Metallica, Enter Sandman (July 1991) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 21

And so we come to the 21st and penultimate part of this series. Having written about five songs from 1980, I’m now skipping over the next eleven years because … meh. I’m sure people will point out all the wonderful and important stuff that I’ve missed in that period, but to me it mostly feels like a decade of the same bands doing the same stuff, and other bands coming along and doing the same as they were doing.

Ah, but then there was thrash metal.

Metallica’s first album, Kill ‘Em All, came out right back in 1983, so perhaps I should have picked one of the songs from then. But since nothing else that I care about happened in metal between then and 1991, I thought I might as well pick a Metallica song that I actually like (and not only because of Pat Boone’s cover version).

Metallica, along with Megadeth and a couple of others, pioneered the subgenre known initially as speed metal and subsequently as thrash metal. As always, genre definitions are extremely fluid, but it’s perhaps easiest to think of in these terms: thrash is to regular metal as metal is to hard rock. It’s yet faster; yet harder; the guitars are yet more distorted; the vocals are yet more screamed/snarled, and correspondingly less sung.

All of which makes Enter Sandman an even less appropriate choice, as it progresses at a more Black Sabbath-like tempo and provides plenty of sonic space rather than the more densely packed sound that characterises much of Metallica’s work.

If you feel all this suggests I don’t actually like Metallica much, and that I’ve chosen an unrepresentative song because it more closely resembles styles that I do like, well, I won’t disagree with you. To my mind, the hard rock → heavy metal → thrash metal escalation is a self-defeating spiral that ends up with nowhere to go. The further evolution of thrash into death metal and black metal represents the reductio ad absurdum of a genre with nowhere left to go but self-parody and turgid, lifeless noise. Technically brilliant, but utterly pointless. The contrast between this kind of charmless mechanical grinding and the unique sound of (say) Motörhead could scarcely be more striking. And get off my damn lawn.

If you want to know what Metallica usually sound like, I guess you ought to listen to Master of Puppets instead. I’ll be over here listening through the entire Blue Öyster Cult catalogue.

And so we approach the final installment of our journey through heavy metal in a rather sour mood. Has the genre eaten itself? Is it doomed to become ever faster and more distorted until all that’s left is a ringing in the ears? Or will we be able to finish with something truly wonderful?

30 responses to “Metallica, Enter Sandman (July 1991) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 21

  1. Ooh, flamebait!

    Actually, I’ll heroically resist most of the provocations in this article :) But I just can’t let pass the implication that metal was “a genre with nowhere left to go” at the start of the 90s. This couldn’t possibility be more wrong, if there was one wonderful thing about metal in the 90s (especially in europe) it was the way the genre exploded in every conceivable direction. Everything running the gamut from melodic to extreme, from the radio-friendly to the weird and niche. Fusions with all sorts of genres old and new. If you can think of it, there was probably a metal band trying it.

  2. Hi, Pedro, thanks for chipping in. I honestly didn’t intend anything I wrote as flamebait — just as an honest sketch of how I feel about nearly all 1990s metal. But one of the things I’ve been hoping this series will do is educate me. If you want to tell me about a few specific bands that I should listen to, representing different genres, please do! (Better still, if you have your own blog: write parts 23 onwards of this series. Let me know, and I’ll link to them.)

  3. I agree with Pedro about metal in the 90s. To me the 70s and 80s were the desert. (Exceptions-that-prove-the-rule in Motorhead and ACDC.) I never liked the ‘big four’ of thrash, and thought Metallica were one of the worst of them. But other stuff in the 90s…

    If you are all very good I may do a series of my own on how metal crossbred with hardcore punk. But don’t let that stop Pedro doing something himself!

  4. I think you missed one, and a big one at that. In my mind, if Zeppelin, and the Beatles and The Who can be listed on the Heavy Metal timeline, then the timeline must IMHO include Guns N’ Roses.

    I think the entry would be (Oct 1987) Welcome to the Jungle. This was the song I was thinking of when I was talking about the difference between Hard Rock and Metal. Its edgier and more driving than say Sweet Child o’ Mine, which I would only classify as hard rock.

    But for your list if there’s one (only one?) eighties band you missed on this list its GNR.

  5. Now that the list is in the 90’s I think you’re nearly to the point where grunge arose. I personally think grunge was a response to the fact that metal had edged more an more towards being thrash only, and hard rock was getting way too “poppy”. Grunge represented the “middle path”. That said, I don’t believe that Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soungarden, or Stone Temple Pilots merit a place on the list since grunge (even stadium grunge like STP) has always held itself art arms length from Heavy Metal.

  6. Jason has a point: the 90’s kind of (from my viewpoint) provided a lull in the progression of metal. However, the ensuing genres were far from “Technically brilliant, but utterly pointless.”. Perhaps not to your taste, but that’s OK.
    So in the spirit of sharing and educatiion, let’s resume this post-2000 (and I’m taking a wild assumption that this, being your penultimate post on the matter, won’t go there).
    There are some acts of sheer brilliance from Opeth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opeth) (and they have a wide range, even divulging into a more 70’s prog-rock style from their last two albums), but you only have to listen to 1996’s “Black Rose Immortal” or 1998’s “April Ethereal” or “Demon of the Fall” for a glimpse at their brilliance, dawning in the 90’s (heck even go back to the Orchid album for an earlier glimpse) to realise that the slogan “metal is dead” should be quickly followed by “long live metal!”.
    Not to mention the long journey of Korn…
    And there is a resurgence of metal (thank goodness) in bands like Mazaru (ok, one album and then they split, but really, one album is amazing), Ne Obliviscarus, who are about to release #2, Tessaract, if you’re looking for some super-complex mathy metal, Dethklok who honestly started out as a spoof/joke for a TV show and then just happened to take the metal world by the short and curlies… And, of course, Dimmu Borgir, who have a status close to legendary. Now, not all of Dimmu may be your cup ‘o tea, but give the album “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” a listen from front to back — it’s the album I use to get out of randomness and into focused programming, and it works, partly because of the intro and partly because of the rest of it. The track Puritania is almost guaranteed to please. “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” from the later “Death Cult Armageddon” is also quite masterful and albums from “In Sorte Diaboli” and later are great back-to-back, showing creativity, range, interesting use of instruments and voice.
    And there’s Marylin Manson. An odd banana he may be and he’d probably not ascribe his work to the genre of metal, but I’d be hard-pressed to not associate it. Again, may not be your particular receptical of stewed leaves where the leaves have been chucked out, but musical genious? Yes. Metal? I think so.
    Take a moment to listen to some of the later stuff — I know it can be difficult for all of us to step outside of what we’re used to, but let me tell you, I’ve listened to (and still listen to) all to most of what you’ve brought up and I’m with you on it all. The anthology of metal most certainly does not peter out at the end of the thrash era (: And all of these current bands owe a lot to their predecessors, of which you’ve done well to mention (:

    Long live metal \m/

  7. (please exuse typos — I see a few ): )

  8. Mike, covering the breadth of stuff that happened in the 90s would take a whole blog series indeed. Unfortunately I’m too lazy to blog :)

    Instead I’ll try to give you a list of stuff that’s worth at least knowing about. Obviously this will be biased to my tastes (which don’t cover hardcore punk at all, so I expect no overlap with gavinburrows’ list!). I’ll refer to favourite albums for each band (trying to choose representative tracks is just too hard).

    I won’t cover bands that with substantial careers before 1990, even though many of them of course released great albums through the 90s. I

    Enough disclaimers, lets get started!

    1) My Dying Bride – The Angel and the Dark River
    2) Anathema – Alternative 4
    3) Paradise Lost – Draconian Times

    The british doomdeath trio, most notable for having 2 of the 3 bands abandon the style almost as soon as they created it :) MDB are the exception, having kept remarkably consistent throughout their (still ongoing) career. If ever a band turned the thematic darkness and depression all the way up to 11, it’s MDB. Not to everybody’s tastes, but I quite like them.
    Then there’s Anathema, one of my all time favourite bands (In fact just saw them live for the 3rd time last week. Yay!). If you listen to their albums in order there is a very smooth progression from where they started to where they are now (which I’d guess could be qualified as prog rock), but if you were to take their first and latest album you’d be hard pressed to even identify them as the same band. Still, much as I like their later stuff the peak for me remains “Alternative 4” and “Judgement” from the mid 90s.
    Paradise Lost in turn wandered through various phases. Draconian Times would be from their gothic metal phase. Later they veered to a more electronic rock sound (Depeche Mode is a frequent comparison – some people mean that derisively but I don’t).

    4) Moonspell – Wolfheart

    Speaking of gothic metal, can’t leave out Moonspell (incidentally the only countrymen of mine likely to make this list). Like Paradise Lost they changed they sound gradually over the years, but Wolfheart is still considered one of the founding albums of the genre.

    (to be continued)

  9. 5) Tiamat – Wildhoney

    This one is generally classified as gothic metal, though personally I don’t see it. Whatever genre, it’s rightly considered a landmark album. The band changed styles several times during their career (this is a common theme as you can see) but I like pretty much everything from Wildhoney onward.

    6) Dream Theater – Images And Words

    I suspect this will be the 22nd entry in your series, so I’ll say no more :)

    7) Opeth – Still Life

    More prog. To be honest Opeth really came into their own in the early 2000s with the stunning trio of albums Blackwater Park, Deliverance and Damnation. But Still Life from 1999 is a great album in it’s own right.

    8) Tool – AEnima

    And more prog. The Tool sound changed a lot between Undertow (93) and Lateralus (2001). AEnima is sort of caught in the transition, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad album, in fact I easily consider it one of the best of the decade. By one of the best bands of all time. (I know, being a Tool fanboy is not exactly original but what can I say…)

    9) Therion – Vovin
    10) Haggard – And Thou Shalt Trust… The Seer

    Fusing metal with classical music in various ways was a common theme all throughout this period. Therion kind of stands head and shoulders above the rest though. Vovin is a favorite, but Theli and Deggial are also worth a listen.
    Where Therion is full of symphonic bombast, Haggard drinks more form quieter baroque influences, with some fully classical tracks. “And Thou Shalt Trust…” is their first album. I actually like the second one (“Awaking The Centuries”) better, but it’s from 2000 so disqualified.

    (to be continued)

  10. Ooo, yes, great calls on Opeth, Tool, Therion, Moonspell. The rest are ok, I suppose — I didn’t feel them bring something special to the party, or perhaps just not my particular serving of warm consumable. Though I think I’ve heard some Haggard with happiness….
    What about Amon Amarth and In Flames? Iced Earth and Helloween may be a bit old, but certainly part of the formative years of metal (:
    Perhaps the subject scope is too broad for any kind of concise discourse (:

  11. 11) Sepultura – Chaos A.D.
    One of the most influential bands in thrash metal genre came, unexpectedly, from Brasil. Technically Sepultura were active from mid 80s, but it was in the early 90s that they broke through with Arise, Chaos A.D. and Roots. The last is probably their best know album, but Chaos A.D. gets my preference.
    With the exception of Metallica I don’t really listen to much thrash metal, but at their peak Sepultura were honestly amazing. Just don’t bother with anything after the Max Cavalera era.

    12) Deftones – Adrenaline; Around The Fur
    13) System Of A Down – System Of A Down

    So called nu-metal gets looked down upon by a lot people; I know because most of the time I’m one of them. But there are exceptions, and these are two worthy ones, in no small part because of their exceptional vocalists.
    Deftones wouldn’t reach my favourite phase until later but I still listened to these late 90s albums quite a bit.
    As for SoaD, I have to confess I admire them more often than I like them. But when I like them I *really* like them.

    14) Rammstein – Herzeleid
    The only industrial metal entry on this list, about which I will say only this: unless you really can’t tolerate their music, make sure you go see a Rammstein concert at least once in your life. You can thank me later.

    15) Skyclad – Irrational Anthems
    16) In Extremo – Verehrt und angespien

    Folk metal is a whole world which I have only dipped my toes into (sorry, mixed metaphor). As a bonus for people who get tired of the thematic doom and gloom that pervades so much of metal, folk tends to be pretty upbeat. If you’ve ever been to a Finntroll concert, ‘manic’ might even be the word that comes to mind :)
    Skyclad are generally considered founders of the genre. As for In Extremo, what can I say, metal would not be the same without germans in lederhosen playing bagpipes.

    (that’s enough for one day, I’ll post the rest under tomorrow’s article)

  12. Thanks to you all for these comments!

    Gavin: I can’t believe you see the 1970s as a desert. To me, they are the high-point of popular music (then or the 60s). The sheer rate of innovation was startling. Anyway, I would love to see your series on the metal/punk crossover.

    Jason: what innovation do you think Guns and Roses represent? I don’t know their stuff at all well, but I’ve always thought of them as commerical exploiters of an existing style, rather than pioneers. (I agree on grunge, though! I have no patience with it.)

    dafux0r: thanks for your substantial and constructive comments. Sorry that they were held in moderation — you should find that anything you post from on goes straight through. I really appreciate all your suggestions, despite my unrewarding experience of Opeth so far (a friend played me A Fair Judgement).

    Pedro: amazingly detailed list! See, you really should have your own blog series. I wonder whether you could just follow up by recommending a single representative song from each of the 16 albums? It would give me a way into what’s obviously a huge repertoire.

  13. For me GNR was a callback to the earlier 70’s metal. Welcome to the Jungle is just Heavy Metal more similar to the old 70’s style. In the mid 80’s that actually meant something. When it came out it was easy to see what was missing before, its just you hadn’t really noticed. It was a bit of a turning away from the hair band path. GNR stripped away the glam (the outgrowth form the aforementioned Kiss and Alice Cooper that just went too far) an just rocked.

    GNR’s big innovative magnum opus November Rain is alas again not Metal.

    I have to say you misread my comment on grunge a bit. I just said it was different and not heavy metal, I didn’t say I didn’t like it ;-). I’m actually a big STP fan.

  14. Pedro — more great bands on your list (:
    Mike: also give Silent Stream Of Godless Elegy a few-tracks listen. There’s a folk metal band that grabs me quite a bit — sad, detailed, beautiful.

  15. Mike, as for Opeth — they have a HUGE variance, so I’d be surprised if there’s not something there for you to like. The last two albums are more like 70’s prog rock, but I’m more of a fan of their heavier / death stuff (Ghost Reveries; My Arms, Your Hearse). Though I’ll gladly listen to just about everything from them (:

  16. Re: the ongoing Opeth discussion: dafux0r is right, from what I see of your tastes the last 2 albums with be a good place to start. Here’s one song from each:

    Re: ongoing G’n’R discussion: I agree with Jason, I would have definitely given them a place in this list (I didn’t give them a place on mine because not metal; same with grunge, which I generally like a lot)

  17. Mike, to clarify I don’t see the Seventies in general as a musical desert – just hard rock and metal. It’s kind of an irony that, as we looked at earlier in your series, that there’s almost five years of precursors and prototypes, then a burst of classic bands, then everything quickly becomes moribund and formulaic. All genres seem to have a creative explosion followed by a lot of copycats, – I mean genres get generic, right? – but it seems particularly exacerbated in this case. I have absolutely no idea why this might be!

    Lots of names I’ve simply never heard before in Pedro’s list! From shoving some of the names into YouTube, a fair amount isn’t for me but you gotta try these things! Tool are a band I’ve always meant to catch up with, so thanks for your tip on that album. Listening to the title track as a type, some pretty good stuff!

  18. “I wonder whether you could just follow up by recommending a single representative song from each of the 16 albums?”

    Agh, that’s impossible. Ok, I’ll try when I’m done with the list… but I think in some cases I’ll just have to insist you listen to the whole album.

    “It would give me a way into what’s obviously a huge repertoire.”

    Huge? But I’m only halfway through! :)

  19. I know what you mean, Pedro — some albums are incredibly hard to focus down into a single representative track, for example, if I was telling someone to listen to Dark Side of the Moon, I’d be forced to say something like “you really have to listen to at least the whole of side 1”. Still, If pushed I could say something like “If you don’t like Breathe you’re not likely to enjoy the rest of the album”. In the series that’s now so close to ending, I picked out one track by each band because I think anyone can find time to listen to a song, but not many people can find time to listen speculatively to a whole album that they might not like.

    Anyway, I’ll look forward to seeing what else you have to offer!

  20. Ok, this will be tricky because I suspect our tastes in metal diverge considerably.
    Musically, I’ve liked small subsets of a wide range of styles – mediaeval, classical, 80s pop, 1990-era metal (thrash, doom, etc), techno/rave music (early 90s on), “world” music, jazz, hard-to-categorise stuff (e.g. Dead Can Dance, Sopor Aeternus, Elend), late 90s metal (black, viking, etc), martial industrial, and “random stuff that I like”.

    I have a high tolerance for highly repetitive music (yes, I like Philip Glass), very “noisy” music (I have listened to “Metal Machine Music” – more than once), and music with a lot of surface “noise” but also interesting details underneath to pick out (the skill that I use to pick out a specific instrument from a full orchestra playing comes in handy all over the place).

    So, some bands that I like, and an attempt to pick one track by each that gives you a reasonable idea of what they are like:
    1. Rhapsody, later named Rhapsody Of Fire – yes, they are just as “over the top” as the name suggests, and this video demonstrates that:
    Unholy Warcry – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEMeBTmiX4g
    2. Candlemass – my introduction to doom metal, from 1989:
    The Edge of Heaven – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIjXYYixbgA
    3. Dark Tranquility – “melodic black metal” is the label, I believe :
    The Gallery – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtSTzXU0mTY
    4. Dissection :
    Where Dead Angels Lie – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q78Teqr2T6E
    5. Emperor :
    Ensorcelled by Khaos – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1N_cQOy6OOs
    6. Graveland :
    Tyrants of Cruelty – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywjmn00v3WI
    7. Thyrfing – “viking” metal –
    Mot Helgrind – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vww2u0mMqCw
    8. The Project Hate MCMXCIX
    Burn – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dy9vLTzY1PQ
    9. Nightwish
    She Is My Sin – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mtlDc072cE

    And finally, a disclaimer from the Department of Liking Problematic Things:
    Some of this music expresses themes that many people would find offensive or disturbing, and some of the makers of this music are pretty awful human beings. I acknowledge this, but like listening to the music anyway, but I understand that not everyone can compartmentalise things in this way.

  21. Many thanks for this list, David, and for the links. Disclaimer received, understood and appreciated!

  22. Hah. As a huge fan of both old-Metallica and BoC (damn you internet, where’s the umlaut key!) I find this pretty amusing.

    Metallica and Megadeth were my angry growing up music back in the 80s and early 90s, but I always appreciated angry loud bands with good subtext. Iron Maiden is some of the most literary Metal you can find, but Metallica’s references are pretty decent as well.

    If you really want a prime example of proper “Speed Metal”, just for comparison, I recommend Nuclear Assault, who take things to to a pretty logical extreme…

  23. Hmm… I should probably also note that you will almost certainly not like Nuclear Assault, but that’s fine… I’m still not sure I like them, but they are too fascinating as a part of the genre to ignore.

    In a more musical form of “literary Metal” please try to find a copy of “Sonata #3” by Scatterbrain. It’s intriguing how they choose to translate sounds.

  24. Iron Maiden is some of the most literary Metal you can find, but Metallica’s references are pretty decent as well.

    I occasionally toy with putting together a list of songs that draw on specific books (not Metal, specifically, just in general).

    There are some obvious ones (“Killing An Arab” by the Cure, “Tea in the Sahara” by the Police) but my personal favorite, for it’s quirkiness, is “Everything’s Slipping Away” by The Clumsy Lovers (Noted as: “Story from Quiddam’s Diary in Soren Kerkegaard’s Stages On Life’s Way.”)

  25. Pingback: Dream Theater, Under a Glass Moon (July 1992) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 22 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  26. I like Bill Bailey’s take on metal… http://youtu.be/9hd_OuKosxg

  27. Well, Pedro, you’ve surpassed yourself. Many thank for, in three comments, writing the equivalent for the 1990s of my entire series for the 1960s-1980s!

    Richard, I am bit nonplussed that the greatness of the UaGM guitar solo somehow eludes you. It’s got so much going on, it’s virtually a song in itself. All those textures, all that harmonic territory — all that technique not merely displayed but deployed to go somewhere musically.

    ropata, I like Bill Bailey’s take on anything — maybe my second favourite comedian (after Stewart Lee). I particularly enjoyed Bailey’s cover of Enter Sandman.

  28. There will always be bands who take a theme to a pointless extreme (and in the case of grindcore punk, not even bothering with technical excellence), but I don’t think one should judge a whole decade based on those.

    However, I think it is fair to say that Metal ran out of ideas for a while – but it recovered by letting go of chasing a One True Metal Style, and instead started incorporating aspects from other styles. That’s why we now have a proliferation of metal genres, and (as Pedro’s list shows) it is no longer possible to single a out a defining Metal band.

    (Btw, I’m curious how: in your opinion, is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIV3czRMEpI metal, or not metal?)

  29. I think you may be right that diversification is the key here. Even if I end up hating 90% of Pedro’s recommendations, I’ll still have discovered three new bands that I like — and, judging by his comments, quite possibly three new styles.

    Regarding the linked song, Napalm Death’s Scum — since you did ask, I would classify it as “rubbish metal”. Really, that’s a fine example of the kind of thing that has absolutely no appeal for me. But Napalm Death are interesting for one very important reason: Stewart Lee used to go orienteering with three quarters of Napalm Death. fact.

  30. Pingback: Pedro Lopez’s 1990s heavy metal timeline | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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