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Black Sky Thinking

Black Sky Thinking: Metallica Take Internet, Give It A Big Kiss
Luke Turner , June 11th, 2008 21:16

Luke Turner wonders why mildly bonkers, vaguely hysterical and ever so slightly control freakish Q Prime are up in arms about a tiny blog site describing Metallica's new album as good. Is it because they're launching their own UK website Emission Metallica? Not so much breaking a butterfly on a wheel as dropping an SUV on a termite, perhaps?

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As some of you might be aware, the newly fledged internet spring chicken that is The Quietus has over the past week or so got in a spot of bother with the steel-taloned hawk of Metallica’s management company. For those of you who missed out, some of the top rock writers in the country were invited to a play back of tracks from the band’s forthcoming album. These noble gentlemen did exactly what they were put on Beezlebub’s blackened earth to do " bulldogs and bloodhounds all, they turned their ears (ever keen for the joy of a furiously turned riff) and their noses (trembling for the righteous sweat of true metal), to Metallica’s new album. And, actually, quite liked what they heard. Some of the tracks were about eight minutes long, they said. One might get called 'Flamingo' they said, but probably not. They wrote that after the abomination of St Anger’ three tracks are properly great, and it sounds a bit like ...And Justice For All which, as any serious Metallica fan will tell you, is no bad thing.

Free publicity, a taster of what surely will be one of the biggest-selling albums of this year, cynical music journalists impressed? You’d think that the 12-step refreshed, life-coached rockers would have been as chuffed as the proverbial porcine beast swanning around in the oomska. More fool you. The Quietus, along with other sites, was bombarded with requests to remove the piece. No, we said, the writer was not asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement before listening to the record, up it stays. It was only when, faced with repeated attempts to discern the identity of the writer, that the author himself asked - regretfully - that we take the piece down. At that point we did so, in order to protect their professional interests. At just that moment, the good people of the American blog universe got wind of the affair, asked us for a statement, which we gave, and the wires started humming.

A mildly diversionary storm in the internet tea cup, and nothing more. But on Wednesday evening, we at The Quietus were getting stuck into our late-night-in-the-office Bordeux when we received news of a stunning volte-face in the torrid tale of Metallica’s relationship with the internet. After a decade of sitting, like Lars Ulrich’s countryman King Canute, shouting wilfully against the online tide, Metallica have announced that they’re clambering aboard the landing craft and turning about to storm the beaches in Mission Metallica, which promises to offer “a unique, ground-breaking look-in on the making of Metallica’s upcoming ninth studio album.” What does it involve, then? Fans will get to “experience” the album before it comes out, see fly-on-the-wall footage of James Hetfield stroking Rick Rubin’s beard, and enter a contest to attend a meet and greet with the band. For those lucky swine who cough up an as-yet unspecified sum to sign up to “Metallica Platinum”, the album will be delivered in the format of their choice at midnight on the day of release (Which is, er, about nine hours before Woollies open and you can nip down and buy it), along with a box set of five albums (the contents of which are, again, not yet divulged). Still, the package includes “ringtones of riffs”, so that’s alright then. Oh, and that's not to mention the "etc etc etc - lots of other stuff we're cooking up even as we write this!!!". Aha.

“Unique”, eh? “Ground-breaking”, you say? So Einsturzende Neubauten haven’t, since 2002, been existing quite happily without the backing of the record label by allowing “supporters” to witness, and even contribute to, the recording process in exchange for a modest fee. That’s not to mention, in a more mainstream bent, the antics of Radiohead and Trent Reznor. Surely Metallica, in their exalted position atop a mountain of greenbacks, could afford to eat some humble pie, and come up with something a little more revolutionary than this pretty straightforward, cynical marketing gimmick? They’re the prime example of just how massively the mainstream of the music industry has dropped the ball and utterly failed to come up with inventive ways to deal with the issue of music appearing for free online.

No doubt Mission Metallica will be used by the band to loudly trumpet how they’ve embraced the internet, how they’re giving it back to the people, man, how us spoil-sports at the Quietus and all the other sites who published reviews were ruining it for fans. They won’t see, of course, that they’re holding a red rag to the bull of the thousands out there (including many of said fans) who still haven’t forgiven them for flattening Napster and acting like a bunch of cantankerous old luddites. There are no doubt umpteen leakers across the world planning how to conduct Escape from Colditz in reverse in an attempt to get hold of the record from Lars’ knicker drawer, and hang the fucker up to dry on Waffles. Not that The Quietus, being hardy record-buying folk, would condone such activities.

And, at the end of the day, why on earth would a band who’ve sold 100 million albums give a fornication in a jumbo about what the ’umble gents of The Quietus think about them? They’re not protecting the interests of the music industry, or smaller bands " radical changes in the entire industry business model are needed to make that happen, and Emission Metallica has all the tactical inventiveness of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Instead, this is the megalomania of people too rich, too powerful, to retain even the slightest sense of proportion. At a time when the fringes of metal are producing some of the most forward-thinking, elemental music out there, Metallica, for all their millions in sales and paranoid clout, appear superannuated dinosaurs.

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