1983 - The Year That Forged Metal - Part 3
M.DREW: Speaking of Queensryche songs, if you ever really want to make a serious ‘Ryche fan angrier than all get out, tell him or her your favorite song of theirs is “Jet City Woman.” Watch the reaction. There might even be an eye twitch.
Pertaining to the Slayer question, let me begin by saying that Thin Lizzy is the all-time league leader in "Band Who Is Remembered As Being Way Better Than They Actually Were." It's a tight race, and the other three number one seeds in that tournament are probably Grand Funk Railroad, Janis Joplin and Sublime, with Supertramp just on the outside looking in, but Thin Lizzy is leading the AP poll right now. Honestly, when was the last time you, or anyone you know under the age of fifty rocked a Thin Lizzy record? When did you last hear them at a party? When did you last hear "Jailbreak" in a movie? I don't think I'm crazy here, even if I like "The Boys Are Back in Town."
If that's a little dismissive though, let me tackle the others more logically. Slayer's guitar tandem reigns as more influential because of a simple principle: I'm hereby calling it the M. Drew Bar Band Principle (trademark that shit, yo!) It's a pretty simple premise, though I admit it is incredibly reductive. While everyone loves Tipton and Downing (including me,) the most famous songs in Judas Priest's catalog, like "Breaking The Law," "You Got Another Thing Coming" and "Living After Midnight" can all be (and often are,) reproduced by just about every brain-addled bar band. More times than not, that bar bad has one guitar player. If a bar band can perform your song with regularity and consistency, I don't know that you broadened your chosen music's horizon. (And that's okay, lots of really great bands don't pass the MDBBP. Looking at you, Boston.) No bar band on the planet can replicate "Raining Blood" or in particular, as much as it gets too much attention, "Angel of Death." Even if they could, it clearly takes a duo to do that kind of thing. Priest eventually gets there, but they don't really explore the possibilities of their twin tandem until "Painkiller," which was in 1990, after Slayer had already blazed the trail.
Fundamentally, it's a little simpler than that. When you think of Judas Priest, what comes to mind first? Rob Halford, most likely. When you think of Maiden, probably either Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris or Eddie are the first mental image. With Slayer, it's always King and Hanneman. That might be overly simplistic, but it illustrates the kind of impact that those two had not only on thrash or their band's legacy, but on tandem guitars are a whole.
Now, one can make the argument that Priest, Maiden and others influenced Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth to toy around with a pairing in the first place, but it seems equally as likely that they had been colored by listening to the Clash or other early punk, given thrash's roots in the punk culture.
Proving your point about Thin Lizzy, I admit I don't believe I have ever listened to more than one or two of their songs, and even those weren't at my own behest. But, their popularity residing only with members of the generations we're supposed to rage against doesn't discount that even by your "M Drew Bar Band Principal", Thin Lizzy are the godfathers of twin guitar rock. Using your analogy, when you think of Thin Lizzy, I would gather that most people with some rock knowledge would first think of those twin-guitar leads above all else.
Not to continue ragging on Slayer, who I do like, but some of the guitar tandem talk needs to be put in the proper context. Live, Slayer does work very well as a team. On record, however, Jeff Hanneman hasn't played anything but solos for at least a decade, if not longer. That's the way classic Metallica operated, so I'm not leveling a criticism of the process, but it does lower them a step, in my eyes, on the pantheon of guitar tandems.
M.DREW: I thought we were just about done, then I realized that we haven’t talked about a whole huge thing that looms over this whole project.
Beyond argument, the most important, influential band in heavy metal history. Look, I know they had some shitty albums, but so does everyone. Even the model of consistency that is AC/DC has nearly an entire decade of crappy albums to their credit, which was pretty much everything between "For Those About to Rock" and "The Razor's Edge." It happens to the best of us. I know it's become fashionable, and maybe even expected to hate on Metallica, particularly in deep-seated metal circles where daylight and the warmth of mainstream acceptance are the most shunned, but I'm over it. I'm old enough now where I can't hate something for a totally immaterial reason (except for Kobe Bryant, damn his continued excellence!) and hating on Metallica feels, as you put it, "intellectually dishonest" of me.
Regardless, "Kill 'em All" may not be the most successful Metallica record out there, but it is the album most directly tied to the practice of tape trading, and given how integral that whole concept was to metal's evolution, the penetration of "Kill 'em All" into the marketplace is hard to ignore. But it's more than that. "Kill 'em All" represented the spearhead of the sea change in the attitude of metal, not only moving the musical elements toward the trends of thrash, but changing the lyrical context away from tales of swords and fantasy and toward the endemic issues of the Cold War.
From this point forward, there is no way to overstate the importance of Metallica to heavy metal. They are the cornerstone of the genre, and I'm gonna go ahead and say it, did more for the genre than Black Sabbath. It's not the easiest claim to have to defend, as Sabbath is an immobile rock in the royal family of heavy metal, but Metallica thrived outside the underground where Black Sabbath toiled amidst obscurity and the inadvertent faux-moralistic shock that the audience directed toward them. (Of course, it can be said that if Sabbath hadn't taken on those spears, Metallica's course would have been much tougher, but in Metallica's defense, they never sang about the occult or the devil, which even though Sabbath warned against those things, that's not how people took it.)
While Nirvana (and by extension, David Geffen) gets the lion's share of the credit for annihilating hair metal, there's no denying that The Black Album was part of the shift as well. "Enter Sandman," while incredibly overplayed and run out by every two-bit professional wrestler ever, was a totally different musical idea from "Round and Round" or "Nothing But a Good Time." Where Judas Priest used "You Got Another Thing Coming" to crack the seal and push a little bit of heavy metal into the fore, Metallica's Black Album smashed down the gates, leaving a road wide enough for a full tank division to roll through. All of which began in 1983 with "Kill 'em All."
Without Metallica, would we even be here, discussing this? Would we have such a public forum? It's hard to imagine what the heavy metal world would be like without Metallica's run through the late '80s and early '90s.
I'm not sure I have much to add to this part of the discussion that you didn't already mention. Metallica was never one of my favorite bands, nor are any of their albums true favorites of mine, so every discussion about their legacy is just that to me; a discussion of legacy. I would never try to deny the impact they had on creating the modern metal scene, because it is as immense as you describe, but their impact on me has been all but minimal.
My first memory of heavy metal was of Metallica, and The Black Album in particular, as I flipped and bounced on a friend's oversize trampoline. "Enter Sandman" may be played out, but it wasn't then, and not to me, so the impact it could make was fresh. I loved it then, and still think it's a far better song than most will give it credit for. And while The Black Album would be the first metal record I would get, and "Sad But True" remains one of the heaviest songs ever written (take note all you 7 and 8 string guitar players - that's how heavy is done), I quickly fizzled out on Metallica.
So in a way, you're right that I in particular wouldn't be here having this discussion without Metallica.
On a larger scale, I think Metallica's influence is felt less with each passing year. The thrash renaissance certainly owes everything to them, as does a large percentage of the music that qualifies as 'mainstream' metal, but the music has spread itself so thin that no one, not even Metallica, can maintain the reach they once had. As you and I both know from doing this job, there is an endless amount of metal coming out all the time, and so much of it derives from the extreme subsets. Metallica was a watershed, and they opened the door for metal to become bigger than it ever dreamed. By doing so, they also assured the fracturing of their own legacy, because metal became too big to be contained under the umbrella of all things derived from Metallica.
Black Sabbath doesn't suffer this problem, and their legacy remains less questionable for it, because Tony Iommi invented heavy guitar as we know it (proto-metal was close in many ways, but not quite there). While we can easily say all the black and death metal bands that we see don't owe their existence to Metallica, they do owe the very essence of what makes their sound possible to Black Sabbath.
But what Metallica has, that Sabbath never will, is the stature that comes along with being the band that made heavy metal universal. In some ways, that's even more important.
So even if I'm not much of a fan, and I rarely listen to any of their music, I can't discount the importance of Metallica. Without them I wouldn't be a fan, without them we wouldn't have much of the music we love, and without them we wouldn't be able to proudly tell the world we're metal fans.
M.DREW: Let me wrap up here before I let y'all have the last word(s). You mentioned something about the fans still flocking to see the old guard in action. This brings it back around to my first point, which is that I think the greatest piece of 1983's legacy in heavy metal is the sheer longevity. I'm not just referring to the fans who still fawn over Dio's solo albums and the legendary work of Mercyful Fate or the pantheon of others we've talked about (although that doesn't hurt,) but specifically to the bands still touring, working and in some cases, experiencing popularity on par with their most successful days.
This is really the first generation of musicians that can say this. Twenty years after Led Zeppelin I, that band was gone. So goes the same story for just about all the primary bands of that era with the exception of Rush, AC/DC and KISS, and those later three have maintained their operation more than grown it. The rest of the survivors, Rolling Stones and the E Street Band included, have turned themselves mostly into traveling museums, rolling from city to city to financially pad out their lives, and because they honestly enjoy engaging the fans and performing the music they hold so dear.
And that's fine, I'm not blaming them for that. I've paid to see a handful of them, and we all should be so blessed. But the bands from 1983 who persist, in particular those involved in thrash's origination, are not just persisting but thriving and, perhaps more notably, striving to continue their career. Metal was a genre born from the idea of rebellious youth and this handful of artists personifies that even as they reach or exceed the half-century mark in age. As a result, the idea of youthful vigor has been passed to the bands of today, hard-coded into the genre's DNA.
In recent months, we've seen Anthrax undergo another departure, that of Rob Caggiano, and Slayer go through an incredibly acrimonious, recent dispute involving the dispersal of tour monies and the ouster (gasp!) of drummer Dave Lombardo. For those reading, we elected not to cover those events simply because in neither case did I feel like anyone in the public knew the whole story, and we likely never will. I get that feeling every time Anthrax says anything, so that's not new for them (I'm taking bets on how long it will be until John Bush is back in the band,) but this was a new first for Slayer. It's not just limited to those bands, though. Do we really know Lars Ulrich's motivation for his actions? Have we ever stopped scratching our heads at Dave Mustaine? No, never. We guess, we debate, we surmise, but we do not know. Their diatribes and trials and tribulations continue to captivate us in a way that no group of bands ever has thirty years from their origination.
In a way, I've come to embrace this particular idiosyncrasy of my chosen genre, because to me it signifies that the bands involved are still trying, dammit. Their long-winded haranguing, bewildering explanations and jagged, often acerbic finger-pointing are validations of the idea that the beast is not dead, and will not go quietly. What was the last controversy KISS was involved in? Aerosmith has displayed some infighting in recent years, but nothing out of the ordinary for a group of friends who probably spend too much time together. It's never a contract dispute or a concern about musical direction or what the image of the band should be. Outside of Guns 'n' Roses (where Axl is the exception that proves the rule,) bands from that era largely have settled into their legacies and their lives and their lineups. But not in metal. I'm certain that attentive readers have recognized that I often quote Dylan Thomas in regards to this era of metal, who wrote that "Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Thanks, 1983. In your own backwards, unintentional way, you taught us to be forever young.
What amazes me about the longevity of the bands hailing from 1983 is the similar paths they all took. Almost without exception, they reached a fallow period in the 90's where we thought they were, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried. But then, just when people were ready to give up, they come back with better records, nostalgic live shows, and a second wind that put all the new bands back in their place. It's always seemed a little bit suspicious that all of them could fall victim to the same career arc (yes, even Dio - "Angry Machines" and "Killing The Dragon" are lousy records), only to round back into form at the same time. There's a cynic in me that can't help but feel that they weren't putting their all into their music during that time, because metal wasn't popular. It does turn them into crass businessmen, but a strain of that has been made increasingly apparent in recent times, as you pointed out. Whether we like it or not, bands are businesses, and they operate as such.
Did Metallica really want to make a retro-thrash record when they stepped into the studio to make "Death Magnetic"? Did Anthrax really think Joey Belladonna was the best singer to front their band yet again in this decade? Did Slayer really think "Diabolus In Musica" was a good idea? We'll never know the answers to these questions, but I suspect there's a lot more concern for the wallet that went into these decisions than we want to believe. The bands of this era rode the crest and saw the beginnings of the decline of the record industry, so it wouldn't surprise me to see them doing everything in their power to squeeze every dime they could from their run before it's over. I'd bet a lot of the personnel turnover we see is for just such a reason. One thing we can say for sure is that these bands aren't stupid. They understand how to exploit our nostalgic tendencies, and we're all too happy to forgive them their sins. It's human nature; we want our beliefs to be reinforced, even in the face of proof to the contrary. Once these bands became our heroes, their position was set for life, and they know it.
So maybe the lesson I take away from the story of 1983 is that it's all fun and games... until money becomes involved. As in life, so in music.
Now excuse me while I go put on a record.
Don't go away just yet! We'll be back tomorrow to sum up, and close the week with thoughts from around the metal sphere, including GWAR, Nightfall and Soilwork! Don't miss it. That wasn't a request.