Have you heard? … (4) “Garage Inc” by Metallica

As I was watching Metallica, with Lou Reed, pulverise the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” on Jools Holland last week, my thoughts turned to the album which might be the least known of Metallica’s, but which is actually my favourite.  Heresy for any true Metallica fan because it was an album of covers, the songs that inspired the band. It was called “Garage Inc” and it was a double CD. I first heard it in 1999 when a good friend, who I will call “Dave”, bought it in Oxford HMV so we could hear it at a weekend party. We could certainly hear it! Again and again.  When I first heard it, roaring in the background, my reaction was, Wow! This really rocks, what is it? I didn’t try that hard that night to find out, but the following morning I picked up the CD and figured it out.

At that juncture I’d never been hugely into Metallica.  I’d had my metal phase in the mid -seventies, until punk came along in 1976 and blew everything apart. Ten minute songs about demons and wizards or hard lovin’ women lost their lustre at that point. And that was it for some time. I liked Metallica without knowing much about them.  “Enter Sandman” was a hit in 1991 and I checked that, but not much else.

So, I heard this rocking album and thought, I must buy this.  It was brilliant.  It was Metallica’s paean to the metal and punk music of the past which they loved.  But with their huge, scything riffs, and thrashing beats, they made the music their own.

Listen to their versions of Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” and Thin Lizzy’s “Whisky In The Jar. Not massively different to the originals  in structure (bearing in mind that “Whisky In The Jar” is originally an Irish folk song) but with Metallica’s piledriver riffs making them harder and harsher and faster. They go a bit soft and get out their acoustic guitars for  Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” and it really works.  It’s their bit of light relief – and ours.  There’s not much let up on the album.

The whole album rocks, but my favourite sequence is the one that goes “Am I Evil?”, “Blitzkrieg”,  “Breadfan”.  The first is a song by a band called Diamond Head. It’s similar to Black Sabbath.  It starts with a thudding sequence of riffs, and then twirls in to a speedy machine gun  rhythm which again recalls Black Sabbath – “Children Of The Grave”, if you know about these things.  The lyrics are daft – My mother was a witch – but it’s just so brutal. Piledriving stuff. It’s not the heaviest sound I’ve encountered – that accolade goes to Slayer, whose “Reign In Blood “Album is so heavy – and fast – that listening to more than two tracks just does your head in. But “Am I Evil?” rocks very hard indeed.

“Blitzkrieg” is an interlude, a chugging metal riff which might even make you want to dance, in a leaping up and down sort of way. There’s a hint of Dutch prog rockers, Focus’s, “Hocus Pocus” in the riff.  And then it’s “Breadfan”, a song by Budgie, a Welsh three piece band, who did their best stuff in the mid seventies – I saw them at Leicester de Montfort Hall when I was still at school. It heads off at high speed, but Metallica insert an absolutely classic metal “slow bit” in the middle, a piercing guitar solo that takes the song to another level, before it succumbs to a chuntering riff and a return to the main theme. It’s a caricature, almost, of the genre. But a brilliant one. If you are laughing, it’s with, not at.

Every song on the album is a labour of love.  It’s uncompromising and relentless. One or two are best avoided in polite company.  I can’t listen to too many tracks before I start to feel pummelled.  Beaten up and left gasping. The riffs are like chainsaws.  But it has a seam of melody too, something that many Metallica originals lack, though there are brilliant exceptions like “The Day That Never Comes” (my all time Metallica favourite).  Tunes and riffs –  you can sing along while you play your air guitar!

What could be better?

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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4 Responses to Have you heard? … (4) “Garage Inc” by Metallica

  1. shenanitim says:

    Actually, Metallica fans know it as the rehashing of their original, and sadly out of print, “Garage Days Re-Revisited.” 5 songs: Diamond Head’s “Helpless,” Holocaust’s “the Small Hours,” Killing Joke’s “the Wait,” Budgie’s “Crash Course in Brain Surgery,” and, of course, the covers that resurrected the Misfits’ career “Last Caress/Green Hell.” The whole EP fit on one side of a tape, and you could probably listen to both sides on the bus on the way to school.

    Diamond Head is considered one of the most underrated New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) bands. Lars, being European, was big into them in the early days. James and Cliff (Burton, their best bassist) were the two members who were alternately obsessed with the burgeoning hardcore scene (the Misfits, Black Flag, etc.) It was this combination that helped them become one of the top thrash bands; bands that took hardcore’s intensity and combined it with metal’s riffs. (Their “everyman look” of beat-up punk rock shirts and jeans also set them apart from the metal bands you recall seeing in the ’70s.)

    Sadly, Cliff died in a bus accident and Metallica made one of the worst trades in musical history. They went from being a metal band that could sell a million records with literally no radio/video support, to being a 2nd rate hard rock band that sells a million records.

    Yikes, sorry about that, I didn’t mean to give you a rundown of thrash’s history.

  2. John S says:

    You know a lot more than I do! After being a bit of a metal fan in my teenage years pre-punk (so mid-seventies) I’ve only really dipped in and out of metal. When I hear a really good riff I want to hear more. Garage Inc turned me on to Metallica. I respect what you say, but after “Enter Sandman” I must admit my favourite original is “The Day That Never Comes” which must qualify for your ‘hard rock” epithet, though surely not second rate.

    • shenanitim says:

      I’m one of the crazed fans who gave up on them after they stopped playing fast. I’ve just never been able to figure out why they would give up what they had. I mean, they still ending up losing out to Jethro Tull for best metal album when the “Black Album” came out. Fortunately for them, metal fans are notorious believers, never giving up on their heroes. (They still actually buy albums!)

      But yeah, thrash was my first love. I found punk afterwards (why is their playing so basic?), before deciding to actively seek out styles of music I’m not comfortable with.

  3. John S says:

    Which contradicts what I said in the article about The Day That Never Comes being my favourite! equal favourites then.

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