While I attended college during the second half of the Eighties, two of my roommates, Don and Mike, were serious metal-heads. Actually, Don wasn’t really that big a metal fan in and of itself; he was more of a guitar freak, and he loved the blisteringly-fast solos played by guys like Steve Vai and George Lynch.
Mike, on the other hand, definitely rocked to the beat of a thudding drummer, and metal was pretty much his only music of choice. Oddly, he occasionally liked wimpy acts such as Swing Out Sister as well, but bands like W.A.S.P. and Dokken dominated his dance card. The hair metal renaissance of the Eighties was an absolute godsend for him.
Personally, I couldn’t stand any of that crap. The “hair metal” era of the Eighties, with umpteen virtually interchangeable acts such as Poison, Cinderella, Winger, Motley Crue, and eighty million others, was a low point for rock. I couldn’t understand their popularity then, and the years haven’t granted me additional clarity. It was lowest-common-denominator tripe that I’m glad eventually disappeared from the airwaves.
Somehow, Mike and I still got along despite our musical differences. However, there was one metal band I was willing to tolerate: Metallica. Among their glitzy peers, they came across as something different. They lacked the showiness of the others and seemed to be more about the music itself. As such, they boasted a kind of metal purity that I definitely respected, even if I didn’t particularly like it.
Nonetheless, I’ve always kept a much more open mind about Metallica than I did for their simple peers, and I even came to like some of their songs. One of my faves pops up on the band’s biggest album, 1991’s Metallica. Also know as “The Black Album” because of its Spinal Tap-esque cover, this release didn’t reinvent the wheel for the rockers, but it brought them newfound popularity, and it’s the subject of this Classic Albums DVD.
This is my third look at a Classic Albums release; I also watched U2: The Joshua Tree and The Who: Who’s Next in early 2000. I found myself impressed with the presentation then, as the discs involved provided a good look at the creation of the records. We heard from virtually all the main participants - at least those still alive, which left out Keith Moon - and they gave reasonably detailed accounts of their work, along with cool demonstrations of the mixing possibilities.
Metallica follows the same blueprint, but not as satisfying a degree. All four members of the band - guitarist/singer James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Jason Newsted - appear in both new interviews and archival footage. In addition, we hear from producer Bob Rock, band co-manager Cliff Burnstein, Rolling Stone editor David Fricke, writer Lonn Friend, DJ Eddie Trunk, engineer Randy Staub, and composer/orchestral arranger Michael Kamen. According to the band’s official Website, the new material was created in late 2000, which means it includes what may be some of Newsted’s last involvement with the band; he officially quit in January 2001, though I’ve seen rumors he might return.
In any case, this Classic Albums production provides a decent look at the group and their most successful album. We find a mix of the afore-mentioned interview clips as well as archival footage of the recording sessions and some concert performances, the new shots of Metallica as they play live in the studio, and “song dissection” that takes place around the mixing board. As I previously alluded, these elements follow the same pattern as seen in the other Classic Albums DVDs.
Unfortunately, the main program - there are many extra clips found in the supplements, which I’ll discuss later - doesn’t provide as complete a discussion as I saw in other releases. For one, the show concentrates on only six of the album’s 12 songs; the others receive no attention. I don’t regard that as a terrible oversight, as The Joshua Tree only went over seven of the record’s 11 numbers, and Who’s Next barely touched on anything other than “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
However, I thought the earlier shows gave us greater detail within their scope. The discussion of the tunes highlighted - “Enter Sandman”, “Sad But True”, “Holier Than Thou”, “The Unforgiven”, “Wherever I May Roam”, and “Nothing Else Matters” - seems decent but without tremendous depth. We get some new takes of a couple of the tunes and hear a bit about their creation. “Sandman” - my favorite of the bunch - comes up first and gets the most attention. Hammett tells how he came up with the riff and also plays the original take on it, which sounds considerably different.
The other five songs largely follow along similar lines. Hetfield and Ulrich dominate the show, as we hear relatively little from Newsted and Hammett. Actually, producer Rock appears much more than they do, which makes sense, since he apparently did a lot to influence the sound of Metallica. We learn a little about them, we might hear demo versions or get a peek at some of the isolated material through the mixing board, and we generally obtain a modest view of how the tunes came to be. In addition, we find a fair amount of information about the band’s relationships at the time, and the general atmosphere during the recording of Metallica.
This resulted in a reasonably good primer, but I thought it could have offered greater detail. The best aspects of the Joshua Tree and Who’s Next programs came from the really strong looks behind the scene. To see Pete Townshend sit at a mixing board and isolate parts of “Baba O’Riley” or to watch the Edge strap on a guitar and demonstrate aspects of his work is absolutely fascinating. Metallica tosses in a few moments like these, but not enough to make the program as informative as it could have been.
Not that I didn’t enjoy Classic Albums: Metallica, because I did. Though I’m not much of a fan of the band, I found the show to offer a reasonably entertaining look at part of their career. At times the program felt a bit rushed and superficial, but it still added a lot of useful notes, and it gave us a fairly solid look at the behind the scenes elements of the creation of Metallica.
Reminder note: the comments above addressed the main Classic Albums program. As I noted earlier, the DVD includes a significant amount of additional material that alters the overall impact of the presentation. I didn’t think this should be discussed during my review of the basic show, but I wanted to mention it again because it does strongly enhance the DVD.
Classic Albums: Metallica appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Programs that feature copious amounts of archival footage are always a nuisance to review, and Metallica is no different. Overall, I thought the DVD offered decent but unspectacular visuals.
For the new material, sharpness appeared reasonably crisp and detailed. The picture never came across as tremendously distinct, but it looked acceptably clear and accurate. Focus was more problematic in the older clips, however, especially in regard to the fairly soft and fuzzy shots from the Metallica recording sessions. Some of the videos and concert footage also came across as somewhat indistinct, which suggested that the source material had gone through a few generations before it got to this DVD.
The program seemed to display no significant jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also saw no evidence of edge enhancement. At times some video interference appeared, mainly through a variety of artifacts that gave the image a modestly grainy look. These showed up mainly during the archival footage, though the new clips seemed a little less fresh than I would have liked. Nonetheless, they didn’t present a tremendous problem.
Metallica used a subdued palette since most of it took place inside a recording studio. Within that range, the colors looked drab but they were reasonably accurate. There was nothing here to stand out from the crowd, but the definition seemed acceptable. The same went for both black levels and shadow detail. Again, some of the archival footage looked muddy - especially the live shots - but this was to be expected given the cheap recording techniques used. The recent material appeared fairly distinct and rich. Overall, Metallica provided a bland but acceptable image.
More impressive was the Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtrack of Classic Albums: Metallica. Not surprisingly, this mix stayed with a front-oriented presence that largely hewed to the original stereo presentation of the music. Virtually everything other than the songs stayed in the center; I detected no evidence of effects or dialogue from anywhere other than the middle speaker. The music showed reasonably good but unexceptional stereo separation, though I expect some of that may have resulted from the original production of the album. For Metallica, the band and producer Rock went for a serious wall of sound, and this blended the materials more heavily than I’d expect from other material. Overall, it seemed like the music showed good spread across the front, and the track used the rears for decent reinforcement of the songs.
Audio quality was somewhat erratic but generally positive. Dialogue sounded a little muddy at times, but for the most part speech was reasonably natural and distinct. Despite some excessive boominess to the words, I always understood them easily, and I heard no signs of edginess. As for the effects, well, there really weren’t any; this production featured music and dialogue almost exclusively.
Of course, the songs were the most important aspect of the mix, and they usually came across well. The original tracks from Metallica fared best of all, as they showed good clarity and depth. The tunes sounded dynamic and clear, though high-end frequencies could have been a bit brighter. Other material wasn’t as successful. The new recordings in the studio appeared somewhat boomy and without great detail, and the audio from other sources seemed even weaker. Not that the songs ever sounded bad; they just weren’t as clear and tight as I’d like. As a whole, the soundtrack of Classic Albums: Metallica reproduced the original material fairly well, though it wasn’t one of the best musical reproductions I’ve heard.
The other two Classic Albums releases I watched included virtually no extras, but Metallica remedies that situation. In addition to a basic Discography, we find a collection of seven Bonus Interviews. Before I watched these, I expected to find maybe 10 minutes of brief and semi-uninformative clips. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Instead, the seven interview snippets offer a whopping 43 minutes and 28 seconds of material, which means this area actually functions as an alternate version of the documentary; it lasts almost as long and provides greater depth than what I saw during the main Classic Albums show.
Each of the interview clips lasts between 70 seconds and 13 minutes. These interviews fill in the gaps left by the standard program. We find out information about a couple of the songs not discussed there, and we get additional notes about some of the already-included tunes. For example, “Enter Sandman” receives a much better breakdown, which tosses in an isolated look at Ulrich’s drumming for the song.
Basically, if we combine the main Classic Albums show devoted to Metallica with the extensive “bonus interviews”, we have a very good view of the creation of the megahit album. I’ve enjoyed the Classic Albums programs I’ve seen, and while Metallica didn’t grab me as strongly as past efforts, that related more to my higher level of interest in the other bands. The DVD offers bland but acceptable picture with fairly solid sound. Ultimately, this is piece that will greatly appeal to Metallica fans, and those not as devoted to the band may want to give it a look as well; it’s a nice introduction to them, and it works well for both old Metallica-heads and new recruits.