Yer Metal is Olde: Metallica – Metallica

The first Metallica song I heard was “Enter Sandman,” although it wasn’t Metallica’s version. I’d become familiar with the song via one of Weird Al’s polka medleys, and one day, when I was around 10 or 11 years old, I heard the original on the radio while driving home from somewhere with my parents, heading north down Oakland towards our old home on Langmuir. I recognized the chorus—though there was less accordion this time around—and asked my parents what this music was. They told me it was Metallica. Since I liked it, I saved my allowance for some weeks and went to our local Future Shop to spend my chore money on Metallica, the first CD I would ever buy. At the time, I had a small Koss CD player, a silver boombox that I’d gotten as a birthday gift. Before Metallica, I would play my dad’s CDs, especially a compilation of Collective Soul hits because “Heavy” and “Gel” spoke to my young ears. Also in constant rotation was The Four Horsemen’s Nobody Said it Was Easy. While those discs were fun, when I popped in Metallica it opened a new and exciting musical vista.

This first spin of Metallica happened in the basement of that old family home in London, Ontario’s east end, and I had to promise my parents that Metallica wouldn’t distract me from a book report on The Black Donnellys.1 Metallica quickly became a major part of my life after that day. I got to miss a bit of school to watch their MTV Icon special, and I borrowed my cousin’s Metallica hat (which I still have today) to do a speech about my then-favorite band. I even got excited about the upcoming release of St. Anger. Since I was a preteen, my parents weren’t fond of the Parental Advisory sticker on it. Naturally, I called every record store in the city to see if they stocked the censored version on release day. None did, but I was committed to spending my saved-up allowance on another Metallica CD. I wound up getting Master of Puppets, and my cousin said that my parents had done me a favor. He was right.

I realize I’ve said remarkably little about the music on Metallica, but does anyone need to? Everyone with ears and access to rock radio has heard over one-third of the record (“Enter Sandman,” “Sad but True,” “The Unforgiven,” “Wherever I May Roam,” and “Nothing Else Matters”) constantly for three decades now. I’ve always liked the less ubiquitous songs better, with my early favorites being “Holier Than Thou” (especially the bass break), “Through the Never,” and “Don’t Tread on Me.” I wish the riff at 2:56 in “The Struggle Within” went on for longer, as it’s one of the record’s best. Even as a kid I found “Of Wolf and Man” a bit cheesy, but that never stopped me from enjoying the driving, groovy riffs, and the catchy phrasing in the chorus.

Looking back, I think Metallica often represents a fork in the road for first-time metal listeners. If it doesn’t work for you or you just mildly enjoy the hits, you probably won’t look further into metal. If it works for you, you’ll dive deeper into Metallica and then probably into metal, a decision that seems to change the lives of many. Metallica wasn’t just about metal for me, though; it was about music. I’d found a hobby I loved, one I could share with my dad, whose fantastic record collection still impresses me today. Ontarians around my age will remember the “Find Your Thing” commercial (especially the kid who made dinosaur sounds). I found my thing with Metallica, and I’ve never looked back.

Sometimes my dad and I will spend a weekend night drinking some beers and showing each other music. The songs we play have a story, like every album in our respective collections. We both “soundtrack” our lives, remembering what we were doing, where we were, and what was happening to and around us when each special song and record came to our ears. In some sense, Metallica made those nights possible. It made many other nights possible too: the band practices and the walks home with my bass because the buses had stopped running, the Saturday night shows playing London’s premier dive bar The Richmond, the myriad metal concerts, the trips to record stores, the late nights spent writing reviews for AMG, and many, many more. Thanks to Metallica, my brother, a friend, and I drove about nine hours to Kentucky early one Saturday to see Metallica. We made a playlist consisting of every Metallica song on Spotify (plus some non-Metallica choices) for the drive there and back. We got caught in a rainstorm as we scrambled to buy some pre-show beers and order a pizza, the cardboard giving out just as we reached our ground-floor hotel room. That night, we were treated to an outstanding concert that brought us all back to the first metal we had ever heard and loved, performed by the band who opened the door to years of listening, playing, and enjoying heavy music. Even though I’ve heard “Enter Sandman” more times than I can be bothered to count, hearing it live was like hearing it for the first time again. The sheer volume of the music, the outstanding showmanship, and the fireworks were what my wildest dreams of a heavy metal show were when I was a kid. The arena was packed to capacity, full of other fans who doubtlessly had similar stories about this very record. I can’t fathom what my life would look like had I never heard Metallica all those years ago, but I’m glad I never found out.

Show 1 footnote

  1. In hindsight, that was pretty dark stuff for an 11-year-old.
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