[8th January 2013]
03. King of the Underdogs
As someone who took their first baby steps into the world of heavy metal, as well as playing bass, around the turn of the nineties, the name and windmill-headbanging frame of Jason Newsted loomed large in my formative years. His well-publicised frustration at his minimal involvement in the Metallica writing process, and the dim view taken by the rest of the band of side-projects, also proved to be an early lesson in the sometimes fractious nature of band politics. After a fairly lengthy silence, Newsted is back with a self-titled band and a four track debut EP, rather boldly named Metal.
Metallica fans the world over appear to have spent much of the last twenty years clamouring for them to return to the sound on which their fame was built. It is that no-nonsense strain of metal that Newsted offers us here – but rarely has the phrase “be careful what you wish for” been more apposite. No-nonsense it may be, but it is also almost entirely devoid of anything that would make it enjoyable to listen to.
There’s no way to soften the blow. These four songs are simply dreadful. Without the brand name recognition, I’d wager few people would make it past the first track.
The quality of the tunes is broadly what you would expect from a gaggle of spotty teenagers in their first band. That they have come from a man just past fifty that played in one of the biggest metal bands of all time through the very height of their fame is practically unforgivable.
It has been a very long time since I have heard four songs from an established artist so unimaginative, unchallenging and dreary. They sound like literally nothing has happened in metal in the last twenty-five years, save for Apple’s invention of Garage Band. Jason acknowledges that he used the programme to produce the tracks, but it would have been painfully obvious even if he had not done so. The guitars are thin and weedy, and the drums carry that sterile feel that is almost inevitable with basic programming.
The songs are so riddled with cliché that they would have sounded corny even back when thrash was the cool kid on the block. I’m actually glad the EP is only twenty minutes long; any longer and it might have convinced my laptop that it was 1991 again, causing it to forget that the internet exists.
The lyrics, also handled by Jason, read like a first draft. They contain moments capable of inducing cringes of spine-shattering proportions. In “Soldierhead” he squawks “try not to get dead”. Ouch. Was there really nobody that could tell him that “get shot” or “get killed” would still have scanned and not sounded quite so remedial? In “Skyscraper”, he tells us “no war is good”. Well, hold the front page. I can only assume that we will have to wait for the full-length album for such revelations as “kittens are cute” and “cake is nice”.
All in all, this EP just strikes me as being almost entirely pointless. The years when The Big Four were all still credible were arguably a golden age of metal, but you can still listen to all the albums they released at the time, so why would anyone bother with songs that, at best, would have been discarded at the demo stage by the likes of James and Lars?
I think this EP could have been just about understandable as a first effort if Jason had slipped it out a year or so after departing the Metallica fold, but too much time has passed, and too many bands have made too much excellent music for this to be anything other than an embarrassingly quaint curiosity.
I’m sure there are some old fans that are getting a bit of a nostalgia kick out of this right now, but I suspect there will be a terrible moment of clarity for them in the not too distant future. If anyone is still listening to this in a year, I will be very surprised, and probably a little concerned for their well-being.