Review: Be’Lakor, “Vessels” (2016)

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Australia’s Be’Lakor does not make great party music. That’s actually a compliment.

Now, I have nothing at all against party music — I have enough classic AC/DC and Aerosmith albums that fall into that category — but, generally, I like music that has a bit more heft to it. I like a song that draws my attention away from whatever I’m doing and forces me to listen.

Be’Lakor have been making music that demands concentration for years, but here in the States, they’ve been an under-the-radar band. Although the band’s excellent 2012 release “Of Breath and Bone” received a rave review from Blabbermouth.net, I’m not sure the album generated much U.S. interest, and the band has never toured the States. When people here think of Australian metal, the names that mostly come to mind are AC/DC — and to a much lesser extent, Portal and Sanzu.

Which is too bad, because Be’Lakor’s latest release “Vessels,” is a great album, full of atmosphere, intricate melodies and power. It’s heavy enough to be death metal, but melodic enough to not grate against my nerves like grind (sorry, grind fans). The band blends both exceeding heaviness with melody and the occasional acoustic interlude in a very appealing way.

I find myself wanting to write, “Be’Lakor make the best Opeth albums Opeth never made,” but that’s neither fair nor accurate. Yes, there are similarities between “Vessels” and older Opeth classics (particularly “My Arms, Your Hearse”), but Be’Lakor are not an Opeth clone. The band is making dark, melodic death metal, sure — but with their own style. Be’Lakor sound like Be’Lakor. They’re performing in the same arena as Opeth, but they’re not attempting to walk in Opeth’s shoes.

With the exception of the 90-second intro, “Luma,” and the three-minute interlude “A Thread Dissolves,” the tracks on “Vessels” are long. The shortest, “Grasping Light,” is just under seven minutes, and “Withering Strands” and “The Smoke of Many Fires” all break the nine-minute mark.

A lot of bands write songs that are long, but the songs are “Vessels” are not lengthy for the sake of length. Instead, the songs are stuffed full of ideas, that are woven together with surprising seamlessness. So many parts shouldn’t fit together so well, but here they do.

The songs seem to rush at moments, before dwindling to soft acoustic spaces. Yes, patience is required, but the band is not deliberately taxing your patience or wasting your time. The tracks are journeys, and the trip is as important as the destination. As someone once told me about a Dimmu Borgir album (which I admittedly didn’t grasp, and still don’t particularly like), “you just have to breathe the songs in.” With “Vessels,” the breathing works.

There’s not a bad track on”Vessels,” although a few stand above the rest — particularly “An Ember’s Arc,” “Whelm,” “Withering Strands” and “The Smoke of Many fires.”

With the band making the move from indie labels to the slightly larger and better financed Napalm Records, I hope Be’Lakor will be able to find a larger following. I hope so. While they’re certainly building on the melodic death metal template, Be’Lakor are strikingly original, and there are mind-blowing moments on almost every track of “Vessels.” There’s definitely an audience for this kind of music — if only the audience can find it.

Highly recommended.

Here’s one you missed: The Great Old Ones “Al Azif”

Today, I’ll be starting a new (hopefully regular) column, where I’ll highlight obscure, underground or just plain weird albums that probably haven’t received the serious listen they deserve. I want to get this new feature off right, so let’s talk about a recent indie weirdie from recent years, 2012’s “Al Azif” by France’s blackened death metal outsiders, The Great Old Ones.

Early 20th Century pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft has gone from fringe figure to being a major influence in literature, art, film and music. He died in obscurity, but, today, stories like “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Shadow Out of Time” are considered horror classics — and many of his stories have been turned into feature films.

Now, Lovecraft’s work has popped up on music before — the two most obvious examples are Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “The Call of Ktulu” of course, but Australia’s Portal also seems to have a strong Lovecraft connection. Other bands drop references here and there, and non-signed guitarist Brett Miller released an instrumental album last year entirely of Lovecratian-inspired material.

But The Great Old Ones might be the only signed band for whom Lovecraft’s universe of unimaginable, sanity-ripping monster deities inspire every single one of their songs. The band’s excellent “Tekeli-Li” was a concept album based on the novella “At The Mountains of Madness,” and some special orders of the disc even shipped with a copy of the story.

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“Al Azif,” which came before, is not a concept album exactly, but it each song is based on a Lovecraft story, such as “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Music of Erich Zann.” But anyone can take a song and stick a Lovecraft title on it — more than one artist has tried. It’s a lot tougher to craft a song that actually sounds like a Lovecraft story should sound, in all his unimaginable, chaotic, cosmic horror.

I wouldn’t call the Great Old Ones “black metal,” but the band uses some of the conventions of black metal throughout “Al Azif.” But there’s more melody here than in, say, your traditional Mayhem or Emperor classic, and the songs often switch from black metal to melodic passages more reminiscent of Opeth than  Burzum.

The songs, for lack of a better term, sound vast. The band is not interested — and does not attempt — to shred. No one band member stands out, and even the vocals blend into the mix instead of taking center stage. The melodies are big — yet also off-kilter and off-key.  There’s certainly a beauty here, particularly on songs like “Visions of R’lyeh” and the  “Rue D’auseil,”but it’s an odd beauty, like green clouds in a maelstrom. The album has the feeling of being wind swept, or ocean tossed.

 

Since the band is so devoted to themes and concepts of Lovecraft, it’s fair to ask: Can people not familiar with Lovecraft’s work find value in “Al Azif?” I can’t answer for certain — I ran into Lovecraft’s work when I was 14 and have been a fan of what is generally called “The Cthulhu Mythos” ever since.

(Side Note: Yes, I’m familiar with Lovecraft’s racism — how could I not be, considering some of the more shocking descriptions of African-Americans and other racial groups, particularly in stories like “Herbert West: Re-Animator”? I’d say people can still find value in Lovecraft, while certainly acknowledging and being distressed by his examples of racism. I’d also say you can find an excellent rebuttal or reexamination of Lovecraft’s racial views in Victor LaValle’s recent novella, “The Ballad of Black Tom,” which revisits Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook” through the perspective of a African-American musician/hustler who gets caught up in the chaos of the original story).

But I digress. I think overall, a person doesn’t have to appreciate Lovecraft works, or even know them, to enjoy the atmospherics and the bludgeoning metal — of “Al Azif.” The album stands solidly on its own — it’s dark and doomy, with a hint of the progressive and more than a bit of groove. It has a heavy vibe that I enjoy, whether I’m reading “The Colour Out of Space” for the 20th time, or washing my car. (Who am I kidding? I never wash my car…)

The band signed to Season of Mist earlier this year, and were scheduled to begin recording their third album in May. I’m looking foward to hearing where the band goes next.

Review: Ahab, “The Giant”

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Doom metal isn’t the most innovative genre. I admit I have not immersed myself in the genre as I have in other styles of metal, but I’ve heard enough funeral dirge metal to know I’d mostly rather get doom from the original masters — Black Sabbath.

The one exception to my “no new doom” rule, however, is Germany’s Ahab. Ever since the band’s first release — the suffocating yet oddly beautiful “The Call of the Wretched Sea” — I have been a fan and have always eagerly await news of new Ahab albums.

The band’s 2012 release, “The Giant,” is not a disappointment. In fact, “The Giant” is a great leap forward for Ahab, as the band moves away from their already-hybridized version of “doom” and more into progressive metal. Not every fan will like the band’s musical direction — but if fans look back on the band’s previous two albums, “The Call of the Wretched Sea” and “The Divinity of Oceans,” it should be clear that “The Giant” was Ahab’s next logical step.

Like album’s past, “The Giant” is a concept album, this time based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” But you don’t need to know your Poe to enjoy “The Giant.”

Vocalist/guitarist Daniel Droste still employs his dead-man’s sludge-filled grunt throughout the album — but Droste sings much of the album with “clean vocals.” Now, singing clean isn’t new to the band; there were moments of clean vocals in “The Divinity of Oceans,” and what I’d guess you call “clean chanting” on songs like “The Sermon” and “The Hunt” from “Call of the Wretched Sea.” But Droste does something new here, singing almost entire songs (“Fathoms Deep,” “The Giant” and “Time’s Like Molten Lead”) entirely with clean voice.

Droste’s “regular” voice isn’t Bruce Dickinson’s, to be sure — but the vocals fit the melancholy feel of the disc. How much the “clean” vocals bother you will like depend on how much of death metal purist you are — certainly, some older bands of the band have not loved the new style. On the other hand, the juxtaposition of clean and doom vocals gives the band a much broader musical range and depth.

Speaking of “depth,” Ahab has always been about the impossibly heavy depths of the sea (all three concept albums are based on sea epics or history of shipwrecks). While the vocals are often clearer, there has been so softening musically; the beautiful parts are steeped in sadness, or are eerie and full of foreboding — while the metal still crashes down and obliterates. A prime example is “Fathoms Deep,” a deceptively lulling song for the first few minutes, until the doom crashes in like a tidal wave and overwhelms everything in its path.

There are a lot of standout tracks here — almost everything works, really, although “Antarctica the Polymorphess” is not quite as interesting as everything that comes before and after. While all the rest are great, my personal faves are “Further South,” Fathoms Deep,” “The Giant” and the brilliant “Time’s Like Molten Lead” — which, I’ve read, is actually a bonus track.

Ahab continues to grow on “The Giant” and is moving in directions I can’t quite predict. While I love the band’s doom metal approach, it’s good to see the band member’s setting sail for different musical shores. I’ll be looking forward to their next musical voyage. Who knows where they’ll go?

Review: Chthonic: “Takasago Army”

The problem with the age of buying albums online is that we’ve lost the joy of browsing the record store.

To buy an album online, of course, you have to know exactly what you want. While record labels and zines do everything they can to publicize bands, only a small percentage of the bands are likely to get through your filter.

That wasn’t true back when we had record stores; in those halcyon days, I would spend a good hour or two just browsing through the aisles, checking out album covers, reading lyrics and song titles and bugging the clerks for info about particularly interesting bands. Part of the fun was taking home an album by a completely unknown (to me) band — yes, I got some stinkers that way, but I also ended up with great albums by bands like Type O Negative, Megadeth, Manowar and The Dead Milkmen.

I had a new “hoooley shee-it” moment recently, when I stumbled across the new Chthonic album, “Takasago Army” at record store in a nearby city. While I think I had heard of Chthonic before, I knew absolutely nothing about them … so my ears perked up and my eyes popped out when the Taiwan-based band hit me with an original blend of traditional Taiwanese melodies and instrumentation and roaring symphonic black metal.

A concept album based on Taiwanese history, “Takasako Army” is a blistering disc and surprises again and again with the inclusion of Chinese and Taiwanese melodies.

I’m not talking about just samples here and there, either; the music of Taiwan is inextricably woven into the songs. Metal is a western creation — but Chthonic doesn’t attempt to imitate western metal. Instead, they make the genre their own. To the uninitiated, it’s an incredibly refreshing.

But, thankfully, injecting Taiwanese culture into the music doesn’t stop Chthonic from being incredibly heavy. With the exception of two brief instrumentals, “Takasago Army” roars from beginning to end.

“Takasago Army” tells the story of Taiwanese aboriginals who were recruited to fight for Japan during World War II. After the war, the men returned home, only to be recruited again when Chinese nationalists invaded Taiwan after the nationalists lost the Chinese civil war. The Taiwanese defenders lost the battle — thereby losing any chance the island nation had for independence after the defeat of Japan.

You don’t have to know all of that to appreciate “Takasago Army,” however. This is symphonic black metal — and the Taiwanese musical references make this as innovative and surprising as Emperor must have been when they first burst onto the Norwegian metal scene in the early 1990s.

Fans of black metal — and metal fans tired of the countless bands that seem to be working overtime to sound as generic as possible — will find much to enjoy here. “Takasago Army” is highly recommended.

Review: Metallica & Lou Reed, “Lulu”

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Every once in a while, there’s an album so big that every member of the metal press simply has to write about it.

“Lulu,” the collaboration between Metallica and ’60s-70s electric/ecclectic folk freak Lou Reed is one of those albums.

We can’t ignore an album by “the biggest metal band in the world,” I suppose … but reviewing a humorless, directionless, pointless car crash like “Lulu” ain’t gonna be a whole lotta fun, either. Sigh, let’s just tackle this sunnavabeech of an album right now and get it over with, shall we?

Loutallica first performed together at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame and they thought it went so freakin’ well that they had to collaborate on a full album. So Reed dusted off some lyrics he’d cobbled together based on a cycle of German expressionist plays (no, I’m not making that up), presented them to the band and said, “OK, boys, let’s make some art!”

If the comments from Reed, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett are to be believed, “art” is really what they think they achieved with “Lulu.” I guess the argument could be made — I mean hell, if I guy can stick a crucifix in a jar, pee on it and pass it off as “art,” the word “art” has no meaning anyway.

So I’ll give Loutallica a pass in the “art” category, but honestly, this is just about the worst musical pile of dung I’ve heard in years. Words are inadequate to articulate the incredible, impossible, staggering awfulness of this album. Every last thing about it is wrong, and it’s an album that will not please fans of either Metallica or Lou Reed. It’s as if the album was cut with the deliberate intention of alienating as many listeners as possible. If that was the goal, Loutallica succeeded.

What’s wrong with “Lulu”? Well, let’s start with that German expressionist yap Reed is spouting. According to their Web site, the “Lulu” plays were written in the early 1900s and were about “a young abused dancer’s life and relationships.”

Maybe someone could have taken that theme and made a compelling album — the phrase “young abused dancer” stirs an interesting mental image of a 20-something ballerina with a bit of a kinky streak buried within her — and who wouldn’t want to meet that girl?. Hell, give that concept to Shirley Manson and Garbage and I’ll bet they make something sexy out of it.

Reed, however, wasn’t up to the challenge. Reed sounds stoned out of his mind, or just off his meds, as he rambles through each of “Lulu’s” dismal excuses for songs. And the lyrics, wowee-zowee, you gotta hear them to believe them.

“Follow me around, pathetic little dog,” Reed croaks in “Little Dog.” “Smell your sh*t in the wind.”

On “Frustration,” Reed reaches a level of epic atrociousness, with lines like, “spermless like a girl,” “you and your prickless lover” and “I want so much to hurt you, I want you as my wife.”

“I’m a woman who likes men,” Reed spits on “Mistress Dread.” “I wish you would tie me up and beat me … I wish there was a strap of blood you could kiss away… I beg you to degrade me,” and it just goes on and on, with every new utterance more ridiculous, hideous and embarrassing than the last.

Frankly, Metallica vocalist James Hetfield doesn’t help this mess. Het is unintentionally hilarious when he starts yelling “small town girl!” on “Brandburg Gate”  and “I am the table!” on “The View.” Later in the album, Het sings, “why do I cheat on me?” And you’ll think, “jeeze, James, I don’t know why — but stop it, so I don’t have to hear about it anymore, why donchya?”

Musically, only two of the tracks, “Iced Honey” and the first half of “Junior Dad” sound like “songs” at all. The rest of the album sounds like a “St. Anger” jam session intermixed with a “free-jazz” session that makes Spinal Tap’s Jazz Odyssey sound inspired.

There’s not enough “metal” here to make metal fans happy — sure, the band thrashes a bit on “Mistress Dread,” but most of the music sounds like jam-band-gone-wrong.

So “Lulu” is a trainwreck of monumental proportions. Everyone involved behind the scenes had to realize how earth-shakingly bad this project was, so the real mystery about “Lulu” is: Why didn’t anyone tell Reed and the band the truth? Wasn’t there a producer or manager or even a freakin’ studio janitor who could’ve said, “sorry, Lars, but this music really sucks”? Perhaps this is what happens when artists get so big that they lose all connection with reality.

Reed and Metallica seems to be off in their own parallel reality, where down is up, right is left and anything they record is automatically “good” and “art.” Well, bullsh*t. “Lulu” is absolute unlistenable dreck. I can’t even laugh at the album, because Loutallica is obviously taking the damn thing soooooo seriously. What a joyless pile of broken cogs and widgets.

The members of Metallica were always hell-bent on doing things their way, on their own terms. That worked for them in the past, but we’ll see how much of the fan base is willing to embrace “Lulu.” I think Metallica is gonna lose some fans on this one.

After listening to “Lulu” several times, I wouldn’t blame those old fans who throw up their hands and walk away one single bit.

Review: Arch/Matheos “Sympathetic Resonance”

John Arch and Jim Matheos

In 1986, one of my favorite albums of the year was the Fates Warning epic “Awaken The Guardian.” “Guardian” was an incredibly accomplished piece of progressive metal — full of complex, heavy-yet-catchy songs, amazing vocals by John Arch and great guitar work by guitarists and songwriters Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti. “Guardian” was — and remains — a classic (you can read more about it here).

After “ATG,” however, John Arch was booted from the band; I’ve read interviews where the rest of the band doubted Arch’s commitment to the touring-recording-touring lifestyle — and perhaps with good reason; it would be more than 15 years before Arch would record songs again.

But when Arch did come back for the 2003 EP, “A Twist of Fate,” he was again working with his old Fates Warning comrade Jim Matheos. When word leaked last year that Arch and Matheos (along with Aresti) were working on a full-length album, I was really excited.

But I wondered: A lot of time had gone by; could Arch and Matheos recapture the power, spirit and precision of “Awaken The Guardian”? Could they go home again?

No — but to be fair, they didn’t try, either. Arch and Matheos (who decided to call the band Arch/Matheos rather than working under the Fates Warning label), didn’t write a bunch of material that sounds exactly like the “Awaken The Guardian” era. In retrospect, that decision makes sense; after all, if people like “Awaken The Guardian,” they can simply spin that album again and not bother with any of Matheos’ new music.

The end result, “Sympathetic Resonance,” is very good in large part; in particular, the songs “Neurotically Wired,” “Midnight Serenade” and “Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)” are well-realized, well-played and very pleasing. Also, the album is much heavier than I originally expected, and that’s a plus; I’m glad every “progressive metal” band (Hi, Opeth!) isn’t abandoning metal entirely to follow their King Crimson/Yes muse into the ether.

Most of the songs on “Sympathetic Resonance” are exhaustively long. “Neurotically Wired,” “Stained Glass Sky” and “Any Given Day” all clock in at over 10 minutes-long — and they’re filled with the multiple time signature twists and turns reminiscent of early Fates Warning tracks like “Epitaph” or “The Ivory Gate of Dreams.” In that sense, the album is actually less controlled than “Awaken The Guardian,” which can be a drawback.

Arch is a great vocalists, but his lyrical phrasing can be a bit jarring at times. On “Guardian,” the songs were so tight that Arch wasn’t able to fly too far from the melody; the songs on “Sympathetic Resonance,” however, are a bit more free-form, so at times Arch seems to be singing against the melody. It’s just his style, I know, but occasionally it does sound odd.

But when the man is on, he’s really on — “Midnight Serenade” is equal to anything Arch did with the band on “Guardian,” and “Any Give Day (Strangers Like Me)” showcases voice to the fullest extent.

The musicianship here is stellar. Matheos and Aresti go for broke on the opening instrumental barrage of “Stained Glass Sky” and the guitars impress throughout. Arch and Aresti came of age in the era of the guitar solo and their chops have only gotten better since the 1980s. Drummer Bobby Jarzombek is a phenomenal drummer who stands out on every single track. As for Joey Vera, he’s not really given much to do beyond follow the melodies — but, considering the complexity level of the songs, that’s probably enough

I have some quibbles. Lyrically, the album is riddled with clichés — you could almost make a drinking game out of the number of times Arch lets fly with a stock phrase — and the songs are certainly less focused than the tracks on “Awaken The Guardian.”

So, this isn’t the album of the year I was hoping it to be, but am I disappointed in “Sympathetic Resonance”? No. The album takes patience and multiple spins to really appreciate, but the songs have grown on me with repeat listens (Incense and Myrrh” is notable in that the track seemed like a throwaway effort on first listen — but has gotten more and more impressive on every successive listen).

Anyway, it’s good to hear Arch, and Matheos together again. I certainly hope there will be a tour in 2012.

Book review: “Enter Night, A Biography of Metallica”

I had never heard of author/music critic Mick Wall until I stumbled across Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica last week, but Wall certainly knows his way around much of the hard rock and heavy metal world.

In addition to writing for various metal mags and publications like the London Times, Wall has penned bios of Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Bono and Guns N Roses.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Wall’s stuff, because Enter Night is an intelligent, thorough, high-quality work — filled with both sharp insights and cutting anecdotes, while not lacking on the lets-look-at-the-car-wreck sleaze that made rock bios like “Hammer of the Gods” so much damn fun.

Wall has interviewed Metallica members James Hetfield and Lar Ulrich numerous times over the years. Wall has also spent a good amount of time with Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton (much less with Jason Newsted, but more on that later). Wall also interviewed other prominent figures in Metallica’s history, like Dave Mustaine, Rob Trujillo, Ron McGovney, Jonny and Marsha Zazula, Brian Slagel, Bob Rock, Flemming Rasmussen and members of Armored Saint, Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and other bands, tour managers and insiders.

All of that access did not turn Wall into a sycophant; indeed Wall is unafraid to slaughter Metallica sacred cows like “… And Justice For All” and “Death Magnetic. Wall also doesn’t gloss over unpleasant band history… especially when it comes to the decisions Hetfield, Ulrich and Hammett made after Cliff Burton’s death in September, 1986, and how they marginalized Newsted for years after Newsted was hired as Burton’s replacement.

Wall has an encyclopedic knowledge of the NWOBHM bands that young Lars Ulrich idolized so much as a teen with a rock dream.  Wall extensively interviewed Ulrich’s friends and associates, showing Ulrich as a man with the ambition to make his band (which didn’t even exist until “Mettallica” was offered a chance to play a song on the first “Metal Massacre” album) the biggest band in the world.

As a drummer, Ulrich was often so bad that Hetfield would spit on him at gigs, Wall writes … but without Ulrich’s drive, Metallica would never have achieved one-tenth of the success the band eventually reached.

Hetfield gets equally close scrutiny. Wall’s portrait of Hetfield’s childhood (with an absent father and a mother whose Christian Science beliefs led her to forsake treatment for cancer and die while Hetfield was a teen) goes a long way toward explaining the anger Hetfield displayed in his music — and the shell he kept erected around himself for much of his life.

To reach the top, Ulrich and Hetfield made some controversial (some would say callous) decisions. The firing of long-time friend McGovney for Burton made sense musically, of course. But Wall doesn’t downplay the fact that Hetfield and Ulrich (and Mustaine as well) screwed over McGovney — partying and causing chaos while Ron paid the bills — before tossing him unceremoniously out of the band.

Later, Hetfield, Ulrich and Burton would do the same thing with Mustaine — who, Wall writes, competed with Ulrich and Hetfield for leadership of the band — and upstaged the shy Hetfield onstage. Hammett was both a more intricate player (but not an innovator like Mustaine, Wall writes) and someone who would follow Hetfield and Ulrich’s leadership, Wall writes. The decision to basically dump managers Jon and Marsha Z was also a somewhat cold one (the band had actually lived for a time with the Z family while recording “Kill Em All,” and Jon Z put himself into serious financial hock to make that record)… but the move to new management did help the band find the larger audience it was seeking.

Hammett doesn’t get much attention compared to Hetfield and Ulrich. But Wall does spend quite a bit of time on Cliff Burton — who Wall describes as both the most musically adventurous member of the band and the most grounded.

As Wall writes, Burton was practically an idol to James, Lars and Kirk; he was the man who would never “sell out” his integrity and beliefs. He was the most musically trained (Burton had studied classical music and was a fan of Bach) — and also introduced the band to a variety of influences, from Skynyrd to Kate Bush and The Misfits. Some of Burton’s musical influences would continue to be felt long after his death.

If Cliff wasn’t the leader of the band, he was the person Ulrich and Hetfield had to convince before major decisions were made.  According to Wall, the impact of Burton’s death in a bus accident on the band cannot  be overstated.

Burton was killed when the band’s bus slid off the road and overturned during the “Master of Puppets” tour in Sweden on Sept. 27, 1986. The accident threatened to sideline the band at a time when “Master” was receiving raves and a mass audience beckoned. The band’s management, Q Prime, urged the band to stay on the road, and Hetfield, Ulrich and Hammett made the decision to find a permanent replacement for Burton, rather than just hiring a stand-in for the tour.  Nine weeks after Burton’s funeral, the band was touring Japan with new bassist Jason Newsted.

Wall isn’t particularly sympathetic to Newsted; Wall is part of the “cult of Cliff” himself, and tends to idolize Burton while dismissing Newsted’s skills as a bassist. It’s not necessarily fair — but Wall writes Hetfield, Ulrich and Hammett did much the same thing. The rest of the band looked down on Newsted as almost a groupie — someone who had  jettisoned his old band, Flotsam and Jetsam (where Newsted was the primary songwriter and businessman) to grab a secondary position in Metallica. It was a choice, Wall writes, that Newsted lived to regret. Rob Trujillo, however, is depicted by Wall as someone who isn’t awestruck by his new superstar band mates and as someone who is more than capable of holding his own on stage.

Wall’s assessments of the albums are spot on; he rightly praises “Master of Puppets,” “Ride the Lightning” and the “Black” album, while noting the revolutionary impact of “Kill Em All” and the incredibly alive (and fun) sound of “Garage Days Re-Revisited.” It may be against conventional wisdom, but Wall’s right in that “Load” had a lot of terrific songs (he’s also correct in saying “Reload” is mostly dreck). Further, Wall is also right when he says “… And Justice For All” is a cold, sterile album that is almost unlistenable, except for “One.” Wall doesn’t care much for “Death Magnetic,” but a lot of old-school fans weren’t impressed and Wall definitely is an “old school” fan.

I came away from Enter Night with a greater appreciation of Metallica — the band that almost never existed and nearly ripped itself apart after Burton’s death. I don’t know if the band likes it, but Wall’s account is, ultimately, exceedingly fair and entertaining. I was surprised at how little about Metallica I actually knew.

Highly recommended.