There are a lot of band names that are dumber than Metallica, but most of them aren’t worse. Hoobastank is worse, sure, but what makes Metallica such a bad band name is the smugness. It thinks it’s an amazing band name. When Metallica chose “Metallica”, they thought “This is the final word in metal. With this band name, we’ll be the heaviest.” And they wouldn’t have taken it if they didn’t think they were an amazing band. As far as I know, there isn’t an Indium or a Calypsomnibus or a Salsalmanac.
It could be that other genres don’t rely on the same kind of end-game that metal wants to play (see: Norwegian Black Metal). The thing about Metallica is that they aren’t the heaviest. In fact, they’re the least heavy of the “Big Four Of Thrash”, name alone. SLAYER! That’ll kill you! ANTHRAX! That’ll definitely kill you! MEGADETH! The spelling alone ends lives! METALLICA! Interested in or pertaining to metal? They don’t even have as heavy a band name as the second-fiddle thrash bands: TESTAMENT! EXODUS! DEATH ANGEL! NUCLEAR ASSAULT!
Metallica are a good example of what people are trying to say roughly 75% of the time when they refer to a band as influential. What they mean is “the first band that made a lot of money off of something”. Thrash and extreme metal would have existed without Metallica. It would have been big, even. Maybe Slayer or Anthrax wouldn’t have made the same hand-over-fist levels of cash. The only thing Metallica can really claim wouldn’t exist without them is Megadeth. After getting kicked out of Metallica, Dave Mustaine started Megadeth as a revenge band. I’m not even sure another revenge band has ever existed, unless you count Wings. Mustaine even chose his band name so that he would be stocked ahead of Metallica in record stores. So, thanks for Megadeth, Metallica. Not sure where we’d be without So Far, So Good… So What? in our lives.
While we’re talking about Megadeth, who are in every way superior to Metallica, I love that that the first three Megadeth albums have the same title formula of “Something Something… Something”. Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good is pretty good, and Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? is all kinds of paranoid terrific. Dave Mustaine deserves a Lifetime Achievement Grammy for naming an album So Far, So Good… So What? and the recording industry knows it.
Metallica, for better or worse, set out on a course of increasing heaviness, first making waves with 1986’s dumb-as-a-guy-whose-favourite-movie-is-Twins Master Of Puppets. The title track is considered a major metal classic:
“MAS-TERRRRRRR! MASTER OF PUH-PETSSSSSUH!” James Hetfield clearly imagines that his singing voice evokes the Lord Of Darkness in the movie Legend, staring down over mankind and making these scaaaaaary proclamations.
Hetfield has a number of vocal signatures: yelling through his teeth as though they were soundproof, ending every bar with an “UH!” sound the way a ten year old girl adds a heart to a lower case j, and periodically, a chuckling scary-devil style. You know, because even he can’t believe what he’s saying.
The next stop on our climb up the mountain of heaviness is written from the point of view of a guy with no arms or legs, who can’t speak. Makes you wonder where the guitar solos fit in. The lyrics are anything but subtle.
Landmine! Has taken my sight! Taken my speech! Taken my hearing! Taken my arms! Taken my legs! Taken my soul! Left me with life in hell!
And, in case you didn’t figure out what the whole point was, the video cuts in bits of dialogue from Johnny Get Your Gun, a movie about a guy with no arms or legs who can’t speak. Lying there, comatose and on life support, he begs to be killed. Wait, is this anti-war, or anti-doctors? Let him die, you Hippocratic hypocrites!
Or perhaps the song is anti-bassist. Actually, …And Justice For All is like an anti-bassist concept album, because they mixed Jason Newsted out of audibility, and in so doing, made heavy metal history.
Enter Sandman, Metallica’s best known song because the world is populated by adult babies, is the point at which they cross over heaviness and start to become… well, some kind of childrens hallowe’en album. The Black Album marks Metallica’s transition into the band equivalent of a guy who wears nothing but Texas Chainsaw Massacre t-shirts and thinks Friday The 13th 6 is the best one in the Friday The 13th series. You know that guy! He went trick or treating with you when you were 10 and he just wore a skimask and carried a machete and he was 13.
So what is Enter Sandman all about, anyway? Well, it seems pretty simple: Watch out for that scary dream you’re going to have! Or are they singing from the point of view of a child molester? Is that what the old man in the kid’s room in the video is about? Gross. Either way: I need your gun and your badge, Metallica.
Being hugely popular was the worst thing for Metallica. Lars Ullrich started collecting art, and then they all got haircuts and released an album called Load which was meant to be a change in direction. It wasn’t: their new direction of being a terrible band with horrible songs started with Nothing Else Matters. And in case the title Load was lost on you, the Metallica fan, in case it was too clever for you to get, the kind of nuance that just goes way over your head, the cover art is a handy photo of blood and semen. What kind of art-rock bullshit are you trying to pull, Metallica? Who do you guys think you are? Gabriel-era Genesis?
After Load, and Re-Load (double oh brother), Metallica decided the next best thing to do would be to record the worst possible album. Their first attempt was S&M (Symphony & Metallica – get it?) which came with all the requisite “metal is a lot like classical music” idiot-talk that one demands from such an ill-concieved project. Yes, it’s a live album where Metallica play their hits with a furshlugginer symphony. TRIPLE OH BROTHER.
In the same way that Metallica took a break to plot their next poorly planned move between the Black Album and Load, they took some time to focus on mistakes between S&M and St. Anger, a record so badly written that there’s a documentary about Metallica going into therapy while they wrote it. By way of explanation, I guess? There isn’t a single notable song on the thing.
After toying with just having a bad album title (Death Magnetic), Metallica put all of their chips in with the patron saint of terrible musical ideas, Lou Reed. I get a picture in my head whenever I hear Reed and Metallica listening back to tapes and saying “This isn’t bad enough. We have to go back in the booth and make this worse. Can we ruin it in post?”
Maybe the thing about Metallica is that complex compositions can be written by adults with the minds of children, which is an inspiration to our bozo-dominated world. You know, the bozominatti.