On Saturday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum welcomes Metallica to the ranks of popular music’s all-time greats. The band did as much as any group to establish and define thrash metal, then gradually slowed down and became one of the world’s biggest rock bands. To celebrate the Frisco phenoms’ hard-won recognition, Scene presents The Great Metallica Debate.
D.X. Ferris, the paper’s designated metalhead, is moderating. He’ll introduce topics, which will be answered by Chris Akin, Classic Metal Show host and webmaster of Pitriff.com, and Matt Wardlaw, former Metal Show host, Radio 92.3 Inner Sanctum host, and proprietor of music blog AddictedToVinyl.com. For the record, we all were into Metallica way before Bob Knight and your little sister.
Today’s topics: The band’s personal bests. What were the longtime/classic members’ best albums and moments?
Best James performance?
Ferris: The debut, '83's Kill 'Em All, saw him redefine what rhythm guitar was all about.
Akin: "Creeping Death" from Ride the Lightning. Hetfield's guitar work on this is so powerful and meshes beautifully with Hammett's playing. It's power playing in harmony without being layered like you might here in an Iron Maiden song. It's just blistering. Even today, you can hear it and know that it would sound different if recorded with modern technology, but listening to the song, you would not want to change a single note of the guitar work.
Wardlaw: I'm going to have to give it to ... And Justice For All again. That whole album blew my mind as a music fan. Song-wise, I really gotta give props to Jaymz for kicking out one of the most unexpected cranium crushers of 2008 with "All Nightmare Long" — I love the way his voice shreds completely raw on that whole tune. They could have dressed it up to hide it, but they left it relatively undoctored, which I respect. Yet after hearing the drum sounds on St. Anger, I'm not completely sure it was intentional. Still, I'll give 'em high marks for that one. It adds a ton to the emotional impact of the tune for me.
Best Lars performance?
Akin: Without question, it has to be everything on St. Anger. The intricate double bass work he provides while beating on his brand new Tama Trashcan Kit provided the single most talked about drum sound in the history of recorded music. Considering that Lars' strength has always been his charisma and not his playing, why not choose the one moment that everyone talks about? Whenever you talk about St. Anger, what's the first thing you say? Drum sound. There's no other album in rock history like this, so clearly Ulrich did something memorable and timeless here.
Ferris: I'm a simple dude, not a musician. I'll pick effectiveness over complexity every time. Ride the Lightning just killed. Fast and furious.
Wardlaw: Good question. I think that mix wise, the Black Album made Lars sound like the most kick-ass drummer, whether or not that was actually true. My favorite sport over the past couple of Metallica albums has been listening to the album and visualizing the hilarious visual of Lars trying to pull that same tune off live. I kept pulling for Joey Jordison to take the drum stool permanently for a while there.
Best Kirk performance?
Akin: There's so many that you can choose from every album but St. Anger, but as far as a single song that always stuck out to me as having some killer guitar solos in it, I'd say "Through The Never" from the Black Album. When you listen to it, it's masterfully recorded and produced, so you can really pick up on the varied soloing styles that he mixes in and out of the song - specifically in the main solo in the middle of the song. This being said, Hammett to me is and always has been the best part of Metallica, even if he's not the face of the band. He's the best live-performing guitarist not named Dimebag that's ever been out there (and to be clear, that's based on playing, not showmanship).
Ferris: And Justice is when he truly came into his own. Death Magnetic has some mean workouts too. But his playing and songs are better on Justice.
Wardlaw: Ferris hits the nail on the head with the Justice pick. I'll agree with Chris that in my eyes, Kirk is the best part of Metallica. It's still one of the most unbelievable things to me that a monster player like Hammett sat on the bench with no guitar solos on the St. Anger album, an album with lots of 7/8 minute+ songs that you would think would have mucho solo-age. T'wasn't the case, and I still think that those bastards stole my trash cans. (OK, I think we're done with trash can jokes.)
Best Cliff performance?
Akin: That big underside of "Master Of Puppets" from Master of Puppets. It's just great as basslines go. It's sad that most of his playing so closely followed the rhythm guitars on most songs, because having seen him live a few times, Cliff was the lifeblood of the Metallica experience. He played the bass like a guitar, and was stellar at it. Newsted did this a lot too live, but wasn't even in the same stratosphere as Cliff Burton.
Wardlaw: I'm going to choose Master of Puppets. To echo what Chris said about the live shows with Cliff, I highly recommend that Cleveland Met fans should go to LiveMetallica.Com to grab the free download of the '83 Agora show. It's a Metalli-fan MUST.
Ferris: Nothing wrong with any of them, but I think he services the songs best on Ride the Lightning.
Best Jason performance album?
Akin: Is saying anything from [the bass-less-ly mixed] ... And Justice for All the required answer for a cheap laugh? Yeah, I didn't think so. This is a hard one because there's no real way to tell when the guys weren't fucking with him on his sound. Most of his era doesn't stick out from thick bass lines. Most interesting to me would probably be "Bad Seed" from Reload, because it's very thick and sounds almost like he did some kind of weird Peter Frampton voicebox thing on his basslines in parts of the bridges. It's not a great song at all, but it's super thick from a bass perspective and as a rhythm-based rock 'n' roll song.
Ferris: Newsted comes through the most on the Black Album. That disc is all about groove, and you can actually hear him that time around.
Wardlaw: It's really a shame that Newsted got nearly the complete shaft mix-wise in Metallica, because he's always been one of my favorite bass players to watch live, and I think that he might be a tad under appreciated by non-Met fans as a result of the sonic tomfoolery he suffered courtesy of Hetfield and Ulrich. Definitely near the top of my list for guys I'd love to have a beer with. After I get to hang with Springsteen, that is. —D.X. Ferris