The Importance of Being Metal: AC/DC-Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

AC/DC-Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
1976; Atlantic Records

1. Is It Any Good?

There's a tendency among people who don't like AC/DC, and even some who do, to lump them in with other party rock bands of the era such as Van Halen and Aerosmith. While this is an arguable point of view to take post Back In Black, while Bon Scott was alive there were three aspects of AC/DC that, in my mind, put them leaps and bounds above their cocks-out contemporaries: Sincerity, rambunctiousness, and the sincerity of their rambunctiousness.

The songs on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap are about, in this order:
  1. Contract murder
  2. Sex with minors
  3. The enormity of AC/DC's testicles
  4. The intensity of Bon Scott's awesomeness
  5. Killing people when you're drunk
  6. Playing shows
  7. The path to being a kickass rock star
  8. Moving on from heartbreak
  9. Sex with virgins
You'd be hard pressed to find another band who smiles so widely when they're singing about the most macho subjects this side of Motorhead. As soon as Brian Johnson came on, the studio would do something of a hatchet job on AC/DC's particular brand of stupid-for that matter, not even Highway To Hell contained lyrics like "Get your fucking jumbo jet off of my airport" or "She said she'd never been, never been balled before/And I don't think she'll ever ball no more(fixed her good)". The song "Big Balls" is an excuse for the band to use the flimsiest veil possible to talk about how rad their nuts are, and in it we see AC/DC at their most juvenile, their most charming and their most hilarious all at once-pretty much a perfect summing-up of everything great about this album.

Even when they take the time to get a little serious during "Ride On", it's not even remotely jarring because by the time it arrives, you and the band are pretty much best friends and you can talk to each other about anything. You'd only hear lines like "I ain't too young to worry, and I ain't too old to cry when a woman gets me down" from a hardass like Bon Scott if he thought you and him were best pals. And really, how far would you have to have a stick up your ass to not want to hit the town with these guys by the time the album is done? At this point in their careers, AC/DC was about as dirty and mean as they come, but above even that, they were an insane amount of fun. If you can tear yourself away from "serious" music for about 40 minutes, I can't think of a better album to take a break with.

2. Is It "Important"?

People generally seem to look at Highway To Hell as the Bon Scott era's most influential AC/DC album. I know that for me personally, the title track is what hooked me into loving AC/DC, but there was no real metal framework established with this album-I know more than a few people who wouldn't even consider AC/DC to be metal at all, as a matter of fact. Then again, influence and heaviness were never really the point with this album.

3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?

If anything, I think that this would be almost too much of a softball for people who were trying to get into heavy metal. As stated above, there are a lot of people who don't even consider AC/DC to be in the genre, and this album definitely isn't going to change any minds in that regard. As excellent as this album is, I wouldn't give it to somebody specifically trying to get into heavy metal-not because it isn't wonderful, but because it doesn't really give the casual listener a good idea of what metal per se is about.

So while Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is worth listening to out of sheer fun, there are no gates this is going to open for somebody who doesn't like or understand metal. Highway To Hell skirts this line as well, but all in all it's probably closer to what most people consider to be metal and therefore more appropriate to show to somebody who's trying to get into metal. That being said, AC/DC is such a part of the public cultural lexicon these days that no part of their discography is going to be seen as "actual" metal, so maybe you should just scrap that all together.

So, yes, do listen to it. Just not in the context of this list.



The Importance of Being Metal: Metallica-...And Justice For All

Metallica-...And Justice For All
1988; Elektra; One On One Studios, Los Angeles

1. Is It Any Good?

I often compare Metallica's "holy trinity" of albums-Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets and ...And Justice For All-to the original Star Wars trilogy, both in terms of influence on their respective genres and in terms of overall popularity, as well as both being enjoyed and debated by dorks. I think of ...And Justice For All as the Return of the Jedi of the trinity, for the reasons that it is a)the last entry in the series and b)generally the most under appreciated of the originals. If you want proof of this, just look at the list that inspired this whole project at metalrules.com-Master of Puppets holds the #1 place and Ride The Lightning comes close behind at #3, while Justice trails at a comparatively meager #72. It holds the cumbersome distinction of being what many consider to be the last "real" Metallica album as well as being considered the worst of the "real" Metallica albums. This is not to say that it is out-and-out disliked, just that very few would place it as the best of the trinity. I generally don't think this album gets enough credit for the risks it takes and the boundaries it pushes.

...And Justice For All is Metallica's most ambitious album, and in many ways it's also their most impenetrable. It's a lengthy piece of work at 65 minutes, and they're not a particularly inviting 65 minutes, at that. In an interview, Kirk Hammet best described the feeling from the fans about the album's music expressed during live preformances:

"Touring behind it, we realized the general consensus were that these songs were too fucking long. Everyone would have these long faces, and I would think 'Goddamn, they're not enjoying it as much as we are'. If it wasn't for the big bang at the end of the song...I can remember going offstage one night during 'Justice' and one of us saying 'Fuck, that's the last time we ever play that fucking song!'"

The song he's reffering to is the title track, which comes in at 9:46. With an ominous drum line, downturned, repetititive riffs, and lines like "Justice is lost, justice is raped, justice is gone", the song becomes a slog, an excersize in endurance more than anything else. It's not the exception to the rule, either-most songs on the album are between 6 and 9 minutes, and the shortest song, "Dyers Eve", is a five-minute rail against the narrator's parents. If none of this sounds especially pleasant to listen to, that's because it isn't. This does not, however, make the album bad, and in many ways makes it one of the most fascinating entries in Metallica's entire discography.

This album came out right on the heals of the death of Cliff Burton, the band's former bassist and friends of everyone else in the band since childhood. There was some debate between members of the band as to whether or not Metallica should even stay together with one of their founding members dead. It's also interesting to note that the bass guitar has been almost entirely mixed out of the album in post production-I'll let you make of that what you will.

Likewise, James Hetfeild's mother had just died, and it's my belief that these two things together represented, for the band, a lack of justice or purpose going forward with both life and their careers at large-hence the title, and the album art showing Lady Justice bound, beaten and exposed.

There had been no shortage of dark subject matter on albums before-war, death and misery were common themes on the preceding albums and they certainly didn't disappear here. Whereas one could headbang to "Disposable Heroes" or throw up the horns for "Fade To Black", however, Justice presented music that was very hard to move to. The only adjective I can think of to describe this album is "thick". This is music that must be waded through-while maybe not technically as heavy as a lot of albums coming out around the same time, I know of very few other albums that have been able to create such a distinct, striking expression of pain. It's a captivating look at sincere despair almost injected into the instruments themselves. Metallica hadn't made an album like this before and chances are slim to none that they ever will again.

Every song is a weight that the listener must carry, and if you can hold the weight, you will find ...And Justice For All to be a very rewarding experience.

2. Is It "Important"?

As one of the "trinity" of Metallica albums, it holds with it a certain degree of importance simply by existing. If this album inspired any kids to play the guitar, however, it was probably only due to "One" being featured on Guitar Hero III. Even with the status of technically being their breakout hit, this album remains comparatively forgotten and isn't used as the same sort of blueprint for metal quality that Lightning and Master are.

3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?

Inasmuch as the fact that every Metallica album is a good entry point for beginners, this one qualifies. The new listener should be warned, however, that this is not really Metallica as they know them from the radio or from previous records-headbanging material is few and far between and while dark subject matter is nothing unique to Metallica, the depressive lyrics combined with the spartan production and bludgening musicianship may threaten to overwhelm anyone who doesn't have a clear idea of what they're getting into. Come in expecting more songs like "One" and the album could quite easily scare away the uninitiated. Somebody who is prepared for the density contained within, however, will find the payoff to be quite extraordinary.

Well...maybe after the second listen. Or third.


Touring behind it, we realized that the general consensus was that songs were too fucking lo
Touring behind it, we realized that the general consensus was that songs were too fucking long,'


The Importance of Being Metal: KISS-Destroyer

1976; Casablanca; Electric Lady Studios, New York

1. Is It Any Good?


2. Is It "Important"?


3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?

Not even people in Hell are forced to listen to Destroyer.


The Importance of Being Metal: In Flames-The Jester Race

In Flames-The Jester Race
1995; Nuclear Blast; Studio Fredman

1. Is It Any Good?

There are moments of The Jester Race when there is nothing you would rather be doing than listening to it. The best example of this is the first track, “Moonsheild”, which exemplifies everything that this album does right when it’s working-it’s hauntingly gorgeous and abstract, with evocative riffs trading off with long, soulful acoustic guitar passages with an incredibly fluid ease. The song is unforgettable, and it’ll stay with you long after you’ve finished listening to it-and, sadly, much longer than most of the rest of the album.

In Flames works best when they’re not being anybody but themselves-songs like the aforementioned “Moonsheild”, the title track, the instrumental s “Wayfarer” and “The Jester’s Dance”, and “Dead Eternity” show the band doing things that no other metal group at the time was really doing, which was combining moving melodies with vicious, jagged attacks, often times in the same instant. On all the rest of the songs, though, the sound extremely derivative of other melodic death metal groups-maybe they were some of the first to make music that sounded like this, but that doesn’t mean the rest of this album has aged very well. “Lord Hypnos” and “December Flower” are two examples of tracks that, while not being offensive to the ear, offer nothing that the listener can’t hear elsewhere, done better. There’s no reason to skip over these songs, and they’re decent enough headbanging material, but because these more derivative tracks make up half of the album, they have the effect of dragging the whole thing down.

There’s a good amount of innovative, occasionally masterfully created music on this album, but they’re peppered between segments of “been there, done that” moments that might prevent you from listening to The Jester Race more than a few times. It’s worth listening to, but just barely.

2. Is It "Important"?

This album was one of the very first of what’s become known as the “Gothenburg Scene”, a style of metal known for being as ferocious as it was progressive. While the album itself does have its share of flaws, it laid the groundwork for a lot of metal to come and was one of the blueprints for an entire subgenre(melodic death metal). It is, and will continue to be seen as, one of the most influential metal albums released in the ‘90s and as such, its contributions to the genre cannot be discounted.

3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?

This one is a bit harder to judge. Like I mentioned, there are moments sprinkled throughout where you can hear something really special happening. It should be mentioned, however, that the vocals could come off as incredibly aggressive-Anders Friden growls and croaks his way through essentially the entire album and newer listeners might have trouble reconciling them with the melodies. Likewise, there’s a chance that the more standard-issue songs could turn listeners off, since it might force one to consider, “If this is what the masterpieces sound like, what passes for ‘shit’ in this genre?” An ability to distinguish the inspired from the mediocre is needed to appreciate some of this album, which isn’t an ability a lot of new listeners have when it comes to metal(I know I certainly didn’t when I first got into the genre).

So you could run into problems if The Jester Race was your very first experience with metal, but if this was among at least the first ten I would trust a new listener to figure out for themselves what works and what doesn’t.