Review: Speed metal blasted its way into the metal canon by combining the aggressive rhythm riffing of punk hardcore with the neoclassical riff architectures of later heavy metal, creating music that is selectively melodic and compels through not only cadence but the speed of its strumming. From this time on, metal would be measured in both BPM and the hummingbird speeds of picks skimming strings, and what qualified speed metal most was its alternation between tremolo playing and varied degrees of palm-muting techniques, giving a new range and texture to the music. Metallica forayed into this new style with a traditional metal album that balances its musicality with an adolescent urgency, patterning songs around riffs that invoked the attention of the listener not through strategic pauses or absences but from the fufilment of cadences matched to a muscular whip of rhythm guitar surfacing.
Showing influences from predominantly Motorhead, with nods to punk bands as varied as the Sex Pistols and Discharge, Metallica have not forgotten either the fine structures of late NOWBHM riffing as seen on Judas Priest and Angel Witch albums. The band does not deviate from the fundamentally heavy metal structure, nor from its fluid rivers of pentatonic commutative riffs, and its percussion could have been derived wholly from Motorhead's "Overkill" or even Blondie's debut, but where Metallica succeeded was putting together a coherent whole of this new style in knowing what to leave behind in heavy metal. The Motorhead image has been processed through the jeans and tshirts ethos of West Coast punk, leaving a new theory of this music: pure functionalism in which an emotional self begs for justification.
Mutating out of riff/chorus, songs divide like strata of geologic deposits after an earthquake, with repeated patterns complementing each other through differing conclusions leading in melodic appositives that conclude in bridging structures whose goal is to unite melody into harmony, and then in turn to lead it to the singular rhythm that introduces and ends each song. Many of these riffs are, in contrast to later speed and death metal, based around a single chord and open strings redirected in termination by a contrary melodic direction, and these patterns are later balanced by variations that both evoke the past and master it with a new direction. Of note is the bass playing which truly works by accents and strategic absences, giving depth to the rhythm layer which relies on the often transitionless pounding of Lars Ulrich. This album is not rhythmically simple, however; in one of the trademarks of speed metal, it specializes in abrupt tempo transitions which complemented by modulation or pattern shift become momentarily sensible and through their use of repeated but recontextualized structure, rapidly become essential in time to shift again.
Many of these songs could fit onto an album from proto-speed metal acts like Blitzkrieg or Venom or Tank, but the entirety of the aesthetic presented has left behind the excess of hair metal in favor of a simplicity and directness that resembles the punk bands of past if they became simultaneously Republican and libertine. What qualifies this album for greatness, like the first album from Amorphis, is its ability to rediscover the potential in a simplicity that despite its rawness aspires to a gentle musicality where melody and harmony serve a structure etched in cascades of rhythm. Kirk Hammet's lead guitars even replicate this in the internal dialogue of acrobatic recombination they use to contort scales into hieroglyphics of sound, but without deviating from the uniform presentation and dominant, warlike rhythm that reforms these songs from within through singularity of intent. Even twenty years after its release this CD sounds youthful, urgent, and in its desire to seize life by the throat and shake it, wise.