been taken to represent Hetfield’s own experience. Here, though, we’re specifically to identify the “I” as indicative of Hetfield. The specific move to explore his own past was a significant choice for the notoriously private Hetfield, and the reception of Metallica’s new music largely hinged on this particular aesthetic development.

Most critics and other writers generally praised this new approach in familiar terms of songwriterly craft and maturity. Metallica’s experience with selling out broaches a broad array of topics. It crosses paths with long-established values of authorship and control, it intersects with more recent understandings of tensions between creativity and commerce, and it unfolds against a backdrop of deep-seated ideas about the linkage between musical genre and personal identity (in the case of artists as well as audiences).

Moreover, each of those aspects relies on the specificity of historical circumstance for their creation and the continued transference across history for their interpretation in the nineties. Selling out may defend a complex combination of absolute music, musical authenticity and personal interiority for its existence, but such defenses have never fully been able to combat the ever-present connection between art and commerce in Western culture. In the sphere of the authentic the ties between the two are so close that art is always already commercial.

REFERENCES Cecolini, Vinny (1997) “Metallica: Carrying the Load” in Hit Parader. New York: Hit Parader Publications, Inc. , Jan. , pg 22 – 23. Doughton, K. J. (1996) “Garage Days Revisited” in Guitar Legends. New York: Harris Publications Inc. , #20, pg 37. Considine, J. D. (1992) “Metallica” in Anthony DeCurtis, James Henke and Holly George Warren (eds. ). Rolling Stone Album Guide. New York: Straight Arrow Publishers, pg 191. Holm-Hudson, Kevin. (2002). Progressive Rock Reconsidered, New York & London:

Routledge. Crawford, Richard. (2001). America’s Musical Life: A History. New York & London: W. W. Norton and Company. Snierson, Dan (1996) “Headbanger’s Gall” in Entertainment Weekly. New York: Time Inc. , #332, June 21, pp. 34 – 38. Weinstein, Deena. (2000). Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture: Da Capo Press. Zasky, Jason. (1999). “Taking Care of Business: Metallica’s Lars Ulrich Shares a Wealth of Music Business Experience. ” Musician, no. 243: 50-59

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