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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Motorbreath”

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Live @ The Stone, 1983
With Cliff Burton and Dave Mustaine

. . .

“Motorbreath” is my least favorite song on Metallica’s first four albums. It’s basically a punk song, running through a four-chord progression with metallic articulation (machine-gun riffs). I love a good d-beat anthem as much as anyone, but that’s not why I love Metallica. For me, Metallica were best when they dug in and blasted away with riffs in E. “Creeping Death” has perhaps Metallica’s archetypal riff; it’s really just an E power chord with a minor sixth thrown in. I don’t want to hear Metallica speed through changes; I want to hear them be heavy. (However, the $5.98 EP featured punk cover songs and punk chord changes of the highest caliber.)

I wonder if “Motorbreath”‘s punkiness comes from the fact that it’s the only Metallica song credited solely to Hetfield. Where was Lars Ulrich, who is credited on every Metallica song except for “Motorbreath” and “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”? There’s nothing wrong with the song compositionally; it’s a fat-free three minutes. But Hetfield’s voice going flat when he sings “It’s HOW I live my life” has bothered me for years, and for the countless times I’ve heard “Motorbreath”, it’s never moved me.

Lyrically, the song is slightly more interesting. I’d like to know what Motorbreath looks like, as “Once you have seen it, you will never be the same”. Whatever Motorbreath is, it’s how Hetfield lives his life. While “Don’t stop for nothing, it’s full speed or nothing” is a nice-sounding credo, Hetfield backed away away from it 25 years later on “The End of the Line” from Death Magnetic: “You burn through all your gasoline / Asylum overtime, never mind / You’ve reached the end of the line”. (In 1997, though, Hetfield was still advocating living “way too fast” in “Fuel”.)

At the end of the day, it’s a fast song about living fast. Others have done this better – Mötley Crüe with “Kickstart My Heart”, maybe Motorhead with “Speedfreak” – but at least “Motorbreath” fits alongside more heavweight odes to life without remorse. Although later Metallica portrays life more accurately in terms of mortality, that’s nowhere near as fun. Kill ‘Em All is the sound of youth without fear. We hang on to that memory, so we hang on to this album.

— Cosmo Lee

. . .

Metallica: The First Four Albums – “The Four Horsemen”
Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Hit the Lights”

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