We interrupt these regularly scheduled CES announcements for a Love Hz Special Report…
Yeah, that Newsted.
For some folks, Metallica died along with Cliff Burton on a supposedly icy road in Sweden in 1986. But for me, The Four Horsemen lost their soul when Jason Newsted departed the band in 2001.
To say that Cliff Burton was the most talented composer and musician in the band isn’t much of a stretch. Jason Newsted was never able to achieve the musical heights of his predecessor — thanks in part to James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich’s massive egos — but he more than made up for any shortcomings as a songwriter or a player with unparalleled intensity.
I had the pleasure of watching in person as Jason fronted the band, filling in for an injured James on a sweltering July day in 2000. Sure Jason had a little help from Korn, Kid Rock, and System of a Down, but Jason’s intensity and passion for music were on display in full force. The audience felt a true connection with a guy who was giving his all during a less-than-ideal situation — most bands would have simply canceled the show. Metallica not only played a blistering all-star set, they came back the next month and played a make-up show that was just as energetic at as the first… with Jason leading the charge again (albeit in the shadow of James Hetfield).
Jason Newsted has been out of Hetfield and Ulrich’s shadow for quite some time now, and he’s largely been out of the spotlight, save for a few side side projects and a Metallica reunion or two. Now Jason is back and out in front with a three-piece band that bears his name. (In your face Lars and James!)
Metal is the band’s debut EP. It’s available now on iTunes for a why-the-heck-not price of $3.99. There will be a natural tendency to compare this effort with the recent or even classic releases of Jason’s former band. Fair enough, but set aside what you know about Jason’s previous work and take this EP for what it is: a collection of four hard rocking songs that proves Jason is as talented as we’ve suspected.
I didn’t fall in love with Metal immediately. I had a preconceived notion of what Jason’s vocals should sound like (see, there I go with silly comparisons) and it was jarring to hear Jason sound (almost) like a completely different person than I’ve been accustomed to for all my years as a Metallica fan. Metal features a vocal effect that is, in a word, strange. But once I listened a second time, and a third, and a fourth… (after a while I couldn’t take the album off “repeat”) it just sort of worked. The thing is, the music is so darn good. Good enough to carry the album, and good enough to make the listener forget about the unfamiliar vocal style on display here.
The opening track, “Soldierhead,” sets the pace with pounding drums from Jesus Mendez Jr. and rapid-fire guitar work by Jessie Farnsworth. Then, just before the two-minute mark, Jason takes center stage with a bass interlude that serves as a basis for the song’s first tempo change. But things don’t slow down for long as Farnsworth eventually stretches out for a brief but effective solo.
“Godsnake” is next. The track is slightly slower than the opener, but it’s heavier. Try not to bang your head during the closing line of the first verse – Shake Rattle Dance All Night – it’ll be next to impossible. The song chugs along for its entire five-minute running time with Jason’s bass ever-present just below the surface. You’ll want to queue this one up again. Trust me.
“King of the Underdogs” (Jason’s anthem, perhaps, after 14 years as a background player?) begins with a healthy dose of bass before sharing the soundscape with another thumping drum beat from Mendez. During the often repeated king of the underdogs line, Jason’s bass positively pulses. And near the end of the track as Jason growls underdogs rise, bass provides the backbone for a haunting solo by Farnsworth.
Bass. Are you sensing a theme here? And why not? Jason’s the guy who had most of his work on …And Justice for All mixed out. I would have been disappointed with anything less than a low-end feast here.
Metal closes with “Skyscraper,” another tune with healthy amounts of bass and a number of tempo changes. Here Jason says to “ride out the storm.” Good advice from a guy who gave his heart and soul to one of the biggest bands in the world and lived to tell the tale. If Metal has one flaw it’s that there aren’t more songs. One can only hope that this 22-minute EP is merely a teaser of more great and heavy things to come from these three talented musicians and songwriters. Make an effort to get past any initial reservations about the vocals. Metal will reward your patience.