Friday, August 14, 2009

Jahnke's Record Collection: Metallica - Ride The Lightning

This may come as a shock, considering my well-known reputation as the hardest of hardcore bad-asses, but I was never much into heavy metal growing up. I liked some of it but I was mainly interested in bands with monster connections: KISS, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, that kind of thing. I dismissed most of the 80s hair bands out of hand and only tuned into MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball when I was more than usually bored.

Metallica didn’t enter my life until I started dating a young woman named Tisha in the early 90s. Tisha was, and is, a bona fide hardcore bad-ass. She grew up on metal and Metallica was her favorite band. She was such a devoted fan that, in high school, she had a personalized license plate with the band’s name. For most bands, I’d think that was a really stupid thing to do. But somehow, with Metallica it’s beyond cool. I even thought so at the time when I didn’t really know much about the band.

The first Metallica album I heard was their self-titled 1991 blockbuster, known familiarly as The Black Album. The success of that album made it kind of difficult to avoid if you were listening to any popular music at the time. Still, I was impressed. I’d unfairly dismissed most heavy metal as an impregnable wall of noise and Metallica was definitely not that. This was a controlled, precision aural attack. I liked it.

I worked backward from there, familiarizing myself with the band’s earlier albums and generally found that I enjoyed them even more. Naturally, I soon gravitated toward the band’s 1984 album Ride The Lightning. I looked at the track listing, saw the album closed with a tune called “The Call Of Ktulu”, and my monster-lovin’ brain got all excited. As it turned out, the song is an epic instrumental and I may have dug it all the more for that. I could shut my eyes and easily envision Lovecraft’s Elder Gods being summoned to spread hell across the planet.

I continued to be impressed by the seriousness of Metallica’s lyrics. While other metal bands I was familiar with tended to sing about the most primal urges in the most idiotic way possible, these guys wrote songs about suicide, war and capital punishment. Sure, it didn’t have the literary aspirations of Nick Cave but compared to most of what was out there, it was downright poetic.

More important than the words, I was learning to listen to the music. Songs like “Fight Fire With Fire” and “Fade To Black” still had the sonic overload I was familiar with. But a closer listen showed method to the madness. Everything was tight, precise and done with purpose. The music was primal yet sophisticated, hitting a part of the brain that had gone untouched for too long.

My appreciation for metal has continued to grow to this day, although once a band gets too close to sheer noise I tune out. As for Tisha, she eventually became my wife, then amicably my ex-wife. Learning to appreciate Metallica is probably the least of the valuable life lessons I learned from her but I thank her for it nevertheless. I still go back to these early Metallica albums, turning the volume up as loud as I dare. Of course, a real fan would turn it up as loud as they could and never mind the neighbors. I guess I’m just more of a soft-spoken, considerate bad-ass. I hold the door for chicks at the biker bar and if I have to shove a broken bottle into somebody’s face, I always ask before I grab yours.

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