Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time for Some Metal Storytelling

I came over this piece where Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth and Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater tell the story of how each of them got into Metallica. Quite interesting, I'm closer to Akerfeldt's experience, me too I was first attracted by Metallica after having listened songs from "Master of Puppets" and "Ride the Lighting" - on a poorly recorded tape of a live concert - but it was "...And Justice for All" that dragged me into the whole Metallica thing. Only later I truly abused my cassette player with "Ride the Lightning" and afterwards with "Kill'em All" and "Master of Puppets".

Therefore allow me to indulge in some memory backtracking about how I got into Metallica. I was about 12 or 13 years old and just coming out of a long period of Depeche Mode after a short period of Roxette:) Yes, this Metalhead was into that kind of stuff in his early childhood and still loves some old school Depeche Mode, not so Metal, but it definitely grabbed me irreversibly:) We had an excellent music teacher in our school that really made me love classical music and most importantly taught us to seek the story behind the music; a music so rich and diverse in sounds that it actually filled the whole listening space. And what I remember very well from that age were the live performances of our town's philharmonic orchestra of Brahms, Beethoven and Stravinsky. Sadly I'm much less into classical music now than at that time, but one day I'll fill the gap. So the story goes that one day I went alone to buy my first Metal tape - which was a huge thing back then - and since Metallica was all I knew about Metal I went for "... And Justice for All", the only one from the band that was on sale. I had a very nice Walkman back then so I put it to good use on my first walk with Metallica banging in my ears. And then it struck me : that incredible sound filled the whole listening space just like Beethoven and Brahms did, except it was faster but still complex enough, had highly appealing lyrics and gave me power like no other music I heard before. It wasn't a question of aggressiveness or rebelliousness - I wasn't that kind of a child - it simply was that fuckin' huge sound the size of a symphony coming from the hands of four guys playing straightforward Metal.

Now I'm asking myself about "Master of Puppets" being "Metal's quintessential masterpiece", what Mike Portnoy calls it. I've seen other people calling it a perfect album, some kind of a peak in Metal music which has never been reached since. The thing is I don't exactly know what a quintessential masterpiece means, how it can be defined. The best definition I can come with is a standard by which one judges the quality of the music he listens to from that moment on, but this is also quite weak and confusing. First of all it's highly subjective, therefore everyone has it's own standard and I bet that in the Metal world "Master of Puppets" is far from making the unanimity of a standard, just try asking people about Black Sabbath, Dio, Motörhead, Napalm Death, Slayer or Iron Maiden and suddenly things get much more complicated. Second, Metal is so diverse that "Master of Puppets" would make a very poor standard, how the heck one can compare it to "Symbolic" from Death or "Focus" from Cynic, they are both masterpieces and standards in Death Metal respectively Progressive (Death) Metal. Symbolic is THE album through which I judge much of the Death Metal I listen, but even in this particular niche I wouldn't dare compare it to Cryptopsy's "None So Vile", it simply is something else. Third, standards change over time, just check out the influences of the new Metal bands, how these evolved from the 80's until now, Metallica is loosing ground, all the bands from the 80's are losing ground, Metal musicians our days grew up with Napalm Death, Slayer or Blind Guardian. Nevertheless it is a masterpiece, but not THE masterpiece of Metal, that's absurd. One cannot look at Metal and single out "Master of Puppets" as the ultimate, most accomplished, the greatest Metal album ever, it's simply pretentiously stupid or just a subjective opinion not worth of much attention.