As you watch the video above, in which James Hetfield speaks about a guitar made from the wood of a garage, you get the feeling Metallica have left the outer orbits of this planet a long time ago. For Hetfield to speak about taking some wooden planks and hiring an artist to then sculpt and mold him a new guitar it’s something of a Spinal Tap moment; the truly sad thing is that I’m not sure anybody in the Metallica camp actually see it this way.
Rewind to 1987, and Metallica had lost their bassist Cliff Burton, who died the previous September whilst the band were in the midst of a European Tour. Eager to use their music as a way to funnel, and possibly even challenge, their grief; the band decided to record an extended play of 70’s Punk and Hardcore covers. They rehearsed in Lars Ulrich’s converted garage in El Cerrito, California (which was soundproofed by new bassist, Jason Newsted, who used this experience to record his first material with the group)
Another reason for this EP was due to the lack of new material being produced, mostly as songwriting sessions with the new bassist had only produced a demo of the song ‘Blackened’ and vocalist James Hetfield would also break his arm during a skateboarding accident; quite possibly the last time Hetfield would ever go skateboarding. Remastered and (somewhat) produced, the EP sees its re-release in 1987, on a number of different formats including Vinyl, CD, Longbox Format and even Cassette.
The packaging for the album still proudly displays that it is the $5.98 EP and with inflation in the proceeding 31 years I’m almost positive that the change rate with GBP means I paid a little higher. That said, I bought the special longbox edition, with lenticular photo, which looks incredible. Inside you’ve got the actual CD with mini Vinyl type layout. Another nice touch. Having seen the cassette too I’m really impressed with how the band opted to recreate the original colors and design and mimicked the authentic article as much as possible.
The tracks present have all been polished and refined and sound fantastic, with ‘Last Caress’ being my own favorite. I’m also quite partial to ‘Crash Course in Brain Surgery’ which would go on to inspire a number of themed shirts and designs from Pushead across the next few decades, even though the song was originally recorded by British NWOBHM band Budgie in 1974. Axl Rose once referred to Guns N’ Roses ‘Spaghetti Incident’ as the ‘Pension Incident’ because of the amount of songwriters they were helping pay alimony, leading you to wonder whether Metallica have helped a few people out with these covers across the years.
While rehearsing “White Lightning” by New wave of British heavy metal band Paralex, Kirk Hammett instead started playing “The Wait” by post-punk group Killing Joke, making Metallica choose that song. Other tracks considered but dropped included “Signal Fire” by Japanese band Bow Wow, and another NWOBHM song, Gaskin’s “I’m No Fool”.
This EP is short and sweet, even if both ‘Helpless’ and ‘The Small Hours’ are bordering on six and a half minutes apiece. I’d recommend, especially with Spotify prevalent in all our lives, that this one might just be for collectors. And if you want my advice; you’d be best positioned to go for the longbox or cassette to get a truly unique piece of Metallica history (albeit reproduced) that might just become as sought after as the original.