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We All Faulter: Metal Mistakes We Love

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In metal, it’s par to leave stray hairs on your record: doubled rhythm guitars that don’t quite line up, flubbed but passionate drum fills, even a sour note or two. Slayer’s Decade of Aggression is a primer on warts-and-all playing recorded for posterity. With liner notes boasting a lack of overdubs and studio correction, Decade is littered with sloppy solos, missed cues, and Tom Araya aborting his falsetto halfway through his scream in “Angel of Death”. That release is still unequivocally the shit and an important reminder of the ultimate musical lesson: don’t forget to be yourself. Knowing what to leave in and leave out of your work is an art, and this extends to your mistakes. Some mistakes I’ve heard so many times, they’re an indelible part of the music, woven into the narrative as much as the notes. Here are a handful of songs with flubs that I couldn’t imagine any other way.

— Alee Karim

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Type O Negative – “Too Late: Frozen”

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After the soul-crushing gravity of “Bloody Kisses (A Death in the Family)” and the ominous industrial interlude “3.0.I.F.”, a reprieve comes in the form of a false start, a laugh, and a “fuck you”. The rest of “Too Late: Frozen” is kind of a bummer, too, but its tone is considerably lighter, and this little morsel of imperfection serves as a bridge to the sea change, as well as a crucial reminder that Type O Negative are just dudes who fart, joke, and also happen to have a tragic outlook on romantic love. It was wise of them to milk this moment for levity, lest the drama of an epically long record about death, anger, vampires, politics, and apostasy weigh too persistently on the listener.

“Too Late: Frozen” (false start)

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Sepultura – “Kaiowas

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Chaos A.D. was the album where Sepultura became men (one of my all-time favorites, I’ve mentioned it here and here). A slavish devotion to the thrashy death metal sound that defined their first three LPs transmuted into something warmer, slower, and closer to what metal by four Brazilian hippies would sound like. A corollary of asserting yourself is lightening up, as the casual preamble to “Kaiowas” demonstrates. That dry run is not a mistake. But as a compositionally extraneous first take, it draws you into the ambient sounds, eliciting the perfect interval of “hey, this isn’t metal” before the song begins in earnest.

“Kaiowas” (dry run at song beginning)

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Anthrax – “I’m the Man (Live)”

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I’ve always felt like Joey Belladonna recorded his vocals with a gun to his head. If he were relaxed, then every tenth word in an Anthrax song wouldn’t feature an awkward inflection, a rushed delivery, or a flat note. Consequently, I view the decision to have the band lead their audience in proclaiming “Joey fucked up” in the middle of a live recording of “I’m The Man” as a means of setting this fact in stone. Later on, they actually incorporated this into live performances of the song. Below, you can see “Joey fucked up”.

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“Joey Fucked Up”

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Megadeth – “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due”

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This one’s a weird case. Starting at 4:52, over the galloping harmonics, you can hear an errant splash of feedback. Just seconds later, the sounds of Mustaine’s chaotic solo percolate over the tail end of the riff. These imperfections are typically undesirable and often removed, but for whatever reason, these were neglected. Perhaps Megadeth had run out of studio time, missed those mistakes on the last mixdown, and didn’t have time to go back and fix them. (Mixing is time-consuming in digital, let alone analog, which they were still using at this point.) Maybe Dave was high. Who knows? The point is that these errors bothered me so little, I didn’t even KNOW they were errors until the remasters came out, and I had the sense that I was being tricked. Star Wars fans know this feeling from seeing the Special Edition re-releases and the revisionist fiasco they incited. Yes, it seems Dave Mustaine had pulled a George Lucas and “fixed” things about his classic record while remastering it (i.e., making it louder for modern audiences). I actually had to get the original recordings of this to make sure I wasn’t insane (hat tip to IO reader Joe who shared these!). He did indeed remove those two blemishes from the face of “Holy Wars”. What a shame: I attribute the feedback and the early entrance of the solo not to sloppiness but to the general mania of the record.

BEFORE:

“Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” (feedback & early solo, original)

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AFTER:

“Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” (no feedback, no early solo, cleaned up remaster)

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Interestingly, the Rust In Peace remaster affords us a glimpse into what an artist would do with a recorded blemish in the digital era: he’d clean it up. I couldn’t find any 21st century examples of this phenomenon, and I’m fairly certain there aren’t any. Of course, not everything listed above is a mistake so much as an attempt to be playful with the recorded artifact. It was probably genuinely amusing to Type O Negative that they’d left a botched first take on their big breakout record for listeners to hear forever. In 2011, “forever” evaporates – there’s nothing to stop them or anyone else from digitally releasing any number of new edits/mixes/masters of Bloody Kisses, all mistakes corrected, all decisions reconsidered. The latest digital file is gospel. I predict a Harlan Ellison-esque future in which the imperfect music once recorded by humans becomes a quaint byproduct of a less optimized era, replaced by home machines set to create personalized sonic experiences that appease our various moods.

I plan to teach mine blastbeats.

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