October 10, 1988 12:00 PM


Devastatingly accomplished within their own brutal milieu, Metallica belongs—in terms of pop music anthropology—in the pre-CD category. Crank up the amplifiers and damn the nuances. The ideal place to hear them play live would be in some musty, unfinished basement or a sweltering, dirt-floor Quonset hut with nightmarish acoustics. Their forte is a crushing brand of heavy metal, spearheaded by a guitar sound that seems to rumble up from the bowels of a hell that is suffering from indigestion. But what makes the band fascinating is the inventive ways they find to stretch beyond their obdurate premise. They occasionally throw in delicate acoustic interludes that make the inevitable metal onslaught that follows seem that much heavier. To Live Is to Die and the title track are prime examples of this twisted bent. It’s the musical equivalent of watching a butterfly fluttering in the path of a falling safe. On almost all the group’s lengthy songs, Metallica installs unexpected shifts in mood and melody, creating the most rococo rock in metal-dom. The only problem with this theme-and-variations style is that it sometimes puts unreasonable demands on lead guitarist Kirk Hammett to come up with apt solo statements. The band is still most effective when it’s unmercifully pounding out landslide riffs, as on Harvester of Sorrow and Blackened. It’s on these lethal little ditties that James Hetfield’s peremptory prophet-of-doom vocals appear most at home. Okay, those who insist can buy the CD of…And Justice for All because Metallica is tricky (and creative) enough to warrant close listening. Just make sure the volume is kept on 10 (or 11 if available). With these guys, the nastier they sound, the more enjoyable they are. (Elektra)

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