A Look Back At The Evolution of Metallica's Sound

03/02/2011
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(Gibson) When Metallica came roaring out of James Hetfield's and Lars Ulrich's imaginations 30 years ago, the band was a furious fusion of new-metal clangor, punk speed and pure noise-rock firestorm intensity. Albums like 1983's Kill 'Em All and the next year's Ride the Lightning set the bar for might and bite in a way that's rarely been equaled over ensuing decades.

The apocalyptic visions of songs like "The Four Horsemen," written by original lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, the violence rippling to the surface of "Seek and Destroy" and the hellfire of war depicted in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" were a perfect, bloody-knuckled pairing of lyrics plucked from the heart of human darkness and the angriest tones that could possibly be torn from Gibson Flying Vs, Gibson Explorers and Gibson Les Pauls pumping electric blood through stacks of Marshall amps. Much was made of the group's melodic approach to metallic wailing during Metallica's first decade and initial four albums – especially after six-string wrangler Kirk Hammett replaced Mustaine. And Hammett's and Hetfield's routes to melody were, indeed, worth noting, even if critics and fans exaggerated the strength of their content. Hetfield tended to play short, boldly written melodies that served as musical transitions. Hammett was more of a sprayer, thanks to his astounding chops inspired in part by his one-time instructor Joe Satriani.

Hammett's melodies in first-decade Metallica numbers like "Master of Puppets" and their mainstream breakthrough "One," from 1988's …And Justice For All, were largely woven into breathless and often chromatic solos with churning waves of wah-wah. Frequently they were discernable only in snatches, or, really, appeared as chains of melodic ideas strung together to make a series of seconds-long statements instead of relaxing into the sing-able patterns that conventionally comprise melodies. But being unconventional, for Metallica and their fans, worked without equivocation. And their gnashing, wall-smashing sound – including the high-velocity blur of their lead guitar lines – made them instantly identifiable as well as an awesome ensemble every aspiring metal gunslinger had to face. In 1991, however, the band's strategy changed.

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