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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Damage Inc.”

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“Damage, Inc.” was the beginning of an end for Metallica. It was their last song with Cliff Burton, and the last straight-ahead thrasher in their discography. The band would hit mighty heights in …And Justice for All, but this was Metallica’s last connection to the “don’t give a fuck” vibe of Kill ‘Em All. From here on, anxiety dominated.

It’s difficult if not unwise to read deeply into this song. Sometimes metal should just be a knife up the ass, and “Damage” is Metallica at their sharpest. The ultra-tight rhythm chops (I love the reverse gallop cutaway at 3:14 after the second chorus), the seemingly endless succession of great riffs, Lars Ulrich’s subtle beat variations – it’s all solid gold metal. The song perfectly represents its subject matter. You’ve written dozens of metal anthems, you have Cliff Burton in your corner: you are Damage Incorporated, indeed.

In a way, this song’s perfection almost mandates something like …And Justice for All. It doesn’t mandate a tragedy like Burton’s death, but it does beg for a change in tack. Slayer realized they couldn’t top Reign in Blood, so they slowed down on South of Heaven and kept things interesting. I wonder if Metallica underwent any similar “where do we go from here” assessment. From here on, they were certainly fond of burning things down and starting anew – though perhaps they were just searching for lost selves.

Upon seated re-examination – difficult given the song’s incitement to violence – two small but significant details stand out. First is Hetfield’s melismas on the last word of every fourth line during verses: honesty, end, cure, fall, hunt, please. They add tension and flavor; whoever’s idea that was, it was brilliant.

Second is Cliff Burton’s last hurrah, the spacey intro. In this interview, he says, “It’s about eight or 12 tracks of bass, a lot of harmonies and volume swells and effects and stuff”. Bass solo, take eight or 12. Watching that evolve must have been magical.

— Cosmo Lee

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“Damage Inc.”

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METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS

“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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