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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “The Call of Ktulu”

Ride the Lightning demos bootleg

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I never got the whole Lovecraft thing with Metallica. “The Thing That Should Not Be” (inspired by The Shadow Over Innsmouth) sort of has a Lovecraftian atmosphere, I guess. I don’t remember how “All Nightmare Long” (from Death Magnetic, inspired by Lovecraft’s Hounds of Tindalos) goes, but I’m listening to it now and unfortunately re-learning how it goes. (Lovecraft is the least of its worries.)

Then there’s “The Call of Ktulu”, which was crucial to my guitar education. As a youth, I spent quite some time trying to learn its intro. It’s a great exercise in alternate picking across strings: cleanliness, in other words. Cliff Burton’s wah lashings are closer to the Lovecraftian mark, but otherwise the song is crisp, dexterous, and regal – not traits I associate with Lovecraft.

Admittedly, the metal vocabulary wasn’t around then to properly express Lovecraft. The Bathory/Venom/Hellhammer side of metal was just taking root. That seed later led to acts like Portal, Blut aus Nord (the non-melodic stuff), and Brown Jenkins, whose murk is a more literal representation of Lovecraftian nameless dread.

Chronology also backs me up on “The Call of Ktulu”. The song was mostly complete on the Ride the Lightning demos (downloadable below) as “When Hell Freezes Over”. This was Dave Mustaine’s last songwriting credit with Metallica; he recycled the D minor riff to great effect on “Hangar 18″. The version on the RTL demo, however, features Kirk Hammett, who’s still searching for a few notes. The A minor riff in the distorted part also isn’t fully arpeggiated.

Other than that, however, the song is built, with a title other than its final one, which evidently stemmed from Burton’s influence. So “The Call of Ktulu” wasn’t conceived as a Lovecraftian opus – it was just branded as one.

That doesn’t diminish its magnificence, however. As an instrumental, it’s an Olympian leap up from “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”. In fact, it’s an Olympian leap up from most metal, period. It just doesn’t evoke nameless dread – for me, anyway. Whereas Lovecraft’s work is soaked in fear, this song to me is about fearlessness. It plunges on, twisting and turning, daring to approach nine minutes in length without sparing any detail. The intro gleams, the body crushes, and Hetfield’s Explorer leads the way.

— Cosmo Lee

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MEDIAFIRE: RIDE THE LIGHTNING DEMOS [34.72MB .zip]

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“When Hell Freezes Over” (“The Call of Ktulu” demo)

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“The Call of Ktulu”

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Metallica vs. Megadeth – “The Call of Ktulu” vs. “Hangar 18″

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METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS

“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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