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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Battery”

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Robert Trujillo auditions for Metallica with “Battery”

. . .

1986 must have been a good year to be a Metallica fan. Your band would have been the best metal band in the world. (Slayer folks might have disagreed, but Reign in Blood didn’t come until late in the year.) Metallica would have been “your band”, because everything they did to become not “your band” was still years away. They had Cliff, they had two monstrous albums, and they were unbeatable.

I wonder what it was like to run home from the record store on March 3, 1986, and tear off the shrinkwrap from this album. A few years later, I did that – I think I got the longbox – and my first impressions still persist. That low end! Those big, bottomy, ’80s drums thudding away, “pounding out aggression”, so to speak.

Now, after countless plays – though not as many as Ride the Lightning or …And Justice for All; somehow, Master of Puppets seems too epic to put on casually – I listen for other things. Mainly, I try to suss out James Hetfield’s rhythm voodoo. Whatever he was on at (beer, most likely) was working, big-time. When you sit down in your room and mess around with riffs, things on the level of Master of Puppets likely don’t shoot out of you. But that’s what was happening in Metallica then. The force was strong with them.

That found expression in “Battery”, which is literally about kicking ass. The portrayal is not necessarily positive; “thrashing all deceivers” and “mashing non-believers” sound great, but “lunacy has found me” and “breeding on insanity” don’t. Not that anyone minded. Any complexity of intent “Battery” may have had has likely been lost in translation. The translated result: METAL.

. . .

But I’m still trying to suss out that rhythm voodoo. And the more I try, the stronger it seems. Guitarwise, I can have a decent go at most of Metallica’s first three records. (…And Justice for All is mostly beyond my capabilities.) But “Battery” is a motherfucker. It’s not just fast; it’s also rhythmically deceptive.

Try this simple exercise.

Here’s the first main riff of “Battery”, after the acoustic intro and opening electric fanfare. It’s in straight 4/4 time, but see if you can count “1-2-3-4″ through it. I’ve looped it once to give you more time to do so. You’ll know you’re getting it right when you count “1” on the second percussive hit, after one iteration of the riff.

. . .

“Battery” riff (guitar)

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Now here is that same riff after Lars Ulrich enters. Again, I’ve looped it once, and again, try to count “1-2-3-4″ through it. If your numbers are falling on the snares, you’re doing it wrong – they’re offbeats. Tricky, right? And the second time through the riff, Lars makes things even trickier by briefly laying off the downbeat.

. . .

“Battery” riff (Lars enters)

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Now here’s that riff when Hetfield starts singing. Note how his vocals pin everything down. It’s so much easier to count “1-2-3-4″ through the riff, and everything falls into place. All those tricky accents in the riffs and drums come together to form the song’s “hypnotizing power”.

. . .

“Battery” riff (James vox enters)

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Not even two minutes into the album, and already heads are spinning around. It’s still Metallica, but we’ve moved on from Ride the Lightning, where “1-2-3-4″ is easy to count, even in the fastest songs. The shrinkwrap is off, the LP is on the turntable, and Metallica have pushed the goalposts farther again.

— Cosmo Lee

. . .

“Battery”

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. . .

METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS

“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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