30 songs in 30 days: #12 – “The Outlaw Torn” (Metallica)

Day 12: A song from a band you used to dislike

I tweaked today’s category, as it was originally “A song from a band you hate,” and hate is such a strong and negative word. I could have gone with an obvious choice, but the only Nickelback song I even know is “How You Remind Me,” and in all fairness I shouldn’t say I hate a band that I’ve barely listened to, no matter what their universal reputation may be. So instead I’ll tell a tale of redemption, so to speak, of a band I largely used to dismiss, rediscovering them years after the peak of their mainstream popularity—a little quartet by the name of Metallica.

As a child of the ‘80s, I was too young to appreciate (or even really experience) the heyday of thrash, the backlash against hair metal and glam rock. By the time I was old enough to pay attention to any of the Big Four (Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth), grunge was emerging, and I quite preferred the raw, blunt grittiness of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Metallica was already moving away from their thrash roots, “selling out” with their more radio-friendly self-titled album (nicknamed The Black Album due to its cover art), so the first songs I heard by them were “Enter Sandman” and “Sad but True.” I liked those tracks, which is probably what Metallica were going for: attract a broader fan base at the start of the ‘90s, as alternative rock was blowing up. I also liked what I heard from the even more derived Load and Reload, like “Fuel,” “Until it Sleeps,” and “King Nothing.” But for some reason or another I never really explored them beyond their radio releases. Then, by the time I got to college, the whole file-sharing era made popular by Napster drew a line between bands and artists who believed in the benefits of all methods of exposure and dissemination, and those who decried the unregulated distribution of their copyrighted work as a loss of sales revenue. Metallica spearheaded the efforts of the latter group, earning them my derision as greedy, money-hungry crybabies. There would be no appreciable Metallica presence in my music library.

Until, that is, the late 2000s, when I met my SO, a big fan of heavy metal, especially Metallica. By then, the sting of the death of file-sharing had faded away, and we were swapping musical tastes, so I thought I’d give James and the gang another go. After two rounds of catalog exploration, I learned I really liked a lot of their music, especially their “sell-out” era. Today’s song, “Outlaw Torn,” needed that second round to grow on me; it’s long, it’s brooding, and it feels pretty low-energy compared to the more focused, punch-packing tracks that I initially gravitated toward. But it’s now one of my favorite songs by Metallica, a dark, bitter, desperate one I turn to when I need to set a dark, bitter, desperate mood in my writing. Maybe they sold out, maybe they expanded their musical horizons and ambitions, maybe they’ll recapture the glory of their thrash days with recent releases like Death Magnetic and the upcoming Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. I’m just glad I grew up and gave their music the chance it deserved.

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