Author: David Masciotra
Reviewed: Jan 2019
Regular readers of my book reviews may have noticed that I have been methodically reviewing all the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal books in the 33 and one-third series. It’s not much of a task because there are not many in the series, only five titles to date. This can be credited to the publishers’ indifferent attitude towards Metal at best or anti-Metal policy at worst.
The 33 1/3 series are handy and fun pocket sized in-depth album reviews. There are (as of time of writing) about 135 books in the series. The most recent Metal related title, published in 2015, is a book about Metallica’s self-tilted album, originally issued in 1991. Considering the album, sometimes referred to the ‘Black’ album is one of the best selling albums in history, I was curious what more could be said about it. For the record this is #108 in the series.
My disclaimer is that I’m not a big fan of the record but I’m not going to stoop so low as to take this opportunity to criticize the record or use my review as a chance to slag the band. Out of curiosity I went back and checked my records and the last time I played this record was Sept 24th, 2012 and before that 2009. I listened to it again in the background while reading the book, as I often do with these older records. I suppose the fact that I haven’t listen to it in over half a decade gives you a clue where it stands.
The author is a pop-culture author with little to no notable metal affiliation so having a neutral source seems to be a reasonable choice to discuss this mildly controversial record. Reading the introduction I’m already sighing in resignation as the author immediately trots out the old ‘Hair Metal=bad/Thrash Metal=Good’ cliche that have plagued pop culture writers for almost three decades. Name-dropping bands like Poison and Bon Jovi as a musical counter-points and his lame attempt to prove the authenticity of the corporate juggernaut Metallica as being non-commerical and underground music saviors, is tired and uninspired. The introduction reads like a Wikipedia article; nothing new, nothing interesting. The book itself does however, get better.
David Mascioatra has interviewed the band and draws from his archives to write a fairly compelling narrative of METALLICA. He does not restrict himself just to the technical aspect of the creation of the art, he talks about it as a cultural phenomena. Which he is positive and enthusiastic the stops short of being a gushing fan-boy, which is nice.
He misses the mark when he says that ‘…Sad But True…redefines heavy music and reduces to rubble any argument that Metallica softened on The Black Album.” (p. 46) The entire point of the album was that Metallica DID soften, on purpose…and alienated many of their original fans in the process and embraced a whole new mainstream audience who liked the softer, slower, kinder, gentler Metallica. I’m not sure how Mascioatra missed that fundamental point as he addresses it several times though the book himself admitting it is a slower, gentler album. The only other real black mark is that the author gets preachy and political at times, super-imposing his political stance on the lyrics and album, but then again, it is his book!
Since I don’t have a real emotional connection to the album I felt METALLICA despite a few misfires, is as good as you could get as an analysis of the record. Lyrics, music, production and creativity are given equal weight and consideration in the discussion and pretty much any fan who has never perhaps heard the record could come away with an appreciation of what it is and where it stands In the history of heavy music.