Features Live Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll Photo Essay: Metallica!

Air Canada Centre
Toronto, Ontario
October 26, 2009

Seems to me the last batch of bands I’ve seen have been a then and now type of comparison that I’ve quite enjoyed studying. Seriously, out of the last dozen bands or so, most of them have I’ve seen way back when and then waited at least 10 years to see them again. Motorhead, Kiss, Helix, Headpins, GWAR, Stone Temple Pilots, Our Lady Peace… there’s probably a few more but I think you’ve heard enough already. Well you have to hear about one more. One of my all time favourite top notch acts of all time, Metallica.

Back in 85, my cousin dropped a couple albums on me and said I must try these out. They were “Kill em All” and “Ride the Lightning”. 3 notes into “Hit the Lights” and I knew I had just found the band of all bands. The most awesome sounding heavy metal unit that combined great lyrics with some totally original riffing, instrumentals and leads that would bring any musician to their knees.

I made it a point to promote this new band wherever I possibly could. I just wanted to share the awesomeness that was Metallica with everyone. I was constantly making compilation tapes of their stuff and dropping them on people. I made sure I had at least one Metallica tape on me at all times and would thrust it into the gaping maw of any cassette tape player I could find.

Those Northern BCer’s just weren’t ready for it yet though. Still firmly grasped by the claws of Judas Priest, AC/DC, Iron Maiden and the other “mainstream” metal of the time, these guys just couldn’t handle the “THRASH” metal that Metallica was pimping out. It wasn’t until Ozzy took Metallica on tour that these guys finally started to take notice. Funny though, the guys I hung out with all the time were all musicians, and we all knew Metallica was the shit. Listening deep past the heaviness revealed a talent, rawness and attitude that no other band was sporting at the time.

They showed a lotta personality and never took anything too seriously with hilarious photo shoots by the infamous Ross Halfin depicting the band on a lighter side with his instantly identifiable fish-eye lens shots of the band goofing around and having fun. Then the shit hit the fan.

Two things happened that changed the band forever. Two crucial pieces of that old unit died. For one and on the humanity level of it all, by far the worst of the two occurrences, was the death of the incredibly talented, one of a kind, Cliff Burton. When he was crushed by a tour bus accident in Sweden, Metallica never looked, sounded or felt the same. It’s almost as if the band lost it’s sense of humour. Maybe not all of it, but a good chunk flew right out the door and Metallica became a much more serious band.

Gone was a truly gifted bass man and an undeniable grounding influence on the band but before that happened, Metallica lost their sound. That one of a kind sound that no other band could imitate. Not even themselves. James had a Marshall tube amp that had it’s own sound and a character of it’s own. The first two albums were recorded with this amp in the studio to get that distinctive guitar sound that NOBODY could duplicate and EVERYBODY tried.

Just listen to any song on “Kill em All” then any song from “Ride the Lightning” and then slap on “Master of Puppets” and the difference will punch you right in the nuts if it hasn’t already. Getting over the death of an original member and the loss of the old sound, would kill a lesser band but Metallica rose above the whole thing and propelled itself into a whole new level of confidence and power that took the band to the highest heights of achievement in the music business only dreamt about by most musicians.

I finally got to see the guys in 1989 on the “Justice For All…” tour with Queensryche and Dokken opening. The show was at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton and we were totally disgusted that every time we went to light up a smoke, a security guard was on our asses threatening to kick us out. This, of course, meant we couldn’t fire up a joint and thoroughly enjoy the experience and it really took the wind out of our sails and pretty well ruined what was supposed to be the concert of all concerts for me.

Fast forward, 20 years later, waiting in a small area just outside of centre stage with a photo pass and some great equipment that I actually know how to use, waiting to see Metallica once again. I know most of their catalogue inside and out. I can jam most of the tunes on the drums and I know more than a few of their lyrics so singing along is not a problem.

So what’s a guy supposed to do when he’s standing in front of one of his all time faves with only 3 songs to shoot/rock out? ONLY 3 songs. In Metallica’s world that’s about 45 minutes! As much as I just wanted to rock out, I knew I had a job to do in getting as many great shots as I possibly could before going up to the rafters to review the show.

The band put on a heavy rotation of their latest album “Death Magnetic” with a showing of 6 of the 10 tunes the album has to offer. And they’re great tunes too. Every one of them. One thing for sure that Metallica is still as strong as ever is the songwriting. Most bands die out and their creativity loses it’s sting after a while but Metallica’s has always been there. They’ve always pulled something outta the bag for every album they’ve ever done. I don’t care what anyone says about any of their albums, they’re all incredible in their own way and if Death Magnetic is any indication, it’s fuckin far from over.

Personally my faves were the oldies. From those first two albums. It was so cool hearing “Fight Fire With Fire” and “Whiplash”… oldies that you’d think couldn’t or wouldn’t even be played these days. “One” totally brought the place to it’s knees with the incredible pyro show and the crescendo of the song building to the frenzied ending that still stands as one of their finest to this day. “Sad But True” reminded us that Metallica is as heavy as they come. That drop D tuning has a way of bringing a whole new meaning to the word heavy.

The band was tighter than a Scotsman. On numerous occasions I saw the guys smiling their asses off genuinely showing they were having a great time out there. The guys at times interacted onstage like brothers. Robert Trujilo, bassist, at one point stomped over to Lars Ulrich on drums and rubbed his bald forehead while they both laughed. Trujilo feels like he should have been in the band from the very beginning, and knowing what I think of Cliff Burton that is saying A LOT. That’s not to knock Newsted either, but the ex Suicidal Tendencies bassist has really found a home with the best metal band of all time.

James n Lars squared off face to face rocking out, smiling and enjoying themselves. This notorious duo who love and hate each other like only brothers do. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, the quiet little brother of the band spent most of his time basking in the cheers of his dedicated fans, smiling and rocking out, all the while slicing us apart with his incredible abilities and talent on lead guitar.

For any metal fan who has or hasn’t seen Metallica, this is a tour you just can’t miss. Opener, Lamb of God is a worthy unit to fire up the ceremonies. Metallica hasn’t jacked the prices out of this world so there’s no excuse why anybody can’t go and see them. All the elements are there, now all you need to do is plug yourself in and just go for it.

Mike Forbes
Libra Photography
Rebel Reviewer Dot Com

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