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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Dyers Eve”

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This exercise has had several purposes. It’s a celebration of Metallica’s music. It’s a natural byproduct of my masochistic nature. And it’s a project so crazy that, once spawned in my head, it couldn’t not be done. Fitzcarraldo comes to mind.

But one reason stands out above the others, even above Metallica themselves. It’s the importance of songs. Metallica became the biggest metal band ever by having the best songs. They did so with remarkable consistency over four consecutive records. A few songs are arguably duds, but not only do all the songs belong, they are all memorable. On their first four albums, Metallica’s weaker moments are so strong that they stand out in our consciousness more than most bands’ greatest successes.

“Dyers Eve” is a good example. On an almost excruciatingly baroque album, it’s almost tossed off, a picking hand exercise in the form of high-octane thrash. Compared against other Metallica songs of similar energy – “Fight Fire with Fire”, “Battery”, “Damage, Inc.” – it’s lesser by far. It just goes rat-a-tat-tat; it doesn’t have the sweep that makes those songs so devastating. Many thrash bands matched or outpaced Metallica in terms of intensity. But intensity is just one front in the war called time. Metallica won that war by winning multiple fronts: vision, execution, having better songs.

“Dyers Eve” isn’t a great song, but it’s a good one. What makes a song good? Well, many things that could probably form a 35-part series on their own. But it all boils down to the song having an existence of its own. It’s not just a bunch of shredding, or a catchy riff or hook. It’s when everything adds up so that the song becomes a world. The world doesn’t have to be huge or detailed, but it must be a defined place. The parameters are the song’s duration, and the structures that give rhythm and trajectory to action within the song.

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“Dyers Eve” (live, France, 2009)

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The world of “Dyers Eve” is painfully small. Its duration almost doesn’t matter, because “time has frozen still what’s left to be”. The narrator is so paralyzed by rage that his existence grinds to a halt. He can’t grow up; he “cannot face the fact I think for me”. He’s dependent on his parents and enraged at that fact. Few bands, metal or otherwise, address parent-child relationships; it’s not a sexy topic. To do so with such searing focus is an accomplishment. (Interestingly, the next song in Metallica’s discography is “Enter Sandman”, which at points adopt a parental perspective, if not a particularly meaningful one.)

“Dyers Eve” captivated me as a teenager. Towards my parents I felt great rage, some of which was justified, and the rest of which was hormonal. I still sympathize with the song’s narrator, because being a metal fan means suspending, to a degree, the adult need to squash fantasy. During adolescence, the mind wanders freely. Heavy metal rewards that, but adulthood doesn’t.

Admittedly, that’s not the conflict here; in fact, the narrator says, “I’ve outgrown that fucking lullaby”. He wants to find a reality outside the constructs his parents built for him. Still, there’s a push-and-pull between authority figure and subject, and between truth and falsehood, that runs throughout …And Justice for All. “Dyers Eve” works on a personal level; unlike the songs that precede it, its scope isn’t the environment or the halls of justice. But it’s definitely another brick in the wall of AJFA‘s edifice of tension.

The album isn’t good at releasing that tension, which frustrates those who want metal to be a Dionysian experience. (See Deena Weinstein’s dichotomy of metal into Dionysian and Chaotic themes.) But as music, as art, and simply as something that affects us, …And Justice for All is more than effective. It’s the most polarizing of Metallica’s good records, which perhaps makes it the most interesting one. Universal love and universal hate aren’t that interesting. But, as the saying goes, you’re doing something right if people both love and hate it. In Metallica’s case, that “something” was writing songs that people talk about for years afterwards.

— Cosmo Lee

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“Dyers Eve”

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“To Live Is to Die”
“The Frayed Ends of Sanity”
“Harvester of Sorrow
“The Shortest Straw”
“Eye of the Beholder”
“…And Justice for All”
“Damage Inc.”
“Leper Messiah”
“Disposable Heroes”
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
“The Thing That Should Not Be”
“Master of Puppets”
“The Call of Ktulu”
“Creeping Death”
“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”
“(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”
“Jump in the Fire”
“The Four Horsemen”
“Hit the Lights”

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