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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Eye of the Beholder”

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…And Justice for All is cold not only sonically, but also thematically. I don’t know if this congruence was intentional, but it works. If the record had the production of, say, Hell Awaits (to compare with Slayer’s prog album), it might be more acclaimed, but less interesting.

I have a soft spot for records this strange and unlikeable. For contrast, take Kill ‘Em All. That is a likeable record. Its rock ‘n’ roll roots are clear, its sentiments are warm-blooded (“into battle we go!”), and you don’t have to buy in because it sells “we” so hard. Justice, however, has long songs, antiseptic sound, and no “we” in sight. I like how alienating that is for fans of music of alienation. It’s out there, even for them. It reminds me of the visceral response many metalheads have to Meshuggah (who, incidentally, are deeply rooted in Metallica’s music). You think you’re not of this world, but then you encounter a beast so strange and grotesque, you can’t help but hurl…insults.

“Eye of the Beholder” isn’t grotesque, but it’s strange. There’s the four-on-the-floor intro, which young me loved. It may have been the first four-on-the-floor beats I ever heard. (Technotronic came out around the same time.) There’s the shift in feel from four to three for the chorus; ostensibly a three-beat feel should put hips into a song. But Lars Ulrich clicks away as if nothing happened, and what should be a fist-pumping climax is instead just one of many left turns. Finally, Kirk Hammett’s tone is perhaps the most uptight ever committed to tape. Whatever de-noising and de-rock-n-rolling occurred to the record also occurred to his solos. They wiggle fingers fast enough, and Hammett has a newfound liking for the whammy bar. But even the latter sounds uptight. At 4:56, he revs up a few whammy bar dumps to get into his solo, but they’re chaste: zip, zip, zip; contrast with the portals of hell that Slayer’s whammy bars open.

“Eye” has roots, though. The four-on-the-floor beats hark back to “Jump in the Fire”, and the theme of seeing through falsity goes back to “Escape”. The guitar harmonies at 4:24 are pure Iron Maiden, albeit run through Justice‘s odd meter machine.

What interests me most about “Eye” is the line, “Do you feel what I feel?” It’s a hostile question, but it’s part of a larger narrative of lack of feeling. Kill ‘Em All‘s feeling is communal (“Our brains are on fire with the feeling to kill”), even careless (“We don’t need to feel the sorrow”). Ride the Lightning‘s feelings are straightforward (“I can feel the flames”, “Cannot stand this hell I feel”). Master of Puppets mentions feeling only once: “You’ll feel our hell on your back.

Justice, on the other hand, introduces the notions that the observer and/or the narrator himself may not know what the narrator feels. In the title track, he asks, “Just what is truth? I cannot tell, cannot feel”. In “Eye of the Beholder”, “Do you feel what I feel?” is a most fundamental inquiry. If you can’t feel what I feel, then we are islands unto each other. In “The Frayed Ends of Sanity”, the narrator is “hostage of this nameless feeling”. And, of course, “One” is metal’s most classic treatise on the struggle for feeling. Only in “Dyers Eve” does the narrator seem to articulate a firm feeling (“undying spite I feel for you”) – but even there he directs fire at himself (“cannot face the fact I think for me”).

Disconnection and alienation are the names of the game here. Justice doesn’t seem to connect with metalheads whose notion of metal is “we”. “We” often implies “them”, and having a “them” is an (often all too) easy raison d’être. It’s more challenging when the “them” is the self, or even illusory. “I against I” is more difficult than “We vs. them”. It’s what makes The Dark Knight more interesting than Adam West-era Batman; it’s what makes …And Justice for All still something to grapple with decades after its release.

— Cosmo Lee

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“Eye of the Beholder”

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METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS

“…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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