My Lifestyle Determines My Deathstyle

When Metallica’s St. Anger came out the hoopla around it was pretty overwhelming, which once everyone had heard it reversed to underwhelming. “Trendy”, “no solos”, “that snare sound” were a just a few of the many things that were mentioned as part of the overall indictment of the long gestating, long drawn out, post-rehab, post-therapy, and post-Jason Newsted record. The San Francisco speed metal kings seemed to have left tradition behind, and instead went the path of modern heavy music. “Nu-Metallica”, as their sound was dubbed by me just now. What the hell were our big bros that created “Metal up your ass” thinking? Were they so lost that they had to jump on some musical bandwagon in order to rekindle those flames that seemed to have been quashed by years of pent up resentment at each other?

And really, that snare sound? Did you not hear that guys?

Well, here’s a little secret for you. You see, St. Anger wasn’t as bad as you remember it. In fact, St. Anger was a damn good album(yes, even with the snare thing.) All the bands that Metallica were blamed for copying? Those trendy new(nu) metal bands? Well they were copping Metallica’s sound, while morphing it into something of their own. System of a Down, Slipknot, Deftones, Korn, and all those other late 90s/early 00s bands that brought the heavy music drama to popular music in a heavy way grew up with James, Kirk, Cliff, Jason, and Lars. If anything, Metallica were just inspired to go a different route by these bands. St. Anger is still very much a Metallica record, both lyrically and musically. And its probably their heaviest record since …And Justice For All.

Let me explain this…

Every year since 2006 I will watch Some Kind Of Monster at least once. It’s just as much therapy as it is entertainment. From the first time I watched it I was completely enthralled with seeing this band that I grew up with not act like the mega rock stars they are, but human beings. Human beings with egos, anger issues, self doubt, fear, and just generally being like you and me(albeit with a ton more dough.) There was a lot said for how they came across as whiny and spoiled and just generally not rock star-like. That’s the whole point of it all, isn’t it? We know what these guys look like in magazine spreads, on stage, and on record. We get the persona that’s built for us. I think the genius of the movie was that Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky captured one of the greatest metal bands ever at the point of complete implosion, and despite what the popular consensus is I think the band handled it pretty well.

You see James Hetfield, the prototypical front man that exudes machismo and tough guy,”fuck yeah, dude!” righteousness turn into this guy trying to rebuild himself after years of alcohol abuse and running from his feelings. Lars Ulrich seems to get the most flack for being, well, Lars. But here’s the thing, I think he comes across pretty earnest. He’s not putting on a show here. He’s got an ego and that’s that, but he’s not being anything else but himself. He seems generally concerned for his longtime band mate, friend, and long time band. Can he be self-absorbed? You bet, but that’s just Lars. And really, I think history has proven he was on the right side of the whole Napster thing. Sure he’s a millionaire, but does that mean it’s cool to steal from him? I don’t think so. Poor Kirk Hammett. He’s still like the little kid stuck in the middle of two battling parents. He seems like a genuinely sweet guy that wants to just keep playing with his big bros and tour the world and buy horror memorabilia. You say anything bad about Kirk and I’ll take you out back and introduce you to Jack Johnson and Tom O’Leery.

The rest of the players? Well there’s Bob Rock, the mega rock producer that turned Metallica into MTV darlings thanks to The Black Album. He seems genuinely confused and uncertain of the band’s future. He stepped up here to get the album finished, and in the end it seems to have finished his over 10-year residency as the fifth member of Metallica. Phil Towle, the therapist/performance coach brought in by Q Prime Management to help Metallica deal with all the internal and personal strife. He’s a hired hand, and his job was to dig deep and get to some core issues that had been long festering between the group. There is some cringe-worthy stuff here with Dr. Towle, I have to be honest. The Dave Mustaine session? Ugh. Dr. Phil arguing about trust issues between him and James? Seemed like the doc was trying to manipulate the most vulnerable guy in the group to me. I think he did help the band overall, but he seemed a little too cozy by the end. Robert Trujillo. I love this guy. I think he was and is a great fit in the band. I think he makes Metallica work harder and think outside the box, honestly. And thank Christ they didn’t go with Twiggy Ramirez. Jason Newsted, the man at the center of the movie, really. He was the earthquake that brought the Metallica Corporation down. Can you blame him for leaving? I can’t. And Torben Ulrich? What an interesting dude he is. He’s like a Tolkien character come to life. His “screaming in the echo chamber” comment makes me laugh every time. The honesty of a parent is undeniable and hilarious, regardless how painful it can be.

Some Kind Of Monster is one of the best documentaries about music I’ve seen. It’s up there with Dig!, Don’t Look Back, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, 30 Century Man, and I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. I’m sure part of that is because I love the band so much. Some people probably hated this movie because of precisely the reason I loved it: it humanized Metallica. Some people don’t want to see their heroes vulnerable, broken, and well, human. For me, seeing Hetfield, Ulrich, and Hammett struggling to figure shit out is exactly what I need to see sometimes. It makes me feel not so bad in my own daily struggles. One of the greatest metal bands of all time nearly fell apart because they couldn’t deal with their emotions, so I think I might be able to get thru this whole “oldest kid going off the college” thing. Also, I love that inside look into the making of music. The scenes in the Presidio, regardless of how uncomfortable they were, were still fascinating. The process of hashing it out together as a band and seeing where things go is something I love. And the HQ sessions were equally engaging. The little moments where a lyric clicks and a melody emerges from spitting words into a mic is just fascinating. Hetfield stumbling onto “Some Kind Of Monster” while trying to figure out what the song is about, I love it.

There are so many little bits in this that keep bringing me back to it.

So St. Anger may be your least favorite Metallica album, and there may not be anything I can say to change your mind. That’s perfectly acceptable. For me its a therapeutic thing that happens every year. I will watch Some Kind Of Monster, extras and all, then I go into a St. Anger death spiral that lasts for a couple days and then it gets shelved for another year. Lars said it best, that they wanted to prove that you could make an angry album out of positive energy(I’m paraphrasing here.) I think the creative process started in a very negative energy space, but by the end that energy had gone 180 degrees in the positive. There’s nothing more therapeutic than cranking up a record full blast and letting massive amounts of pent up rage come down on you. It’s like a dip in a hot spring, or surfing waves of hot lava while shooting devil horns to the world. There’s nothing like it.

St. Anger and Some Kind Of Monster are some massive waves of hot lava, baby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Things That Should Not Be(But Are, So Deal With It)

The first album I ever heard from Metallica was Master Of Puppets, so naturally that’s the one I hold nearest and dearest to my heart. Master Of Puppets was the gateway album, Ride The Lightning was the one I totally immersed myself in, …And Justice For All was the first one I bought brand new(and as a fan), and Kill ‘Em All was the one I rediscovered as an angst-y adult in his middle age. Everything after those four records I could really not listen to again and I’d be okay with that. The Black Album suffered from massive burnout and too many blues riffs, the mid-90s were a complete blur of eyeliner, arty experimentalism, not-so good covers, and soundtracks. I’ll listen to St. Anger occasionally still, and the last two albums have moments of goodness. Reminders that Metallica can still do what got ’em here in the first place: thrash like no other.

But Master Of Puppets is still their artistic high point.

For four California Heshers who grew up on Black Sabbath, Diamond Head, and Motorhead, drank excessively, and were only five years into their music career Master Of Puppets was a high water mark for even a veteran metal band. Speed metal intertwined in progressive rock movements within the songs and lyrics that told stories. Metallica sometimes teetered on the edge of the whole evil/death stuff that Slayer, Exodus, and Megadeth dabbled in back in the heyday of thrash, but James Hetfield wasn’t quite the anti-faith guy the rest were. He grew up in a Christian Scientist home and watched his mom die from cancer because they didn’t believe in doctors. I think on a teenage mind that would have a negative effect, at least on the organized religion aspect. His lyrics always seemed to dabble in the injustice of the world, both on a social and personal level. I could relate to that. Much more so than lyrics about slaughtering virgins, serial killers, and genocide(I’m looking at you, Slayer.)

So Hetfield’s lyrics were about the human condition and authority figures lying to us in order to control us; whether those in control were priests, drug dealers, or the military. What 13-year old wouldn’t fall for that? In 1986 when Master Of Puppets came out Hetfield, Cliff Burton, Kirk Hammett, and Lars Ulrich were still barely adults. They’re in their early 20s and release one of the most influential heavy metal albums…ever. I was 12-years old when it came out, and my older brother was 18. It took a year before Metallica made their way into the Hubner boys’ ears, but when they did that’s all they wrote.

I remember very clearly the week that Master Of Puppets blew our minds. Summer of 1987 and my brother and I were spending the week at my uncle Mark’s house. He was working in the day, so my brother and I would stay up till the early morning playing my uncle’s NES. He’d usually see us bleary-eyed and half loopy playing 1941 or Excitebike as he was walking out the door for work. We’d crash for a few hours then wake up in time for a bologna sandwich and then head over to the nearby Concord Mall. It was on one of our afternoon jaunts that he told me about this band called Metallica. We were listening to Frehely’s Comet in my brother’s Cutlass when he said he’d picked up a cassette at the mall’s very cool record shop Super Sounds. I was perfectly fine continuing to listen to “Rock Soldiers”, Ace Frehely’s semi-autobiographical tale of rock and roll redemption, but my brother quickly ripped the plastic off that cassette tape and we were in speed metal territory.

My brain didn’t know what to think of what I was hearing coming out of those Pioneer Super Tuner speakers. What the hell was this “Battery”? It felt like a wall of crunch coming down on us(it didn’t help that my brother liked to play music LOUD.) I’d never heard drumming so fast and guitars played so fast yet intricately. The vocals, while loud and aggressive, were still understandable. Hetfield was his own preacher, preaching to a choir of disenchanted youth, lost souls, and a couple Midwest goons spending the week at their uncle’s house.

We digested that album in small doses all week, usually during mid-afternoon jaunts to the mall looking for trouble(or at the very least a hot pretzel.) I can say that my music-leaning brain was rewired because of that album. Master Of Puppets made me a speed metal fan instantly. By the week’s end my brother took off early because a buddy of his had gotten them tickets to see Megadeth in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom. That was big time stuff. This was before the Aragon had been cleaned up, as well as the neighborhood it resides in. It was a scary area. My brother made me promise not to tell my uncle who he was going to see(my uncle was super cool, but also pretty religious.) I kept my promise. In fact, I may have told our uncle my big bro was going to see a Christian rock band(pretty sure he knew I was full of shit, but still.)

After that week, the Hubner boys were official speed metal freaks. Metallica songbooks were purchased, Anthrax t-shirts were acquired from the back of rock magazines, and hard to find EPs were hunted down. We made our way through various speed metal bands(Death Angel, Fate’s Warning, Metal Church, Testament, Exodus, Venom, Suicidal Tendencies), but the ones that really stuck with us were the big four: Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and of course Metallica.

It had been quite a few years since I’d listened to Master Of Puppets, but thanks to the thrifty Capitalists that Metallica are they have been reissuing their classic albums on their own Blackened Recordings record label. Out of curiosity(and obsession, sadly) I’ve been picking them all up. Last November Master Of Puppets dropped in newly remastered and shiny form. Normally I’d say this was a cash grab since I didn’t think anything was wrong with the original masterings. But given the fact that all these albums sound so good now in their newly remastered form I’ll forgive a little cash grabbing. I haven’t yet picked up the new …And Justice For All as I bought the previous version just a couple years ago. If someone can confirm or deny whether they brought Newsted back into the mix on this new version, that will determine whether I slap some greenbacks down and take that sucka home.

Master Of Puppets, though. Man, it’s a classic the same way that Paranoid, Toys In The Attic, High Voltage, and Screaming For Vengeance are. If you’re a metal guy or gal then there’s a short list(or long depending on who you are) of records you must own or you’re disqualified from the “Metal Club”. Master Of Puppets is on that list. Like, in the top 5. I can’t tell you how many times my brother and I have made reference to “The Thing That Should Not Be” when seeing something less than desirable. Or talking about seeing the “Leper Messiah” at Walmart or at the movies. There’s a lot of little moments and inside jokes that pertain to this record that only my big brother and I would laugh at, which makes this record that much more important to me.

I can remember him telling me about an idea his pal(the one he saw Megadeth with) and him had about a music video for “Master Of Puppets”. He said it would be like those old animated “Intermission” clips you’d see at the movies back in the day. You know, the dancing hot dogs, popcorn box, and box of Mike and Ike going to the concession stand to buy goodies? Well it would be like that except it would’ve been dancing syringes, pills, and joints as some guy was drug along like a puppet with strings leading up to a demonic hand. It’s a long song, so I’m sure there would’ve been more, but that’s all he’d ever told me about. I thought it was a pretty cool idea as a teenager, and I still sort of like it now. Sounds like something Rob Zombie would’ve made back in the 90s. Of course, this was also the buddy that my brother used to get high with after school. They’d head down to his buddy’s basement, get stoned, and watch Sesame Street soundtracked to Sabbath’s Master Of Reality(this is not a point of pride for big bro, just stating fact.)

“Battery”, “Master Of Puppets”, “The Thing That Should Not Be”, “Welcome Home(Sanitarium)”, “Disposable Heroes”, “Leper Messiah”, “Orion”, and “Damage, Inc” are what make up the Metallica classic. They soundtracked my teenage years and opened my brain to truly aggressive music. It was the foundation that I’d build a lifetime of music listening on. It also made a week in the summer of 1987 all the better.

But don’t tell my uncle about this.

 

Motorbreathless

Metallica were the gateway band for me. My older brother and his bad influence ways pushed Master of Puppets on me like some greasy punk passing me my first joint in the middle school basketball courts. We drove on US 33 on our way to the mall one hot summer afternoon and he pushed a cassette into the tape deck of his 1977 Cutlass Supreme. What hit my ears was an onslaught of power chords, double kick bass drum, and a howling James Hetfield singing “Master! Master! Where’s the dreams that I’ve been after/Master! Master! You promised only lies!” It was one of those eureka moments for my 13-year old self which led to a leap into the world of thrash/speed metal. For my birthday that year I was given a Ride The Lightning songbook, which helped me learn “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Trapped Under Ice”, and “Fade To Black”.

My brother bought me that book, natch.

From that point on I was a Metalli-nerd(it was a small group of just me, the neighbor kid that wasn’t allowed to listen to Metallica for Tipper Gore reasons, and my dog Klaus.) …And Justice For All was in my possession the day it came out in August of 1988. I was 14-years old and heading into my freshman year of high school. I was awkward and stocky with a weak mullet and wore too many button up striped shirts that were purchased at JC Penney. But I could half ass play “Eruption” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” and in my head I thought it was gonna be my year. Turned out it was just another “meh” school year, with the exception of seeing Child’s Play on my 15th birthday with two pals, snagging a pretty cool Megadeth t-shirt at some point, and my uncle gifting me a 70s DOD flanger pedal. Oh, and Metallica premiered their first video ever with “One”. Stayed at a friend’s house on a Saturday night so I could see the premiere on Headbanger’s Ball since my parent’s didn’t want to pay for cable.

I stuck with Metallica clear through high school. Metallica was the soundtrack to my senior year, along with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger. I gotta say, though, after “The Black Album” I felt the guys got a little too complacent. Load, a song on the MI:2 soundtrack, Bob Segar covers, and short, gelled hair styles? “Metal up your ass” turned into something far less violent or deviant. Soccer moms were singing along to “Enter Sandman” and “Fuel”. I’m not dissing this San Bernadino Godfathers of speed metal for making bank, but by the mid to late 90s Metallica were dabbling in arty rock and southern rock and I just couldn’t board that train with ’em. In 2003, when everyone turned against Metallica for St. Anger I sort of dug that record. Where most folks seemed to think it was middle-aged men trying to fit in with the kids they influenced I saw it as a band attempting to have fun being a band again. Taking risks(that snare sound, anyone?) and getting out of their comfort zone. I felt that, but the doc Some Kind Of Monster confirmed it to me. Whiny rock stars? Nah, they’re just human like you and me. Foibles and all, man.

So where am I going with all of this? Well I started going back to the old albums and I’d realized that I never really got into Kill Em All. I knew most of the songs, but never really dug into that record. I sort of bypassed that initial debut and went right for Master of Puppets. Last year Metallica started re-releasing their albums in remastered form, done from the original master tapes. The first two releases were Kill Em All and Ride The Lightning. Of course I bought them.

They sound amazing, but the big surprise was how much I love Kill Em All. For some reason I always just figured it was more of a hard rock album. It never came across as speed metal to me. Well I hadn’t hit the right songs. “Motorbreath”, “Phantom Lord”, and “Metal Militia” are as thrash and speed as they come. “Hit The Lights”, “Whiplash”, and “Seek and Destroy” are classic metal tunes. “The Four Horsemen” has a breakdown in it that sounds like Peace Sells-era Megadeth, like something off “Wake Up Dead”(I’m wondering if Mustaine was still in the band when that one was written.) “Jump In The Fire” is catchy as hell, but sounds nothing like Nilsson. There’s even a pretty killer instrumental highlighting the late great Cliff Burton’s bass playing called “Anesthesia(Pulling Teeth)”. This record actually seems like the perfect place for Metallica to being their trek into “Metaldom”.

What this album really sounds like is four barely drinking age California buds getting buzzed in the garage and making their own brand of NWOBHM tuneage. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Venom, Diamond Head, and Black Sabbath all play a part in molding the sound of Metallica, and Kill Em All is their first foray into the world that made them what they are today. I now realize Kill Em All is one of the most important metal records of the 80s. Ride The Lightning was when the speed came into prominence for the band, but Kill Em All was their street record. This was the ball bat and bike chains record. Street level tunes, man. There would be no Master or Justice without Kill Em All.

My son now requests “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Not because he heard me spinning it, but because of its use in an excellent indie horror movie we watched called The Devil’s Candy.  But now that I mentioned that “The Four Horsemen” was used in X-Men: Apocalypse, he’s now asking to hear Kill Em All.

I guess I’ve become the bad influence now. My older brother would be proud.

 

 

 

 

The Need For Speed

Year’s ’94 and my trunk is raw
In my rear view mirror is the motherfucking law – Shawn Carter

Okay, actually the year wasn’t ’94, it was ’88. 1988 to be exact. It was the last day of my 8th grade year and my mom picked me up from school. We only went a half day on that last day of middle school and I was ready to give a triumphant middle finger to academia and be done with it altogether(at least for the two months summer break lasted.) But seeing that my mom was in the car driving she’d probably smack me in the head if I’d a given my middle school the middle finger so I settled on a mumbled “Up yours” under my breath as we drove away.

From the school we stopped and got some lunch, then headed to Dunlap, Indiana. Dunlap is a small “town” that resides on Highway 33 in between Goshen, In and Elkhart, In. We were heading to Dunlap because my unlce Mark lived there. Mark is my mom’s youngest brother and sibling. He was a major influence on me to wanting to play guitar, write songs, and get into recording. Mark was just a hugely fun and loving uncle that was down with listening to Boston at top volume, play NES games, and eat fast food for days. For a 14-year old he might has well have been Buddha(I’ll post more about Mark at a later date.) Anyways, my aunt and little cousin were going to Florida for the week to see her brother graduate high school so Mark invited me to come over and hang out for the week.

Of course I said hell yes.

The first night Mark and I headed into the video store to rent some movies. When we got back it was dark out and as we got a movie ready to watch at his place we heard knocking on the back door. Neither of us had any idea who or what it was. So we sneak over to the door and Mark slowly opens it and I hear a “AHHHHH!!!” Mark starts laughing. It’s my older brother. He mustv’e gotten time off from work and came over to my uncle’s as well. Turns out my dad wasn’t good with the idea of me hanging out at my uncle’s trailer all day by myself while my uncle was at work, so my mom and dad asked my brother if he’d go over as well. At first I was a little peeved about it, but that soon dissipated. So for the week it would be the three of us hanging out.

Turns out that was best thing that could’ve happened, my brother showing up.

My uncle was one of the few people we knew that had an NES and we abused that thing with vigor. Mario, Kid Icarus, and a flying game called 1942. My brother was convinced he was going to beat this game, so one night after Mark went to bed we started playing 1942. Once we got to the 2am mark I was done, but my brother kept going. I struggled to keep my eyes opened, so I made a bologna and ketchup sandwich. That helped for a little but soon enough I was out like a light. I can remember waking up and seeing daylight begin to appear in the living room and my brother still flying his bomber over the Pacific. I honestly can’t remember if he beat it or not. It was the journey that mattered.

Mark had also picked up a new NES game. One he’d read about and heard it was supposed to be pretty great. It was called Castlevania and this little game from Konami turned out to be a juggernaut. To this day it’s still the only game I’ve ever truly obsessed over. I’d never consider myself a big video game player. I like simple stuff, not asking for clues from trolls and secret punching techniques. I like running, jumping, shooting, stabbing, and coin bags appearing out of whipped candlesticks. That’s my thing. But Castlevania had it all. It even had a game flaw that after a certain amount of playing it would freeze up, usually at the Grim Reaper level, which was the second to last level. This happened on so many occasions. So many pained, angered, and furious occasions. Still, I kept at it.

Here’s the thing, all of this leads up to one vital moment in my early teen years. The moment when my brother introduced me to speed metal. This was the week in my life when I first heard speed metal. One morning my brother and I got in his car and we headed to the Concord Mall. It was one of the few big indoor malls we’d go to and shop as a family. Besides JC Penney, Montgomery Ward, and a Walden Books, it had two record stores. The first was the chain store Musicland. The other was the locally-owned Super Sounds. Super Sounds was where you went when you wanted the hard-to-find stuff. The stuff you heard about in magazines but couldn’t find anywhere. That morning my brother was on a mission for something special. Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I’d never heard them before, but was intrigued. Honestly, I was cool with Ace Frehley’s Frehley’s Comet that Chris had playing in the car, but whatever. We found Master of Puppets and were on our way back to the trailer for more bologna and NES. He put the cassette in the player for our short ride back and I was astounded by what I’d heard. I’d heard the phrase metal for years, and even thought I knew what it was, but this was something completely different. This was speed, anger, intensity; this was war and death put to tape. This was the beginning of the end for those hair metal years I’d been lingering in since I’d turned 10 and had bought Ratt Out of the Cellar.

From that point on everything changed. Sure, there were a few setbacks. Whitesnake, Kingdom Come, Van Halen’s OU812, and of course Cinderella’s Long Cold Winter; but for the most part I’d moved on into heavier territory. Master of Puppets led to Ride The Lightning, Kill ‘Em All, and eventually And Justice For All; Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying and So Far, So Good, So What. Those led me to Slayer’s Reign In Blood, South of Heaven, and Seasons In The Abyss; then Overkill’s Fuck You and Death Angel’s Act III. Then of course there was Anthrax. Spreading The Disease, Among The Living, State of Euphoria, and then Persistence of Time. Anthrax, out of all the other speed metal bands, seemed to not only be ferocious players(and had one of speed metal’s best drummers, Charlie Benante), but they had a sense of humor about them. Plus, lyrically they tried writing about more than just death, drugs, Satan,….and death. Sure they were dark in their songs, but they pulled from comics, science fiction, books, and movies that were cool. Stephen King’s Misery, Blue Velvet, and Judge Dredd were just a few of the many interesting subjects that colored Anthrax’ songs. Hell, their album cover for Persistence of Time was heavily influenced by Salvadore Dali’s painting ‘Persistence of Memory’. You didn’t find that kind of stuff in most speed metal at the time.

So that week at my uncle’s place was a pretty important moment in my formative years. We got to hang out with our favorite uncle, watch Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, eat tons of bologna, play ample amounts of NES, stay up till dawn, and I discovered the wonder of speed metal. My brother even left early that week as he got the chance to see Megadeth at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Plus, I even got to go into an actual music studio and watch my uncle Mark and uncle John record some songs together. Pretty cool.

I’ve recently gotten on a speed metal nostalgia trip. I picked up And Justice For All on vinyl a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday I bought Anthrax’ Among The Living and State of Euphoria on vinyl off of Discogs. I shouldn’t be as excited as I am, but dammit I can’t wait to bang my head to “Caught In A Mosh” as my kids stare in fear at me. I’m setting up future generations for speed metal love.

JH, 2015.

 

 

 

Talking to you is like clapping with one hand – Anthrax