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Metallica – Kill ‘Em All (Album Review)

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Metallica – Kill ‘Em All (Album Review)

For quite a while I’ve been wondering if I should pick up the Deluxe Box Set of Kill ‘Em All, but as with the other deluxe releases in Metallica’s back catalogue, I haven’t found a compelling reason to do so. That isn’t to say that the box sets aren’t magnificent. They’re certainly worth the money for the most dedicated of fans and while I’ve always thought of myself in that regard, I am starting to question my dedication to the band that helped get me through the tumultuous teenage years. The 90s, not the 80s. Yes, I came to be a fan of Metallica following their 1991 Self-Titled Black Album and while I also enjoy the Load and Reload era, I respect that a divide exists between fans. That said, I find myself thoroughly enjoying both Metallica’s early thrash albums and their mainstream 90s style that makes so many fans accuse the band of selling out. Hence, I don’t really have a favourite album, they’re all great. Well, maybe not that LuLu collaboration with Lou Reed, but I’m sure we can forgive Metallica for that deviation, can’t we? 

What I would like to see, however, is a box set encompassing all the studio albums, with a lovely hardcovered book detailing Metallica’s career. See, I’m an album guy and while some of the additional content, in the Deluxe Box Sets are interesting, I find that when it comes down to it, I just want to listen to the album as it was originally released rather than listening to everything that was ever recorded. I’ve stayed away from the recent Guns N’ Roses Appetite For Destruction Super Deluxe Edition for that same reason. That said, I would love that 5.1 surround sound High Fidelity Blu-Ray Audio disc to be released separately. I’d buy it in a second. Of course, that isn’t the way the music business wants consumers to consume. They will re-issue Ad nauseam, encouraging us to get the latest edition because it has a new demo that has never been heard before. Look, I’m the first to fall for these gimmicks and truth be told I thoroughly enjoy them, but there’s no denying that being a music lover and a collector is one very expensive hobby. Thankfully, I don’t go to concerts so the money that would have otherwise be allocated to that experience can be repurposed for every new re-issue that I simply must have. Yes, dear reader, it is an addiction. 

While I haven’t made a final decision about the Kill ‘Em All Deluxe Box Set, I’ll probably pick up the 2016 vinyl re-issue as the 2014 Blackened vinyl pressing I own is far from the greatest pressing and is sonically lacklustre. Basically, it just doesn’t sound right. One may wonder what turntable and needle I’m using and if that could be a factor. Well, I can assure you it isn’t. My Pro-ject Debut Carbon is fitted with an Ortofon OM20 needle that otherwise sounds marvellous. Unfortunately, not all vinyl is created equal and this release reminds me of my copy of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell. The music may be there, but the emotive energy isn’t. I swear terrestrial radio would have more life in it than these two pressings. 

What I find even more disappointing is that these were released via Metallica’s own record label and I seriously question how they got the sound so wrong. The sound is so concealed that it sounds as though thick sheets are covering the speakers. Even if you pump the volume, the entire soundstage is lost and the elemental aspects of the recording, that are present on the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream, are sadly absent from this pressing. That all said, reviews of the 2016 remastering sounds promising, hence my thought of upgrading the edition I own.  

The visual presentation of the 2014 re-issue is a little more appealing, however, but the record is housed in the lousiest rice paper sleeve that could ever be used. I had a similar complaint when I reviewed …And Justice For All. Yes, they are both from the same re-issue era, but it is infuriating to love an album and a band this much and be disappointed by what they are prepared to issue to the fans. Sadly, they’re not the first to allow substandard products to be released and they certainly will not be the last. 

All my quibbles aside, the music is of paramount importance and subsequently as my vinyl edition is flawed, I’ll be basing the rest of the review on the TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) streams as both sound incredibly good. Yes, the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality stream sounds more dynamic with greater midrange and bass definition in comparison to the Apple Music stream, but both are significantly better than the 2014 vinyl counterpart. 

SIDE 1

Hit The Lights has that wonderful live feel to it and is the perfect song to open the album with. The revolving drum beat is spacious, and the soundstage is impressive and thoroughly enjoyable. The intensity of the thrashing guitars never lets up and Hetfield’s vocal cords must have been bleeding following this performance. Exceptional!

The Four Horsemen has an incredibly good grinding guitar rhythm that I’ve always enjoyed. While the song is exceptional, I really wish it was an instrumental-only track as I feel Hetfield’s vocal, while superb, gets in the way of the musicality and is too forward in the mix, thereby masking elements of the soundstage that captivate me when his vocal isn’t present. Regardless, The Four Horsemen is one of my all-time favourite Metallica songs and that mid-song tempo shift is masterfully done with a beautiful bass track and a guitar solo that just sings. Spectacular!

Motorbreath isn’t a bad song but I’d class it as a B-side as it lacks rhythmic impact. Yes, it is a quintessential thrash song, but it feels more like a demo and less evolved than many of the other songs on Kill ‘Em All

Jump In The Fire is another favourite of mine. Grab your air guitar if you haven’t already, you’re going to need it. Interestingly, I often mistakenly associate Jump In The Fire with Ride The Lightning. Perhaps there is an underlying correlation between this song and those which appear on Ride the Lightning, but I’ve always found this connection fascinating as this incongruity doesn’t happen with any other Metallica tracks.  

(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth is a solid tune but one that I wouldn’t generally listen to outside of the album format. I think, in many respects, this song has had more relevance to fans following Cliff Burton’s passing. That isn’t to diminish the song itself, but if I’m to be completely honest, (Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth doesn’t add any intrinsic value to Kill ‘Em All. If anything, it acts as an intermission that may have been better suited as the final track on Side One or the opening song on Side Two.

Whiplash is a killer song. That drum beat and bass tracking are superbly deep and the perfect accompaniment to the higher pitched vocal and guitar tuning. While I don’t intend to harp on about the 2014 vinyl re-issue, the aforementioned praise is sadly missing from that release. Thankfully, the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality stream more than adequately makes up for the absence of depth and dynamics.  

SIDE 2

Phantom Lord is sensational. From the very first note, you know you’re in for something special. From my perspective, Phantom Lord has a Motörhead vibe that I truly appreciate. Whether intentional or not, it works extremely well and is one of the most memorable songs on Kill ‘Em All. Plus, that mid-song slowdown is remarkably appealing, as is the guitar solo and hook. What a great song!

No Remorse is a rhythmic powerhouse. I love it! BTW: Am I the only one that hears the influence of Iron Maiden? Think Killers.  

Seek & Destroy is one of the greatest thrash metal songs of all time. Enough said! 

Metal Militia is a solid speed metal song to conclude the album with, but I think I would have preferred it if Seek & Destroy was the final song on the album as Metal Militia plays like a B-side by comparison and while it leaves me wanting more, it just isn’t as good as Seek & Destroy.  

Overall, Kill ‘Em All is a must-own album, just not the 2014 vinyl reissue. The 2016 reissues, however, are well reviewed and if the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality edition is anything to go by, they’re likely the ones to own. Kill ‘Em All, as an album, is non-compromising and rhythmically perfect thrash metal. As far as debuts go, this one Kills ‘Em All! 

Kill ‘Em Allis available on VinylCD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Kill ‘Em All is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music

The Deluxe Editions are also available via all the aforementioned formats. 

Click here to read other Metallica reviews by Subjective Sounds.  

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Metallica - Garage Inc. (Album Review)

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Metallica - Garage Inc. (Album Review)

Most would agree that Metallica has had an incredible career. However, there are many that would also argue their shifting musicality has not seen the same success. Personally, I really enjoy Metallica's entire catalogue. That said, I don't class Lulu as a Metallica album per se, but I do recognise and appreciate their willingness to experiment.

During the 90s, Metallica exploded as a mainstream act that left all other Thrash Metal bands wondering if they took a wrong turn with their own musical trajectory. Yes, I know some of you will claim Metallica sold out and weren't true to their fans. However, I know of no artist that purposely limits themselves just to please the fans. I'm sorry to tell you this, but we are not important. Sure, they say how great we are in every city they visit, but once they fly out, they issue the same platitudes to the next city of fans; Spinal Tap’s Simpsons cameo anyone? Truthfully, this isn’t a bad thing but it does prove all musicians, not just Metallica, owe us nothing. Otherwise, The Beatles would have never left Liverpool, Aerosmith would never have ventured past Boston, and AC/DC would only be recording and touring in Australia. We, the music fans, would need to gravitate to them – Woodstock style. Admittedly, music festivals handle this alternate reality in a quasi-way that ensures the journey of the music lover is equal to the music itself. Hence, it is my belief that an artist owes us fans nothing and that we should relish the albums that speak to us, and disregard those that fall short. That is certainly how I deal with Lulu. After all, we don’t need to own everything Metallica releases, do we?

Regardless, throughout the 90s, Bob Rock was a key driving force behind Metallica’s mainstream success. It was a radio friendly, welcoming sound, that would make the band a household name. Going back to their roots, momentarily, Metallica and Rock would collaborate on the exceptional covers album Garage Inc.. Although the producer’s role was still relevant, I absolutely love the statement in the liner notes that the album was ‘Somewhat produced’. Personally, I would say that it just wasn't over produced and it most likely appealed to these who disliked the production elements of the Self-Titled Black Album and Load/ReLoad albums. However, despite including covers that were closer to Metallica’s original ethos, some of the newer recordings are a little less Thrash driven and that may deter some listeners. That said, the selected songs, both new and old, merge into a compilation that has become one of my favourite Metallica albums as it has a little bit of everything. 

Following the release of the album in November of 1998, the double CD went everywhere with me. It seemed that my Discman (really a Philips CD walkman requiring 4 AA batteries), was destined to run out of juice just as I was rocking away in my own world, traversing the suburbs of Sydney. Nothing was more infuriating than boarding a train only to find the battery died five minutes into the hour long journey. Needless to say, I ended up carrying spare batteries. Fast forward to the modern era and I can be thankful that my Oppo HA-2 DAC/Headphone Amplifier not only provides an exceptional sound quality that the iPhone can’t even dream of matching, but it doubles as a charger for the aforementioned iDevice. Nevertheless, I look back with fondness, rather than regret, as it was all about the music. While the portable CD player probably sounded horrid, my teenage ears knew no better and I simply enjoyed the music. Sometimes I wish to go back to that era when specifications, who mastered the album, and which source was used was seemingly irrelevant.

Unfortunately, Garage Inc. would become another victim in the MP3 era as I digitised and sold this masterpiece. To say I was a bloody idiot is a major understatement. I guess my only saving grace is that the MP3 buried in my past and I once again own this record, on vinyl, and I couldn't be happier. Anyway, enough of my incessant rambling, find a comfortable seat and join me for the next couple of hours as we enjoy Metallica’s album Garage, Inc..

DISC 1 / Side One (New Recordings '98)

Free Speech For The Dumb is a fat Thrash-infused song that encourages you to turn the volume up. It isn't my favourite song on the album, but it gets the album off to an incredible start.

It's Electric is an excellent song that is perfectly suited to Hetfield's vocal style and the overall musicality of the band. It is mastered with a little too much focus on the treble region, but that is a minor quibble.

Sabbra Cadabra has a gorgeous guitar intro. The groove is so compelling that you will be toe tapping and head bopping subconsciously. The overall sonic signature of Sabbra Cadabra is cemented in blues rock and roll and I absolutely love it!

Turn The Page was an exceptional song when originally performed by Bob Seger, but Metallica has made it their own and has taken the song to another level. It is one of Metallica’s greatest recordings and is one of their songs I play regularly.

DISC 1 / Side Two (New Recordings '98)

Die, Die My Darling is a killer rock track. I love it!

Loverman may initially sound like a strange pick as one wouldn't normally associate Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds with Metallica, but Metallica certainly recorded an excellent rendition that is worthy of the musicality heard on the original recording. Both versions are excellent, but I find that I gravitate to Metallica’s interpretation as I feel it is the more polished of the two. 

Mercyful Fate is an exceptional song that commands you to turn the volume knob to the right. Yes, your neighbours will likely call the boys and girls in blue, but it will be worth it! Seriously, listening at lower volumes destroys the musicality and energy of this song. It is expertly recorded and mixed while being nothing short of a rock and roll symphony. King Diamond and Hank Shermann would be proud!

DISC 2 / Side One (New Recordings '98)

Astronomy has always been a favourite of mine. The incredible Blue Öyster Cult may have recorded the original epic, but the first time I ever heard Astronomy was when Metallica covered it for Garage Inc.. Hence, as excellent as the original is, I will always hold Metallica’s rendition near and dear to my heart. Interestingly, it would be this song, along with Don’t Fear The Reaper, that would push me to become a dedicated fan of Blue Öyster Cult. Therefore, one can conclude that while some cover albums aren’t worth listening to, there are others, such as Garage Inc., that are done with so much respect to the original, you feel compelled to track down the original recordings.

Whisky In The Jar is an awesome groove-filled track. It is another song that compels me to sing-a-long as my body moves to the rhythm of the music. I probably look like I’ve lost control of myself, when in public, but I don’t care, Whisky In The Jar is that good!

Tuesday's Gone is perhaps the only song on the album that I don't like. It isn't a bad song on its own, it just isn't well suited to the album. Plus, every time I listen to it, I think of Bob Geldof. I also feel Metallica sounds too much like Bon Jovi on this track. I love Bon Jovi, but this is a Metallica record. As I think about it more, perhaps it is the nasal grind of the Geldof/Bon Jovi duet, I Don’t Like Mondays, that reminds me of Metallica’s rendition of Tuesday’s Gone. That all said, I much prefer Lynyrd Skynyrd’s original as it is less monotonous. I guess we can be thankful that Metallica didn’t try to interpret Free Bird as some songs should never be covered.

The More I See wraps up the '98 recordings in style with a harder hitting song than Tuesday's Gone. It also displaces the ridiculous outro Metallica recorded as part of Tuesday's Gone. The More I See may be meat and potatoes rock and roll, but Metallica’s added gravy ensures the song sounds fantastic.

DISC 2 / Side Two (Garage Days Re-Revisited '87)

Helpless has an incredible rhythm and riff-centric sound. The soundstage, while dynamic, does border on the limits of audible compression, but manages to stay away from the mess that came with Death Magnetic. Basically, Helpless is recorded, mixed, and mastered well for the style of music and if Death Magnetic had been mastered with this approach, I dare say there would have been less opposition to an otherwise exceptional album.

The Small Hours is musical perfection as it terrifies me and simultaneously excites me. That haunting introduction and beat would be the perfect musical accompaniment for any horror film set in an insane asylum. It is pure brilliance from start to finish and in some ways reminds me of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper.

The Wait has incredible energy, but I feel Hetfield’s distorted vocal lets the song down as he sounds lost in the soundstage. While it certainly isn't a bad song, it also doesn't feel polished. Although, I guess that is the point of a 'Garage' style album, isn’t it?

Crash Course In Brain Surgery features the bass that Newsted was deprived of on ...And Justice For All. Overall, it is a solid cover and worthy of inclusion.

Last Caress/Green Hell is one of the greatest covers/recordings Metallica has ever made. It is punk rock with a little thrash thrown in for good measure. I love it!

DISC 3 / Side One (Garage Days Re-visited '84 + B-Sides & One-Offs '88-'91 )

Am I Evil? YES, I AM!...I always get a little carried away with this song. It is bloody brilliant and if Satan has a playlist, this would most certainly be on it.

Blitzkrieg is as thrashy as you can get. Get that air guitar out and enjoy!

Breadfan has a killer riff but, beyond that, I don't feel drawn to the song. Hence, for me, this is a filler track.

The Prince is somewhat similar to breadfan as I don't connect with the song on an emotional level. That said, I would be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy elements of each song. I can certainly point to aspects that I adore, but if it doesn’t come together cohesively, then those elements remain highlights in an otherwise pedestrian performance.

Stone Cold Crazy is a great song. I love the original as it is one of Queen's best, but Metallica, yet again, takes the song to another level of excellence.

DISC 3 / Side Two (B-Sides & One-Offs '88-'91 + Motorheadache ‘95)

So What is a great way to start the sixth side of the vinyl release. It’s rude and crude, but it’s such a fun song! If you can look past the overt profanity, you will thoroughly enjoy this epic rock song. So What reminds me of Steel Panther's style in that regard.

Killing Time is a solid cover song that I neither like or dislike. It is a filler track and is perfectly suited for that purpose.

Overkill raises mixed emotions as I believe that some music just shouldn’t be covered. Perhaps it is just me, but covering Motorhead is akin to Avenged Sevenfold covering Metallica. It works, really well, but I'm not sure it should be done.

Damage Case is a great song, with a great groove.

Stone Dead Forever is an excellent song, but I feel Hetfield is imitating Kilmister, rather than making the song his own. This is, of course, the danger of cover songs versus recording someone else’s unpublished song. Yes, imitation is a form of flattery, but I have always had reservations about it when listening to cover songs.

Too Late Too Late is a perfect song to close this epic release on. While it encourages me to listen to the album again, and stay within Metallica's catalogue, Garage Inc. is a lengthy release and I seldom follow it up with anything else as I want to savour the experience.

Metallica's Garage Inc. is an incredible covers album. There really isn't a bad song on the album and while I may not connect with a few of the songs, they certainly work well with the overall style of the compilation. It is quite clear that if Metallica ran out of song ideas and got bored playing their classics, they could make it as one of the greatest cover bands in history.

For this review, I listened to the 2014 Blackened pressing (cat: BLCKND013-1). The mastering was superb and at no time did I long for more musicality from the album or my Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable (fitted with the Ortofon OM20 needle). I have also listened to the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition and while the core mastering is the same, I truly enjoy the vinyl tonality just that little bit more. Without a doubt, the vinyl edition is a prized possession in my collection. Besides sounding incredible, the vinyl layout and design, while mimicking the original CD, is full featured and offers a valued added proposition for fans and collectors alike.

Metallica's Garage Inc. is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered For iTunes). If you prefer streaming, Garage Inc.. is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Metallica reviews by Subjective Sounds.  

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Metallica – St. Anger

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Metallica – St. Anger

Anger was what Metallica caused amongst fans when they released the 2003 album St.Anger. Although, it wouldn’t be the first time their fans would be divided with the musical style they decided to adopt as, their self-titled [The Black Album] was seen as a radical departure and a commercialisation of Metallica’s original sound. It is then appropriate that producer of the Black Album, Bob Rock, would again anger fans with the direction he and Metallica took with St. Anger.

When I first heard St. Anger, in 2003, I didn’t like it. I remember being disappointed and angered that I paid money for it. Despite listening to it several times, it just didn’t grow on me.

However, that was well over a decade ago and as time progressed, I grew strangely fond of the album. I hadn’t played it for years, yet I missed it. I could even recall the lyrics of many of the songs and the style of music that was portrayed throughout the album. All I can think of is it must have registered with my subconscious.

Just prior to the holiday season I was crate digging and came across the Blackened Recordings re-issue pressing for an incredible price. This was one time when I didn’t hesitate to make the purchase. Given my initial distaste of the album, I can’t explain my incessant need to now own the album.

One aspect that did grab me was the visual nirvana of the artwork. This is where vinyl is really the king of all music formats. The artwork alone justified the purchase.

While I lacked time to listen St. Anger during the holiday season, I decided to put it on last night. As the needle lowered, and Frantic began, I knew at that moment that I had underestimated the album and that in retrospect it was truly a heavy metal record that was not only worthy of the Metallica name, but it was worthy of being added to my collection.

As the album progressed, I felt like I was a one-man audience with the band in their garage. I didn’t stop moving for the entire 75-minute epic and I sang along to every lyric. In reflection, I think I matured as a music listener and was listening to the performance differently than I had upon its release in 2003.

The music, while being metal infused and raw to the bone, has a unique dimension about it. I truly love the shifts in tempo within the songs. It is a jolted feeling, but one that works for the entire album. Think for a moment about how you feel when you’re angry. The waves of emotion you experience. Metallica has captured that emotion and portrayed it perfectly in St. Anger.

Overall, St. Anger is reminiscent of Garage Days Re-Revisisted ‘87, Garage Days Revisited ’84, B-sides & One-Offs ’88-’91, and Motorheadache ’95 from the 1998 Garage Inc. album. I’m a big fan of that album and I love the production credit of ‘somewhat produced’. I wish they would have replicated that production credit for the St. Anger release.

St. Anger would also mark the first Metallica album that hadn’t featured long-time bassist Jason Newsted as he left he band following creative differences. In his place, producer Bob Rock would lay down the bass tracks as Metallica had yet to bring Robert Trujillo into the band. Regardless, the bass elements are really amplified in this release, unlike Newsted’s first album with the band …And Justice For All where the bass tracks are minimal at best. While Trujillo, and Newsted before him, were both incredible editions to the Metallica lineup following the death of original bassist Cliff Burton, I have to say that Rock plays some mean bass tracks on St. Anger.  

Now that I have flipped my subjective dislike of the album, into pure appreciation, I should mention that it is not perfect. In my opinion this album could have been a Load/Reload style release. It would have been a perfect 40-minute album that could have been released in two editions.

Perhaps it is just me, but I find that I prefer shorter albums. When AC/DC released Rock Or Bust, I was initially shocked at the 35-minute runtime. In retrospect, I’m glad it is short and hard hitting as it allows me to appreciate the songs a little more as I’m more inclined to spin the album again. 

St. Anger’s main problem with length is excessive song duration. When you think the song is about to end, it picks up again. Invisible Kid is one which could have been cut down, as could the final track All Within My Hands. With six of the eleven tracks being over seven minutes in duration, you can see where this can be a problem. Don’t get me wrong, some longer running tracks are epic, but it should be the exception, not the rule. I’m certainly not one of the fans that demands a band fill the available storage of the CD format for an album release.

Personally, I would like to see shorter albums, released more frequently. I don’t know about anyone else, but I get tired of waiting several years for a new release. Let’s get back to a 60s/70s release schedule, and album length, and I will be a very happy music listener.

At this stage, I feel it is pertinent to suggest that you should never become closed off to a specific artist or musical style. Yes, that even includes Justin Bieber. I was for a while with St. Anger and if I had not given it another chance, I would have remained ignorant to the truly masterful heavy metal album Metallica released.

The musical journey we all go on should not just be about your favourite artist, or musical genre. It should be about exploration and contemplation of musical tastes. What you may like today, you may dislike tomorrow, and vice-versa. Perhaps this bodes well for the Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration LuLu.

You will notice throughout this post that I have neglected to say much about the sonic quality of the album. There is a reason for this omission. The vinyl edition is amazingly detailed and mastered perfectly for the format. The same can not be said for the Apple Music/iTunes edition. While St. Anger is Mastered for iTunes, it is horrible. On Apple Music/iTunes the album becomes a headache inducing nightmare that makes you angry. As with Katy Perry’s Prism, it is akin to listening to two different albums. I am truly disgusted that this quality could be called music. It is noise. It lacks emotion. It lacks depth. It is the reason why I disliked this album for years as the CD is equally brickwalled.

Speaking of being brickwalled, the CD has an average dynamic range of 05. Whereas the vinyl is a slightly more respectable 09. Neither are great, but when you add low-dynamic range and then further compress it down for Apple Music/iTunes, Mastered for iTunes becomes irrelevant. Check out the Dynamic Range Database for more information on St. Anger.

One example is the song Sweet Amber. It has numerous sonic elements that are clearly present on the vinyl, but in no way are they present on the Apple Music/iTunes version. These elements add to the depth and emotive feeling of the song. I truly wish copyright would allow me to record the two versions side-by-side so that I could showcase the difference to you, but alas you will just have to take my word for it.

I wish I could tell you that there was a higher quality digital version available on TIDAL Hi-Fi or HD Tracks, but Metallica has yet to add their music to either of these platforms.

I would truly recommend you pick up St. Anger on vinyl as the visual presentation and sonic quality is incredible. The specific release I have is: Blackened Recordings (BLCKND 016-1) from 2014/15. St. Anger is also available on CD and iTunes

Click here to read other Metallica reviews by Subjective Sounds.  

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Composer: John Williams)

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Composer: John Williams)

Star Wars is a cultural icon and so is the music that John Williams has written for not only this edition of the franchise, but all previous major Star Wars films. I dare say that there wouldn’t be many people who have not heard a chord that John Williams has written. He is synonymous with the motion picture industry and is one of the most accomplished composers of our time.

For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed music in films. I strongly believe that a good soundtrack can make or break a movie. For me, it certainly is 50% of the film experience. Perhaps that is why I can’t understand film loving individuals purchasing incredibly large and expensive televisions, but refusing to place the same investment into the accompanying audio system.

Yes, some companies have tried to improve the sound from their television sets, Bose entered the market a couple of years ago with their Bose VideoWave. They were certainly impressive units, but the price was just too steep for many people, including myself. Hence, they no longer manufacture this range and have instead focused on their independent speaker systems.

If all you listen to movies through is your television speakers, then please consider at least adding a decent quality sound bar to your television. I can personally recommend the Bose Solo range as good starting point.

Back to the soundtrack and one of the reasons why I chose to listen to the latest Star Wars soundtrack was that I was going to see the film. I thought it would be interesting to listen to the soundtrack, watch the film, and then re-listen to the soundtrack as a post film experience.

The first listen, prior to watching the film, was met with familiar Star Wars sounds. It certainly wasn’t a replica of past soundtracks, but it paid homage to them. The first thing I noticed as I was listening is, even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you could enjoy this soundtrack. The orchestration is beautifully relaxing and I’ve no doubt those of you with classical tastes will enjoy the experience.

One problem that I have is the lack of recognition for the orchestra. It is certainly not unique to this album as I noted this same concern when I took a look at the 007 SPECTRE soundtrack. Now unless Thomas Newman, or in this case John Williams, is playing every instrument, then I want to know which orchestra undertook the recording. This acknowledgement should be on the album cover and while I respect these composers, it is the orchestra that makes them sound good. Therefore, they deserve recognition.

What I do know for certain is The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars soundtrack to not be recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra in Abbey Road Studios. That information was in the official press release, but when it came to naming the orchestra that was used, the press release merely mentions “Williams worked with members of the highly regarded freelance orchestra with which he's recorded numerous film scores over the years”.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but it bothers me as every single person involved in the film making process is listed in the end credits. Yet, the masterful musicians are omitted on the associated soundtrack. Perhaps the orchestra used was named correctly in the film credits, but I didn’t take note at the time.

I should also add that they are not mentioned in the liner notes that appear with the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi, or Apple Music. Perhaps they are named in the CD liner notes, but after performing a 15-minute Google search, I couldn’t find any detail regarding the name of the orchestra or even who the principal musicians were. If anyone has this information, please let me know in the comments.

The non-classical music listeners may be wondering what the big deal is, but classical fans will likely agree that we search for principal musicians, conductors, orchestras, and composers. I can honestly say that compositions by the likes of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky, sound different depending on the chosen orchestra and their interpretation. Hence, the importance of knowing specific details, especially when a score is as well recorded as The Force Awakens.

Despite the beautiful recording, there is one track that I just didn’t like. That song is called Snoke. It is akin to a Gregorian chant and is simply out of place with the rest of the score. 

This is probably a good time to talk about the soundtrack integration in the film. Certainly Snoke, while disruptive to the soundtrack, did appeal to the scene it was attached to in the film. That said, it would have been nice if the song was left off this album, or at least be presented out of chronological order as the album’s final track.

Regardless, I enjoyed the sonic familiarity with the film, as a result of listening to the soundtrack prior to seeing it. It didn’t detract from the film experience and I feel that I was able to further appreciate the intricate nature of the soundtrack and how it was applied to specific scenes.

Based on this experience, I think I will listen to classically scored soundtracks before seeing films in the future. It was a wonderful experiment and one that I would recommend to anyone.

Listening to the soundtrack, post film experience, now refreshes my memory of the film. I have a terrible memory when it comes to experiences and I think that is one reason why I gravitate to music. I seem to be able to remember elements of my life and experiences based on the music that I associate with that moment in time.

For example, last night I was vividly taken back to my teenage years, an era I don’t think of often, when I was listening to Metallica’s Load album from 1996. I don’t know how it works, but music has the ability to unlock memories so vividly that it is akin to actually re-living the experience.

Listening to Star Wars: The Force Awakens certainly reminds me of experiencing the film with my family and as it was my son’s first experience of seeing a Star Wars movie at the cinema, it was a father/son memory that I never want to forget.

With that said, I will likely purchase the vinyl edition of the soundtrack when it is released in 2016. Until then I will listen to the album via TIDAL Hi-Fi. The soundtrack is also available on CD, iTunes, and Apple Music. Although, after a cursory comparison with Apple Music, I would strongly recommend you try and source the CD or TIDAL Hi-Fi edition as this is an incredibly atmospheric album that is truly worth listening to in a non-lossy format. 

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