One friend I have on World Of Warcraft and I have very little in common, but we both love the 1980s British television show The Young Ones. Every episode has something to recommend it. One of the less-quoted jokes from the episode Nasty has Alexei Sayle facing the camera and going into a spiel about how since he has been appearing on television, his Marxist fellows have been accusing him of selling out, making him march at the back at demonstrations, and so forth.
After assurring his comrades that he has not sold out, he goes into a spiel that around bout now, he usually has a pop noodle. The joke is obviously funnier executed than described, but it illustrates the pertinent point here nicely.
There are two points to what I want to say about the Los Angeles-based thrash band that I call Metallicrap. I forget which member it was that said it, but they protested that “fans” had been saying that they had “sold out” since the second album. Fair enough. However, this illustrates the difference between what I will refer to as “sold out” (note the quotation marks) and actual selling out.
Metallicrap’s first album, Kill ‘Em All, and their second album, Ride The Lightning, represent a major shift in direction. This is hardly surprising when you stop and consider that Metallicrap’s biggest downfall in creativity has always been the conflict between the creative sensibilities of its “core members” and the men that have filled out its line-up.
Pretty much all bands consist of “core members”, that is, a set of members who make all of the creative and business decisions, and members who range from offering some creative input to just shutting up and doing what they are told. One of the few exceptions I can think of would be the British art-rock band Queen, where all four members contributed at least something to the songwriting, creative direction, and business decisions of the band. And even then, vocalist/keyboardist Freddie Mercury was to a large extent seen as the core of the band by audiences.
(And even Queen have lost something in the wake of the death of Freddie. The guitarist and drummer seem to want to remind the world they exist. Bassist Roger Deacon retired from the whole Queen thing and is pursuing other creative avenues. Maybe it is something about bassists, but they often seem to possess most of the integrity in a band.)
Guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield seems like a fairly decent and affable person when he speaks in interviews. But the other half of Metallicrap’s core, a tiny little man who beats things with sticks and goes by the name of Lars Ulrich, is what comes to mind when people say the word “asshole”.
Over the years, there are four men who have previously filled the other positions in Metallicrap. One of them left the fold before anything noteworthy was recorded. One of them has his writing footprint all over Kill ‘Em All, which makes him seem even more like an asshole than his recent bullshit in the press. One of them got so sick of Lars‘ anti-creative and business-related bullshit that he left to join Voivod. But the most significant one, as people who have followed the band for any length of time will know, died whilst touring with the band.
If Lars Ulrich is the asshole of the band who has no idea of how he looked or looks to others, or any understanding of why he should care, then Cliff Burton was the anti-Lars. All of the changes in creative direction that occurred on Ride The Lightning can be credited to him. Whereas Kill ‘Em All was dominated by mindless garbage, Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets enjoyed a healthy dose of Burton‘s appreciation for classic music theory. Whereas the songs on Kill ‘Em All and, to a certain extent every album after as well as including that album we do not like to talk about, were basically Lars indulging his schoolboy fantasies, the songs on Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets were compositions. Not great ones, but ones good enough to pass muster with a fourteen year old boy who could hear the whole song rather than have his listening stop dead at a voice.
So with all of that background information, when was the point at which Metallicrap confirmed to all who bothered watching that they were a bunch of sell-outs with less integrity than they had talent? (And lest you think I am exaggerating, any Therion, Immortal, or Bolt-Thrower recording can quickly set you straight concerning how much like “masters” the knowing world really regards them as.)
Producer Bob Rock has been known for a long while as “mister sell-out man”. But the decision Metallicrap made to work with him was more likely motivated by the disastrous production on …And Justice For All. Depending on which pressing of the compact disc you listen to, there is either no audible bass track, or the bass has been overemphasised to the point of making the disc unlistenable. So blaming Bob Rock is not going to cut it.
The material on the self-titled album is also quite unsatisfactory, more akin to the verse-chorus-verse bullshit offered by hair bands such as Poison or Warrant et al. But this is more a matter of execution or arrangement, as the material did show a potential to be better.
No, the real point at which Metallicrap became the sell-outs that they were feverishly protesting they were not is when they lost sight of the reality both other bands and their fans lived in.
The documentary Some Kind Of Monster shows the fact that the band had sold out and then some. But not the actual moment when they did so. In it, we see members bitching about having to sell parts of their art collection or being told by their father that said father would “bin” the track they are thinking of opening the new album with. Okay, we see one member bitching.
You see, in 1982, Metallicrap were a band making themselves known to the underground thrash scene by distributing tapes of their work and freely encouraging tape traders to spread the word about them. It is safe to say that if those tape traders had shooed them away like the talentless pests that they have since revealed themselves to be, nobody would have heard of them beyond 1985. But record labels and T-shirt printers were willing to take a chance, believing rightly that the thrash genre was going to be the next big thing.
(Megadeth, Slayer, and to a lesser extent Anthrax all benefitted enormously from this surge of interest in thrash. But Metallicrap became both the most famous and least representative example of the movement simply because they were willing to bend over in any direction when offered enough.)
During the time when people thought MP3 was good enough as a medium to trade music online with, Metallicrap showed exactly what years of selling enough records to fund profitable tours had done to them. Going after MP3 traders like American soldiers after Viet Cong, Metallicrap even tried to intimidate the biggest trading network into revealing just who was sharing their music and with whom, for the purposes of copyright lawsuits.
Remember, this is a band that, it could be reasonably argued, would not have had any measure of success if not for the underground tape-trading network that youths of the 1980s exchanged music through.
Does changing musical direction make you a sell-out? Well, frankly, no. Fukk, no. Whilst one writer was very correct when they stated that the self-titled effort (which my asshole idiot male parent probably still mistakes for their debut) was piss-weak, that in itself is not selling out so much as it is just going in an unfortunate direction creatively. As I have stated to many folks about Therion, bands that make the same record over and over and over tend to get bored and break up. Hell, Frank Zappa, a man who really did get up and speak for the right of bands like Slayer or Cannibal Corpse to make whatever the hell kinds of songs they want, was liable to represent fifty-two different kinds of music on just one of his fifty-something albums.
But changes in circumstances, to be certain, produce changes in the person. That old cliché about how one band member says to another “you’ve changed” and so on is laughable because you do not go from playing pubs or 500-seat clubs to playing stadiums that can sit tens of thousands of people without changing. It would be like going from living hand to mouth to having enough cash to buy a couple of sports cars and not changing.
Change is the very essence of life. From the day we are conceived to the day we have rotted away, we change. Sometimes in increments, sometimes dramatically, but we all do. The thing is, the old saying about how the more things change the more they stay the same applies. An asshole will always be an asshole regardless of whether he is living on the streets and getting turfed out of art schools for lack of discernible talent or the ultimate power in his nation of residence. The same applies with a person who has a good and decent heart. Regardless of whether they are dying of poverty or swimming in cash, their fundamental decency will shine through.
Lars Ulrich is an asshole. Just listening to him talk for five minutes confirms that he was born an asshole, and he will always be an asshole. As I have said, what enabled Metallicrap to make beginner-level good music between 1982 and 1988 was the presence of members who were not willing to tolerate as much of his shit as he would like. He still has that to some extent with James Hetfield. I do not know about you, but if I am James Hetfield‘s size, there is a limit to how much Ulrich I can stand before I tell Ulrich I want to punch him so knock it off. Unfortunately, Kirk Hammett, the thing that ended up securing the second guitarist slot in Metallicrap, is pretty much willing to slurp up Ulrich’s shit and ask for seconds. Cliff Burton to date is the only bassist that Metallicrap ever had who was willing to not only tell Ulrich that he was not going to take Ulrich‘s shit, but also provide a musical theory counter concerning why. Neither of his successors as bassist in the group have a fraction of his musical skill or balls.
I doubt that Lars Ulrich even listens to much music other than his own. If he were to get an earful of Taake, Therion, or Type O Negative, he would probably be absolutely baffled by how much more creative and skilful each of these bands’ recordings prove them to be. And that, to me, is why Metallicrap as a band can be rightly labelled a sell-out. It is not about their output, and it is not about money or what they do with it. It is the fact that they have narrowed themselves into such a little track that is barely more evolved than your average boy band ensemble (and frankly, I found Bros far more creative at times).
In the end, Metallicrap are pretty much like a lower-grade version of KISS or AC/DC. I apologise profusely to the person who got a lot of crap twenty years ago when they tried to tell me Metallicrap were such a bunch of KISS wannabes. You were right. “Exit light” et cetera has already become the new “I was made for loving you, baby” et cetera. You hear words coming out of the mouths, but a look into the eyes reveals that the insides of the skulls have been unoccupied for quite some time.
And to a person whose artistic tastes thrive on driving his thought process in strange or even expected new directions, that is the very definition of having sold out.