Janky Smooth

Metallica At The Fonda: Best Thrash Band of All Time or CIA Asset?

Metallica- The Fonda Theatre

I got the text from Taylor Wong about a week prior. A text that would’ve gone without a shred of excitement or so much as a double take for as long as text messaging technology has existed.

Metallica is playing the Fonda Theater next Thursday.”

But after the past few months of one new Metallica track after another being released on YouTube and jogging my consciousness and the very building blocks of my life’s history as a musician and song writer, I quickly started realizing that “Hardwired” was not a one off anomaly or lighthearted but isolated indulgence by the band that wrote “Fight Fire with Fire”, “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “The Four Horsemen.”

Metallica at The Fonda TheatreIs the reemergence of Metallica just a part of the normal, cyclical nature of pop music or is it something more? Could it be that Metallica are covert CIA agents, penetrating the thoughts and emotions of fans to deliver into and infiltrate the sub-consciousness of fans as some type of clandestine alarm clock, coupled with fake news outlets like YourNewsWire and CNN to create a cloud of confusion and disinformation? The U.S. and U.K. both have a history of using the CIA and MI6 respectively to recruit celebs and cultural influencers- for what real purpose, I have no idea but it can’t simply be to compromise and monitor the hard drives of people ripping music off of P2P networks.

Or is this simply a calculated career move to capitalize on the death of NuMetal, much like Metallica capitalized on (or should I say, created) the birth of it and it was simply a matter of reading the writing on the wall to execute the return of the brutal riffs and palm muted power chords that made them one of the heaviest bands in history, up to that point?

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Without any concrete proof other than what my eyes and ears witnessed that Thursday, Lars Ulrich seemingly played to track on ANY song over 4 minutes on Thursday night and the way he kept anyone other than himself or James from addressing the audience at the end of the rare club show at The Fonda in Los Angeles, I would put my money on Metallica being a clandestine, covert government asset.

But it wasn’t always that way. At least not until the government and Lars did away with Cliff Burton as the only thing standing in between the recruitment of Metallica as CIA agents.

Yes, these were the actual thoughts running through my head when the show was announced. So without even attempting to get a credential, secure a ticket or call in any favors, I headed to The Fonda Theater last Thursday- for old times sake. As I try to downplay just how excited I was, I was almost positive that I wouldn’t hear even one song that was written post Black Album- outside of the new ones off Hardwired, of course. And that ended up being the case. Glory be.

Without divulging too much, I was able to enter The Fonda without my name on the list, without a ticket and without anything but decades of experience hustling my way into shows starting at 16 y/o – the very building blocks of janky Smooth itself. That made the night all the more rewarding.

After finally making it in 20 minutes after the show started, it was clear I missed something, which I would find out later was “Breadfan”, “Creeping Death”, “Metal Militia”, “Sad But True” (the heaviest song on the black album) and “Fade to” motherfucking “Black”. FML. Even so, what remained was a bit life altering, I can’t lie.

Hetfield- The Fonda TheatreAgain, being that I’m 99% sure Lars plays to a track for any song over 4 minutes (at least). Even when the band’s closing number, “Seek and Destroy”, ended with about 8 bars of the main riff from “Frayed Ends of Sanity”, and instead of taking the time the band used to bow and wave and ego trip, they used it to “rockstar” instead of playing that song. (Fuckers). Even with the “dad jokes” Hetfield made throughout the set that helped me conclude, rather affectionately actually, that Metallica are nothing more than a bunch of nerds that nerded out on some of the heaviest music ever made between the years of 1981-1988.

Shit, 81-88 is only 7 years and 4 albums? So why do I and so many other current and former metal heads and thrashers consider Metallica, along with a handful of others, the pinnacle of thrash music? Why are they a life changing band, considering they only made music I like for 3 years out of the past 3 decades? What makes me hold onto the status they hold as artistic heroes of mine even though I consider everything they’ve done for the past 25 years to be absolute garbage? Just complete shite.

Even though there are a few songs on the Black Album that I consider worthy of including somewhere at the bottom of my top 30 all time Metallica songs, why then was it “Enter Sandman” that hit me hardest at Metallica’s rare club show in which I realized that this club show is the first club show I’ve ever seen Metallica play? Is The Black Album where “The Agency” began their subliminal messaging to us?

There’s nothing moral about my loss of interest in Metallica. It wasn’t because they described “The Black Album” as “more progressive” in their pressers promoting the album, even though their change to the standard 3-4 minute, traditionally structured and arranged songs were exactly the opposite of that. It wasn’t their ALMOST lone stand against the emergence of P2P file sharing and Napster– I can hardly blame them for their passion in that fight after their conscious decision to alienate old fans like me, in exchange for more “progressive” ones to cash in on the emergence of “NuMetal” being jeopardized by emerging technology. It wasn’t the increasing douchebaggery of Lars Ulrich- if I can still be a Glenn Danzig fan I can put up with anything. It wasn’t’ the loss of bassist Jason Newsted- Robert Trujillo is a hometown hero of mine. No. It was purely because their music just sucked. Plain and simple. Sucked big donkey dicks and there was nothing redeeming in any album they have released in exactly 25 years.

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I have no idea if the return of Metallica playing shows and releasing listenable music again is what has caused me to consume more thrash metal in the past 2 months than I have in the past 2 years- and I’m not complaining. Regular listenings of albums like Reign in Blood, Rust in Peace, Among The Living, Thrashzone, Lights, Camera, Revolution and Toxic Waltz are good for one’s resolve. But my real question is- Is this some calculated timing about some writing they’ve read on the wall or is Metallica, once again, the ones that are doing the writing since, again, they might or not be part of the CIA

I was 15 years old in 1991 when The Black Album came out and it was only 3 years prior that I truly discovered Metallica for the first time when I saw the video for “One” on MTV. Watching that video that featured footage from the movie, “Johnny Got His Gun” made me think about things I had never thought before. I realized quickly that I liked that. The last section in that epic and dynamic song was more furious and visceral than anything my quickly emerging hormones had yet to experience. I wanted more of that. Much more.

I jumped into thrash/speed metal with both feet. I bought a guitar tablature book and decided to start at the beginning- Kill ‘Em All. After tinkering with the riff from “Crazy Train” for weeks, the first song I learned was Diamondhead cover, “Am I Evil”. I consumed everything thrash metal and began my amateur career as a music snob, wholeheartedly.

If you could use the word “heroes” to describe musicians, I would’ve used it for Metallica- at least until I saw the video for “The Unforgiven” for the first time. So at 15 years old, after my first real time experience with “selling out”, I jumped into punk rock, playing in bands and destroying everything worth destroying- and some things that weren’t and that concluded my short lived (but almost 30% of my life at the time) obsession with the band, Metallica.

But some obsession remains, clearly. Even though Metallica has fallen into the category of once great and influential bands turned out of touch oldtimers with the youth of today a la Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sublime, to name a few, when I was a youth, they were one of the hardest, most dangerous bands of that time.

Now that their prime has passed, in essence, the release of Hardwired to Self Destruct has Metallica, once again knocking on the proverbial door of latch key kids that were instructed not to open the door for ANYONE while mom and dad aren’t home.

On this faithful Thursday night at the Fonda, I jumped in the pit during “Harvester of Sorrow”, grinding and churning in a circular motion, stomping my feet and swinging my elbows and being OK with the word “Mosh” to describe the scene instead of my finely tuned slam dancing vernacular being fetishized in my never ending quest for trivial but not completely unimportant dedication to referencing historical accuracy of music.

There wasn’t a Fender Telecaster in site and the syncopated crunchiness was almost more euphoric recall than I could take. Kirk Hammett is still as boring to watch and as exciting to listen to as any lead guitarist in history. His Wah/cry baby soaked leads left me longing for that Fender Squire supported by a shoe string posing as a guitar strap that I played during a time when I couldn’t quite nail those leads, yet.

Robert Trujillo at The Fonda Theatre

I thought of my coveted cassette tape of No Life Till Leather, now long gone along with my VHS copy of Cliff ‘Em All and the memory of Jason Newsted. Robert Trujillo didn’t hit one slap or pop and his bass solo was more of an ode to Cliff and Jaco than it was to Bootsy or Venice or even Ron Mcgovny. There were so many personal story lines at play for me that Thursday that I hardly knew which nostalgia to indulge in.

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I can almost never cry over life moments that justify tears. No. My tears almost always come during concerts of bands that I’ve loved, at one point or another. Enter Sandman isn’t just the most well known song Metallica has ever made. It never hit number 1 on Billboard charts itself but as of 2014, The Black Album is the best selling album of the Neilsen Soundscan era. Ever. Soundscan began in 1991 and Metallica has sold more than 16 MILLION copies of that record. But peaking at #5 with 11 weeks of CONSTANT airplay, Enter Sandman has seeped into the very recesses of American consciousness that cannot be undone or overwritten in our minds with any existing technology. And the moment that riff (a riff that Venice thrash band, Excel claims Metallica lifted from “Tapping Into the Emotional Void”) began it’s hypnotic intro that Thursday, everything that was happening in my 15 year old life at the time came rushing back to me in an instant- and 15 was quite a confusing year in my early pubescent life. Water works.

I don’t know if Metallica will ever reach the pinnacles of creative output that they achieved BEFORE they wrote the Black Album, ever again. That would be unprecedented, to my knowledge and Hardwired, while pretty decent and certainly the best material from the band in over 20 years is NO Ride The Lighting. With their CIA connections, though, they MIGHT achieve the worldwide popularity again, even though I don’t care much for that or the type of art that gets you there. But what I do know is that I’ve seen a renewed blood thirst for thrash metal over the past year and if this show and Metallica’s new material is partly responsible for that, then I will have another check mark in the “pro” column of my lifetime pro vs con list of Metallica’s ultimate place in rock history, CIA or no CIA.

Words and Photos: Danny Baraz

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