I have so much to say about the unexpected awesomeness that is Death Magnetic that I'm going to have to break it into two parts.

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Yes, the new Metallica really is good, Pt. I

I have so much to say about the unexpected awesomeness that is Death Magnetic that I'm going to have to break it into two parts. I'll begin at the beginning....

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The artwork above is from the last Metallica album I listened to with any real appreciation, 1988's ...And Justice For All. Metallica was hands-down my favorite band throughout most of junior high and high school, but when they put out their eponymous or "Black" album in 1991, I was pretty much heartbroken and ready to pummel the man I believed responsible: the album's slick and safe pop metal producer, Bob Rock (and I definitely wasn't alone in my disgust). I actually cried the first time I heard "Enter Sandman". Melodramatic and somewhat juvenile? Sure, but an entirely honest response to what I considered the burial at sea of my favorite band.

When I was 13 or so, my metalhead peers began passing around copies of a tape entitled Metal Up Your Ass, with a cover that featured a crude drawing of a fist emerging from a toilet, wielding a knife. Totally tame by today's standards, but utterly disturbing and fascinating for a young teenage girl growing up in Tacoma:

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Metal Up Your Ass was the collection of demos that would eventually turn up in vinyl and cassette form under the equally antagonist title of Kill 'Em All, released in 1983 on Megaforce Records. As someone raised on the raw, muscular New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and who was bored senseless by some of what was beginning to pass for metal at that time (Quiet Riot had just gone to number one with "Cum on Feel the Noize"), Metallica was pretty much the most exciting thing I had heard since my father first handed me a Johnny Cash record. By the time Ride the Lightning dropped in 1984, I was a full-tilt, obsessive fan. "Creeping Death" was probably my favorite song from that one:

They didn't sing about how much they were getting laid or how glamourous their lives were; they wrote songs about the ravages of war, the hypocrisies of the death penalty, and generally seethed with a tense fury that played both sides of the fence: sure, violence is reprehensible, but sometimes one just wants to jump in the fire and bash it out anyway. I thought it was frightening and morally suspect, but refreshingly honest.

In 1986, the day that their third record, Master of Puppets, was released, my friend Derek skipped out of class early to get his hands on a copy, and a bunch of us met up in a wooded area near our high school. Derek had a boom box with him, some resourceful fellow had the weed, and all of us were so on edge to hear the new material that I remember nervously breaking twigs in my hands over and over again in anticipation. As soon as the opening riff to "Battery" galloped out of the gate, I was ecstatic. Everything I already loved about the band had been amplified, literally and figuratively. Bassist Cliff Burton had never sounded so commanding and creative, and rarely had a metal record delivered at such a breakneck speed been so beautifully sequenced. After the furious doubleshot of "Battery" and the title track, the intimidating plod of "The Thing That Should Not Be" showcased an unanticipated facet of growth and an ability to slow the pace down without sacrificing menace. The morose surrender of "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" was the idea centerpiece, and they even had the guts to stack two of their strongest songs ("Disposable Heroes" and "Leper Messiah") on the second half. I'm pretty sure we listened to it three times all the way through before we realized it was getting dark in the woods.

(Part II coming soon...)

 
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