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Is Metallica the musical equivalent of Star Wars?

Posted by on March 9, 2017

In the 1980’s, film culture was dominated by Star Wars, episodes IV-VI were three of the most influential films of that decade (sure, episode IV was in 1977 but its influence flowed into the 80’s.)  Metallica released four of the most influential metal albums of the 1980’s, and one in the early 90’s. Both Star Wars and Metallica redefined their genres, were the gateway drug for their fandom, and influenced their peers for decades to come.

Then the late 90’s, early 2000’s hit and both seemed lost. Lucas released episodes I-III that only seemed to bring nothing but jeers from the most loyal of nerds; personality and heart were lost to CGI and visual fireworks. Metallica, with Load through St. Anger, just couldn’t seem to find their groove or mature in their sound.  Metalheads everywhere turned their backs on them with chants of sellouts. The infamous photo of James Hetfield holding an Armani shopping bag only made matters worse.

Both behemoths seemed to be struggling behind the scenes as well. Lucas seemed to feel betrayed that Star Wars fans didn’t appreciate the mess that was the prequels meanwhile Metallica cut their hair, much to the chagrin of their fanbase.  Additionally, Lars Ulrich lost almost all his metal cred by taking on Napster and testifying before congress and James Hetfield quit drinking.  Both attempted to profit in different forms of media, with Metallica trying to make movies, Star Wars trying to make TV shows, and both slapping their logo on anything that can be sold.

In both respects, the fans seemed to feel that they “owned” the material more than its creators.  Both properties had been written off by almost everyone as obsolete with no possibility of a resurrection. Both suffered what were considered death blows in the form of crucial lineup changes with Jason Newsted leaving the band and Lucas selling out to Disney.

But here we are now in 2017.  The Force Awakens was a critical (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) and financial blockbuster, fans (both die-hard and casual) had little to complain about in way of story, style, or casting. Rogue One was a strong follow-up with 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and fans seemed to not be offended, at least.

2008’s Death Magnetic seemed well received but fans seems skeptical to forgive Metallica completely. Yet the release of Hardwired…To Self-Destruct seemed to confirm the Metallica renaissance. It was harder and more pure than anyone expected to ever come from the band again.

Both the new Metallica and the new Star Wars are highly rooted in their former glory; some fans applauding this and other panning this as a ‘devolution’ and too self-referential.  In fact the only real complaint that seems to exist for both are that they just seem to be playing on fans’ nostalgia. Perhaps the sins of the 90’s helped to make these materials less precious and sacred; like a cracked antique you feel free to be less careful with it.

It seems that all has been forgiven and forgotten as we move forward with the promise of new material.

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Categorised in: Opinion