Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Trapped Under Ice”
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I've had the good fortune of seeing Matt Harvey play live with three bands: Exhumed, Scarecrow, and Gravehill. Exhumed was a sloppy delight; judging from new album All Guts, No Glory, the current lineup is laser-tight. Gravehill left me slack-jawed at the sheer bad-ass-ery of Harvey's rhythm guitar playing. And Scarecrow holds the honor of being the only band ever whose live show reminded me of Metallica. That band's songs were very Metallica-inspired - the split with Landmine Marathon is a hidden gem - and the bassist even sort of looked like Cliff Burton. To top it all off, Exhumed covered "Trapped Under Ice" on the 2005 covers collection Garbage Daze Re-Regurgitated. So it was a no-brainer to ask Harvey to comment on the song for this series. Exhumed are on tour now (see dates here); be a punk and request "Trapped Under Ice". - C.L.
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On "Trapped Under Ice"
by Matt Harvey
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When the time came to do an Exhumed cover album, putting a Metallica song on it was a no-brainer. Metallica has always been my main influence, and really the whole reason I started playing guitar. It's probably also worth noting that the whole rhythm guitar tone of All Guts, No Glory is based on Ride the Lightning, as is the whole mix. At any rate, "Trapped..." was always Col's (Jones, original Exhumed drummer, also Repulsion, Cretin, Dekapitator, Mortuous) favorite song, and ...Lightning was his favorite album, so I decided to do that song for him, even though he wasn't in the band anymore when we recorded the cover. Of course, it's also a song I really dig and not a "hit single" per se, which made it attractive. So what is it about "Trapped..." that makes it a great song?
Let's take it piece by piece.
First off, it's a great kick-in-the-teeth opener for side two, starting out with an ominous but classic-rock-centered chorded intro (E, D, and A being the main ringing chords), before Lars' snare roll (which is basically a tighter, meaner descendant of the fill from "Whiplash") announces that the ass-whipping is about to begin. The chords get further stripped down, tightening to an E-D-F that feels a lot more ominous, and then simply a D-E bounce that contrasts the initial ascending melody lead and colors it nicely. The melody lead that builds into the solo has that trademark Ride the Lightning feel - a sort-of everyman Wagnerian sensibility that elevates the band's pentatonic and chromatic riffing to another, altogether loftier level than the Kill 'Em All stuff, the same way the music for CBS Sports transforms football from a bunch of guys in colorful pants hitting each other to an epic contest of the human spirit.
Before the bombast gets out of control, we're promptly launched into a great lead section straight away. Whatever Kirk Hammett was doing between Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning, it was seriously working. No longer confined by the blueprints of Mustaine's blues-based tantrums that formed the skeleton of most of the Kill 'Em All solos, Kirk really gets a chance to stretch out on the whole second album. On "Trapped...", he delivers three short lead guitar bursts, one before each verse, an interesting contrast to the usual Metallica arrangement that features an extended solo in the bridge section.
First, we're singed by a scattershot volley of pentatonic aggression at 0:33, then some manic trem-bar abuse that erupts into some articulate scales and finishes with a great lyrical phrase starting at 1:09. Finally, starting at 2:54, he pours out a barrage of runs and finishes them off with a simple but effective trem-picked ascension. His leads are really fluid on this track, with a cool, reverb-y legato feel to the runs. Kirk is also notable on this tune as he provided a couple of riffs. The verse riff, of course, was originally in the Exodus song "Impaler" (most commonly found re-recorded on their '97 Another Lesson in Violence album) and is used to much greater effect here. I believe there's another of Kirk's Exodus riffs that initially enters at 2:01, but I can't recall what Exodus song this was in originally.
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Exodus - "Impaler"
"Trapped Under Ice" riff at 1:47
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As usual, the riffing is the most distinctive thing about this track, and "Impaler" never sounded as tight and vicious as this song. [Ed. note: But check out the re-re-recorded version of "Impaler" on Exodus' Tempo of the Damned.]
The verse riff has a lot of great tension with the E to F# hammer-on that feels like the tightening of a screw at the beginning of each repetition. (I used the same technique in the second and fourth phrases of the verse riff for the Exhumed track "Necromaniac", sans palm-muting, and again in the verse riff of "Through Cadaver Eyes" on All Guts, No Glory (although it's an E to F riff, the pattern is the same), and it's also found in the Possessed song "Death Metal" - which we covered as well, haha!). The palm-muting here accentuates the mounting tension before the chorus gives a feeling of release with its almost major-key feel. The device of a tightly-picked verse contrasting with an open-strummed, chord-based chorus is something I've used again and again in Exhumed ("Deep Red", "This Axe Was Made to Grind", and "As Hammer to Anvil" being the most obvious examples), and will no doubt continue to exploit for years to come.
The chorus opens up with a key change to A, and it almost feels A major - the relative major key to F# minor, the key of the verse. The first two phrases retain that major key feel before the third darkens slightly with a typical rock tonal combination, the tonic or I chord (A5 in this case) being ambiguous as far as if it's major or minor, with a major sixth and minor seventh (F#5 and G5 respectively). Finally, the fourth phrase uses a much more dark chord combination, contrasting the A#5 with A5 and lending a sinister aspect to the whole passage. The A# especially feels chromatic and evil since for most of the chorus, the riff ascends to A5 from G#5, the major 7th. The anthemic feeling of the chorus is accentuated by a powerful group vocal call-and-response with Hetfield's vocal. The group handles the one-word summations of the predicament (in this case, being "trapped under ice") and the solo vocal from Hetfield expresses the consequences. Freezing leads to not being able to move at all, and even if you're screaming, they can't hear your call.
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When the bridge hits around 1:40, the tempo loosens to half-time (or really regular time, compared to the double-time verse) but the guitars wait to release the tension with a tightly-wound gallop pattern broken up by chords an octave higher than we've heard thus far in the song, finishing with a nice little Phrygian single-picking section. The key change down to E also nicely contrasts the F# / A keys we've heard thus far, and releases some of the tension built up by the keys and tempos of the previous riff, opening things up for some serious headbanging action.
Then things get very sing-along-y with another call-and-response bit over the loose open-strummed chord pattern that starts at 2:00 - a very typical descending minor pattern similar to the chorus in "The Four Horsemen" / "Mechanix" (and many, many other songs in every genre, the most notable for our purpose being the chorus in "N.I.B.", more than likely the antecedent of both the riffs I"ve referred to): E5, D5, C5, B5. The strum is slightly different than in "...Horsemen", but the strong vocal part is definitely the main focus. Metallica excel at inserting these anthemic type of group vocal call-and-response parts in their bridge sections, the most notable examples being "Creeping Death" (also over one of Kirk's riffs – probably his best riff, and certainly one of the heaviest riffs ever) and "Master of Puppets". We return to the original bridge riff after the sing-along, which then varies at 2:46 and leads us right back into the speedier verse / chorus section of the song.
After the third verse and chorus, the song rides off on the verse riff, and the finale of the song is very direct - the same snare roll that marked it kicking in at the beginning of the action. In fact, it's an uncharacteristically direct ending and entire song for this album, which is one of the things I really like about the track. It's a bit more down-and-dirty feeling than most of the other songs on ...Lightning, which I'm sure is why it appealed so much to Col, who's not as into the massively epic Metallica tunes as I am. I also felt like because the song was a little bit rougher around the edges, it wouldn't be as much of a stretch for Exhumed to cover as something more expansive and dynamic like "Master of Puppets". Also, we've always stuck mostly to the faster side of things, so it seemed like a more natural fit.
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Exhumed - "Trapped Under Ice"
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Drumming-wise, this is certainly one of Lars' more aggressive performances, with a shitload of double bass drumming - especially for 1984. As is his usual style, he wisely underplays and makes the most out of quarter and eighth note accents in the chorus and the bridge. A lot of people criticize his playing, but I think he's brilliant. He plays exactly enough to make the riff kick ass and stay heavy. No matter how fast a riff or song is, it always retains power. He never forces his drumming on the listener like so many modern players who use drum fills excessively. That said, there are some cool rolls in the verse section. Even though the toms on this record are a bit reverb-y and indistinct, you can certainly feel the rolls, and the whole kit sounds pretty big and booming, even if it is a little back in the mix behind the wall of rhythm guitars. The drums are especially buried by today's mixing standards, where they're way too up front in the mix for my taste; I don't need to hear every 16th-note tom hit, just like I don't need to hear every single note of a really fast scale run. I just need to go on the journey with it and experience the vibe that it conveys.
I wish I could talk more about the bass performance, but the glaring weak point in the ...Lightning mix (as well as the mix for the entire Master... record) is that Cliff's bass is criminally inaudible. He's all over "The Call of Ktulu" and has some excellent lines in "Creeping Death" and "Fade to Black", but here he's so buried by the rhythm guitars that I can't really say too much of interest about his playing on this track.
The lyrics seem a bit juvenile in hindsight, although they're practically Shakespeare compared to "Mechanix" or the original "Jump in the Fire". Ultimately the cryogenic or antarctic predicament that the narrator of the song is in (I've never been totally clear if it's about someone in suspended animation who wakes up too soon or someone that's actually in a block of ice / underwater in a frozen lake) is simply a metaphor for the alienation themes that permeate Metallica's early work. "Sanitarium" is probably the most well-done of these type of songs, "Dyers Eve" being the most heavy-handed. "One" is another example of the disconnected, angry, powerless-against-overwhelming-circumstance type of scenario in this song. The adolescent vibe of the lyrics is clear, as the narrator of the song takes the stance of the victim of unassailable external power throughout - "I've been stricken by fate", "hand of doom has a tight grip on me", "Can't move at all", “Fate, mystified", etc. They're enjoyable, but as a 35 year-old, I can't really relate to this kind of stuff anymore. That said, the lyrics are well-done and fun in their own right. The call-and-response phrasing on the chorus and bridge is so effective that the content of the lyrics really becomes secondary. The power of the simple vocal melody, the almost petulant, defiant rage of the vocal performance, and the lyrics fit together perfectly.
All in all, "Trapped..." is a great, thrashy roller-coaster that is all-around solid. It's clear that this song isn't the most emotionally resonant or profoundly meaningful on the record, but it stands up to any of the band's compositions at the time. One thing I can say with confidence about pre-Load Metallica is that they did not write any filler, so even the less impressive or innovative songs have stood the test of time as worth listening to and have earned "classic" status. That said, one of the things that drew me to cover this song is that it's sort of a forgotten gem (as much as any Metallica song could possibly be considered forgotten) that I've never even heard a live performance of it from when it was current, let alone a recent live performance. So it was fun to dust it off, speed it up and hack the shit out of it with death metal vocals, down-tuned guitars, and ridiculously sped-up drums and leads (we played it fast enough to shave off 38 seconds from the original). We could have been a bit more ambitious with our choice of Metallica covers, but it probably wouldn't have been as much fun to record and play live.
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Metallica - "Trapped Under Ice"
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METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS
"Fade to Black"
"For Whom the Bell Tolls"
"Ride the Lightning"
"Fight Fire With Fire"
"Seek & Destroy"
"(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth"
"Jump in the Fire"
"The Four Horsemen"
"Hit the Lights"
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