[Marxism] Metallica rules!

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 15 11:17:42 MDT 2011

Counterpunch September 15, 2011
One Border Don't Stop No Show
Metallica in Mexico

In 2003, Metallica performed in the prison yard at San Quentin. 
Frontman James Hetfield was uncharacteristically introspective at 
the mic: “If I didn’t have music in my life it’s quite possible 
I’d be in here or, not even here, be dead. I’d much rather be 
alive. Everyone is born good. Everyone’s got the same size soul. 
So we’re very proud to be in your house and play some music for you.”

Six years later, Metallica played in front of 50,000 people at 
Foro Sol stadium in Mexico City. Their pride in being in someone 
else’s house to play some music was as heartfelt there as it was 
at San Quentin, as can be seen on the DVD Orgullo, Pasion, Y 
Gloria. But this time Hetfield is anything but introspective. He 
begins the show by screaming “Mexico!” and then uses his limited 
Spanish at every opportunity (the crowd responds by singing the 
songs word-for-word in English). There’s a way-too-early bass solo 
(second song) by Robert Trujillo that seems to have been placed 
there just so Hetfield can joyfully announce “Now welcome my 
friend Roberto!”

At a pre-show press conference, Trujillo takes a tattered piece of 
paper out of his pocket, unfolds it and reads slowly in Spanish “I 
am so happy to be here to play for you, in the country where my 
mother was born.” The spirit of that message is pushed 
relentlessly from the stage by all four band members throughout 
the night. The crowd, the band, and the stadium itself constantly 
seem to be humming from some internal amplifier. Back and forth 
the energy goes. Like the repetition in lovemaking, it never grows 

Finally, Metallica can’t play any longer but they can’t seem to 
leave. They’re trapped inside the energy wave they’ve helped to 
create. They take center stage holding a Mexican flag, mugging for 
the cameras. The stadium gets louder. Then each band member says 
goodbye in Spanish. The noise drops a decibel or two and they take 
that as the cue to make their escape.

The show itself is transcendent—the band delivers a twenty-five 
year panorama of well-written songs with supreme skill. They are 
roaring but under control, precise but never rote. Yet the DVD, 
directed by Wayne Isham, is more than a concert documentary.

Orgullo, Pasion, Y Gloria conveys the oppressiveness of the 
Mexican state apparatus as a force that pushes the fans toward 
Metallica for release. And those fans are allowed to display their 
“Pride, Passion, and Glory.” They talk about where they come from 
and why they love Metallica. They perform Metallica songs. They 
show their love for each other. Nothing is translated and there 
are no sub-titles. Hetfield beams as he observes the long line of 
stalls selling bootleg Metallica gear. “Isn’t this great?” he says 
without a hint of sarcasm. The effect is to make you feel 
that–instead of watching a Metallica show that just happens to be 
taking place in Mexico–you are actually visiting Mexico and have 
somehow stumbled across a Metallica show.

Metallica’s fervent embrace of the people of Mexico becomes a 
political act simply because it’s in direct contradiction to the 
politics of the United States government. Metallica, a political 
band? Well, yes. Nearly thirty years ago they released the 
anti-death penalty song “Ride the Lightning.” A few years later 
they came out with “The Shortest Straw,” a song about blacklisting 
based on reading Naming Names, a book by Victor Navasky, editor of 
The Nation. In 1992, Metallica took the anti-censorship warriors 
from Rock Out Censorship with them on tour. In 1996, they provided 
musical and moral support for the film Paradise Lost: The Child 
Murders at Robin Hood Hills, which detailed how three young men in 
Arkansas were railroaded to prison simply because they wore black 
clothes and liked heavy metal. Two of them were given life 
sentences. Damien Echols was given the death penalty. When the 
West Memphis Three were finally set free this summer, Echols told 
the press he would be dead without the impact of Paradise Lost. 
Without Metallica’s involvement, it’s unlikely the film would have 
been able to accomplish that. Unfortunately, Metallica was also 
political when it opposed file-sharing by its fans. Political is 
political, even when it masquerades as business.

Metallica seems “non-political” partly because of the stereotypes 
heavy metal is saddled with. Robert Christgau, the self-appointed 
Dean of Rock Critics, wrote: “The closer you look the more stupid 
and delusory it seems. Metal isn’t basic, it cultivates a 
pseudovirtuosity that negates content. The dreams it promulgates 
are usually foolish and often destructive.” Christgau may be full 
of shit, but he speaks for millions. The confusion increases 
because in our conventional way of thinking about music, 
“political” usually isn’t a word that applies one way or another 
to everyone, it’s a genre. Sometimes, it seems as if condescending 
and attacking metal as a genre is a business all its own—a highly 
political business, given who listens to (and often makes) metal.

Political bands are thought of as those which stand up and say, 
“Hey, we’re political!” That’s what happened on July 30 when 
60,000 fans gathered at the Coliseum in Los Angeles for the L.A. 
Rising festival featuring Rage Against the Machine, Lauryn Hill, 
Rise Against, Immortal Technique, and El Gran Silencio. By all 
accounts it was a great show and one that was beautifully 
eclectic, but it wasn’t one that provided a satisfying definition 
of “political.” So let’s define political as “a desire to change 
the world.” Most musicians and all genres fit under that tent. 
It’s an inclusive extension of James Hetfield’s mantra “Everybody 
has the same size soul.”

Today, everywhere we turn we run into walls. Not just the wall 
between the U.S. and Mexico, but the walls between the homeless 
and the houses, between the sick and the medicine, between the 
students and the schools. We have to dismantle those walls if we 
are to thrive or even just survive.

Lee Ballinger is co-editor of Rock & Rap Confidential, one of 
CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by 
emailing: rockrap at aol.com.


NY Times September 15, 2011
Metallica Earns Its Top Billing of the Big Four

The concert, or the tour, or the notion, is called the Big Four, 
and it needs an asterisk. Long ago, one of the four became much 
bigger than the rest.

In alphabetical order, Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer — 
who all played at Yankee Stadium in a thorough and memorable 
seven-hour concert on Wednesday night — were the most popular 
bands of mid-1980s thrash-metal. (Some would prefer a Big Five, 
and include Testament or Exodus.) Thrash was a powerful mutt: it 
ran at hardcore-punk speeds and wedged hyper-articulate firebomb 
guitar-solos into small spaces.

Now that all those bands are touring together, under that old 
banner, the order of billing becomes an important question. 
Imagine all the lawyers, all the cold logic. (Metal, in the ‘80s, 
was a boys’ game built on aggression, not love, and there are 
well-documented feuds among some of these bands — particularly 
between Metallica and Megadeth, since Megadeth is led by Dave 
Mustaine, who was kicked out of Metallica.) In the end, in order 
of appearance Wednesday, it was Anthrax-Megadeth-Slayer-Metallica.

Of course Metallica goes at the top. Its self-titled fifth album 
from 1991, with ballad sections and expensive production values, 
exploded the logic of thrash metal and reached an awful lot of 
teenage bedrooms. It sold more than 15 million copies in the 
United States. So Metallica floats this operation. No Metallica, 
no Yankee Stadium.

Wednesday’s show was the seventh Big Four concert in this year’s 
tour, which started in April at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, 
Calif. (The bands played together a number of times last year in 
Europe, as the Big Four and at larger festivals.) Before 
Metallica’s set on Wednesday, José Mangin, the yelling host of 
“Liquid Metal” on Sirius XM Radio, came on to the stage — situated 
at the outfield wall — to declare this the biggest metal show ever 
on the East Coast. Could that be true? It probably depends on your 
definition of metal. (Metallica headlined a show at Giants Stadium 
in 1998, with the rap-metal bands Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit.) In 
any case, for Metallica, or for any strictly metal band, the 
concert was a big deal.

It wasn’t surprising that the band wanted to tour this way, 
surrounded by and lording over its own past. It has long been 
preoccupied with its own story of starting out scrappy in the 
early ‘80s; it needs to prove its authenticity. And Metallica’s 
two-hour-plus set earned its top billing, with lasers, flashpots 
and fireworks; every member of the band performed proprietary 
stage-prances, individual solos and strategic crowd-pumping. After 
30 years, they’re good at this.

The calibrated set list was almost identical to what they played 
in Indio. It started with the old (“Creeping Death”), moving to 
the new (“All Nightmare Long”) and a we’ve-earned-it instrumental 
section (“Orion”), then the hits and landmarks (“One,” “Master of 
Puppets”) and back to the old again (“Seek and Destroy”). And it 
was a proper retrospective, with songs fast and slow and medium, 
compassionate and merciless. The last set also included one song 
involving members of all four bands. Cleverly, it was a version of 
Motorhead’s “Overkill,” a song that keeps stopping and starting up 
again. Each time it reanimated, a different drummer took over: 
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Dave Lombardo of Slayer, Charlie Benante 
of Anthrax; the guitarists traded off too.

Anthrax, with the vibrato-heavy singer Joey Belladonna, was the 
least popular of the four bands: logic dictated that they come on 
first. But its members are New Yorkers, whereas the rest of the 
bands come from the West Coast; they also happen to be serious 
Yankee fans. It would have been nice to give them a higher slot. 
Still, they’ve always been lower-key than their California 
counterparts, the opposite of how these things usually play out in 
American music, and they used their easy disposition to their 
advantage. Mr. Belladonna hijacked the stadium video camera for a 
little while, roaming around the lip of the stage, and the 
guitarist Scott Ian hung an Anthrax banner based on the Yankees logo.

Mr. Mustaine of Megadeth recently set aside some space in his 
autobiography, “Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir,” to address the 
issue of where his band fit in the Big Four order. He assured the 
reader that he was not offended by being put behind Slayer. But he 
added an interior monologue, italics his: “OK, we’ll play ahead of 
you guys on this trip, and God willing we’ll do it again sometime 
in the near future and we can flip things around...”

He explained that he’d been in the hospital the day before for 
neck surgery. “I shouldn’t be playing right now,” he told the 
crowd, “but I’m doing this for you.” And as always, he was 
fascinating to watch: serious and flinty-voiced, a generous and 
hard-working guitar player, as he traded off solos with Chris 
Broderick, the most recent in a line of second-order Megadeth 
soloists. Mr. Mustaine remains a skeptical figure from what we’d 
now consider a naïve time, when tough-minded, self-taught 
virtuosos wore spandex; he sang one argumentative song after 
another, about paranoia and demagoguery and religious wars. But 
whether the problem was his neck or something else, there was a 
sense of distance in his performance. He didn’t get all the way in.

Slayer did, though. Its set was the only one of the four without 
any source of light except the stage: the sun had gone down by 
“South of Heaven,” and the singer Tom Araya, stock-still and 
staring straight ahead, spat out his lyrics so fast that they 
couldn’t be displayed on the outfield’s digital screens, as they 
were for the other bands. For a memorable forty minutes or so, 
Yankee Stadium became a dark and contemplative place for a 
performance that ran nearly uninterrupted, except for a few quiet 

The band remains a tight machine, rendering all gestures 
compressed, even when the guitarists Kerry King and Gary Holt make 
their instruments scream. Rhythmically, it swung, unlike 
Metallica, whose rhythm often grew unstable and plodding, 
especially in its recent songs. It felt armored and unstoppable, 
and the bizarre circumstance of playing to dozens of thousands of 
people on a ballfield didn’t change a thing.



More information about the Marxism mailing list