Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Harvester of Sorrow”

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“[A]boutness is all but terminal in fiction. Stories aren’t about things. Stories are things”.
– Bret Anthony Johnston, “Don’t Write What You Know”

Substitute “fiction” with “music”, and “stories” with “songs”, and I’d agree 100%. “Aboutness” is why most political music is dull. It’s also what makes me distrust strong authorial intent. I support art, and I support artists insofar as they are vessels of art. But unless artists are actual people in my life, i.e., friends, I care about them as much as other people not in my life: not much.

So it’s both interesting and immensely boring to see people try to grok James Hetfield’s lyrics in “Harvester of Sorrow”. Websites exist for this: songfacts.com, songmeanings.net. Do people realize that once they figure out – or think they figure out – what something’s “about”, that they’ve killed its magic? You feel smug when you think you know what something’s about. You stop engaging with it. You move on to the next object of magic-killing. You acquire great taste and become insufferable company.

I’m happy not to know exactly what Hetfield’s singing about. Getting not the gist, but a gist is fine. “Harvester”, as with the rest of …And Justice for All’s latter half, dives into a very disturbed psyche. “One” hit that bulls-eye through craftsmanship; “Harvester” does so with air. On a record that feels like a futuristic dust bowl, the song offers, if not lushness, at least some layering. 25 seconds in, a wind noise whooshes through, which is a big deal considering the album’s oppressive dryness. Production! Imagine that! And the outro weaves clean tones amidst the distortion; the intro to Slayer’s “213″, another soundtrack for a tortured psyche, comes to mind.

“Harvester” was the first single from AJFA, which makes sense. It’s the second shortest song, and it’s groovy as hell. Riffs on upbeats: that’s totally a groove metal thing, except groove metal hadn’t been invented yet. So instead we get a relentless push-push-push, bracketed by the serpentine main riff. “Harvester” is the Metallica song my body responds to the most. “Sad but True” has a similar hulking groove, and I’m partial to that song, too. It’s a trip, it’s got a funky beat, and I can commit atrocities to it.

— Cosmo Lee

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“Harvester of Sorrow”

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METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS

“The Shortest Straw”
“One”
“Eye of the Beholder”
“…And Justice for All”
“Blackened”
“Damage Inc.”
“Orion”
“Leper Messiah”
“Disposable Heroes”
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
“The Thing That Should Not Be”
“Master of Puppets”
“Battery”
“The Call of Ktulu”
“Creeping Death”
“Escape”
“Trapped Under Ice”
“Fade to Black”
“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
“Ride the Lightning”
“Fight Fire With Fire”
“Metal Militia”
“Seek & Destroy”
“No Remorse”
“Phantom Lord”
“Whiplash”
“(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”
“Jump in the Fire”
“Motorbreath”
“The Four Horsemen”
“Hit the Lights”

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