I went to go see Testament, Exodus and Death Angel live last night, on The Bay Strikes Back Tour at Bristol 02 Academy, on Tuesday 02.03.2020

I went to go see Testament, Exodus and Death Angel live last night, on The Bay Strikes Back Tour at Bristol 02 Academy, on Tuesday 02.03.2020.

As you probably know if you read this blog, I really, really like Thrash – it is my unquestionably favourite type of music.

Boy, I was so pleased when I saw this concert bill advertised. This is one hell of a concert line up! Three bands that I’ve been listening to since my teens, together on one bill, all playing Bay Area Thrash Metal, my favourite type of music bar none.

The media always likes to talk about the Big Four of Thrash Metal, (all of whom I’ve been lucky enough to seen live before!), but for me it has always been the Big 6 with Exodus and Testament in there too.

Exodus and Testament are so representative of everything good about Thrash. I can never decide which one is my favourite and it can change on any given day. In fact, Exodus and Testament logos occupy both the left and right shoulder positions on my patch jacket, equal in size and position. I’m also quite partial to early Death Angel and their Act III album in particular is one of my favourite Thrash albums.

[Trivia fans may also be aware that there are a few other connections between these three bands. I’ll type just a few here now – Death Angel’s demo was produced by Kirk Hammet, who was in Exodus, and Exodus’ singer Steve Souza was the singer of Testament before their debut album, back when they were called Legacy. Nice connections there].


I’ve been lucky enough to see Exodus before, back in 2016, when I lived in Manchester, on a bill with Prong and Obituary. That gig that got me into Obituary and properly into Prong where before I was just a causal fan. This is my first time seeing the mighty Testament live though, and I couldn’t be more excited. (Crazy as it sounds, sometimes I almost feel like I’ve seen them before though, as I have watched their Live In London DVD more than 50 times, to the point where reality blurs and my memories of it almost feel like I real memories and like I was there). Its also my first time seeing Death Angel live who are a perfect opener for such a bill.

As has become a habit of mine in recent years, I have been listening to these bands constantly in the weeks leading up to the concert, building anticipation. I also listened to them all on shuffle on the drive to the concert, which was in Bristol. This is only my second ever concert in Bristol, as I fear the unfamiliar and large city and much prefer the convenience and familiarity of Cardiff for concerts most of the time – but this line up is too good not to travel for!

I thought since it’s a bit of a stressful drive, I’d book the day afterwards off work, so I don’t go to work on less sleep than usual. Turns out I’m an idiot though, as I booked the day of the concert off rather than the day after! Woops! Oh well, at least I wasn’t in a rush to get there after work then. I tried to get some sleep beforehand to balance it out.

It was much less stressful navigating my way there this time as I made no wrong turns and I was familiar with the parking lot (which is down a weird cobbled side street that looks like you aren’t allowed to drive down) so everything went smoothly. After I queued up and got in, I was just in time to catch Death Angel’s first song. Somehow, I managed to get a good spot with a good view, only a few places from the stage slightly to the left of the venue, stage right.

Death Angel’s setlist was mostly a mix of tunes from their modern post-reunion albums. I only own one studio and one live album from the modern era so far, so it was a bit unfamiliar with the material they chose. They only played two and a half songs from the classic first three albums (‘Voracious Souls’  and a little bit of the title track from their debut album The Ultra-Violence and then the classic opener ‘Seemingly Endless Time’ from their masterpiece Act III). Nevertheless I had a great time.

Death Angel call for blood, and you’ve not spilled enough!

Their performance was great. Tracks like ‘Thrown To The Wolves’ and especially ‘The Dream Calls For Blood’ sounded really powerful and energetic live. There wasn’t much of a stage show, but they really didn’t need it. They really got the crowd gonig with their enthusiasm and crowd ineraction.

I was quite happy with how into it the crowd were. Sometimes the crowd doesn’t go for the opening act. When I saw Diamond Head support Saxon, the vibe was utterly dead for Diamond Head until their last song, but here, people treated Death Angel like a headliner. There were sections of people throughout the room singing every word and most of the crowd were thrashing like a maniac, so to speak. It was a perfect way to start the evening.

Death Angel

The sound was really well mixed. It was a thousand times better than Megadeth had been recently. You could hear everything perfectly but it still had a real crunchy, aggressive power. The vocals soared, the leads were clear and the drums hammered at you. The rhythm guitars hit that sweet crunch spot that makes Thrash so perfect.

In the gap between bands I managed to get closer to the stage still as people went off to find drinks and toilets. I’m not a push to the front kind of guy and am allways mindful of people behind or beside me’s personal space, so sometimes you can’t get the best view, but I got a pretty great view through sheer luck.

Next came Exodus. Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza is still fronting the band. Its nice to see some line-up stability, as there was a lot of upheaval over the years. Tonight was my first time seeing them with main guitarist Gary Holt in the band. Last time I saw them, Garry wasn’t there as he was busy touring with Slayer at the time, following the untimely passing of Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman. Tonight he played a little snippet of ‘Raining Blood’ and Zetro quipped about how he could do it legally now due to having been in Slayer.

Holt and Altus

[Trivia fans may also be aware, just for more Thrash connections, that Exodus’ current line-up featurs Heathen’s Lee Altus. Heathen have also previously had Exodus’ first singer Paul Baloff in their line-up briefly and they currently feature former Slayer drummer Jon Dette.

There are innumerable other trivia links between these bands. If you want to get on with the review, skip to after these brackets. Otherwise; strap in guys, this is a convoluted one…

Also worth mentioning since we’ve brought up Slayer, is that both Testament and Exodus have had Slayer’s second drummer Paul Bostaph behind the kit, and Testament have also had Slayer’s first drummer Dave Lombardo, and while we’re talking about shared drummers – both Testament and Exodus have both had John Tempesta on drums!

The aforementioned Paul Bostaph used to be in Forbidden, who have also had Glen Alvelais, and Glen was in Testament in the ‘90s and has been in Tenent alongside Exodus’ singer and Steve Souza. Testament’s current drummer is former Dark Angel drummer Gene Hoglan. Hoglan has also been in Forbidden briefly and done backing vocals and drum teching for Slayer in the early days.

Speaking of Hoglan, this not strictly Thrash, but he has been in Death with Steve DiGorgio, but it loops back around to Thrash, as DiGorgio is Testament’s current bassist – Its like musical chairs in the Trash Metal world!

I haven’t even gotten into all the Machine Head links yet. Don’t get me started. I had a whole blog about this stuff in my teens called The Thrashagram. Its proably kid’s stuff looknig back at it now, but at the time I was pretty proud of it].

Anyway… When I saw Exodus last time, their performance was great live. I remember writing at the time that if you get the chance to see them, no matter how high up or low down on the bill they are, you really must take it. They aren’t a nostalgia act, they’ve still got the fire in their eyes. This time however, they were even bloody better! They were utterly amazing. On fire. In the zone. Blistering. Whatever you want to call it, they tore the venue a new one. What a difference a Holt makes, am I right?

Zetro made a big speech about how Holt was back and how we were all lucky to catch him on his first UK date back in the fold, and by god was he right. The energy, chemistry and indescribable x-factor going on made the performance utterly captivating. Zetro made a few speechs that night, including one about Bay Area Thrash that really locked into my old teenage love of Thrash and made me smile like a goon.

Exodus’ set was more balanced between their modern and classic material than Death Angel’s had been. They didn’t have enoguh time to cover ever single album, but they hit all the key periods. There were a few tracks from their Paul Baloff-fronted debut Bonded By Blood, a few from the Souza-fronted ‘80s albums (my favourite era of the band), a few from the Souza-fronted modern albums and even one from the Rob Dukes era.

It is nice that they mix the setlist up. Last time I saw them, they didn’t play ‘Deliver Us To Evil’ or ‘Fabulous Disaster’ for example. Last time I saw them, they played ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’ from the Dukes era, and this time they played the cleverly titled ‘Deathamphetamine.’ I love how this band play material from all eras. It’s a lot better for us fans than situations where some bands have a line-up change or reunion and the returning old guy refuses to play material from his former-replacement’s era. Most fans want to hear it all.

Murder in the front row, crowd begins to bang!

The band were tight, the sound was great again and they played some of my favourite songs (I was so happy to hear ‘Fabulous Disaster’ and ‘Black List’). What a brilliant time. If the night ended here, I would have been utterly satisfied.


Finally came the headliner, Testament. This band’s first four albums absolutely defined my teens and their mighty comeback album The Formation Of Damnation was the metal oasis in my otherwise prog-centric first year of university.

Testament were great live too. Their sound was a bit more restrained and less savage than it had been for Death Angel or especially Exodus. Furthermore; Gene ‘The Atomic Clock’ Hoglan’s drumming is mechanical and perfect, compared to Tom Hunting’s crazed and exciting beast-man drumming style. This made for a nice contrast, and was suited for Testament’s more melodic parts, even if it was a little less pulverising in the heavy parts than Exodus had been.

Atomic Clock

What they lost in savagery however, they made up for in professionalism. Compared to the other two bands, Testament got more time and more of a stage show, with an hour-and-a-half set. Clearly the headliners then!

They had banners, smoke cannons, lazers and a much more colourful light show. The banners changed depending on what album they were focusing on. They had raised points for the guitarists to climb on during solos. Eric Peterson in particular was really impressive. Many of the solos I always thought were Alex from the newer records, were actually Eric. Live, he delivers them with such flare and precision it was a joy to watch.

Peterson slays!

Speaking of joy, after all those years of watching Live In London on repeat, my brother and I always talked about how much fun singer Chuck Billy has. The man looks like being in Testament is his dream come true and that he’s having the best time in the world. His huge smiles as he plays air guitar on his mic stand, and air drums in sync with all the cymbal catches are so infectious. I feel like he is Testament’s number one fan and his joyous enthusiasm is such fun to behold.

Native Blood

No setlist at any concert ever satisfies everything I want to see, and tonight I’d love to have seen the title track from Souls Of Black or something like ‘Alone In The Dark’ or ‘Apocalyptic City’ from their debut. Most of all, I would have really loved to have heard ‘More Than Meets The Eye,’ from Formation Of Damnation which I think may be the band’s finest hour, but overall I was really satisfied with Testament’s choices tonight. Their set list was a real mix as well, not just all old not all new. They covered early stuff, mid-period-stuff, and even a brand-new song from the as yet unreleased next album.

They also played a few songs from their most recent album, The Brotherhood Of The Snake which I’ve been meaning to review for ages now, but spoilers, they managed to play the best two songs from it! Huzzah! Combined with many of my favourite tunes like ‘Practice What You Preach,’ ‘Over The Wall,’ ‘The Preacher’ and ‘Into The Pit’ I was pretty chuffed.

Disciples Of The Watch

Overall, this night was a thrash fan’s dream night if ever there was one. Once again, if it had just been Testament and Death Angel, I would have been wholly satisfied. However; given the utterly perfect set from Exodus, this was a whole other level of good. (And to cap it all off, the traffic and roads were so good, I managed to get home in time to get a fair amount of sleep for work next day! Bonus!).

Next on my concert schedule: Rammstein in Cardiff this Summer, Helloween in Manchester around Halloween, and then WASP doing only tunes from the first four albums in Cardiff a few days after Helloween. (Possibly Sepultura too, depending on money, work and tickets – I’m thinking about it).


 


I went to go see Saxon last Friday in Cardiff Student’s Union Great Hall on 23/02/18.

I went to go see the mighty Saxon last Friday in Cardiff; this was my third time catching the NWOBHM legends live and my second ever concert in Wales. (It would have been my fourth time seeing Saxon but I’ve already written before about the time I had tickets and it got cancelled due to Lemmy from Motorhead getting diabetes.)

The trip to the venue was great, now that I know the way it was a lot less stressful to find than the time I went to see Mastodon and this time the city centre was a lot quieter and less full of boozed-up thugs. I got there a bit late and missed all but the last minute of the opening act, Rock Goddess, so just got to hear them chant ‘Heavy metal – rock and roll’ about six times and take a bow. I remembered the really good comfortable spot from the Mastodon concert – behind the sound/lighting desk, so I headed there and remained there for the rest of the show, great sound, great view and no people bustling you around.

I caught the Metallica-inspiring also-NWOBHM legends Diamond Head next. It was kind of strange to see them be their own roadies. Usually you get excited when the band but I saw Brian Tattler for like 15 minutes before the band were ready just setting up the guitar, I can see why roadies get hired and how annoying it must be nowadays when records aren’t selling as much. They were a man down due to a serious hospital operation but they soldiered on regardless, dropping all the best and heaviest songs from Lightening To The Nations and Borrowed Time. They also dropped one new song from their self titled album (‘Bones’). I didn’t know this beforehand; but they have a younger guy on vocals (Rasmus Bom Andersen). He was a very good frontman, jumping in the air, pumping up the crowd, trying to get people enthusiastic and doing a very good job of mimicking the original vocals. I’ve been listening ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ a lot recently so I really enjoyed it live – he did it justice. The crowd were into it, but not so into it. The band were pretty good; not so tight, but that’s obviously due to the man-down situation and totally understandable. Hey, I’m just happy to be seeing songs like ‘Its Electric’ and ‘Lightning To The Nations’ live.

When they dropped ‘Am I Evil?’ though…the whole atmosphere changed. The crowd sang almost every word, the room warmed up, the band looked five-times as confident and all the energy that was sort of missing before came into the room. It felt like a real heroic moment. Previously the crowd seemed to view them as a bit of a ropey pub band based on how they reacted, but for that last song they treated them how they deserved, like stars.

After a wait, the mighty Saxon took the stage, opening up with the intro and title track of the new album. I had been a bit cold on ‘Thunderbolt’ when it was the previw single but when I heard the album and listened to it on repeat it fell in to place for me. Seeing it live made it even better. Its a really strong tune. Biff mentioned we were the first audience to ever see it live, which got a big cheer. They also dropped some other fairly recent material such as ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘Battering Ram’ (also so good live!). Its nice to see them not just being a nostalgia act.

There was also all the big classic songs you’d expect such as ‘And The Bands Played On,’ (Side note – I never think about how short that song is!) ‘Strong Arm Of The Law,’ ‘Crusader,’ ‘747 (Strangers In The Night),’ ‘The Power And The Glory’ etc.

They also played a good four-six tracks off the new album overall, such as ‘Sniper’ ‘The Secret Of Flight’ ‘Predator’ and ‘They Played Rock And Roll.’ Nibbs did the backing parts that Amon Amarth’s singer Johan Hegg does on the album, which was quite fun. My favorite moment was hearing ‘Nosferatu’ live.

They mentioned that they had filmed their next music video in the venue the previous night and also that the students were filming the concert (maybe that will be their next concert film or maybe just on youtube later, I’m not sure).

They did two encores. They ended the main set with ‘Princess Of The Night,’ and then they came back and did ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ and ‘Wheels Of Steel’ then they went off again and came back once more and did ‘Denim And Leather.’

The band were absolutely phenomenal. I’ve seen Saxon three times so far and this was unquestionably the best. They were absolutely on fire. The power and confidence and audience reaction was really special. The band seemed really taken aback and grateful and Biff kept commenting on what a great crowd it was that night (which I do agree with, I’ve seen a lot of concerts but its rare to get such good applause and sing-alongs and fans demanding you come back again after you’ve already done an encore).

It appears the band are on an upswing; Biff mentioned the new album was their first to enter the UK Top 30 albums chart since the mid-80s and joked that he ‘almost chocked on my cornflakes when I heard that!’ which was very amusing. He was quite amusing all night to be honest. Someone suggested they play ‘Crusader’ early on in the set and he started doing the ‘Who dares battle the Saracen?’ voice from its intro but said ‘Its not time for Crusader, that comes later’ which was pretty funny in context and got a good crowd reaction.

The band were stunning too. As well as Biff’s excellent stage presence and banter, the guitar solos were so good. Doug and Paul were so impressive – they really are absolute guitar heroes. Nibbs is the rowdy guy with all the energy and gets the crowd going. Best of all of course, as if I would say anyone else, (how many times have I banged on and on about my drummer-crush on his skills?) was the incomparable ‘Engine Room’ – Nigel Glockler! I’ve already written at length about how he elevates the songs with the extra cymbal catches and well timed extra double kicks on the old stuff before he was the drummer and his own stuff is badass to begin with. He has a star power and talent level that really lifts Saxon above so many of their NWOBHM peers and shows you why they are not only relevant now when so many of their peers fell by the wayside but arguably better now than even in their classic period.

The whole concert was an absolute triumph, the old stuff, the new stuff, the stage presence and the performances. Scorching solos and powerful fills. I had an absolutely great night. I really recommend you catch Saxon live if you haven’t already and if this turns out to be available now the students have filmed it, check the video out.

Metallica – Hardwired… To Self Destruct Review

20160818_193928_7549_939483Metallica albums are so hard to judge. To me, Metallica are so absurdly superhumanly important. They are so larger than life. Each album release is not just an album, but an event. It is a climactic shift for my whole culture. I feel like Metallica releases are as significant to me as major life events like first kisses or first drinks or going to university for the first time. Metallica are as close to a religious leader as I’ll ever experience in my life time. As such, objectively judging them is somewhat impossible.

You are talking to an avid, ardant St. Anger defender here. You are talking to someone who could spend twenty-five minutes talking about ‘The Judas Kiss’ on a first date should you let him. You are talking to someone who feels like a chink in Metallica’s armour is a worry almost able to spoil a whole day over. When Metallica do Metallica well, its otherworldly levels of special and when they disappoint its a talking point for months. I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to judge or review them, then, given that this band wrote Master Of Puppets, which I do honestly and with all the sincerity in my soul, think I might feel about the same way devout religious people probably feel about their holy books. I don’t mean that to sound disrespectful, but its important for the context behind the review to convey how truly disproportionately this group affects my sense-of-self, worldview and culture. Ever seen a grown man cry when his sports team loses a game? That same ludicrous thing is what Metallica taps into in me.And I don’t even consider myself that big a fan compared to a lot of people I’ve met. You’ll never see me scoffing at someone and saying I’m a bigger fan, or getting jealous and competitive about another fan. And yet…

When I hear tracks like the first three singles; ‘Hardwired’ ‘Moth Into Flame’ and ‘Atlas, Rise!’ then, considering everything I’ve just written about this band and its cultural and emotional significance to me, I am suddenly filled with a sense of hope, excitement and the feeling that everything is all right with the world. This is the feeling of being a teenager, I can still feel the green sofa on which I first really got into ….And Justice For All, can still see the swings in the park when I roared the chorus of ‘Blackened’ at the top of my lungs out in, to amuse my equally excitable teenage friends. I can remember being younger than that and feeling genuinely frightened by the darker moments on the Black album. Feeling like I might go to hell for listening to it. I can see the movie I was ignoring when choosing to inspect the Black Album closely for the first time on headphones instead of engaging with the family movie night. (What Dreams May Come). I can still feel the rattle of the cheap bus windows the first time I realized Kill ‘Em All wasn’t old fashioned, it was charming. I can smell, see and taste things when I listen to Metallica. I have super clear memories of almost any time someone insulted St Anger when I was in the room. These three singles bring all those memories back faster, harder and clearer than Lulu, Beyond Magnetic or ‘Lords Of Summer (First Pass Demo)’ were able to, or indeed any live broadcast since about 2004 could.

Metallica were undoubtedly in a bad place before they dropped ‘Hardwired.’ They had whittled away a boatload of goodwill with LuLu, with the failed 3D movie and with ‘Lords Of Summer (First Pass Demo).’ The Metallica who were unstoppable to me seemed to be gone. People were stopping to care. Metallica were becoming a joke. What fans from the ’80s felt around the time of the ’90s eyeliner or ’90s fans felt around the time they watched Lars slamming doors on the documentary, its was starting to feel like the only feeling that could be felt about Metallica. That feeling, or worse still, ambivelance. This is the most important band in the world for the love of all things sacred… being ambivalent towards them feels unnatural. It feels tantamount to defeat. To depression almost. It was with a great sigh of relief then, that ‘Hardwired’ was equal to, if not better than even, the weaker moments on St Anger or Death Magnetic. We can never expect them to follow up the first six albums, that way sheer unbridled madness lies, but if they can keep up with the best half of their latter day albums and not turn into ‘Lords Of Summer – The Band’ then all would be well. As long as they sound like they, y’know, give a shit.

Then comes ‘Moth Into Flame.’ Pow. Same again. Its like Death Magnetic with better production, better vocals, and more concise songwriting. Oh, what’s that? ‘Atlas, Rise’ ? Just as good. Oh thank goodness. Its going to be good, I can feel it. I can feel it in my bones. Its going to be… uh, oh, ok, nevermind.

Yeah, its nice, its nice to try and capture the vibe of C.O.C’s ‘Heaven’s Not Overflowing.’ Its nice to capture the vibe of ‘Devil’s Dance’ again. Its nice to have two six track discs each ending with a lengthy closer. Another song about Cthulu is a good idea. You’ve had success with that before. Its nice to do a tribute to the fallen Lemmy condsidering the specific impact he had on Metallica and vice versa. I mean Lemmy outright praises, thanks and accredits Metallica more than once in his autobiography and covered ‘Whiplash’ …Metallica covered numerous Motorhead songs and shared the stage with Lemmy. Sure. Its not going to be just another hollow tribute by any other band, its going to be personal and meaningful, yeah?

hqdefault

Lemmy & Metallica share the stage

Well; here’s the thing, that Heaven’s Not Overflowing on the silly-title-of-the-month award winner ‘ManUnKind’ moment is fun and awesome, but the song doesn’t fit the mood of the rest of the record at all, really sits out like a sore thumb and probably could’ve served better as a B-Side. Just because something is fun doesn’t mean it fits. The awkward, complex drum pattern just reminds me of that section in the Some Kind Of Monster documentary where Lar’s father recommends they ‘delete that’ …is it an attempt to redeem awkward beats or is it another moment someone should’ve saved them from themselves. ‘Murder One’ for all its potential is a forgettable, skippable, unnecessary addition to the album. Was the best way to pay tribute to the man really by writing the most boring song of the album, and just adding in some of Lemmy’s lyrics? Is that what Lemmy would want. Is that what Lemmy’s fans want? Is that what anybody wants? With the accompanying music video I get the Lemmy tribute aspect comes across more, but hey have you ever read Lemmy’s autobiography? I bet that a better tribute would’ve been just to cover a track off of one of those albums like Bastards or We Are Motorhead that he felt didn’t get the recognition they deserved.

When I’m on the subject of niggles… why have a song called ‘Am I Savage’ with no Diamond Head relation, but then have a direct Diamond Head reference in the intro on Confusion? Not just any Diamond Head reference but an ‘Am I Evil’ one specifically. Like. What are you trying to do. Surely, those two things are supposed to go together?! Where they initially together and got separated later in editing? Are they two separate similar shout outs to the same song? ‘Am I Savage?’ ‘Am I Evil?’ or Am I reading too much into this?

I like the two disc closing tracks ‘Spit Out The Bone’ and ‘Halo On Fire,’ …but they’re clearly on the wrong discs! Disc one is much more focused on Thrash. Disc two is much more focused on the Load style. Swap the two disc closers around and you’ve almost got themed discs. Might have flowed better. ‘Spit Out The Bone’ for me is arguably the best song on the album, maybe even of the last four albums. It could do with having a shorter build up time. It could do with sitting closer to ‘Hard Wired.’ It and ‘Hardwired’ are like the focused and expanded evil twins of eachother. They bookend the album. They’d bookmark a disc of the thrashier stuff even more strongly though. A disc each of each direction would be cool and you could pick which disc you were in the mood for.

I wonder what happened to the rest of Metallica’s catalogue though. Metallica were more than just Thrash and Load. I can hear lots of Kill ‘Em All. I can hear lots of Load. I can hear lots and lots of Death Magnetic. What about The Black Album or Ride The Lightening though? Or even poor misunderstood St Anger. Well, upon repeat listens actually I can hear some Black Album on ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and ‘Am I Savage’ actually. Initial gut reaction underplays that. You just feel like its Here comes Death Magnetic band trying to play more like Kill ‘Em All… you like that? Ok, well then here’s some Death Magnetic band trying to play Load a bit heavier.  Uh…what?

I have to say. On first listen, tracks like ‘Am I Savage?’ and ‘Confusion’ really missed the mark for me. They bored me. Had me questioning the band’s choices. Was this really on the same album as ‘Moth Into Flame’ ? Repeat listens have revealed more depth. Have highlighted the swinging in-the-pocket grooves. Have allowed me to forget my expectations and just let the album be its own thing. So, maybe ‘Here Comes Revenge’ isn’t just a poor man’s ‘Broken Beaten Scared’ after all, and hey, that vocal during the guitar lead has an almost ‘Outlaw Torn’-esque emotive quality to it. A watered down, middle-aged version of it, but a version of it none the less. Repeat listens are this album’s friend. Its a grower. I bet much of its reputation is already formed, and all of our initial ‘Yay’ or ‘Yuck!’ gut reactions will stick around for decades, but to be honest I hated over half this stuff on first listen and now I like a good three quarters.

This album is a bit of a difficult one to get straight in my head. UK journalist Terry Beezer once said Millionaires can’t make Thrash Metal. When hearing ‘Spit Out The Bone’ I’m happy to report he’s got it wrong but then ‘Murder One’ and ‘Dream No More’ have me knowing in my gut he’s dead right. I mean, stacked up against the worst songs on Metallica’s worst albums, maybe they kind of pass, barely, but against the best moments of those albums, not even close to being close to close. And the mythical quality of the best Metallica albums? Not even visible on the horizon. I mean, would you honestly want to see half of this album live if you knew what else you’d be missing out on. Even if Metallica did a show with no hits and no fan favourites, I’d still want to hear the deep cuts off of everything else prioritized over the deep cuts on this. Or would I? Hmmm. Its like a war inside my head (and not the PTSD war in my head of the ‘Confusion’ video). First impressions say I’d skip this stuff when choosing a live setlist, but repeat listening to the vocals in ‘Now That We’re Dead’ …hmm, I’m not sure anymore. Hmmm.

setlist

Could use more ‘Spit Out The Bone’ …doesn’t even need a pun.

Ok, Ok. Let me think… So yeah. I’ve had some criticisms of this album, especially on the very first listen. That all being said. This is no bad album. Not even close. The band just get judged so much more harshly due to their significance. The intro to ‘Now That We’re All Dead’ ? Amazing fun. Who could possibly not enjoy that? The best riffs in ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and ‘Confusion’? Yes of course they put a smile on my face, of course I’d want to learn them on guitar. This is Metallica we’re talking about here, James Hetfield knows a thing or two about writing memorable riffs! Increasingly though, they don’t seem to know how to edit themselves, how to cut out the flab, how to be concise. The best thing about this album is that, on those first three singles, it felt like the band had finally worked out how to be concise again, and that’s probably where a lot of disappointment on my part came from, the realization that it was not to be. Should’ve guessed… it was a double album after all. Its hardly a medium known for its focus and discipline.

Then again, the best song on the album is 7-minutes long, so being concise isn’t everything. Just ask …And Justice For All. One things for sure. Metallica dodged a bullet with this album. They were about to slide into the ‘I don’t want to hear anything new ever again’ folder along with the likes of The Rolling Stones, but with the best moments of the record, they’ve dug their nails into staying relelvent. Of course, this isn’t a perfect record. I strongly wish they’d record firier, angrier, more personally invested performances. I wish they’d sound more excited. I wish they’d be livlier and convey more energy. I mean, if Exodus and Testament can still do it, at the same age from the same background, then we know it is physically possible. Have you heard the title track to Blood In Blood Out? It can be done.

Anyway; Despite the one or two filler tracks. Despite the slighly flow-diminishing running order. Despite the surprisngly unfitting tribute to Lemmy. Despite the performance not rocking the hell out. Despite any niggles or nitpicking, this is an album I’ll be listening to in five years time. Its an album that gets less dissapointing with each listen. Its an album that whether its a sane or rational thing to happen or not will inform a disproportionate amount of who I am as a person. I’ll never be objective about this so I won’t even pretend to be.

If history is anything to go by, I’ll have a different oppinion on this in a month, quarter and year from now. I’ll probablly have a different opinion every time you ask me. This review is by no means the last you’ll hear from me on the matter. But overall; I’m glad Metallica made new music and I’m very glad to own an album with ‘Hardwired’ and ‘Spit Out The Bone’ on it.

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What a good song!

….

Thought that was the end? Think again. This is a Metallica album. Initial gut reactions are one thing, measured multi-listen reviews are another. Even later revalidations are also required. Having absolutely hammered listening to this now, I’ve more left to say. I’ve listened track by track as they were released, all together as a piece of work, in custom orders of my own choosing, accompanied by videos or all alone as audio only, focused or in the background, and all that has melted together in my mind into one whole where I now have a much better grasp on my feelings.

Overall; I think this is a strong album. In all honesty, perhaps a single disc of all the Thrash stuff and a disc of the Black/Reload stuff six months later would’ve worked better, but overall, there’s nothing poor here. Well, maybe ‘Murder One’ for my personal taste… but that’s about it (and I’m sure there’s people out there who are throwing cheetos at the screen screaming that its their favourite song, so live and let live). Tracks like ‘Confusion,’  ‘Am I Savage’ and especially ‘Halo On Fire’ all have really strong endings and work better on repeat listens and in album context. When you deconstruct them or try and guess what they’re going to do, instead of just letting them exist, sure they don’t live up to the standards of your own imagination, but they do work the way Metallica planned them and you just have to accept that your hypothetical perfect version does not exist. Like my Andy Sneap produced, non-brickwalled version of Death Magnetic, it doesn’t exist but that doesn’t stop ‘That Was Just Your Life,’ ‘Judas Kiss’ or ‘All Nightmare Long’ from being bad-ass.

What also becomes apparent after all the dust has settled is how right my gut was on the positive matters. ‘Hardwired,’ ‘Moth Into Flame,’ ‘Atlas, Rise,’ ‘Now That We’re Dead,’ ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and especially, especially ‘Spit Out The Bone’ are my favourite tracks. They are all exactly what I want from the band, and proof that they can still do amazing things even with all the fame and money and age and expectation and conflicting fanbase demographics. These songs, each and every one, I WOULD love to see live.

On repeat listens; I also really connect to parts of other songs, the end of ‘Halo On Fire’ once the guitar lead comes in is priceless, the harsh vocals later in ‘Here Comes Revenge’ are really exciting, the clever mid section of ‘Confusion’ is good. The guitar solo on ‘Dream No More’ is like the best stuff on Reload and I can see now how the ‘you turn to stone’ section is trying to channel The Black Album’s slower tracks. That main riff in the admittedly-still-out-of-place ‘ManUnKind’ is pretty infectious. I mean, they aren’t as great as the best moments on the best albums, (but then, what is?), however they do still warrant attention and respect. More than that even, genuine warmth.

On the matter of the special edition bonus tracks; firstly, the new version of ‘Lords Of Summer’ is a huge improvement. The production, the performance, the attitude, the arrangement, and especially the guitar solos. It all just works so much better. It feels more vital and less like medicority eating Metallica alive. Its celebratory lyrics even put me in a good mood.

The Maiden and Deep Purple covers we’ve heard before, sure but its nice to have them all the same, and the Ronnie medley in particular is pretty great. Their guitar tone on these songs works really well, almost like a history lesson or through-line. Then there’s a ten-song live set: A Diamond Head cover, songs exclusively from Ride The Lightning and Kill ‘Em All and then ending with a live version of ‘Hardwired’ from another concert, ten live tracks, three covers and an extra Metallica song… overall its a pretty substantial bonus. On the Rasputin Music show; the performances and banter all seem happy and grateful and fun, and it all has a great jovial atmosphere. Its a nice addition. I don’t think I’d buy it on its own or anything, there’s plenty of alternative Metallica live shows (especially on their extensive website) to choose from elsewhere, but it is by no means a let down and is actually really rather good indeed. If this was your first Metallica album and you got this on the end too, it would really rule.

Ok. A bit of a fractured review, but it matches my fractured reaction to the album and the fractured way in which I initially consumed it. To summarize: My initial reaction to it, especially disc 2, was disappointment but it really grows. It is not perfect and could easily loose two or three songs, or each song could easily loose thirty seconds to a minute each. The running order could be slightly different [and for my own future listening I am listening to it in the custom order in the appendix below the review]. ‘ManUnKind’ doesn’t fit no matter how good or bad it is or not. ‘Murder One’ is my least favourite track despite Lemmy being amazing and specifically important to this band, directly.

…All of those niggles aside, and they are just niggles, this is pretty damn good. The songs each have something good about them (Hello daaaaarkness, say good-bye), and the aforementioned half or so of the album that I really like, well, I really really like it now! Those songs each have something to love about them. They are very good indeed, and really keep Metallica alive and relevant and live up to all my expectations.

This band are too gigantic, larger than life, and both culturally and emotionally significant for me to have any sort of detached, logical, impartial idea about the objective quality of the record, but in my guts, when I hear ‘Spit Out The Bone’ I know that everything is right with the world; at least for today (despite what the dystopian lyrics would have you believe). Lords of Summer undenied indeed.

 

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Custom track order:
1. Hardwired. 2. Moth Into Flame. 3. Atlas, Rise. 4. Now That We’re Dead 5. Here Comes Revenge 6. Spit Out The Bone

1. Confusion. 2. Dream No More. 3. ManUnKind. 4. Murder One. 5. Am I Savage. 6. Halo On Fire.

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