Ditch the deadbeat drummer


If you've been listening to heavy metal, or hard rock, for any length of time, you HAVE heard of METALLICA. You HAVE heard, at the very least, the Black Album. If you are a serious metalhead, you have certainly heard their seminal first four albums- "Kill 'Em All", "Ride the Lightning", their greatest work, "Master of Puppets", and their flawed but still highly complex pinnacle of thrash metal showmanship, "... And Justice for All".

And if you are a self-respecting metalhead, you probably think that METALLICA is one of the greatest bands ever to exist.

Which is why I'm going to publicly say something that is undoubtedly going to piss off legions of metalheads:
For the love of God, FIRE Lars Ulrich already.
No doubt I'm going to get a lot of hate for that one. Allow me to explain why I say this.

When I first got into metal, I went out and bought "Master of Puppets" as soon as I could get my hands on it. I listened to it almost every day. I thought that it was one of the greatest albums ever made. But over time, I began to listen to other thrash metal bands, and I began to realise that in fact, METALLICA's songwriting, technical skills, precision, and overall musicianship paled in comparison with far more proficient bands like SLAYER and MEGADETH.

Eventually I got around to listening to MEGADETH's "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?". That was the moment that METALLICA completely lost their lustre in my eyes, and I realised that the band that so many people worshipped was in fact a technically, musically, and artistically inferior outfit next to the jaw-dropping virtuosity of MEGADETH's 1986 lineup. If you don't agree, I challenge you to listen to perhaps the greatest METALLICA track ever, "Disposable Heroes", next to the insanely complex and virtuosic musicianship of Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson on "Good Mourning/Black Friday". Come back after you're done and then tell me with a straight face that METALLICA could actually hold a candle to MEGADETH.

Better yet, listen to METALLICA's "The Four Horsemen" and then listen to MEGADETH's "Mechanix". The reason they sound so similar is because Dave Mustaine was once part of METALLICA- and he was involved in writing much of their best material from the first two albums, including that song. Are you really going to tell me that the METALLICA version is better than the MEGADETH version?

Matters were not helped at all by the release of the sonic abortion that was "St. Anger". That album is simply unbearable. What's worse is, because METALLICA was such a seminal influence in thrash metal- for reasons that even today largely escape me- people still lined up in droves to buy it. One of my best friends from high school- the guy who got me hooked on metal, in fact- was involved with organising the launch party for that album in Australia back when it was released, and he told me later that people were listening to it and laughing at it, because it was so awful. Yet, because it was a new METALLICA record, they bought four copies nonetheless.

The result of all of this is that I went through a long, long period of refusing to listen to any music by METALLICA; until last year, it must have been a good 8 years since I last listened to any music by them. Only recently have I begun listening to them again, and I will admit, however grudgingly, that "Master of Puppets" is a great, if flawed, album.

So why do I argue that METALLICA's Lars Ulrich needs to be fired? Simple. He's a terrible drummer and his live playing- the true test of any musician- sucks ass. And yet he's one of the most highly influential drummers ever to sit behind a drum kit.

Try listening to a recent METALLICA live performance. It's nearly impossible. The drum sound is harsh, discordant, and completely out of time. As indicated in the first video above, Lars relies very heavily on the use of a china cymbal to cover up his inability to keep time, his inability to drum fast, and his mistakes on the bass drum and in playing fills. I tried listening to them perform "Orion", "Dyer's Eve", "One", and several other great old tracks live, and had to give up very quickly each time simply because the drumming was so irritating.

Seriously, try listening to these songs and tell me that the drum sound, rhythm, and sense of time is even marginally tolerable:




Lars Ulrich simply is not worthy of the regard and the position that he claims. His live playing is horrible. He has openly admitted that he doesn't practice much. On the most technically complex album the band ever recorded, the song "Dyer's Eve" stands out as one of the speediest and most aggressive songs they've ever made- yet the drum parts had to be recorded in 30-second clips because Lars simply wasn't good enough to keep time at that pace. These are all facts on the record which can be found by anyone with access to a search engine, so go look this up if you don't believe me.

When compared with true legends like Buddy Rich, Neil Peart (a.k.a. the drummer that makes God jealous), Mike Portnoy, Dave Lombardo, or Nicko McBrain (the entire "Brave New World" album was a masterclass in great drumming), a hack like Lars Ulrich comes off looking very shabby indeed. Yet he is considered to be one of the greatest and most influential drummers ever. It is high time that metalheads look past the blinkers and realise that the man may well be an extremely shrewd and skilled businessman and a great promoter- but he is a dreadful drummer.

I leave the last words to undertakerfreak1127, who also produced this video expressing everything that is wrong with METALLICA's drumming from the perspective of a true fanboy. Pay careful attention to his comments at the end about carelessness, they are very important:

Comments

  1. I always like the version of "The Four Horsemen" that was on the Cliff 'em All tape.

    Whether or not Lars has always been a bad drummer is not something I've looked (or listened) into. However, it's now obvious that drumming is not his calling and think this is true with a very large number of people and not just musicians. Your initial drive and desire to make it is your reason to practice, improve and become the best. When that peak is achieved and your are floating in the riches that come with it, the fact that you were never truly into it surfaces rather quickly. At that point, it is often easier to drift along on the level of competence you are at, or even let yourself regress somewhat.

    Neil Peart is someone who lives and breathes drumming and so it is not unexpected that he continues to practice and hone his craft to even greater heights.

    As for Metallica itself, I don't own anything past the Black Album and I haven't seen them live in years. The last time I did, it was during the tour for Load (or Re-Load?). Their performance was lack luster and the place was filled with teenage girls holding "I LUV JAMES" signs. I didn't leave the band, they left me.

    I did watch "Through the Never" recently though (yay Netfilx) and I was very surprised at many of the mid-song tempo changes that aren't there in the album versions.

    As a side note, I remember the first time I found out that music albums are generally not recorded live but instead stitched together from a whole pile of takes. My first thought was "well, how in the hell are they going to play it live if they can't hold it together for a single recording?".

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    1. Lars was never a great drummer, but he used to be at least pretty good; his live performances from the mid-1980s, for instance, were very solid, and I will readily admit that he was once a decent thrash metal drummer. He was never in the same league as Gar Samuelson or Nick Menza or Ventor from KREATOR- never mind Dave Lombardo from SLAYER- but he wasn't bad.

      He has, however, seriously let his game down. This comes back to the point about respecting one's craft and one's art- he has no respect for either, which is really sad when you think about true legends of the art of drumming, like Neil Peart or Nicko McBrain, who are always striving to do something better or differently. Neil Peart in particular is just amazing in this regard- he was a machine in the 80s and early 90s, but he got frustrated with his lack of "flow" and freeform style, and completely changed his drumming under Freddie Gruber's instruction. Unless you're a real music nerd, you'll hardly even notice the difference, but it's definitely there.

      Lars, on the other hand, just... gave up on drumming and self-improvement. This is a big part of the reason why I have so little respect for him.

      Definitely hear you about the band leaving you- it's the same for me. I used to love their work. Nowadays, I can't freakin' stand it. It's gotten REALLY bad with their latest album, which is a complete sonic catastrophe- everything literally louder than everything else, it's unlistenable.

      And yeah, if you can't play well in the studio- which Lars cannot- there's no way you can play live properly. That is one big part of the reason why I love IRON MAIDEN so much- they don't record albums by doing different takes and then stitching them together, for the most part, especially on the last four albums. Instead, they play the entire song, as a band, in several full takes, and then they'll take the best one and sort of add a little bit here and there to clean up the sound a little. But for the most part, what you hear on a MAIDEN record is what the band will sound like playing live- the same level of musicianship, the same incredible tightness, the same skill, except pushed to far greater heights by the joy and stress of a live environment.

      That's real musicianship right there.

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