Thrash Metal

Metallica (The Black Album) – Metallica

Release Year: 1991

Rating: 9.5/10

By the late 80s, Metallica was one of the most successful thrash metal bands on the scene. With Master of Puppets being one of their bestselling albums, no one thought they could top it. Then the Black Album happened. This is the record that launched the band from thrash cult heroes to heavy metal superstars. Not only was it met with critical acclaim, there was also backlash and anger. But whatever your feelings are on the album you can’t deny how it’s changed both the band and heavy metal.

But before we get into what makes the album so different, we have to talk about “Enter Sandman,” still one of Metallica’s best songs. Everything about it is a beast from James Hetfield’s singing to the iconic guitar riff. Thanks to its memorable chorus and more rock oriented sound, the song caught a commercial following, which sparked many to cry “sell outs.” But you can’t deny how fucking awesome the song is. It starts with the sparse riff while the rest of the music builds up around it, leaving listeners anticipating for the big explosion. And when it happens it’s so satisfying. The lyrics are also notable as they take sleep, which is supposed to be comforting, and turn it into a nightmare. Even the sandman, who is supposed to an innocent fairy tale, turns into a monster you don’t want to meet. It’s not only one of the band’s best songs, it’s one of the best heavy metal songs ever.

Prior to this record, the band was known for playing fast and having extended solos. For this release, they slow things down. “Sad But True” is still a ferocious, intense track, but compared to their past efforts it’s pretty slow. The guitars grind along while the rest of the music is sludgy. The same goes for the anthemic “Wherever I May Roam.” It starts what sounds like a sitar setting this ominous air before being taken over by guitars building on top of one another. Things finally speed up only to slow down again when James Hetfield growls”…and the road becomes my bride.” But perhaps the biggest change comes in all the ballads on the album.

The band previously tackled ballads with songs like “One” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” but they’re completely redone here. The somber “The Unforgiven” features soft vocals from Hetfield as if he’s singing from a broken place. And while there are moments where the music gets heavy during the verses, much of it sounds like light classical guitar playing. It’s almost…pretty, which you don’t expect from a Metallica song. But the most genre defying song on the record is the heartbreaking “Nothing Else Matters.” By incorporating stringed instruments and an orchestral sound, Metallica were taking a giant risk with this track. Even the guitars are light sounding like something from a lullaby. With these two unlikely genres successfully coming together, there’s a dramatic vibe that grows as the song continues. It’s a sentimental track about Hetfield missing his girlfriend that he never intended to release publicly. Right from the line “never opened myself this way” you know Hetfield is speaking from somewhere private and personal. Thankfully Lars Ulrich got Hetfield to change his mind about the song; it’s a stand out track on an already stellar album.

Not only is the album notable for its shift in music, it’s also their most personal. For many of the songs, Hetfield and Ulrich turned inward for inspiration. There’s the aforementioned “Nothing Else Matters” about missing a loved one, but there’s also the brutal track “The God That Failed.” The song is already intense and heavy with Hetfield’s vocal delivery and the music, but the song gets even darker when its story is revealed. The song is about Hetfield’s mother dying of cancer and not seeking medical relief due to her Christian Science beliefs. Suddenly, his anger and spitfire venom makes sense. He’s criticizing a religious system and how it wasn’t there for her in the end though she devoted her life to it. This gives the aggressive track a deeper meaning, yet is still depressing giving listeners insight to what the frontman was going through at the time. It’s a powerful track both musically and lyrically.

Even though this album shows Metallica heading in a different musical direction, there are still some elements of thrash metal here. “Through the Never” starts with guitars that race out of the gate and dares listeners to keep up with them. Everything about the song is heart pumping and in your face, which is often when Metallica are at their best. “The Struggle Within” follows a similar route with speeding guitars and lots of energy. It ends the album on a fiery note as if to say the band hasn’t forgotten where they came from.

There’s no question Metallica changed with this album and some would say for the worse looking at their output after this release. Yet, it’s still an amazing record that showed Metallica could do more than just play fast and loud. They may have moved away from their thrash roots, but they expanded both as songwriters and musicians. And they did a damn good job of it. Every song on the record feels like it has a purpose. Even if its a ballad, it still has the intensity and fire that made them so viscous. They were still angry, but they were also vulnerable and wounded something we rarely saw before. They grew as musicians, took risks, and made an album they were happy with. Looking back at it, the changes they made no longer seem drastic. Many metal bands vary their sound and it seems Metallica paved the way for that. No matter your feelings about the album, it’s still one of the best in metal history.

Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? – Megadeth

Release Year: 1986

Rating: 9/10

When they first started, Dave Mustaine wanted to make a band that was bigger and badder than Metallica. They got a hell of a good start with their fiery debut, but for their second effort they came out swinging. Everything sounds more sinister, more rotten, and more bad ass than before. This release is also responsible for one of their biggest hits that got them noticed by mainstream media. It’s still considered one of their best albums for good reason: it kicks so much ass.

When reviewing their debut, I noted how the band can take topics like love and turn them into something gruesome and heavy. They return to this topic on the opening track “Wake Up Dead.” The song doesn’t even give you time to get settled as the music comes rushing at you and Mustaine begins singing about not wanting to wake up his lover; he knows he’ll wake up dead. From there a blazing guitar solo takes over while Mustaine continues to sound sinister as he confesses to an affair. Then comes the shuffling beat during the bridge, but by the end things shift gears with the music being heavier and harsher than before. It’s a great track that takes a topic like cheating and shows how it can be deadly.

The Conjuring” launches straight into the supernatural side the LP with a riff that sounds like it’s bewitching the listener. There are several references to the occult, the devil, and black magic, but would you expect anything else when a song is about selling your soul to Lucifer and his advocate? This is another track with kick ass music that keeps building and eventually spirals out of control. No doubt about it “Peace Sells” is a stellar track from the album. The intense bass line pulls you in while the guitar riff flailing down the neck leaves you in awe. Even the chugging rhythm during the verses is enough to get your devil horns in the air. Meanwhile, Mustaine snarls and growls about his disapproval of the “American way” and is ready for a new type of society. By the end, the riff goes ballistic and starts bouncing all over the place until Mustaine lets out one final growl. It’s the band’s first foray into political themes, something they would continue well into their career.

Good Morning/Black Friday” opens with a somber instrumental making you feel like all hope is gone. After toying with your emotions, the music grows more intense and aggressive with guitar solos flying everywhere. As it keeps going the music and the energy speeds up and gets your heart racing to get your fists pumping in the air. The lyrics themselves are insane and violent with gruesome images of a mad man going on a killing spree, which actually reminds me of comic book character Evil Ernie. It’s another awesome song that shows the sheer power of Dave Mustaine.

The entire album sounds nearly flawless with every song bringing something else to the table. All the songs have kick ass music, the type that gets you head banging no matter where you are and the lyrics, along with Mustaine’s delivery, makes everything they talk about, whether it’s a trapped prisoner on “Devil’s Island” or exploring occult life like on “Bad Omen,” sound so deliciously evil. They even make covers sound good. Similar to their debut, the band presents their rendition of “I Ain’t Superstitious,” which fits in nicely with the other themes found on the album. While you can still hear the foundations of the original, the band really add their own thrash metal style to it, especially at the end when the music loses control.

Just as with their blazing debut, this album is kick ass. Not only is the music intense, aggressive, and what fans have come to know as classic Megadeth all the way, but it’s an important album for the thrash metal genre. It’s one of the best and most important albums in heavy metal in general. They not only set themselves from other thrash bands of the time, Mustaine proved they weren’t just another Metallica rip off.

Killing is My Business…and Business is Good! – Megadeth

Combat_KIMB

Release Year: 1985

Rating: 8/10

Over the years it’s been proven that Megadeth is an enduring band. They have since become one of the Big Four when it comes to metal. They have countless hits that new generations of metal fans are discovering for themselves. And to think it all began as a response to Dave Mustaine getting kicked out of Metallica. They have lots of notable albums, but their debut is still one of their strongest. Fueled by Dave’s fire and guitar skills, the record still sounds exciting and fresh today.

Things start out on the right foot with “Last Rites/Loved to Deth.” It opens with a striking, haunting classical piece that gives it a Gothic setting. The mood is very ominous until the shredding guitars take over. From there, the music grows frantic and chaotic as Mustaine shreds so hard you’d think his hands are on fire. What really stands out in this song were the lyrics. It seems to talk about the death of a loved one, which you don’t find much in metal. Of course the topic grows darker as Mustaine implies he was responsible for her death: “If I can’t have you/Than no one will/And since I won’t/I’ll have to kill.” He continues to sound vicious up until the subtle ending where we find out his lover didn’t make it to heaven after all. It’s a great track that has a cool dynamic between the music and the lyrics.

Another notable song from the album is “Killing is My Business…and Business is Good!” Like most of the music here, it begins with a heavy, chugging rhythm that suddenly gets frantic at a paranoid pace. Mustaine shows off his sinister, conniving side as he talks about being a hitman and loving what he does. The best part comes when he reveals his plans to take the money and kill the employer too. It’s another unique topic the band wasn’t afraid to tackle. “The Skull Beneath the Skin” has a darker tone to the music made downright unsettling thanks to Dave’s howl during the intro. He also shows off his shredding skills as the guitars sound vicious and full of venom. Again, the lyrics are worth looking at because they are so gruesome: “Help me/Prepare the patients scalp/To peel away/Metal caps his ears/He’ll hear not what we say/Solid steel visor/Riveted cross his eyes/Iron staples close his jaws.” Lines like these provide eerie vivid images of the bloody event.

Interestingly enough, the album includes a thrash cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” Though the original songwriter didn’t care for it, the band actually does a pretty good job with the song, especially since they know how to make it their own. They give the song some new life and excitement making it more appealing for different generations. A decent song, but the least inspired one is “Rattle Head.” The music here is standard thrash all the way, unlike their later material. This one is about simply banging your head to some kick ass metal, specially to Megadeth. It’s not a bad song, but the least interesting one of the album. The same issue plagues “The Chosen Ones,” which has impressive guitar playing, but little else.

Things take a slightly different turn on “Looking Down the Cross.” A slow, menacing riff introduces the song. This riff gets stronger as it slowly builds up. The music isn’t as crazy here, rather it sounds like someone’s unfortunate damnation. This another track with brutal, violent images in the lyrics, but this time they seem to be describing the crucifixion of Christ: “Down the walkways/Through the blood stained town/Looking down the cross/Bleeding from the crown/Led to stay/To die besides the thieves.” Everything from the dark music to the vivid lyrics paints a bleak and hopeless mood for the listener. On this track, music and lyrics come together perfectly to create the dark, despairing setting to put the listener on edge.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. Almost 30 years later and this debut sounds as vicious as ever. Though not every song is notable, they’re still filled with Mustaine’s guitar skills and knack for songwriting. The gruesome visuals, blazing riffs, and anguished howls all come together to make one brutal album. Megadeth was willing to go where other metal bands didn’t dare to at the time, which made their songs unique. It’s a heavy metal classic that all fans should check out.