Nowadays, in the wake of St. Anger and Death Magnetic, it’s easy to ignore Metallica; after all, there’s plenty of other music out there. It doesn’t change the fact that at one point, Metallica were the kings of the metal underground. Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets are albums widely appreciated both within and outside the metal community. Even better, and fortunately for us, current violations do not negate prior triumphs. For once we can look back on the bad old days and truly claim that they were better.
Personally, I think Metallica gets treated a little too harshly (but only a little.) Some thoroughly oblivious (or thoroughly paid for) music journalists laughably claimed St. Anger was a return to earlier form. To which I can only sat that if you’re that incompetent or that financially compromised at your job, you should change your career path. If that album had been released by a band of four unknown scruffy urchins, the heralding of it as some new-nu-(gnu?)-metal tour de force might have had some miniscule amount of justification.
However, it wasn’t a bunch of know-nothing nobodies that released that album, it was Metallica. Yes, that Metallica. The one that said they would never do a video or bother with a live album. The one that said they didn’t want to waste money on extravagant stage shows. The one who’s drummer said to Congress that fans that did the modern-day equivalent of tape trading with their dreck of an album ought to be thrown in jail.
I have my own theories about why Lars Ulrich testified against Napster. We’ll probably never really know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Elektra threatened the band’s financial support in return for the testimony they wanted. You know, send Lars to bat for us in the record industry or else we’ll withhold your advance for the next album. To have an artist deliver the message would hold more credibility than if it had been some record executive greed-head. I don’t doubt a major label – any major label – would blackmail an artist in their stable like that.
But instead of bitching about that, let me get in the wayback machine and give you details about this song from 1986. Right from the opening guitar crunch, “Disposable Heroes” grabs you by the shirt collar and never lets go. In typical thrash form, the song has an intro that lasts for over a minute and a half before the first verse even begins, though the intro is really just another verse and chorus structure played without vocals.
However, the thing I like best about this track is the break, which might be the best one in the annals of thrash metal. The strongest part comes in at 4:45 – in the middle of Kirk Hammett’s guitar solo – with a rhythm that shifts back and forth between the original break theme and a completely new riff. That ringing two-chord pattern is liberating, a rare time when the band lets up on the chunky palm muted fast picking to give the listener a chance to breathe before pumping their fist back in the air.
James Hetfield is not a great lyricist by any yardstick, but “looking back I realize / nothing have I done / left to die with only friend / alone I clench my gun” is surprisingly humanizing an event that the musicians (and many of their listeners) could not have first hand knowledge of. It’s certainly more credible than Death’s “Left To Die.” Chalk it up to a happy accident. We’ll have to, because elsewhere he talks about having to get used to the sound of a ticking clock, which I can’t for the life of me figure out what that has to do with the horrors of war.
I almost feel dumb talking about this song in such a clinical manner. Anyone who is reading this or happens to stumble over here probably already knows this song quite well. This is my favorite Metallica song and a great example of all the virtues of the thrash metal genre. And in completely unrelated nonsense, this: