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Metallica: The First Four Albums -“The Frayed Ends of Sanity”

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…And Justice for All sounds like it looks: cold and gray. It’s wall-to-wall grim, which didn’t jive with the Metallica I read about as a kid. That Metallica wore shades and maniacal grins, and was sometimes called Alcoholica. James Hetfield’s “More Beer” Gibson Explorer was often on display. Nuclear scientists on record, party animals in real life – it didn’t quite compute.

“The Frayed Ends of Sanity” is the closest AJFA gets to solving that equation. It’s actually kind of fun. It makes me smile – not in a derisive way, but because it’s “so grim, so true, so real” that, like with many hopeless situations, my ultimate reaction is to laugh. Black jeans and black humor go together well. I imagine James Hetfield mentally high-fiving himself as he finishes writing, “Height, hell, time, haste, terror, tension / Life, death, want, waste, mass depression”. That rolls off the tongue so nicely. Yet it’s ridiculously ambitious; most of us don’t go to work each day tackling these topics. That Hetfield bought these ideas and resold them at a profit – both commercially and artistically – is a feat.

Then there’s that intro chant, lifted from The Wizard of Oz. That’s a genius non sequitur on one hand, and completely appropriate on the other. Was Hetfield slyly referencing his Cowardly Lion appearance at the time? I doubt it, but it worked, it works, and it always will.

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The Wizard of Oz – The Castle of the Wicked Witch

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Finally, there’s 4:04. That’s a turning point in the song, which has built up to it with chewy chromatics spurred on by Lars Ulrich’s jaunty downbeats. Anything could happen at that point, which is one of the beautiful things about heavy metal. With most other kinds of music, when change is a-comin’, you know what it’ll be. Typically it’s a guitar solo or a bridge with a key change; in the early-’90s, it was often a rap coming out of nowhere. Metal’s not immune to these things, but Metallica in their prime bucked trends; every song on their first four records has its own identity.

So what we get is yet another riff. It’s a wrist-snapping gallop tossed off with deceptive ease, and it’s absurdly bad-ass. It’s not really necessary, but it feels great and adds more possibilities. The band runs with these possibilities, harmonizing the riff and modulating it while Kirk Hammett does his typical whammy bar/triplet routine. Then, another left turn: a NWOBHM riff executed with utter precision (a very Megadeth move, incidentally), which eventually backs down into the main riff.

This is quite the ride: fun to hear and fun to play. But what’s that? Metallica have never played this song in its entirety live??? Clearly they don’t favor it for some reason. But that just means that their Metallica is different from my Metallica, which is different from every one of yours. That’s frustrating for fans who like to canonize things – but it’s also why Metallica has so many fans in the first place.

— Cosmo Lee

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“The Frayed Ends of Sanity”

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“Harvester of Sorrow
“The Shortest Straw”
“Eye of the Beholder”
“…And Justice for All”
“Damage Inc.”
“Leper Messiah”
“Disposable Heroes”
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
“The Thing That Should Not Be”
“Master of Puppets”
“The Call of Ktulu”
“Creeping Death”
“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”
“(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”
“Jump in the Fire”
“The Four Horsemen”
“Hit the Lights”

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