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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Fade to Black”

Green French mispress

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Barring the occasional remaster, recorded music stays the same. Perceptions of it don’t, however. Perhaps what you liked as a youth is not what you like now. Or maybe you listen to the same stuff, just with different ears. You’re older, you’ve heard more music, you have more life experience. You are a changed person; now you like eggplant.

Nowhere is this more true for me than “Fade to Black”. Young me loved this song. Oh, the angst! But now as a thirtysomething, I can’t relate to lines like, “Getting lost within myself / Nothing matters, no one else / I have lost the will to live / Simply nothing more to give”. Unlike “One”, which has the same sentiment, but filtered through the device of telling a story, this song is straight-up in the first person. Woe is the narrator – and I’m inclined to let him be, and to move on. I skip this song now when I listen to Ride the Lightning.

Admittedly, the music is magnificent. Kirk Hammett delivers some of his most lyrical solos, and the song moves smoothly through Metallica’s broadest dynamics to date. “Fade to Black” has mighty riffs, and I’d probably like it more if it had different lyrics. If the song kept the same music and vocal lines, would it work with different lyrics? Could it carry a different sentiment?

I’d argue yes. The distorted part is too defiant to support the constant hopeless vibe. Those big riffs thunder in, and we have, “No one but me can save myself, but it’s too late”? Put that fist back down!

Things indeed “are not what they used to be”. What happened to the indestructible Metallica of Kill ‘Em All? The greater thematic complexity on Ride the Lightning was welcome, but was there any need for this mopefest? Even the much-maligned “Escape” contradicts and bests “Fade to Black” lyrically: “Life is for my own to live my own way”. I don’t look to Metallica, or any music, to tell me how to live life. But I do draw inspiration from the energy that artists put forth. Here we have oxymoronic energy – kick ass musically, shrivel up personally – and I have little need for that.

— Cosmo Lee

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The Lemonheads – “Fade to Black” (Metallica cover)

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METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS

“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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