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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Metal Militia”

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“Metal Militia” (with lyrics)

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Talk to metal old timers, and they’ll remember when metal was about “we”. They may see through rose-tinted glasses – even King Diamond had haters (see Bob Muldowney) – but they have a point.

According to metal-archives.com, approximately 60 heavy metal full-lengths came out in 1983. (That’s practically an average day in 2011.) I’d guess that the leather-and-denim set coalesced around Kill ‘Em All, Piece of Mind, Balls to the Wall, Melissa, and Show No Mercy. They probably dug Heavy Metal Maniac and All for One, too. Opinion was probably split about Bark at the Moon, Another Perfect Day, Holy Diver, and Born Again. And opinion was probably united against Pyromania.

Anyway, the point is that there weren’t a gazillion albums and subgenres to turn metal into the maze of walls and haters and scene police that it is today. Fans mostly listened to the same stuff and mostly liked the same stuff.

So my rose-tinted conjecture is that the notion of “we” was stronger then. This may have come through in the music, which was more prone to being self-referential, i.e., songs about heavy metal. Bands sang about “we”, and fans hopped on board because, well, that’s what fans do. (See also the irrational behavior of sports fans referring to teams as “we”: “We played well last night”. No, you didn’t. They played well last night. You just helped pay their salaries.)

Kill ‘Em All is a “we” album. Half the songs use the first person plural: “Hit the Lights” (“We are gonna kick some ass tonight”), “Whiplash” (“We are gathered here to be with you”), “No Remorse” (“We are ready to kill all comers”), “Seek & Destroy (“We are looking for you to start up a fight”), and “Metal Militia” (“We are one as we are all the same”). Some of these lines may seem hostile, but they’re all really the same: “We are bad-ass, and you (the fans) are part of that”.

Another way to think of this is in psyche-yourself-up-for-something value. You play Kill ‘Em All to fortify yourself for some tough endeavor. Ride the Lightning is dicier, because then you’re worrying about “Now it’s time to die” and “Life it seems will fade away”. Master of Puppets‘ first two songs are good for a pick-me-up, but then war and insanity sets in, and the album gets way too epic for Friday night courage. And …And Justice for All: fuhgeddaboutit. Put that record on, and you’re never leaving your house. You’ll just be practicing guitar and lamenting Cliff Burton’s death.

Notably, after Kill ‘Em All, the triumphant “we” appears only once more in the following three albums, in “Damage, Inc.” on Master of Puppets. Otherwise, the first person plural comes infrequently and wrapped in fear: “Fight Fire with Fire” (“We all shall die”), “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” (“They think our heads are in their hands”), “Blackened” (“See our mother put to death”). The narrative perspective overwhelmingly shifts to “I” – hence perhaps the very personal attachment that fans have to Metallica songs.

None of this is good or bad per se. Metallica was a multi-dimensional band that evolved over time. The incarnation on Kill ‘Em All happened to be the simplest, most straightforward one. That’s the Metallica that keeps us young. No other metal album does that better.

— Cosmo Lee

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PS. I bet the middle ascending section came from Diamond Head’s “Helpless”, which Metallica covered on The $5.98 EP.

Diamond Head’s “Helpless” vs. Metallica’s “Metal Militia”

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METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS

“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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