Metallica: The First Four Albums – “No Remorse”
No Remorse vinyl bootleg – details here
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One reason why Metallica’s music resonates with so many is that it expresses fear, that most fundamental of emotions. Songs express fear of dying (“Ride the Lightning”), being alone (“Dyers Eve”), corruption (“…And Justice for All”), even the dark (“Enter Sandman”). Master of Puppets opens and closes without fear (“Battery”, “Damage, Inc.”), but …And Justice for All is pure fear, top-to-bottom. Hence its gripping neuroses and labyrinthine structures that made “Don’t Tread on Me” clang so hollowly three years later.
Kill ‘Em All is different, though. It is completely fearless, appealing to the invulnerable teenagers we once were. “No Remorse” is its battle cry. It is about war without consequences (“we don’t care what it meant”); move forward one year, and “Fight Fire With Fire” worries about war’s consequences (“we all shall die”). This doesn’t necessarily mean that “No Remorse” is irresponsible. I’m sure that many take the song for self-motivation. For toughing it out through rough experiences, “No remorse / no repent” is a pure and effective mantra.
So at this point, Metallica’s lyrics were basically sloganeering. The music reflected this. Instead of the intricate layers of the next three records, Kill ‘Em All‘s songs are basically sequences of riffs. They’re some of the best riffs ever written, but they’re still strung, not woven together.
But that has its own charm. The focus is not on songwriting, but on riffs. They’re in-your-face, not baked into arrangements that prioritize the bigger picture. Exhibit A is the riff at around 0:52. After an intro that’s really just biding time, the song drops into a grinding, mechanistic, three-note figure punctuated by brash accents. I could hear that riff for eternity. Low E twice, then D and E an octave above: it’s the simplest thing. Watch crowds at metal shows – they always respond to when songs cut away to single guitar riffing. This is the cutaway to end all cutaways.
To quote one of Metallica’s biggest influences, it’s electric. It sends a charge through you. That’s all I want from Kill ‘Em All, and it delivers in full. The handwringing about fear can come later.
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METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS
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