Next week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will induct Metallica, the former thrash titans who morphed into one of the world's biggest rock bands. The band’s transformation from hellions into purveyors of popular arena-rock remains controversial among the metalheads who embraced the band in the first place, before breakthroughs like the 1988 epic-jam-ballad “One” and 1991’s Metallica (“The Black Album”), which has moved more than 15 million copies in the U.S.
To put Metallica’s unique distinction in context — even the mighty Black Sabbath didn’t make the Hall on the first ballot — Scene brings you part one of The Great Metallica Debate, a look at the group’s highs and lows.
Scene’s D.X. Ferris, the paper’s designated metalhead, moderates. He’ll introduce topics, which will be answered by Chris Akin, Classic Metal Show host and webmaster of Pitriff.com, and Matt Wardlaw, former Metal Show host, Radio 92.3 Inner Sanctum host, and proprietor of music blog AddictedToVinyl.com.
Round One: “Fade to Black.” Metallica made their debut with the groundbreaking thrash classic, 1983’s Kill ‘Em All. The following year's face-melting Ride the Lightning made it obvious the group was destined for bigger things — a polarizing notion in the metal world. Album No. 2 had not one, but two, slower jams: the midtempo “Escape” and the full-on ballad “Fade to Black.” Conventional rock wisdom says that even the most rockin’ band, for better or worse, has one softer song, a crossover hit commonly regarded by bitter aficionados as their “pussy song.”
Ferris: In light of all that came after, in retrospect it's hard not to view "Fade to Black" as a Pussy Song. Agree or disagree? Discuss. Also, that said, which Ride the Lightning cut is more of a Pussy Song — "Fade to Black" or "Escape"?
Wardlaw: I guess that depends on how you're using "pussy" in this particular discussion. I completely agree that "Fade to Black" is a track that probably got them lots of P. But using the other definition, Do I feel like a pussy for liking "Fade to Black?" Nah, not at all. I think it's a great tune that has held up well. Then again, I also think the Outfield are a great group, so what do I know? I do think Hetfield has been a pussy since 2005 or perhaps even earlier. The James Hetfield I know, would never ask the crowd, "Are you okay?" in an almost Mr. Rogers-like tone. The James Hetfield I know woulda heaved giant flaming torches at the crowd. And depending on the day, he mighta just thrown Lars to the crowd, especially in Sweden. I'm gonna give my vote to "Escape," because of the following user comments that popped up when I pulled the song up on YouTube:
081daniel: "I love this song because it has a nice chorus."
obijohnson: "Its alright, it was intended to be a sellout song (something they did whole heartedly in the 90s). Its not exactly glam, its not exactly thrash, but its metal and its pretty awesome. I actually have some good childhood memories to tied to this song."
Akin: Disagree completely. Slow and building is does not make a song a "pussy" song at all. The fact that it didn't hold up when compared to standard heavier music today does not take away from it at all. In fact, I might lean toward saying that "Fade To Black" is one of the heaviest songs in the Metallica catalogue. It marked the point where Hetfield began floating the inner demons of his mind into the music instead of simply writing stupid, "we're heavy, we're mean" lyrics. Not only is there a real depth to the lyrics of "Fade To Black," but this also marked a style point that Metallica grew the rest of their career from. "The Thing That Should Not Be,” "Sanitarium,” "One,” "The Unforgiven,” even "Bleeding Me" all adopted that same style of "build and blast.” It's a key writing style that the band has used for years. C'mon, dude! Neither of these tunes qualifies. Not for a band whose career has "The Memory Remains" and "Mama Said" in their arsenal. — D.X. Ferris
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