The long, long wait for Metallica’s new album

In September of 2008, Metallica released Death Magnetic. While I wouldn’t argue that it rivals their best work, it was at least a return to something aggressive, and was much more cohesive than its predecessor, St. Anger. In spite of the terrible clipping problems, I did enjoy it.

Since then, they’ve toured. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They made a non-Metallica record with Lou Reed. They celebrated 30 years with a set of shows in San Francisco. They “made a movie.” They’ve toured. They’ve talked about recording, and how they either can’t wait to make another record, or how they’re not feeling obligated to thrash one out for the sake of having a new record. They’ve toured. James Hetfield has 800 riffs for the new album, and Kirk Hammett has 400. They played Antarctica, “forgetting” to play “Trapped Under Ice”… They played “One” at the Grammys with Lang Lang. They’re going to write and record a new album soon. They’ve toured. The latest news is that they’re writing the songs, hoping to get into the studio to record them in 2015, and have the new record out in 2016.


Let that sink in for a minute.

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Touring the new song

In March, Metallica began a short “By Request” tour in South America. Fans voted on the songs they wanted to hear, and Metallica used the survey results to create their setlists. As the tour approached, the band teased the possibility of a new song, and they delivered “The Lords Of Summer” at the tour opener in Bogota, Chili on March 16.

Beyond that, there’s little for fans to go on, other than nebulous indications that Metallica are working on the next record, and the aforementioned vague talk about not really getting down to recording until next year, and releasing it in 2016. According to this article, they have presumably reconvened (or will do so shortly) in order to continue working on the album.

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Thoughts on the new song

As a fan who’s been interested in hearing the next Metallica album since 2010, I have to say that the “late 2015/early 2016” thing has had me feeling a bit down about the whole thing. “Lords Of Summer” didn’t really ease that feeling. I like the concept of melding fast, thrashy parts with slower, melodic ones, so that idea has potential. But I wasn’t really moved by the song. In fact, I found it kind of boring. The thrashy part was fast, but was essentially one note chugged repeatedly with little variation with a stock riff thrown in at the end of each bar. The chorus was okay but generally uninspiring, and the beginning and middle sections were too long. The main riff sounded like a simplified take on the main riff from “That Was Just your Life,” and it got old for me during my first listen, before the vocals came in. Kirk’s solo started very simply and repetitively – and that bit lasted too long as well – although it got better when he started playing like he normally does. And the lyrics left me baffled.

I did like the little motif that starts at approximately 3:10 of the video above, and I liked Hetfield’s vocals in general. However, I hope that the song was, as Hetfield told the crowd in Bogota, written “for the shows” – hastily thrown together and recorded in demo form without the usual refinement that historically goes into their composition process.

I understand that it’s probably going to either be disassembled and reassembled in some other form, or gutted for parts to be integrated with other material on the new album, or jettisoned altogether. While it’s a better song than the two new songs that they performed before they recorded Death Magnetic, it’s so much more “stock” than “The New Song” from 2006 – a much heavier and more interesting song musically, riffs from which turned up in “The End Of The Line” and “All Nightmare Long” – that my guess is that they will likely either A) build up and refine the tune (and write new lyrics) for the album, or B) abandon the song mostly or entirely.

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Megadeth and the Big Four (and more)

What’s frustrating for fans like me is that, while Metallica keeps itself in the public eye by touring and participating in a variety of other non-Metallica-album-creating activities (Lou Reed, Through The Never, etc.), their pace of album creation has been slowing for the last 20 years. After the epic touring that took place in the wake of the Black Album, they put out two albums in two years. Since then, they’ve put out two albums of original material (and an EP, Beyond Magnetic). That’s two albums in, at this point, 17 years. Since the Black album, they’ve done four albums in twenty years.

To strike the most extreme contrast possible with their thrash brethren, one needs to look no further than to Megadeth. Dave Mustaine has put out nine albums since Countdown To Extinction (1992), and will soon be working on another one. And that one will probably be released before the next Metallica record. A very likely scenario is that, between the releases of Metallica’s ninth and tenth albums, Megadeth will have released at least four records.

It’s not like Megadeth are abnormal in averaging a record every two years or so – they’re certainly not the Beatles with their eleven albums and two soundtracks in eight years – but they’re the most prolific of the Big Six Or Seven of American Thrash over the past two decades. Additionally, Slayer may release their second post-Death Magnetic album late this year or early next, in spite of the death of Jeff Hanneman and split with Dave Lombardo. Same with both Anthrax and Exodus. Overkill’s third post-2008 album arrives in July. And Testament has released two albums and a live album since Death Magnetic, and a third is in the works, tentatively scheduled for release later this year.

Metallica, Megadeth, and albums

When we’re treated to releases every few years from many of the bands in the genre, we fans tend to wonder why Metallica doesn’t pick up the pace.

Everyone knows that record sales are way down from where they were ten years ago. With that in mind, it’s certainly understandable that a band in Metallica’s situation as a huge band that can make boat loads of money from touring would be less interested in taking a year or so to write and record an album – itself, an extravagant time- and money-sink that most of the other bands listed above don’t have.

However, I look at Megadeth, a hard-working, successful band that keeps pumping out records which are always well-recorded and are sometimes excellent (like 2009’s Endgame). Megadeth have managed to alternate efficiently recorded albums with lots of time on the road, themed tours, lots of fan interaction, and other creative outlets. Mustaine has always been driven creatively, and the fact that he is out-producing Metallica music-wise by maintaining the same cycle he always has can’t have gone unnoticed by someone as obsessed about his past with Metallica as he has always been. It’s certainly something that I’ve thought about, and I’m sure that others have done so too.

Anyway, with David Ellefson back playing bass, drummer Shawn Drover serving as a rock in so many ways both musically and otherwise, and an extremely talented creative partner in guitarist Chris Broderick, Mustaine hasn’t let neck surgery that has seemingly made it difficult to sing on the road stop him from going year-round, and keeping up his recording schedule.

When they do record an album, by the way, there isn’t any of Metallica’s six-months-to-a-year overanalysis that goes into the process. Perhaps this is because Mustaine is the unquestioned leader of Megadeth; at the end of the day, it’s his creative vision. Whereas in Metallica, James and Lars drive the car, and they’ve butted heads over the decision-making process so many times over the years that in some ways it’s no wonder that it takes them aeons to write and record an album, as opposed to Mustaine’s weeks…

That isn’t to say that every Megadeth album is great – although that’s subjective, of course – but many reasonable people thought that Endgame was very good, and that 2011’s Thirteen was also good. In my opinion, when Mustaine gets it right, he’s writing interesting, riffy, heavy tunes, and both of those records have those elements (if not in every song). And it doesn’t take him five to seven years, six to nine months in the studio, and “1200 riffs” to get there every couple of years.

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I wonder

This leads me to wonder what else is weighing down Metallica, with respect to the long lapses between albums over the past decade-plus…

1. Family?

All four of the guys have kids. All four are family men, in that they seem utterly devoted to their children. This is a good thing. And if the guys in Metallica are simply spending a ton of time with their families, I have every respect for that.

2. Stardom/money/Lars?

You’re James Hetfield. Every few years, you think about making an album. And you think about all of the other albums you made, and how long it took, in part, because both you and Lars are really anal about stuff, and sometimes it’s not the same stuff. But Lars has his hands in every pie – that guy is really, really anal about stuff. Do you really want to go through that again any time soon? Maybe. Maybe not.

Maybe, an alternative would be to play two-three dozen shows this year, make a ton of money from them, and spend the rest of your time playing guitar by yourself, hanging with the kids, tinkering with your cars, and doing the occasional interview.

I’m sure that’s an oversimplified, negatively assumptive view of what may go through the head of someone that I don’t personally know. I’m sure the guys are busy, both with family and with other things. Many other things.

And hey, James did have that 4-hour-per-day rule when they made St. Anger…

3. Lars?

But seriously. I don’t want to be one of those guys who dumps on Lars about everything. I actually like Lars, and its obvious that he’s a huge part of the personality and creative makeup of the band. He’s also its biggest fan.

But I wonder if there’s something about Lars. Post-Black Album, when the entire band started loosening their playing styles a bit, he arguably loosened his the most. He’s become more the guy who thinks globally rather than locally. He’s concerned with the big picture with respect to Metallica and art and other things. As such, he often seems to be openly at war with his drum kit (not in a good way), to the point where, when a video shows up on YouTube where he plays a lot of double kick drum on an old song, people get all excited: “All right! Lars using a lot of double bass drum! Awesome!” I don’t know of another situation in metal where people are so impressed by a drummer not playing sloppily, playing his old songs even just close to correctly, or by double kicks being used on a new song, but honestly? That’s how I’ve felt too. In those situations, it’s like there’s a whiff of a promise of “return to form,” and you want to feel good about it… even if it’s a fleeting thing.

And so I get a sense that, more than anything, Lars is less interested in making a new record than the other guys*, and more interested in playing live and being Lars From Metallica. I know that’s a trite, possibly cruel way to put it – and I don’t intend it that way, because I’m a fan of him – but fans (and people who care about the music so much) only see a certain amount of what is made public, and can only infer thereafter. And remember, he’s one of the guys who drives the car.

4. *About that asterisk in the above paragraph…

When we’re told that James has 800 riffs at his disposal, we’re not surprised. The guy is known to be a riff master, and he has “RIFF/LIFE” tattooed on his fingers. The Metallica catalog is littered with his riffs. Sure, some are Hammett’s or Cliff Burton’s, a couple are Jason’s, and several are Mustaine’s. But the vast majority are James’, and so many of them are extremely good.

I was reminded of this while watching footage from Metallica’s Guitar Center Sessions, which were released on YouTube earlier this year.

Watching James play, talking about his love for music and throwing out some riffs along the way, makes me excited about this new album. If there’s anything holding back the making of this album, it’s not the James of thirteen years ago, who seemed to be at a loss for virtually any inspiration at points during the Some Kind Of Monster film. This is the James of today, one of the three guys in the band who seems to really get off on doing his thing.

As for Kirk? We’ve been treated to several recent examples of his love for metal. He invited Exodus, Death Angel, and Carcass to play at his Fear FestEvil, and jammed with the first two. And his Guitar Center Session interview, while not as lengthy (or riffy) as James’, showed just as much love for music.

He’s not the riff master that James is, but the guy is passionate about making music.

As for Rob Trujillo, I don’t know as much about him, but he seems to be someone who would play with anybody, at any time (and he kind of has!). He’s talented and innovative, and shows both fire and fluency with his instrument during Metallica shows. I don’t know that he has played any part in preventing the band from making a new album.

5. A lack of creative juice?

Having said all of that, it would be difficult to infer that there is a lack of creativity from individual members of the group. However, I recently read a terrific article by The Metal Pigeon, who has an interesting theory on the subject.

The Metal Pigeon doesn’t consider Death Magnetic to be a good album, and posits the following:

So what was it that made Metallica’s new music come off to me as uninspired and clunky?

I think the answer, ultimately, is that there was little in the way of artistic continuity. Metallica’s writing sessions for the Black Album took place in 1990, and after its gargantuan mega-tour the Load/ReLoad sessions occurred around 1995 with some touch-ups in the two years afterwards. Touring and various projects such as S&M and Garage, Inc took up the intervening years. Metallica wouldn’t work on a collection of new material until those dysfunctional, therapist guided, captured on documentary sessions for St. Anger a whole seven years later. It would be nearly six years before they reconvened once again for Death Magnetic —- simply put, this is a band that tours and tours and tours, and I’ll argue that despite its financial benefits their incessant touring has come at the cost of their artistry. I’m not suggesting that its wise for Metallica to scale back its touring, these guys obviously understand where their huge paychecks come from. What I am saying however, is if the band is interested in making continually better original music, they would do well to realize that they need to attempt its creation more often. How do they relate to one another musically speaking when they haven’t attempted to write new material in half-decade long spans? At what point do you overdo touring?

I don’t know that I could argue with this idea. While Metallica has some great creative forces in its ranks, they’ve written and recorded just two albums in the past seventeen years. Whereas other groups gather to write and record on a (relatively) much more regular basis, Metallica tours, or records covers or a live album or with another artist. They do jam in the tuning room, of course, but if that were a recipe for writing new albums, I would imagine we would have seen at least one more album by now. So I think there is definitely merit to the idea.

* * *

By now, this post is firmly in longform land. I obviously think about this subject too much!

Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if there were different drummers involved. If, for instance, Hetfield, Hammett and Trujillo hooked up with Dave Lombardo, who seems to be completely comfortable with his drums, it’s easy to imagine that Hetfield would drive the car, and Lombardo would have an answer, drum-wise, for every idea that James bounced off of him. In this hypothetical situation, the members who have guitar straps slung around their necks would be able to offer their ideas, and James and Dave would hone them to a razor edge with less head-to-wall moments and dithering. Listeners would be treated to more albums, more adventurous albums, and better shows. More riffs. More double kick drums and more interesting fills.

But that’s not going to happen – it’s just the occasional fantasy of an occasionally frustrated fan. Lars is Metallica, just like James is. They’ve been friends and creative partners for more than 30 years, and my hypothetical situations don’t mean a damn thing to them. And that’s 100% as it should be.

Hopefully, the new album will come out sooner than later. I’m betting on later, myself, given the band’s history and the fact that they will be playing several more shows over the course of the rest of the year. As I said, the fact that they’ve been talking about this album for three years, and are just now starting to piece some songs together, rankles me. On the other hand, it’s not like we fans aren’t used to this. Remember: two albums, seventeen years.

I’ll be there when it does come out. I’m still looking forward to it, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll enjoy it, even if it isn’t the “return to form” that so many fans want. I’ll listen to it in the spirit that it deserves, which is that it is the next step in a journey (whenever that step happens). To me, Metallica is like an old friend at this point. The band has aged, grown, and changed with time, and I have as well. But its members and songs are still welcome.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Life upon discovery: Cynic’s “Kindly Bent To Free Us”

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On last week’s episode of the Metal Sucks Podcast, Chuck and Godless talked with Paul Masvidal, guitarist/vocalist/co-mastermind of the band Cynic. Cynic has a new album coming out on February 14th, Kindly Bent To Free Us. The title track – which is awesome! – is presented in a lyric video at the top of this post (the track is also played at the end of their interview).

I had heard of Masvidal before – he played on Death’s 1991 album Human, and toured in support of it – but for some reason I had never taken the time to seek out any of Cynic’s music. That was an error on my part.

However, thanks to Chuck and Godless playing “Kindly Bent To Free Us” on the podcast, I am no longer oblivious. And I’m extremely happy, because I now have a new, genre-defying album to look forward to. And beyond that, there’s the rest of their catalog (yes!).

I like listening to the interviews on the podcast. A lot of listeners have negative things to say on the weekly podcast notes at Metal Sucks, but I don’t mind the hosts. For the most part, their conversations with musicians are entertaining and enlightening. The interview with Paul Masvidal made that episode a highlight of the series thus far, as he spoke quite a bit about his personal philosophy, the work he does in service to others, his “day job” writing and recording music for TV (and so on), and some of his thought processes with respect to his band and music. The interview was one of the longest they’ve done, stretching the episode to about twenty minutes longer than usual. It’s definitely worth the time to listen to it.

One thing that has me excited is that Cynic’s music alters my personal perception, yet again, of what both “metal” and music can be – and this will influence how I think about creativity as I work on writing my own music. It’s similar in this way to bands that I’ve discovered in the past that have blown my mind; Opeth comes to mind, and Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt has himself cited Cynic as being an inspiration in the past. It’s awesome that I’m finally making that connection, even belatedly.

* * *

Chuck and Godless obviously love the album and the band. After the interview, they wrapped up the show with a short discussion about whether the album is going to garner any new fans for Cynic, and if that even really matters to the guys in the band anyway. Here’s an excerpt:

Chuck: That album is pretty amazing. It really is.

Godless: I hope lots of people pick this thing up.

Chuck: (. . .) It’s so not metal, though. It is just not… metal!

Godless: (. . .) but that’s OK!

Chuck: It’s noodle-y and awesome and like… yes! But, what were you saying about (it)? Like, you’re not sure if it has legs – I kind of agree with that. I don’t know, but I think, as a fan of Cynic, I’m in. 100% in.

Godless: Exactly.

Chuck: Just… is it gonna get new fans? I dunno. I don’t think so.

Godless: Yeah, I don’t know.

Well, it has one brand new fan here, and from comments I’ve read around the internet, there are several others like me. I’m very excited for Kindly Bent To Free Us, and looking forward to picking this up in a couple of weeks.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!

Epiphany: I will expand my musical vocabulary

While playing guitar the other night, I had an epiphany.

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I’ve been “playing” guitar for twenty years now. I never had any formal lessons. I remember sitting in the living room in our old house as a teenager, picking up my mother’s acoustic guitar, and fretting the low E string the first time. The pain in my finger tip was a major deterrent. A couple of months later, I tried again, and stuck with it.

In the beginning, I learned chords from a chart my mother had on the piano. I could do E minor okay, but C chords always sounded like crap, and F was a disaster. G major was nice, once I could manage to fret the G on the high E string. E major and A minor came next, and sounded all right. It was slow going.

Eventually, I learned about barre chords, and was banging out terrible versions of Nirvana songs. And breaking strings left and right. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine those days, but they happened, and we all start somewhere. We learn…

* * *

About fourteen years ago, by which point I had progressed past banging away at simple three- and four-chord strummers to playing with a little more finesse and skill, I reached a self-induced crossroads. I became sort of paranoid, feeling that everything that I created was derivative. At that point, I decided not to learn any more songs that were relatively close in style to the things I was writing.

I can remember a pivotal point in that thought process. I was fiddling around on my acoustic one day, and I accidentally stumbled on Mike McCready’s opening/verse lick to “Given To Fly” by Pearl Jam. My initial reaction was “oh… cool!” – followed immediately by a weird feeling of guilt. The self-censor won – I never played that lick again, and never forgot that moment.

From that time on, I’ve maintained a strict “I will not learn other people’s songs” method. Which isn’t much of a method, in reality.

This is not to say that I’ve not learned any guitar licks since then. For example, I’ve spent hours working on songs like “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” (Megadeth), along with riffs from songs by Pantera, Metallica, and other metal bands, because I don’t “create” metal songs, so they were in what I considered “fair territory.” And I’ve certainly benefited musically and technically from those experiences. But there is a lot that I’ve shut out, and since my goal has never been to become a competent metal guitarist, those experiences have only taken me so far.

Instead of learning other people’s songs, I found that I enjoyed writing my own songs. At the time, I got a lot of fulfillment from writing guitar parts that were slightly above my current skill level – and then learning how to play those songs. In this way, I improved as a guitarist, and came up with some pretty good songs… but I also ran into a lot of brick walls. Over time, those walls got higher, and my interest ultimately diminished.

Over the past ten years, the volume of creativity has decreased, and the amount of recording that I’ve done – even just riff demos – has slowed to an occasional drip. I basically trained myself to hold my playing within that holy grail of originality when composing music, so that, if I was not playing something that I’d already established, my censor-alarms would go off more and more urgently. Occasionally, I would have some small burst of creation, but for the most part, songwriting / guitar playing have generally been at odds with me for a while now.

This has, very likely, contributed to the long musical droughts I have experienced over the years.

* * *

However, my philosophy on originality has changed.

I mentioned before that I had an epiphany the other night, which is this: I have been stunting my musical ability, technical skill, and creative palette by not learning how to play more songs.

As we learn to play various songs, we build our musical vocabulary: the individual notes – the musical alphabet – are there; we can use those letters to create words or phrases, and we can make them our own by accenting them in the way we choose. Furthermore, learning via songs gives those notes and phrases context, which helps us understand how they work within the music, with the added benefit of being fun (rather than just a pure exercise). As I was playing that night, I realized that I’ve limited my musical options by refusing to learn how to play a wide variety of songs, missing out on opportunities to expand my vocabulary. Building a working vocabulary simply gives me more tools to use in the creative process, just as the practice of reading and writing hones a person’s ability to learn, comprehend, and write.

I realized that, since I am not a savant who is destined to rediscover everything that has already been discovered on the guitar, it can’t hurt me to learn more of what’s already there. In some way, I think that I wanted to repeatedly experience the joy of discovery, but, while it was a well-intentioned ideal to hold myself to, in reality I slid so far into my own little hole on the guitar that I painted myself into a corner of ignorance – and, in turn, frustration. The cost has been great: I was stunting my language skills by not playing new things, or things that are uncomfortable or difficult to play – or even familiar things that I enjoy listening to or singing along with. While I have limited skill and am closer to middle age than to childhood, I can still learn a great deal from developing new skills and applying them in different ways as I try to create songs.

In retrospect, I think that what I’ve done to myself as a musician over the past couple of decades has shown a severe lack of trust in my own ability to use established musical language to create something new. I know now that the result was that the holy grail of originality – an ideal that I clung ferociously to, to my detriment – ended up inhibiting my songwriting process a great deal.

* * *

I need to not be afraid to learn how to play music of any style that I enjoy. Doing so will open up a world of possibilities by expanding my musical vocabulary, giving me (relatively) more mastery over the instrument and removing some of the barriers to creation that I’ve experienced.

Recently, I’ve begun to try to figure out the horn melody to “Godchild” by Miles Davis, from his classic 1949 album Birth Of The Cool (in the video above). While it’s currently not exactly the style of music that I would typically write, I’m also looking at expanding the boundaries of the kind of music I create (which in itself is a post for another day), and is also a song that I’ve enjoyed for a long time.

The important thing for me is to play, and to learn, with a “no rules” attitude as opposed to a restrictive code like I did for so many years. This is probably a many-layered concept that will hopefully reveal itself further as I continue my musical journey. For now, I’m simply happy to have broken the dam.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!

Chasing all that is new

I was going through some backlogged articles recently on NPR’s All Songs Considered when I came across this one, entitled The Good Listener: Is There Too Much Music? by Stephen Thompson. In it, a reader/listener asks:

How much is too much? I am a firm believer in quality over quantity, but I lose sleep at night fearing that I’m going to miss something. But am I really missing something bigger by not spending more time with less music?”

The gist of that question resonates with me because I used to be the person who routinely gobbled up bag-fulls of new music in the never-ending search for that next song or album that blows the mind. During the second half of the last decade, however, the frequency with which I purchased new albums generally declined – and over the past few years, what had slowed to a trickle has basically come to a halt.

* * *

My current hiatus from buying new music is largely due to lack of financial wherewithal. I was unemployed for a while (but have been back on the job for well over a year, thankfully), and as such, close to 100% of the music I’ve bought since then has been via iTunes, using credit that I had from some gift cards. Of course, I’ve been able to check out tracks on YouTube and other streaming services from time to time, but the last physical CD I picked up was Megadeth’s Endgame, and the last full album I “purchased” on iTunes was Lulu, which is unfortunate in some ways…

That doesn’t mean that I’ve been completely oblivious to new music. However, my attention to new sounds definitely waned as the money for new music dried up. As I struggled to find a new job, and met with loads of failure along that path, I withdrew on a personal level and battled depression for a long time, which didn’t help much with the discovery of new things. I stayed plugged into certain scenes, but over the past few years I’ve definitely become the type of person who mostly looks forward to new music from artists that he already enjoys.

Before I go down that road, though let’s look at my “path to middle-age” a little more directly…

  1. As a young adult, the desire for new and better sounds was insatiable. I acquired new music whenever I could. I also worked at a music retailer, which both fueled that desire and put the actual product right in front of me every day.
  2. After I left for a different niche in the retail world, I lost the “right in front of me” part. I still consumed music and looked for new sounds, but a little less voraciously so.
  3. A change in relationship (and, consequently, of the majority of my life environment), along with an increasing interest in video games, took some of that “more new music” space, both within me and with regard to my time budget.
  4. Once I had no job, the pocket money began to run out, and so, as I found myself less willing to spend money on music, I was also getting out of the habit of actively searching for it, in all the ways that that entails.
  5. As I became more depressed about my situation – feeling worthless and discouraged, and whatnot – that former eternal hunger for new music became more like a dying flame, in danger of flickering out.
  6. While I’m now employed again – and, consequently, in a much better place – I still don’t have the discretionary purchasing power to spend money on music – although I certainly would like to.

So that’s the look at what brought me to my current relationship with new music, on a micro/self level.

In the meantime, the music business/climate has changed immensely over the past several years – and so has the music itself. Several trends and styles have come and gone, and I’ve completely missed most of them. I’m generally fine with that.

There was a shift in my relationship with the new music that was being made – a lull, if you will – even before I stopped having money and time to spend on records. There was simply less music coming out that interested me. As the hipster thing (and I use that term very, very broadly) became more and more prevalent, I grew less and less interested in music being played/written about/talked about on WXPN (my local indie station) and other media. It seemed like, in the second half of the last decade, it became more difficult over time to find gems among the mass of music that was coming out. And so I began to unplug from most music and information outlets – not consciously or with purpose; it’s more like I just fell out of the habit of looking.

* * *

Over the past year or so, I’ve begun to more keenly feel the effects of getting older as well as all that I discussed above.

What am I looking forward to, when I do finally find myself with a little extra pocket change to use for some music? Well, I want to pick up the new Sebadoh album, Defend Yourself (“I Will” in the above video comes from that album). Down – Down IV – The Purple EP. Newsted – Heavy Metal Music. The latest albums by Queens Of The Stone Age, Testament, and Soundgarden. And that’s just a small sample of all of the rock/metal albums I’d like to acquire, without going into other genres. I could name so many more, but I won’t.

Anyway, Down and QOTSA were born in the early 1990s; Jason Newsted is the former Metallica/Voivod bassist; Testament, Soundgarden, and Sebadoh all started in the 1980s. Do you see a trend there? All artists that I’ve been listening to forever. New music, but not new artists.

Part of me wonders if that is wholly a bad thing – I think it isn’t. In particular, Newsted is something of an outlier, because even though he’s been around for almost 30 years, his new band/album represents his first real full-on push to make his own music readily available to any and every fan. Regardless, something binds each of these groups together: an established track record of quality, authenticity, and creativity.

Nevertheless, there is a big part of me – now that I am healthy again – that pines for those old days where I consumed new and diverse music like a hungry lion. Looking back at my former self, one of the things that I miss is that old hunger.

I can’t necessarily define why my formerly insatiable hunger for new and different has subsided to a point. Perhaps I’ve come to accept that it’s common sense that I won’t get to experience everything. I do know that in some ways, I enjoy looking for nuances more in the music I’ve listened to for a while, while in other ways I’ve come to enjoy the worthiness of a song for the song’s sake more than I used to.

Of course, not having the money to expand my collection has certainly put some walls around the extent of my reach. Whatever the reasons – changing as a person, being restricted financially, the changing of the musical and business climates over the years – my love of music isn’t diminished; it simply continues to evolve.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!

The micro-legacy of the murder of Dimebag Darrell, with respect to the relationship between Philip Anselmo and Vinnie Paul

December 8th, 2013

Nine years ago today, Dimebag Darrell Abbott, guitarist of Pantera, was shot and killed while playing a show with his band, Damageplan, at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio. His murderer will not be named in this article, because he doesn’t deserve to be named. In the words of Zakk Wylde, “end of story.”

In the years since this tragedy occurred, there have been several ongoing conversations regarding Dimebag’s life, death, and legacy. To my eyes, as someone who has steadfastly followed the metal press for almost two decades, the predominant themes have been as follows (in no particular order):

  1. Dimebag as a legendary musician/guitarist
  2. Who’s responsible for the breakup of Pantera – Phil, or Dimebag?
  3. The cold war between Phil Anselmo (vocalist) and Vinnie Paul Abbott (drummer) since Dimebag’s death
  4. Phil and Vinnie should reconcile
  5. Who would play guitar in a Pantera reunion?

There are other themes, but these have been the major recurring ones over the years.

In my opinion, numbers 2 and 5 are unimportant.

In the case of who caused the breakup of Pantera, the Abbott brothers blamed Anselmo, and Anselmo blamed Dimebag, and the rest doesn’t matter. It happened, and the players went their separate ways. It could be (and has been) argued in hindsight that the breakup led to Darrell’s death, but as far as I’m concerned, all bets are off when a psychopath is concerned.

As far as who would play guitar in a reunion, I think that the metal press (including everyone who brings up the subject in interviews with either party) has collectively done both fans and the musicians themselves a disservice by asking about it incessantly over the years. Vinnie Paul and Phil haven’t spoken since at least 2004, and Vinnie Paul has ignored or rebuffed all of Phil’s overtures toward reconciliation to date. Until that massive, painful wall is dismantled and the mutual relationship is rebuilt – which is nowhere near a given, by the way – any discussion of a reunion is about as moot as it could possibly be while the remaining band members are still alive.

Nevertheless, the questions persist, and every week your favorite metal music site (pick one) has a link to a video of someone asking Phil Anselmo about Vinnie Paul and the abyss between them. While it’s understandable that the interviewers themselves are largely fans of Pantera – and, to their credit, some interviewers don’t go beyond asking about the status of the relationship itself – as time passes and nothing develops, I find myself increasingly baffled at the lack of depth and imagination of the questions that are asked of Anselmo in 2013.

But this post isn’t just about content of the questions the metal media usually asks. That’s a subject for another day, perhaps. What I’d like to do today is bring us back down to a basic human level with respect to why such a gulf exists between Vinnie Paul and Phil.

* * *

Philip Anselmo has obviously come a long way over the past decade.

By the time Darrell was killed in 2004, Anselmo had been exchanging barbs with the Abbott brothers over the inactive status of Pantera for a couple of years. It was an ugly series of exchanges. Things started out cold, with the Abbott brothers answering questions about the band with statements along the lines of “We’re ready to go, we’re just waiting on Phil.” However, the public feud escalated, with the parties throwing out barbs about each other’s current bands, and culminated with the following words by Anselmo appearing in an interview that appeared in the December 2004 issue of Metal Hammer, which hit newsstands just a week before Darrell was killed (link is from Blabbermouth from 12/1/2004):

He would attack me, vocally. And just knowing that he was so much smaller than me I could kill him like a fuckin’ piece of vapor, you know, he would turn into vapor — his chin would, at least, if I fuckin’ smacked it. And he knows that. The world should know that. So physically, of course, he deserves to be beaten severely.”

[Emphasis mine, reflecting that this is the quote that everyone remembers, due to its being published shortly before Darrell’s death.]

At the time, Anselmo had been touring and recording with Down and Superjoint Ritual since Pantera’s European tour had broken down in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, and was constantly giving interviews for those bands. I remember reading those words at the time and thinking that things had gone far enough. No fan of a band wants to see its members embroiled in a nasty feud, and this had become quite nasty.

Of course, Dimebag Darrell was murdered seven days later. The general scene was captured by a camera on stage, and is available on YouTube. It is a harrowing video, and was shown on CNN in its news report. I watched it at the time, and I watched it again for the first time since then this weekend. The band (Damageplan) is playing a song called “Breathing New Life” when the murderer crosses the stage and shoots Darrell, fires several more rounds, and takes a hostage before a police officer kills the murderer with one shot.

In the ensuing days, as details came to light, the world mourned one of metal’s greatest guitarists and nicest people. Darrell’s murder affected hundreds of thousands of music fans around the world – not to mention his loved ones – and in the wake of the tragedy, bands, venues, and promoters began to rethink security at shows, and attitudes toward fans jumping on stage changed. But that’s the larger picture.

Shortly after Darrell was killed, Phil Anselmo released a rambling, emotion-filled video, in which he apologized for his actions and expressed deep regret over not having the chance to reconcile with Darrell before he died. At the end of the video, he hardened himself enough to place blame for the murder on the metal media before signing off and proclaiming that he was going into seclusion. Here’s the video:

As annoying as it was to hear him direct blame at the music media, it seemed to me that he was deflecting blame as a form of coping mechanism, as a way to defend himself – to himself, among others – in lieu of possibly imploding under the crushing weight of guilt. While Phil Anselmo did not kill Dimebag Darrell, he did make the statement above. Regardless of whether it had been off the record, or had made it into a publication, he had said those words, and he had to live with that fact.

At the time, I felt for his combined pain of loss and guilt about his actions. And he did indeed disappear for several months, and later he had surgery to alleviate a serious back problem, eventually resurfacing in 2006 to give word that Down was reactivating and to perform with Alice In Chains at a tribute to Layne Staley.

* * *

Over the years since all of this occurred, I’ve followed the career of Phil Anselmo and the “latest” on the Vinnie-Phil feud. In that time, Anselmo has done nothing but praise and honor Darrell. He has repeatedly extended olive branches to Vinnie Paul. He has learned how to manage the chronic pain in his back through therapy, along with daily stretching and strengthening. He has rebuilt the strength behind his ferocious voice, post-surgery. And he’s made more music, as always.

But most of all, he has seemed more human in public than ever before. He’s been clean for years, and over time, his conversations in interviews have shown increased maturity and lucidity. While he’s still a straight shooter, his answers are delivered more thoughtfully than they used to be. The death of his friend still weighs upon him, as does the silent treatment from Vinnie Paul, but he doesn’t kill himself with the guilt every day. He shares love and blesses people – and is blessed by them – rather than incessantly focusing on separating himself from those he doesn’t agree with through put-downs and the like. He’s still Phil Anselmo, but he’s a changed Phil Anselmo.

I found this video a couple of years ago on YouTube. It’s an interview with him at Loyola University, approximately 2006, where he talks about his drug use. It’s a remarkable video, and once you get past the nervous introduction, things get very real and down to earth. It’s worth watching the whole video at some point where you have an hour to spare.

* * *

By stripping away the edifice of commentary and internet speculation that has built up over the years about the feud with Vinnie Paul, we can see the basics of their non-relationship a bit more clearly.

Without doing so, and without thinking critically about these basics, it’s tempting to fall in line with a simplified solution; in this case, that solution is (to paraphrase The Internet), “C’mon, Vinnie… Phil’s a changed man. Get together, clear things up, and then maybe have a Pantera reunion!”

“Simple,” however, does not automatically equal “easy.” While we can’t possibly know exactly the maelstrom of emotions that Vinnie Paul Abbott has had to wrestle with and work through over the course of the past ten years, there are the facts of his brother’s murder, his ex-bandmate Anselmo’s violent rhetoric against his brother just before the murder, and a recent legacy of bad blood prior to that. When Darrell died, his loved ones – Phil Anselmo included – had to reckon with untold grief. They had to learn to live after (and live with) what had happened. For Anselmo, I’m sure it was a major reality check. For Abbott and his family and loved ones – again, including Anselmo – it was indescribable devastation. Over the years, both parties have learned to live, and grown as human beings, after the tragedy.

However, time does not always heal wounds. The saying says that it does, but the truth is that it does not always do so. And so, even after nine years have passed, that time hasn’t made Vinnie Paul interested enough in Phil Anselmo to reciprocate with an olive branch of his own.

* * *

Which brings us to a further point: these men, who were once a singular unit together, have dealt with Dimebag Darrell’s death in different ways. This is a natural thing, since they are different people with different personalities.

Phil has worn Darrell on his sleeve, giving him respect and love at every turn, and will likely do so as long as he lives. As the party that had the final public say on the Pantera issue prior to Darrell’s death – and who most people believe was in the wrong in that – Phil is petitioning (personally) for closure. His closest connection to Darrell is Darrell’s brother, and that person has extracted himself completely from Phil’s life.

On the other side, Vinnie has also loved and honored his brother. He has also moved on, and made more music. But he’s in a different situation. As the multiply-aggrieved brother, he has professed no interest in Phil’s overtures. And since Darrell is no longer with us, Pantera is, in Vinnie’s mind, also dead. While Phil has constantly sought closure and redemption, and has lived his life in that vein, Vinnie has coped in part by excising himself from anything relating to Pantera’s future, including any relationship with Phil. It’s one of the ways he can feel healthy in the absence of his brother. He moves on, honors his brother, spreads the word, and plays in Hellyeah, his post-Damageplan band of several years. He has apparently found that he is happiest without Phil Anselmo in his life, and so that’s how he lives his life.

This should not be surprising to people. Human beings respond to grief and anger in different ways. It’s obvious that Vinnie feels that he is in the best place to cope with the loss of his brother by handling the situation exactly the way he has. In effect, he has acted according to his nature.

There is no blanket solution to counter or “fix” this. It’s simply the way it has been, and is, with Vinnie Paul.

As such, to relegate Vinnie Paul’s unimaginable pain and his ongoing adjustment to the “just get back together already” wagon is to miss the facts. Fans are certainly interested in a Phil-Vinnie Reunion. So is Phil. However, Vinnie obviously isn’t. Until he cracks the window a bit and reaches out his hand in Phil’s direction – as a result of some combination of a softening (or change) of heart, the passage of time, encouragement from family and close friends, etc. – that door is closed, and Phil has said that he respects that.

There is no one-size-fits-all alternative in this case. And metal music journalists of all stripes – along with fans who think that the one-size-fits-all “easy” solution is immediate and viable – need to learn that fact.

* * *

In closing…

I’ve written a lot of words here, and yet I still feel that I’ve completely failed to adequately make my point. Since I’m not a professional writer, a psychologist, or a learned logician, this is akin to my best effort, given the amount of time I’ve been able to put into this post. I hope that it has made sense to you, my friends and fellow fans.

And please: if you are a fan – and especially, a fan who also considers himself/herself a metal journalist – please give the “Pantera Reunion” and “Phil/Vinnie Reunion” subjects a break. It’s only logical that, if there is a reconciliation, it will be news, and it will be announced by one or both camps. And if that would ever lead to a “Pantera reunion featuring Zakk Wylde on guitar” or something to that effect, rest assured that that would obviously be announced as well, as it would be huge news (and that’s an understatement if there ever was one!). Constantly asking about it won’t make it happen, or happen any faster.

Finally – to Darrell, if you’re listening somewhere up above: you are loved by more people than you could ever know, my friend. Meeting you in late 2003 was one of the highlights of my life, and you were even nicer to me than I could have ever imagined you’d be. You’re eternally a musical and personal inspiration, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet you and talk with you. I think about you every time I play guitar. Peace.

* * *

Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!

Remembering Lou Reed in light of Lulu…

As much as I’d like to think or say otherwise, I do not have my ear to the ground concerning everything that’s happening in music these days – what people are playing and where they’re playing it, what the new sounds are, who’s saying what about music, and so on.

However, for whatever reason, and in spite of various circumstances, I’ve managed to keep my ear to the ground within the heavy metal community for more than a decade. It’s a fairly easy thing to do: you find a heavy metal news source or two and follow them faithfully. For me, the constant has been, which is something of an aggregator of happenings in the world of hard rock and heavy metal. It’s not my only source, but the site has been a mainstay of mine since shortly after it came into existence over a decade ago.

As a result of my attention to the constant stream of information coming from Blabbermouth and similar sources, I’m familiar with the strongly negative response that Lou Reed’s 2011 collaboration with Metallica, Lulu, elicited from fans, critics, and peers. The album didn’t sell well, and was a difficult listening experience for most, including this listener.

I reviewed it in 2011, shortly after its release. At the time, I tried to review it as fairly as I could. This was a difficult task, in retrospect, for two reasons:

1) I’m a fan of Metallica.

2) I’m a fan of Lou Reed.

While those two factors could be dismissed as trivial, I believe that part of what made that album so difficult to review is the juxtaposition of Lou Reed and Metallica. And this is one thought that has been gnawing at me ever since I read that the the collaboration was to occur.

A) If I were a Metallica fan – particularly an “old Metallica” fan – and I didn’t know anything about Lou Reed or his music, I would probably hate it.

B) If I were a Lou Reed fan, with no prior knowledge of – or concern with – Metallica, I would likely either love the ballsiness of the album, hate the way it sounds, or simply accept it as a continuation of the familiar Lou Reed ethos: doing whatever one wants to do.

C) If I just happened to hear it with no prior experience with either musical entity, I would likely still find it a difficult listen.

The problem occurred when considering the first two scenarios – particularly the first, because Metallica is a heavy metal group, and so most fans of the band expect to hear heavy metal when they put on an album with the group’s name on it.

As a person reviewing the record back in 2011, I wanted to be open to both sides of the divide, but I found it very difficult to do so. Since I’m a fan of Metallica’s entire catalog, I was looking for… I don’t know: a super heavy album with Lou Reed speak-screaming over it? A more mellow (but heavy for) Lou Reed album with Metallica as the backing band? I’m not sure. The Metallica fan in me wanted to listen to it as a Metallica record, and the Lou Reed fan in me wanted a great Lou Reed record… and those two perspectives butted heads, creating a conundrum.

When I listened to it, I looked for the songs to touch me in some way, with their musical force, emotional depth, and/or beauty. Some of them – particularly “The View” and “Junior Dad” – did exactly that. Others failed to do so: most of the times that James Hetfield sang broke my attention to the songs, and sometimes Lou’s delivery grated against the music. I’m pretty certain that that was the point, which is fine, but as a listener there are certain experiences on the album that I don’t want to repeat. On the other hand, the songs that I did connect with I will always connect with.

Ultimately, what we got was just about what I had expected: a difficult listen with some bright moments where Metallica’s talents meshed well with Reed’s songs.

What we also got was a polarizing album that drew out the detractors en masse. Actually, detractors is just a nice word to use, considering the phenomenal amount of hatred that the album, along with Lou Reed and Metallica, received.

To many/most metal fans, it’s a joke. It’s “Metallica’s worst album, hands down.” It’s a “piece of shit.” “James is the table” is only the most recognizable of the many derogatory memes that the album spawned, and that one came from its strongest song and introductory single, “The View,” almost two months before the album was released. For many fans, it was the nail in the coffin of the career of a band that had been going downhill since somewhere between 1988 and 2003, depending on when fans determined the band had jumped the shark. It was proof that Metallica had nothing left in the tank.

In reality, it was a project. It was the fulfillment of the shared desires of both Reed and Metallica, to collaborate. As Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick put it:

Another way to view Lulu is the type of album that very few musical acts get to do: the 1% or less who reach that highest level, commercially and financially. These albums can only be done by acts who maintain their own creative control and feel the artistic impulses to challenge the very system that put them where they are. (…)

As part of the other 99% – far from wealthy, but grateful to have carved out a comfortable living based solely on playing and composing – I honestly don’t know what it’s like to be in that kind of top-tier position. I can only imagine the artistic inclinations I might feel if I were. So it feels only fair to withhold judgement as a musician and place Lulu in a proper historical context, with other iconic artists who have thrown their fans for a loop. (…)

Think about it: Lou Reed and the world’s biggest heavy metal band get together, bond over German Impressionism, create an almost-unlistenable album and release it to the world? If that’s not art, I don’t know what is.

As I’ve read comments and commentary over the course of the two years since its release, I’ve consistently found myself wondering what people were expecting. Did they think it was going to be Master Of Puppets-like music with Reed singing over it? Load-like with Reed singing over it? I just can’t identify with the idea that people were expecting something like either of those things, or anything related. And, to be honest, my least favorite parts of the album were the songs in the middle (and the opener) that sounded like Metallica playing Lou Reed songs in the style of Metallica, along with the songs that sounded like Lou Reed singing over Metallica’s discarded riff collection. The best parts of the album were the ones where the two entities met somewhere in the middle (“The View”) or went much closer to Reed’s side of the fence (“Junior Dad,” “Little Dog,” etc.).

In my review at the time, I said that Lulu is not a metal album. By that, I mean that it shouldn’t be approached as, or expected to be, the average listener’s conception of what metal is or sounds like. As such, I still shake my head when I read most of what writers and commenters have to say about it.

Lulu turned out to be Lou Reed’s final release before his death. Some people are saying that it’s a shame that it was, and that he went out on a low note. I prefer to think otherwise. I believe that it was exactly what he said it was at the time: a dream come true. He was very happy with the album. To deny that, or to think otherwise, is to not have an understanding of who Reed was: a man who chose his own path, a tireless experimenter who loved writing and making new music and rearranging his old songs. Lou was a person who made a large number of disparate-sounding records throughout his career, with the people he chose to play with. And while, as an artist, he was always looking toward his next project – records, tours, different bands, other media – he got to work with Metallica at the end of his life, and I think he cherished that opportunity, experience, and result. He wasn’t a man to regret his decisions.

In looking through the thousands of blog posts about Lou Reed’s death over the past couple of days, it’s fun to see which songs people reference or link to remember him by. The most popular seem to be “Pale Blue Eyes” and “Walk On The Wild Side,” although I’ve seen references to virtually every era, from The Velvet Underground to Transformer, Berlin to Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, Metal Machine Music to Street Hassle, Blue Mask to Magic And Loss, Set The Twilight Reeling to Ecstasy to, yes, even Lulu. It’s safe to say, from these tributes, that the vast majority of Reed’s fans will remember the breadth of his work over the decades, rather than one album that certain people love to hate.

And Metallica will be fine.

* * *

Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!

Frustration: a review of Lou Reed & Metallica’s ‘Lulu’

Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu

When Metallica and Lou Reed announced that they had come together to collaborate on an album of songs, I was excited.  I was interested to hear what they might come up with – and, truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  However, given that Metallica were collaborating with Lou Reed, I assumed that there might be some weirder tracks and some simple song structures, but some tunefulness as well.

In September, “The View” was released as a single from the album, and I wrote about it here (you can also hear the unedited song on that post).  At that point, knowing Metallica’s penchant for not even coming close to releasing the strongest songs from their new albums as first singles over the past several years, I felt that if “The View” was representative of the potential of the album, it had a chance to be a better album than I had originally hoped.

Man, what a convoluted sentence that was.  But that in itself is indicative of how I feel after listening to Lulu, letting it sit, and listening to it again in parts over the past several weeks (it released in North America on November 1st).

James is the table – “The View” video:

Preliminary thoughts

As it turns out, “The View” is absolutely the strongest song on the album.  When it was released for download in September, it received mixed reviews (to put it kindly).  I thought that it had a nice combination of riffs, the lyrics weren’t bad – they sounded to me like like something Lou would write, and I’m thinking in particular of his lyrics on Magic and Loss (1992) – and Lou sounded both demanding and vulnerable while James’ vocal delivery was quite strong in the choruses.

I didn’t actually pick up the album until the second weekend in November, which is when I began to have access to my computer again.  I had committed myself to buying it, even though I was not terribly confident that it would be any good (and I did have a little trouble actually pulling the trigger).  And I don’t regret buying it – I’m glad to have experienced it.  That said, it is going to be difficult for me to willingly listen to most of it from here on out.

Metal fans: this is not a metal album.  It’s not even a Lou Reed album, and it’s certainly not a Metallica album.  It’s an experiment, an exploration, an exercise in artistic expression.  It’s a group of artists, who admire and respect one another, getting together to experience a creative climate that is foreign to each of them.  The results are not necessarily intended to be great in anyone’s minds but those of their creators.  The joy and satisfaction comes in the exercise, the process of creation.  I have a lot of respect for that type of experience.  Perhaps it has made each of the participants better musicians in some way.  But this is not an album of solid rock or metal song structures, standard aggressive lyrics, and so on – it’s explicit: the lyrics and sounds are uncomfortable to digest through much of the album, to varying degrees of effectiveness.

However, this is – truly – not a main work for either of these entities.  Lou Reed has always marched to his own beat, and there are elements of his other work in this album: the occasional dirge or droning, 18-minute song (a la “Sister Ray” or “Like A Possum”); the rapid-fire phrases that don’t necessarily rhyme or match the music in any discernable way; the lyrics that don’t shy away from sexual, violent, or taboo topics and word choices; singing vulgar lyrics from the point of view of a woman; etc. There are a couple of songs on this album that I am pretty certain would make decent Lou Reed (with his band) songs, and, indeed, I wish there were a version of this album available that consisted solely of Lou’s own recordings of the tunes, whether they be the demos that he sent to Metallica originally or some finished product with his longtime mates Mike Rathke (guitar), Fernando Saunders (fretless bass) and Tony “Thunder” Smith (drums).  I’m almost 100% certain that I would ultimately prefer either of those options to this recording.

The songs

There are moments that I enjoy on Lulu.  “The View”, as mentioned above and in my earlier post, is the first.  The second is the main section of the closing track, “Junior Dad.”  The nineteen-plus minute album-closer doesn’t really get started until 55 seconds in, and is little more than a droning wash of sound after the 10:45 mark.  However, for more than nine minutes, I enjoy the song.  Without digging too deeply, the lyrics read like a prayer to a long-lost deadbeat failure of a father, but to me they ring a bit more universally than that particular relationship.  The musical accompaniment is a slow, gently distorted bed of coals under Lou’s singing (yes, he basically sings the whole song…), and provides a perfect complement to the subject matter.

Finally, there is track nine, entitled “Dragon”.  Clocking in at more than eleven minutes, the song starts with Lou talking over ambient droning and washes of distorted guitar before picking up at 2:45 or so with a pretty cool riff that nevertheless sounds like a segue to the end of a good mid-paced hard rock tune – for the next nine minutes. Ultimately, this song works better than the majority of Lulu‘s tracks – the pace and the character of the riffs work well with Reed’s vocal delivery.

To my taste, these three are without question the best songs on the album.  There are other moments that I like – the drumming in parts of the ambient spaces in “Pumping Blood”; a couple of the riffs in “Frustration”; and so on – but in general, there are many moments that fall way below even the “artistic” scale…

Opening the record is “Brandenburg Gate”, which is the type of track that I would skip on a Lou Reed album.  It is a boring, forgettable album opener.  After “The View”, “Pumping Blood” rips for a couple of minutes and then dies away into noise and drone, rising and falling while Lou rants on and on about pumping blood – it’s supposed to be macabre, I guess, but it eventually just kind of grows annoying to me.

The middle of the album is, to me, a solid block of music that is virtually unlistenable for various reasons.  “Mistress Dread” is more than six minutes of Metallica basically alternating between two fairly simple thrash riffs that are played at breakneck, “Hell Awaits” or “Rise”-ish speed – for over six minutes – while Lou talks/croons very slowly. For more than six minutes.  Did I mention that?  It’s kind of bizarre, and awkward to listen to.  I can’t listen to it straight through, to be honest.  Then we come to two songs, “Iced Honey” and “Cheat On Me”, that I think I would prefer to hear as Lou Reed solo band tracks.  In these, as well as in the previously mentioned “Brandenburg Gate”, I really, really wish that James Hetfield hadn’t added vocals (“ICED HUNNEEE!!”; “Small Town GIRRRRLLL!” in the first track; etc.) – to my ears, they bring globs of cheese factor to songs that already don’t work well with Metallica.  In general, this three-song block is an automatic skip for me, from this point forward.

“Frustration”, the title of this post, has some interesting lyrics at the beginning before falling in quality as the song progresses.  The first riff under the vocals basically copies the main lick that dominates “Iced Honey”, a I-to-minorIV repetitive lick that is ultimately lackluster – I’m sad to see that this riff was used in one song repetitively, but to see it twice is unfortunate.  Then again, Lou is known to reuse riffs and even whole songs on the same album (here again I’m thinking of Magic and Loss), so it’s not surprising.  The initial heavy riff is pretty cool, and when they play it later in the song it has some good energy.  However, this isn’t one of my favorites on the album.  A couple of competent riffs do not make a good song.

“Little Dog” is something of a departure from the rest of the album in that it’s the quietest track, with the main licks being played on a down-tuned acoustic with distorted guitars adding color.  It’s not a bad song, and I would listen to it again, but it’s not a strong song either.

The summation

And that’s the album. Ten songs, 87 minutes.  I would listen to “The View”, “Junior Dad”, “Dragon”, and “Little Dog” again.  And maybe “Frustration” and even “Pumping Blood” once in a great while, but those would likely be very rare occasions.  On the other hand, “Brandenburg Gate,”  “Mistress Dread”, “Iced Honey”, and “Cheat On Me” are all songs that I will never listen to again – there is virtually nothing that appeals to me about them, artistically or sonically, while in my opinion the other six tunes have interesting qualities that will bring me back to them to varying degrees.

Final thoughts

As I said above, this is not a typical album for either of these artists.  While I’m murkier about whether Lou Reed considers it his next project – he’s worked with so many people that it feels less like a side project in his case – this is definitely not a Metallica album.  I came into it expecting little, hoping for much, and in the end having a listening experience that brought moments of inspiration, but more moments of frustration and disappointment.  It reminds me of when I listened to Reed’s The Raven (2003), because whenever either of these artists releases an album, I hope to be challenged and inspired, but ultimately I want to like the work.

Unfortunately, while the lyrics have a certain cohesiveness – and they should, since they were written for use with a play – the music is disjointed stylistically; the atmospherics get tiresome; some of the riffs are beyond stagnant; the drumming ranges from effective to extremely poor; James’ vocals are sometimes appropriate and strong (“The View”) but usually weak and cheesy (the rest of the songs that he sings on); Lou sometimes overloads my brain with his haranguing raps, while on other occasions (“Mistress Dread”) his vocals are so deliberate that he makes me feel like I am listening to the song while I’m extremely hungover.

It’s not a metal album, and it’s not really a rock album.  It’s a work of sonic art.  It is vaguely related to Metallica’s music, as well as Reed’s sonic experimentations (particularly from the past ten years), but it’s certainly not the best of either artist.  And that doesn’t mean that it’s easy or fun to listen to, or that it’s good.  I’m truly glad that they made this album – because I like when artists experiment and take themselves out of their comfort zones – and I’m glad that I got a chance to hear it.  But I don’t really enjoy listening to it like I had hoped I would.

As far as grading it… I have a hard time putting numbers, letters, thumbs, stars, or anything else to music.  I have seen thumbs downs, half-stars, 1.5 stars out of five, 1.5 stars out of four, threes or fours out of ten, and so on. According to Metacritic, the album has an aggregate score of 41/100 as of today.  Kerrang gave it a 60/100, and Uncut gave it an 80.  The Buffalo News gave the 1.5/4 stars that I saw, while Blabbermouth gave it a 3/10 and its readers have given it less.

There are many different perspectives on the album, but I don’t know that I’m willing to embrace anyone else’s.  I stated my own opinions on the subject in the previous paragraphs, and stand by their validity.  Grading this is more difficult because it’s a collaboration, a side project, or whatever one wants to call it.  It’s likely a one-time thing, and as such is an aberration in their respective careers, particularly in the case of Metallica.

That said, I like parts of it.  I don’t really like the whole of it.  It disappoints me, frustrates me, but I do enjoy certain moments.  However, if you are expecting Metallica’s Death Magnetic 2, Lou Reed’s New York 2, or anything anywhere close to a combination of them, don’t – just don’t even waste your money or time – because you’ll be way more disappointed or outraged than I could ever be about this record.

* * *

And now, it’s time to listen to something else for a while.  ^.^

Post Script

For an excellent, well-written take on the album from one of Metallica’s peers, check out Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick’s review and his perspective on the validity of the project.  I was very glad to read this – it’s more mature and level-headed than just about anything else I’ve read about the record.