‘The Black Album’ by Metallica – Welcome to the 1990’s!

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For many including myself, the 1990’s seemed like the beginning of the end. What was once fun and vibrant in the 80’s had quickly become corrupted and forever broken at the dawn of a new decade. The innocence we felt from the 80’s faded before we even knew it, and we were stuck in a world which reeked of corruption, was full of people I did not want to be around, and I found myself constantly wanting to escape my surroundings and doing so with no real success. In other words, I was in high school back then. The 90’s began with me graduating from junior high, and my journey from there continued on into the adolescent hellhole known as high school. The world became much darker at that point, and so did my taste in music.

Somewhere in my brooding alienation, I came to discover Metallica. I had heard of the band, but their self-titled 1991 release, better known today as “The Black Album,” represented their breakthrough into the mainstream, and it gave them an even bigger audience than they had already. Some called them sell outs for taking this route, as they previously eschewed filming music videos for playing concerts instead. Regardless, “The Black Album” was a thunderous heavy metal masterpiece which laid waste to all the rock and roll albums released at the time. While they may have rocked even harder on “Kill ‘Em All” and “Masters of Puppets,” you could hardly call this a soft record as the band was not about to lose its thunderous power. With producer Bob Rock, they put more structure into their music, and they didn’t just let songs spiral out of control the way they did on “And Justice for All.”

For me, listening to “The Black Album” gave me a much-needed outlet for the bottled-up aggression I felt through the earlier part of the 90’s. It’s funny because back then I used to dislike heavy metal music because all the kids who picked on me listened to it all the time, and I figured it was the music which turned them into thoughtless pricks. When I listened to the CD for the first time, it actually scared me as the music was darker than the kind I typically listened to. I started to wonder if I had made a mistake buying it and if it would warp my fragile little mind. But the truth is the world around me, my realization of how things truly worked, and my endless frustration of feeling like I was never fitting into anything at my high school was doing this already. My dad, god bless him, was very impressed by the album, and he offered to buy it from me if I found I didn’t like it. Fortunately, I came to my senses as my friends were digging this album and talking about it endlessly. It was nowhere as harmful as the prudes of America would try to make it out to be.

Before you knew it, I was listening to this album all the time and reveled in its heavy rhythms balanced by its deathly solemn music. I became a Metallica fan instantly, and I still look forward to every album they make.

The album gets off to a perfect start with “Enter Sandman” which is about all the frightening things that go bump in the night. It was about preparing yourself as a child for all the horrible nightmares we expected to have, and of the monsters hiding in dark places. The song also served to define the tone of the album and what the rest of it would sound like; dark, ominous, and full of thrashing guitar riffs which would excite you to no end. With “Enter Sandman,” we were indeed off to never, never land.

I do have to tell you, however, that the music video almost kept me from buying this album. Seeing all those snakes slithering around the kid while he slept in bed brought back one of my most horrible dreams involving those slithery creatures. It says a lot about “The Black Album” that I still bought it despite the horrified reaction I had from witnessing the music video, and of things in it I did not see coming.

From there, we get “Sad but True,” which I originally thought was about an abusive relationship, and of the man who lays down the law in the worst way possible. I still think it is the most disturbing song on the album, but it grew on me quickly as you can look at it in different ways. Perhaps it is about that voice in our heads which we so desperately wanted to go away, but we ended up surrendering to it eventually. Either way, the lyrics James Hetfield wrote were more than backed up by the relentless guitar playing from him, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted. It’s a song which reaches into the dark side of your psyche, and it awakens you to the things we need to keep an eye on.

“Holier Than Thou” is classic Metallica as it represents the kind of speed metal they were are well known for. Lars Ulrich’s drum playing was matched by the relentless onslaught of the guitars dominating the song. If die-hard fans thought Metallica had somehow gone soft on them, this song showed how untrue this perception was. It sure gets my adrenaline pumping whenever I listen to it.

Then there is “The Unforgiven,” a deeply solemn song about how one man is beaten down both physically and mentally to where his spirit has all but disappeared. This same man spends the rest of his days trying to appeal to those he had such intense bitterness towards. I kind of look at this song as illustrative of the boiling pot I had in my high school, years which was all about fitting in and being seen as one of the cool people on campus. No one ever wants to be the geek or the one everyone picks on every single day. In the process of assimilating yourself into a crowd who you may not actually want to hang out with, we threaten to kill off those parts of ourselves which make us truly unique. When we realize what we have done to ourselves in order to be seen as “popular,” we may end up hating ourselves forever because of it. I may be going off on a tangent here, but this is what “The Unforgiven” means to me, and I bet it is one of Hetfield’s most introspective songs. It’s a tragic song about a life wasted, and none of us wants see our own life as a waste.

“Nothing Else Matters” was Metallica’s first attempt at a ballad, and it is one of their most successful. Most ballads from other heavy metal/rock & roll bands can come off as incredibly cheesy and so out of place in comparison to the kind of music we expect from them. But “Nothing Else Matters” is played from the heart, and there is nothing cheesy about it at all, thank goodness. It also reveals a part of the band and its lead singer which we had not seen before, and there is something brave about that.

“Don’t Tread on Me” seems to many like a pro-war song, and this made critics consider it the worst part of the album. Granted, a very good case could be made for that, but our initial impressions can often be deceiving. I prefer to see the song as an empowerment of the spirit we have, and of not letting others take you down for being who you are. In a way, it is the antithesis of “The Unforgiven.” It’s a song strongly embedded with undying pride, and it is one of my most favorite songs on “The Black Album.”

“Through the Never” and “Of Wolf and Man” are two great songs where the power of the music and lyrics is not held back or bottled up in any way. Both have a structure where you can easily see the beginning, middle and end, but there is still an unbridled fury which doesn’t stop when the songs come to their respective ends. I loved listening to these ones just before I ran at cross country events, and they kept me going as I was running long distance through 80 to 90-degree weather with the sun bearing down on me and no trees to give me shade to where I kept thinking about the cold water waiting for me at the finish line.

Two other songs which didn’t initially appeal to me as much were “The God That Failed” and “My Friend of Misery.” Looking at them now, the music is great in both, but they are more powerful on a lyrical level. With “The God That Failed,” Hetfield looks at his loss of faith and his anger at feeling betrayed and lied to about so many things. If people paid more attention to the lyrics in these songs, they would see themes they can relate to. Even to this day, with the economy in this country still burrowing down into a deep dark hole, many question their faith and of what they felt they were led to believe in.

“My Friend of Misery” captures, even in the title itself, the life of a teenager. How we can be so miserable and upset to the point where we fall in love with our depressive state of mind. I imagine many adults feel this way as well, but I doubt that these feelings could feel anywhere as intense as they do between the ages of 13 and 19. Falling out of love with misery can seem impossible, but I guess it does help to look at the bright side of once in a while.

The album concludes on the propulsive notes of “The Struggle Within,” a fantastic finish to one of the best albums of the 90’s. The driving rhythms of the guitars and drums add fuel to the fire of the lyrics which practically yell out at the listener to take control of their life and to not get swallowed up in apathy. In an album that deals with the dark sides of life, this one lifts it up just enough out of the darkness to where you are not as down as you were a moment ago. The scariest thing about life sometimes is how we come to realize how way too complacent we have been in our lives when we should have done more to make things better for ourselves.

The band members of Metallica have a rather flippant reaction to what people think of their music and what it means to them. The way they see it, they are not trying to make any big points or statements, they are just writing songs. With their music, how one sees it is different for each individual listener. For me, the album was a dark journey which gave me an outlet for my frustrations through what felt like the worst of times, and it gave me a grand introduction to this band whose other records I would soon get a hold of.

Hetfield, Ulrich, Newsted and Hammett succeeded in giving us one of the most definitive albums of the 1990’s, and I would put it alongside Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Pearl Jam’s “Ten” as the ones which truly defined this dark decade. It remains one of my favorite albums to this day, and listening to it again many years after its release makes me remember how it had a power few other albums of the time could match.

To close out this review, I wanted to include this quote from Marilyn Manson which came out of the documentary “Bowling for Columbine:”

“When I was a kid growing up, music was the escape. That’s the only thing that had no judgments. You can put on a record and it’s not gonna yell at you for dressing the way you do. It’s gonna make you feel better about it.”

What he said sums up what Metallica’s “Black Album’ means to me. It was an escape which was much needed when it felt like the whole world was coming down on me, and there was something empowering about it that kept me going even in my terminally depressive state. It’s albums like these which make me believe in the power of music.

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Hardwired… To Run 12 Miles

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For some bizarre reason, it slipped my mind that Metallica’s latest album, “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct” came out this week. As soon as I saw it on display at the Barnes & Noble store located at The Grove in Los Angeles, I immediately purchased it along with the Criterion Collection Blu-ray of “Boyhood.” Could I have bought Metallica’s newest album at a cheaper price elsewhere? Perhaps, but I’ve been a big fan of this heavy metal band ever since the “Black Album.” I have been playing “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct” on my car’s CD player endlessly since I bought it, and the first track was playing loudly as I drove out to Griffith Park for another run with Team to End AIDS.

In the name of desperation

In the name of wretched pain

In the name of all creation

Gone insane

We’re so fucked

Shit outta luck

Hardwired to self-destruct”

It’s interesting to listen to those lyrics in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprising, and infuriating, victory of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election. Also, I have endured my share of wretched pain I have ran the LA Marathon, and yet I still find a reason to run it yet again.

Today had us running 12 miles as well as traversing over the punishing hill on Crystal Springs Drive. And let’s not forget the other hill we had to ascend on Grandview Avenue. We can complain about running up these hills all we want, but when it comes to the LA Marathon, and we were reminded of this during the recent AIDS Walk, there will be hills. As much as we want to avoid them, they are inevitable and not worth avoiding.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, and I will plead the fifth as to what those circumstances were, I arrived at Griffith Park later than I should have. When I got there, everyone had already started and I was cursing at myself for being left behind. I passed by JC who was quick to remark how I arrived just in the nick of time, and I couldn’t disagree with him on that even if I wanted to. I was peeved I had somehow ended up in this position which I promised I wouldn’t this training season, but Coach Jennifer assured me it was okay as everyone has those moments. She even attempted to drive me out to where my pace group was at so I could join them, but I’m still in the process of learning everyone’s names and faces. She ended up dropping me off at the foot of the hill on Crystal Springs Drive, and in the end, that’s exactly where I needed to start.

You would think after all these years I would have mastered running up the Crystal Springs hill, but I had to keep reminding myself to run a slower pace as I seemed determined to run up this hill so I could get it over with. But with all the running and puffing I was doing, I kept remembering the whole point of this training was to run at a conversational pace, so I had to keep slowing down to make sure I was doing just that. When I finally got to the top, it kind of felt like I was on a wooden roller coaster which was clicking along endlessly until gravity started taking over. Having said that, I did watch myself as I ran downhill. While as kids we loved to let ourselves run wild at any given opportunity, running downhill at warp speed was never going to be to my benefit. This is how nasty injuries occur.

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As I headed on through the depths of Griffith Park, I kept hoping to come across Robin Russell who loves to play his drums in this region of it. The rhythm he loves to play at always help on an especially challenging run like this, but he was probably busy on this particular Saturday morning because he was nowhere to be found. Not to worry though, we are all bound to run into Robin at some point during this training season.

Because I didn’t arrive at the same time as my fellow runners, I ended up running these 12 miles mostly by myself. It’s a good thing I had a map on me, otherwise I could have run in the wrong direction despite my best efforts to avoid such a spectacularly stupid fate. Throughout the run, I kept wondering if a 3:1 pace was really working for me. Some of my fellow pace group runners felt more comfortable going at a 3:2 pace, and I started to wonder if I should do the same. It’s always my intention, when it comes to training with T2EA for the LA Marathon, to run faster than I have in the past. But with my advancing age, something I am safe to say I don’t resemble on a physical level, I owe it to myself to take it easy to where I don’t criticize myself as much. If this means slowing down, then that’s not something worth complaining about.

This particular morning was a cold one, and I found myself wearing a jacket in months, maybe even a year. When I got out of the car, it was still quite frigid, but with the sun already rising in the distance, I figured things would heat up very quickly as Southern California loves to stay unseasonably warm. Indeed, it soon turned into a ridiculously warm November day to where I wondered if California had suddenly moved closer to the Equator alongside Hawaii. Still, it felt like a risk not to leave my jacket on. Out here, we are so used to it never being this cold, ever.

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Coach James was on hand at the Boliver water stop to dispense good advice, and he encouraged me to look into getting Gatorade Endurance Formula. This formula is different from the regular Gatorade which is so easy to find at your local Ralphs Supermarket, and you have to order it online to get it. Considering this is the same formula given to runners on the marathon route, it is something I really should look into getting. Still, why is it only available online? Geez, this is like Indiana Jones trying to track down the Ark of the Covenant.

So, Thanksgiving is coming up next week, and I will be out of town. My plan is to keep up with my cardio exercises as well as my maintenance runs. Where I am going, you can bet I will be doing A LOT of walking at the very least. Plus, with all the delicious food I will end up eating (my dad and my brother are fantastic cooks), I will have more than enough calories to burn off and Alka Seltzer to keep the massive heartburn at bay.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

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Please click here to find out more about AIDS Project Los Angeles which I am running the LA Marathon in support of.