The Rise and Decline of Metallica and American Liberty

Note: Don't take this article all too seriously, for goodness sakes!

There once was a band that achieved the best in its genre, and a land that achieved the best in its principles.[1]

Early Metallica were regarded almost universally as the best representation of thrash metal in history. Indeed, they seemed to improve steadily in their first several albums, but with every new record thereafter, they increasingly strayed from what made them great, compromising hard licks, heavy lyrical content and musical sophistication for the expediency of neo-alternative crap, until they eventually declined to the point of embracing the dreadful genre of n' metal.

Early America is regarded almost universally as the best representation of a limited-government society in history. Indeed, it seemed to improve steadily for a while, but with every new war and domestic program thereafter, it came to stray from what made it great, compromising peace, individual liberty and free markets for the expediency of neo-mercantilist crap, until it eventually declined to the point of embracing the dreadful agenda of neo-conservatism.

Metallica began with an album called Kill 'Em All in 1983. It was violent, raw, and unrefined, but showed terrific promise and unquestionable sincerity. The next year, with Ride the Lightning, the complexities and diversity of the music increased greatly. With Master of Puppets, two years after that, they accomplished the unthinkable: a metal record of sweet perfection. The harmonious instrumental, 'Orion,' was alone a work of genius and epitomized what made the band a model for others to follow.

America began in the midst of a revolution in the late 18th Century. It was violent, raw, and unrefined, but showed terrific promise and unquestionable sincerity. Throughout the Antebellum Era, the complexities and diversity of the culture increased greatly. The country accomplished the unthinkable: a free society, more or less. The noninterventionist and decentralist system alone was a work of genius, and epitomized what made the country a model for others to follow.

But then disaster struck. With Metallica, it was the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton in a freak bus accident, which meant the loss of the foundation of Metallica's sound. However, the new bassist, Jason Newstead, had the talent and endurance to make Metallica special again, in a new way, and with a new potential and appreciation for musical ingenuity; there was much promise with the release of the next album, 'And Justice for All.[2]

With America , the disaster was the War Between the States, which meant the loss of federalism: the foundation of America 's constitutional liberty. However, the end of slavery and the strength of the population were able to make America special again, in a new way, and with a new potential and appreciation for freedom and social equality; there was much promise with the release of chattel slaves and a new chance at justice for all.[3]

There was hope. The new album and freedom were good signs, emerging by circumstance from the preceding disasters. A new complexity and spirit of experimentation took shape. Things would never be the same, but there was reason to expect great achievements and maybe even improvements upon the founding formulas, with a new kind of excellence we hadn't before seen.

Unfortunately, things began to decline again, somewhat slowly at first, and then quite rapidly.

Drawing on influence from other bands, Metallica entered a new 'progressive era' with the 'Black Album' in 1991, which seemed a significant deviation from its founding aesthetic, albeit a comparatively tolerable one when contrasted with later albums.[4]

Drawing on influence from other lands, America entered a new 'progressive era' with the election of Teddy Roosevelt, which seemed a significant deviation from its founding principles, albeit a comparatively tolerable one when contrasted with later administrations.[5]

And then came what would be the first in a series of last nails in the coffin of all hope.

With the 1996 release of Load, an album that one would examine desperately and unsuccessfully in search of redeeming value, the band definitively went down the wrong track. Load dragged Metallica into the trends of mid-1990s 'alternative' music. The album's atrociousness was well characterized by the predictable and lame fabricated angst-filled spectacles seen in the accompanying music videos. Metallica were no longer an original band, but were now like any other derivative 'alternative' group of the time.

With the 1912 election of Woodrow Wilson, a president one would examine desperately and unsuccessfully in search of redeeming value, the country definitively went down the wrong track. Wilson dragged America into World War I, copying the trends of other empires in the world. The war's atrociousness was well characterized by the predictable and lame propaganda-filled spectacles seen in the accommodating newspapers. America was no longer a unique country, but was now like any other consolidated warfare state of the time.

And then, to add insult to injury, after spending some time on the road and performing classic songs with mediocre skill and credibility, Metallica launched Reload onto the world in 1997. Reload was everything that Load was, but much, much worse ' inconceivably, horribly worse ' especially in terms of the long-term prospects for quality. After that, the band would never have any chance of returning to its roots. They began to resurrect old recordings in desperation, perpetually saturating the airwaves with whatever tracks they could put together, no matter how dubious the musicianship. Hypocritically, they also began harassing people for copying their musical recordings and violating their 'intellectual property rights.'

Also to add insult to injury, after spending years on the road to socialism with a horrid rejuvenation of the Wilson war economy in the form of the New Deal, FDR launched America into World War II. World War II was everything that World War I was, but much, much worse ' inconceivably, horribly worse ' especially in terms of the long-term prospects for peace and liberty. After that, the country would never have a chance of returning to its roots. It began to resurrect the 'Red Menace' boogeyman in desperation, perpetually burdening the world with whatever wars it could put together, no matter how dubious the justifications. Hypocritically, it also began harassing nations for copying the imperial methods it used and violating its 'geopolitical national interests.'

With every new album, war or president, it seemed like Metallica ' or America , as the case may be ' had broken new ground in egregiousness, beyond which things could never get worse. But they always did.

And now, the situation is just pathetic. Metallica's newest album, St. Anger, is just unbelievably horrible and offensive to the ears. America 's newest president, George W. Bush, is the same. It's as if they've gone out of their way to be as belligerent, incoherent and grotesque as possible, so as to alienate every one on earth who still had some surviving sympathy for them. Metallica's newest is not even a respectable attempt, and lacks the unspoken but fundamental requirement of guitar solos. Meanwhile, Bush doesn't even try to sound honest any more, and he wages war without an official Declaration from Congress.

Of course, the parallels do not end there. Look at the anti-state wisdom of Metallica in their early years:

Early Metallica on the absurdity of Mutually Assured Destruction:

Do unto others as they have done to you

But what the hell is this world coming to?

Blow the universe into nothingness

Nuclear warfare shall lay us to rest

Fight fire with fire

Ending is near Fight fire with fire

Bursting with fear

-'Fight Fire With Fire,' Ride the Lightning, 1984.

Early Metallica on being a pawn of the warfare state:

Bodies fill the fields I see, hungry heroes end

No one to play soldier now, no one to pretend Running blind through killing fields, bred to kill them all

Victim of what said should be ' a servant 'til I fall

Soldier boy, made of clay

Now an empty shell Twenty-one, only son But he served us well Bred to kill, not to care Do just as we say Finish here, greetings, Death:

He's yours to take away

Back to the front

You will do what I say, when I say Back to the front You will die, when I say, you must die Back to the front You coward You servant

You blind man

- 'Disposable Heroes,' Master of Puppets, 1986

Early Metallica on freedom of speech and expression:

Do you choose what I choose?

More alternatives

Energy derives from both the plus and negative

Do you need what I need?

Boundaries overthrown

Look inside, to each his own

So you trust what I trust?

Me, myself and I Penetrate the smoke screen, I see through the selfish lie Doesn't matter what you see Or into it what you read You can do it your own way

If it's done how I say

Independence limited

Freedom of choice Choice is made for you my friend Freedom of speech Speech is words that they will bend

Freedom with their exception

-'Eye of the Beholder,' 'And Justice for All, 1988.

The band also took on the death penalty ('Ride the Lightning,' Ride the Lightning, 1984), the casualties of war ('One,' 'And Justice for All, 1988), the corrupt criminal justice system (''And Justice for All,' 'And Justice for All), and the patriotism of defensive violence in protection of country ('Don't Tread on Me,' Metallica [the 'Black Album'], 1991).[6]

By their late career, the band tragically abandoned political subject matter and went on to more personal, yet less compelling, lyrical content. I won't subject the reader to newer lyrical samples, but you can look them up if you wish. Suffice it to say, whereas the older Metallica lyrics poetically stressed independence and freedom, in spirit and in content (just as older American politicians eloquently warned against 'entangling alliances,' warfare, inflation, taxation, centralization of power and restrictions on civil liberties), newer Metallica lyrics are just plain unintelligible blathering (as is most of the incoherent muttering of newer American politicians).

Metallica have with their most recent album attempted to go back to their roots, with little success. In fact, they sound the most pathetic when they attempt to reclaim their earlier foundations. They stress the loudness of earlier Metallica ' before they underwent some of their important developments in musical sophistication ' rather than the quality and free spirit of the time.

America 's conservatives have attempted to rediscover America 's roots, with little success. In fact, they sound and act most pathetic when they attempt to reclaim the country's earlier foundations. They stress the backwardness of earlier America ' before it underwent some of its important developments in social tolerance ' rather than the political liberty and free spirit of the time.

America should learn from this, and stop following Metallica's example![7] The music of early Metallica was groundbreaking for the 1980s, and the freedom of early America was for the 1800s. But we shouldn't be trying to revive Kill 'Em All, or the liberty of Antebellum America; we should set our sights higher. And instead of constantly bickering over when the zenith was,[8] and when the real turning point toward calamity occurred, we should seek a new birth of greater freedom than we've ever seen, and a new source of good music, while we're at it.

If you're like me, you don't know exactly what to think of Metallica's earlier albums and America 's earlier political leaders. Do they still deserve respect, or was the project always doomed to become reactionary, derivative, and stale? Well, I still listen to Master of Puppets and read Thomas Jefferson's writings. But the hope for the future goes beyond restoring Ride the Lightning and the Constitution. They might have been quite revolutionary for their respective eras, but I hope to see something even better in my lifetime.

-By the way, if you think my opinions on music stink, it's a good thing our economic system allows for differing tastes, isn't it?


[1] Thanks to my friend Metal Mike, for encouraging me to write this.

[2] Although some think that 'And Justice for All, with its poor recording quality and desperate lack of sound in the bass register, marked the irreversible turning point in their career, most will admit that by the time the album ends the listener will have heard moments of beauty and compositional intricacy that surpass what the band, for the most part, were previously able to achieve. See, for example, the masterful 'To Live Is To Die,' which contains lyrics written by the then-departed Cliff Burton, thus harkening back to an earlier era while simultaneously demonstrating hope for a new resurgence in thrash metal.

[3] Although some think that the post-bellum era, with the precedents set forth by Lincoln and the destruction of checks on federal power, marked the irreversible turning point in American history, most will admit that by the time Reconstruction ended the country achieved moments of liberty and constitutional protections that surpass what the nation, for the most part, was previously able to achieve. See, for example, the administration of Grover Cleveland, which comprised enormous reliance on the veto pen and a return to sound fiscal and monetary policy, thus harkening back to an earlier era while simultaneously demonstrating hope for a new resurgence in freedom.

[4] There were some silver linings in the 'Black Album,' such as the song, 'Sad But True,' which captured the band's raw sound at their best in the early 1990s. But even here, we can hear a foreshadowing of James Hetfield's future singing voice, which eventually would become one of the most devastating aspects of later Metallica. By the time the 'Black Album' was released, much of Hetfield's singing was clearly straying from its original, thrash-metal tendencies into something else entirely.

[5] There were some silver linings in the 'Progressive Era,' such as the elevation of women to the same legal status as men, which captured the country's devotion to justice at its best in the early 20th century. But even here, we can see a foreshadowing of the country's future equivalency between equality and liberty, which eventually would become one of the most devastating aspects of later America. By the time women got the vote, much of mainstream feminism was clearly straying from its original, individualist tendencies into something else entirely.

[6] However, by the time of 'Don't Tread on Me,' released in their 'progressive era,' they began to digress from their philosophical anti-statism. It was analogous to a Roosevelt Corollary to their earlier and more modest, though problematic, 'Monroe Doctrine,' which came in the form of their first semi-glorifications of violence in Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning.

[7] I admit, this might sound like a bizarre sentiment, seeing as how Metallica came along much later than America's decline in freedom. Lighten up!

[8] There is much debate on when these turning points occurred. In summary, some Metallica fans say the band 'sold out' with the 'Black Album' (officially released as a self-titled album called Metallica) in 1991. Others say the watershed was Load, but that certainly St. Anger is a new low. More 'hard-core' fans say the band was on the road to ruination immediately when Burton died, or, perhaps earlier. Some even think Ride the Lightning was the beginning of the end, since it included a ballad, 'Fade to Black.' Most would now agree that the founding influence of Lars Ulrich contained the seeds of the band's devolution.

Some libertarian scholars say America's turning point was the Progressive Era, including its culmination in World War I. Others say it wasn't until the New Deal or even the Cold War that the trend toward tyranny became nearly irreversible. More 'hard-core' libertarians say the country was doomed with the conclusion of the 'War Between the States' (conventionally called 'The Civil War') in 1865. Some even think the Constitution was the beginning of the end, since it included federal authority to raise armies, administer central taxes, and squash rebellion. Most would now agree that the founding influence of Alexander Hamilton contained the seeds of the nation's devolution.

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Columns on STR: 41

Anthony Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute, a Policy Advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a columnist at LewRockwell.com. His website is AnthonyGregory.com.