Strangely, my love of underground metal hasn't translated into much love for the mainstream stuff. I hate a lot of hair metal, I loathe nu metal, and grunge is absolutely awful. Ever hear of thrash metal's big four? They all suck except for Megadeth. Even so, half of their output still sucks because they were always ripping off Mustaine's former occupation, Metallica.
With this in mind, I laid down the cold hard cash for Guitar Hero: Metallica for PS2. After playing Guitar Hero: Aerosmith with friends recently, I needed to pick up that big plastic controller once again, and the only way was with some real metal. Which Metallica isn't, but it's the closest I'm going to get, right?
The game supports the full band controller set, allowing for four friends to get together and play awful songs like "Fuel" and "Frantic". I don't know that many Metallica fans, so I played alone. The songs are all pretty meticulous, as Metallica focused more on guitar compositions than any kind of actual songcraft.
At least, that's the impression I came in with. After playing four a few hours and unlocking all of the tracks after only eleven songs, I continued to play. A few things got me thinking, not only about Metallica, but also about popular conceptions of metal and how the tastes of a few can alter conceptions of the many.
Thing I thought about #1: at some points in time, Metallica actually wrote music that combined actual songs with technical wizardry. Their early work is searing, but it's largely derivative of NWOBHM acts. Not so incidentally, Michael Schenker Group and Judas Priest are both in the game, hinting at these rather obvious connections. One thing I noticed while playing Hell Bent for Leather is how complex the actual guitar riff is. It's great, and only astute guitar heads would even notice.
Just a few years after their inception, Metallica found their niche: progressive metal. Over four years, they churned out some greats. One, Dyer's Eve, Fade to Black, Battery and some others are real songs that play with structure and craft in ways that keep the listener engaged. Who else can make a nine minute classic that remains searing and actually continues to build to the very end? It puts the King Crimsons and Pink Floyds to shame.
Stuff I pondered #2: Metallica themselves or the developers would have you believe no one else is as complex as them. Of the non-Metallica songs featured, most of them are power chord-fests without any thought. Some Foo Fighters song I never heard of, a crappy Alice in Chains with three chords used throughout, Thin Lizzy's "Boys are Back in Town". Since Metallica's complicated arrangements tapered off in the '90s, no other band is allowed to do anything cool. Also, thrash metal never really existed either.
Track selection fact #3: Load, Re-Load, and St. Anger never really existed. Represented by at most two songs from one of these albums, the majority focuses on either stuff from the '80s or the Black Album. Metallica probably feels they proved themselves already, so they can keep making shitty albums and no one will really notice.
Noteworthy brain waves #4: popular conceptions about metal are reinforced by music games. Guitar Hero 2 probably taught more kids about classic rock than anything else, exposing them to "Smoke on the Water" and "War Pigs". If some kid bought this, they might think Samhain or Kyuss actually matter when they don't at all. Too much power in the hands of greedy corporate game companies interested in getting cheap rights to stupid crap.
Thankfully, the music game craze died. Maybe it was a good thing, getting little kids to buy Buckethead CDs and the like. Unfortunately, these band-centric Guitar Hero titles seem more like egocentric head trips. Yuck. We'll see how Guitar Hero: Van Halen goes.
Along with this game, I recently splurged on a variety of games at a buy two get one free sale. I'll elaborate on these over the coming week.