Motorbreathless

Metallica were the gateway band for me. My older brother and his bad influence ways pushed Master of Puppets on me like some greasy punk passing me my first joint in the middle school basketball courts. We drove on US 33 on our way to the mall one hot summer afternoon and he pushed a cassette into the tape deck of his 1977 Cutlass Supreme. What hit my ears was an onslaught of power chords, double kick bass drum, and a howling James Hetfield singing “Master! Master! Where’s the dreams that I’ve been after/Master! Master! You promised only lies!” It was one of those eureka moments for my 13-year old self which led to a leap into the world of thrash/speed metal. For my birthday that year I was given a Ride The Lightning songbook, which helped me learn “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Trapped Under Ice”, and “Fade To Black”.

My brother bought me that book, natch.

From that point on I was a Metalli-nerd(it was a small group of just me, the neighbor kid that wasn’t allowed to listen to Metallica for Tipper Gore reasons, and my dog Klaus.) …And Justice For All was in my possession the day it came out in August of 1988. I was 14-years old and heading into my freshman year of high school. I was awkward and stocky with a weak mullet and wore too many button up striped shirts that were purchased at JC Penney. But I could half ass play “Eruption” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” and in my head I thought it was gonna be my year. Turned out it was just another “meh” school year, with the exception of seeing Child’s Play on my 15th birthday with two pals, snagging a pretty cool Megadeth t-shirt at some point, and my uncle gifting me a 70s DOD flanger pedal. Oh, and Metallica premiered their first video ever with “One”. Stayed at a friend’s house on a Saturday night so I could see the premiere on Headbanger’s Ball since my parent’s didn’t want to pay for cable.

I stuck with Metallica clear through high school. Metallica was the soundtrack to my senior year, along with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger. I gotta say, though, after “The Black Album” I felt the guys got a little too complacent. Load, a song on the MI:2 soundtrack, Bob Segar covers, and short, gelled hair styles? “Metal up your ass” turned into something far less violent or deviant. Soccer moms were singing along to “Enter Sandman” and “Fuel”. I’m not dissing this San Bernadino Godfathers of speed metal for making bank, but by the mid to late 90s Metallica were dabbling in arty rock and southern rock and I just couldn’t board that train with ’em. In 2003, when everyone turned against Metallica for St. Anger I sort of dug that record. Where most folks seemed to think it was middle-aged men trying to fit in with the kids they influenced I saw it as a band attempting to have fun being a band again. Taking risks(that snare sound, anyone?) and getting out of their comfort zone. I felt that, but the doc Some Kind Of Monster confirmed it to me. Whiny rock stars? Nah, they’re just human like you and me. Foibles and all, man.

So where am I going with all of this? Well I started going back to the old albums and I’d realized that I never really got into Kill Em All. I knew most of the songs, but never really dug into that record. I sort of bypassed that initial debut and went right for Master of Puppets. Last year Metallica started re-releasing their albums in remastered form, done from the original master tapes. The first two releases were Kill Em All and Ride The Lightning. Of course I bought them.

They sound amazing, but the big surprise was how much I love Kill Em All. For some reason I always just figured it was more of a hard rock album. It never came across as speed metal to me. Well I hadn’t hit the right songs. “Motorbreath”, “Phantom Lord”, and “Metal Militia” are as thrash and speed as they come. “Hit The Lights”, “Whiplash”, and “Seek and Destroy” are classic metal tunes. “The Four Horsemen” has a breakdown in it that sounds like Peace Sells-era Megadeth, like something off “Wake Up Dead”(I’m wondering if Mustaine was still in the band when that one was written.) “Jump In The Fire” is catchy as hell, but sounds nothing like Nilsson. There’s even a pretty killer instrumental highlighting the late great Cliff Burton’s bass playing called “Anesthesia(Pulling Teeth)”. This record actually seems like the perfect place for Metallica to being their trek into “Metaldom”.

What this album really sounds like is four barely drinking age California buds getting buzzed in the garage and making their own brand of NWOBHM tuneage. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Venom, Diamond Head, and Black Sabbath all play a part in molding the sound of Metallica, and Kill Em All is their first foray into the world that made them what they are today. I now realize Kill Em All is one of the most important metal records of the 80s. Ride The Lightning was when the speed came into prominence for the band, but Kill Em All was their street record. This was the ball bat and bike chains record. Street level tunes, man. There would be no Master or Justice without Kill Em All.

My son now requests “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Not because he heard me spinning it, but because of its use in an excellent indie horror movie we watched called The Devil’s Candy.  But now that I mentioned that “The Four Horsemen” was used in X-Men: Apocalypse, he’s now asking to hear Kill Em All.

I guess I’ve become the bad influence now. My older brother would be proud.

 

 

 

 

The Need For Speed

Year’s ’94 and my trunk is raw
In my rear view mirror is the motherfucking law – Shawn Carter

Okay, actually the year wasn’t ’94, it was ’88. 1988 to be exact. It was the last day of my 8th grade year and my mom picked me up from school. We only went a half day on that last day of middle school and I was ready to give a triumphant middle finger to academia and be done with it altogether(at least for the two months summer break lasted.) But seeing that my mom was in the car driving she’d probably smack me in the head if I’d a given my middle school the middle finger so I settled on a mumbled “Up yours” under my breath as we drove away.

From the school we stopped and got some lunch, then headed to Dunlap, Indiana. Dunlap is a small “town” that resides on Highway 33 in between Goshen, In and Elkhart, In. We were heading to Dunlap because my unlce Mark lived there. Mark is my mom’s youngest brother and sibling. He was a major influence on me to wanting to play guitar, write songs, and get into recording. Mark was just a hugely fun and loving uncle that was down with listening to Boston at top volume, play NES games, and eat fast food for days. For a 14-year old he might has well have been Buddha(I’ll post more about Mark at a later date.) Anyways, my aunt and little cousin were going to Florida for the week to see her brother graduate high school so Mark invited me to come over and hang out for the week.

Of course I said hell yes.

The first night Mark and I headed into the video store to rent some movies. When we got back it was dark out and as we got a movie ready to watch at his place we heard knocking on the back door. Neither of us had any idea who or what it was. So we sneak over to the door and Mark slowly opens it and I hear a “AHHHHH!!!” Mark starts laughing. It’s my older brother. He mustv’e gotten time off from work and came over to my uncle’s as well. Turns out my dad wasn’t good with the idea of me hanging out at my uncle’s trailer all day by myself while my uncle was at work, so my mom and dad asked my brother if he’d go over as well. At first I was a little peeved about it, but that soon dissipated. So for the week it would be the three of us hanging out.

Turns out that was best thing that could’ve happened, my brother showing up.

My uncle was one of the few people we knew that had an NES and we abused that thing with vigor. Mario, Kid Icarus, and a flying game called 1942. My brother was convinced he was going to beat this game, so one night after Mark went to bed we started playing 1942. Once we got to the 2am mark I was done, but my brother kept going. I struggled to keep my eyes opened, so I made a bologna and ketchup sandwich. That helped for a little but soon enough I was out like a light. I can remember waking up and seeing daylight begin to appear in the living room and my brother still flying his bomber over the Pacific. I honestly can’t remember if he beat it or not. It was the journey that mattered.

Mark had also picked up a new NES game. One he’d read about and heard it was supposed to be pretty great. It was called Castlevania and this little game from Konami turned out to be a juggernaut. To this day it’s still the only game I’ve ever truly obsessed over. I’d never consider myself a big video game player. I like simple stuff, not asking for clues from trolls and secret punching techniques. I like running, jumping, shooting, stabbing, and coin bags appearing out of whipped candlesticks. That’s my thing. But Castlevania had it all. It even had a game flaw that after a certain amount of playing it would freeze up, usually at the Grim Reaper level, which was the second to last level. This happened on so many occasions. So many pained, angered, and furious occasions. Still, I kept at it.

Here’s the thing, all of this leads up to one vital moment in my early teen years. The moment when my brother introduced me to speed metal. This was the week in my life when I first heard speed metal. One morning my brother and I got in his car and we headed to the Concord Mall. It was one of the few big indoor malls we’d go to and shop as a family. Besides JC Penney, Montgomery Ward, and a Walden Books, it had two record stores. The first was the chain store Musicland. The other was the locally-owned Super Sounds. Super Sounds was where you went when you wanted the hard-to-find stuff. The stuff you heard about in magazines but couldn’t find anywhere. That morning my brother was on a mission for something special. Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I’d never heard them before, but was intrigued. Honestly, I was cool with Ace Frehley’s Frehley’s Comet that Chris had playing in the car, but whatever. We found Master of Puppets and were on our way back to the trailer for more bologna and NES. He put the cassette in the player for our short ride back and I was astounded by what I’d heard. I’d heard the phrase metal for years, and even thought I knew what it was, but this was something completely different. This was speed, anger, intensity; this was war and death put to tape. This was the beginning of the end for those hair metal years I’d been lingering in since I’d turned 10 and had bought Ratt Out of the Cellar.

From that point on everything changed. Sure, there were a few setbacks. Whitesnake, Kingdom Come, Van Halen’s OU812, and of course Cinderella’s Long Cold Winter; but for the most part I’d moved on into heavier territory. Master of Puppets led to Ride The Lightning, Kill ‘Em All, and eventually And Justice For All; Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying and So Far, So Good, So What. Those led me to Slayer’s Reign In Blood, South of Heaven, and Seasons In The Abyss; then Overkill’s Fuck You and Death Angel’s Act III. Then of course there was Anthrax. Spreading The Disease, Among The Living, State of Euphoria, and then Persistence of Time. Anthrax, out of all the other speed metal bands, seemed to not only be ferocious players(and had one of speed metal’s best drummers, Charlie Benante), but they had a sense of humor about them. Plus, lyrically they tried writing about more than just death, drugs, Satan,….and death. Sure they were dark in their songs, but they pulled from comics, science fiction, books, and movies that were cool. Stephen King’s Misery, Blue Velvet, and Judge Dredd were just a few of the many interesting subjects that colored Anthrax’ songs. Hell, their album cover for Persistence of Time was heavily influenced by Salvadore Dali’s painting ‘Persistence of Memory’. You didn’t find that kind of stuff in most speed metal at the time.

So that week at my uncle’s place was a pretty important moment in my formative years. We got to hang out with our favorite uncle, watch Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, eat tons of bologna, play ample amounts of NES, stay up till dawn, and I discovered the wonder of speed metal. My brother even left early that week as he got the chance to see Megadeth at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Plus, I even got to go into an actual music studio and watch my uncle Mark and uncle John record some songs together. Pretty cool.

I’ve recently gotten on a speed metal nostalgia trip. I picked up And Justice For All on vinyl a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday I bought Anthrax’ Among The Living and State of Euphoria on vinyl off of Discogs. I shouldn’t be as excited as I am, but dammit I can’t wait to bang my head to “Caught In A Mosh” as my kids stare in fear at me. I’m setting up future generations for speed metal love.

JH, 2015.

 

 

 

Talking to you is like clapping with one hand – Anthrax