Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 3: Metallica, "Welcome Home (Sanitarum)"

Artist: Metallica
Song: "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"
Album: Master Of Puppets
Year: 1986

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Though there is really no "easy" aspect of writing a great song, over the decades, it has become clear that one of the most difficult parts of a song is creating and sustaining a great mood for the duration of the composition. While many artists are capable of creating amazingly deep and moody moments, it is an elite few that can keep such a feeling stable throughout an entire musical work, and understandably, these songs rise far above their peers. Taking this idea further, one can easily make the case that it is somewhat easier to maintain a consistent mood within a slower song, and virtually impossible to keep the mood if there is a radical shift in sound. Yet there is one band that continually stood in opposition to these trends for nearly two decades. When they unleashed their first full length record in 1983, it was immediately clear that Metallica was a force to be reckoned with, and they are largely responsible for the rise and longevity of both the heavy metal and thrash metal genres. Constantly ignoring the "three minute" song rule and writing long, winding, heavy metal epics, Metallica seemed to be building to some "moment," and then, in 1986, they gave the world one of the greatest metal records in history: Master Of Puppets. Without any real radio airplay, the album managed to crossover to the fans of many other genres, and it was on this record where the group perfected their formula. While the album contains some of the finest thrash and heavy metal ever recorded, few songs so perfectly combine mood and power as one finds in Metallica's brilliant song, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)."

While it may be lost on many, the fact of the matter is, Master Of Puppets is by far one of the most complete and overall finest "concept" records in history, and nearly every song on the album sticks with an overall theme of powerlessness and struggle. On "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," Metallica takes a far darker approach, and both lyrically and musically, the mood they create perfectly captures the essence of a person going crazy. The slow, melodic opening to the song is absolutely phenomenal, as it creates a soft, yet tense mood from the start, and this is a characteristic which few bands execute as perfectly as Metallica. This amazing mood is powered almost entirely by the fantastic basswork of the late Cliff Burton, and the way in which he and guitarist Kirk Hammett wind around one another remains one of the keys to Metallica's early sound. As the song continues, the tempo slowly builds and builds, raising the tension level, and capturing the mood of a person slowly going mad. The guitars become more distorted and aggressive, and the way in which the band seamlessly moves into the second and third "phases" of the song is nothing short of musical perfection. There is also a rather strange moment on the song, as around the four minute mark, the band drops into a guitar riff that is oddly reminiscent of Rush's "Tom Sawyer." Truth be told, it is almost EXACTLY the same riff, and Metallica thanks Rush in the liner notes to the record. Regardless, it fits perfectly, and the overall feel of the music is beyond all others when it comes to capturing the feeling of a man slowing coming unhinged.

As the music on "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" progresses and becomes more aggressive and wild, so do the vocals from James Hetfield. Already possessing one of the most recognizable voices in music history, the entire range of Hetfield's voice, both in terms of power and scale, are on display on this song. Much like the music, the vocals begin slow and quiet, almost lamenting, and continue to build into pure fury by the end of the song. While many have tried this approach, in most cases, it ends of coming off as overly dramatic, and yet on "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," Hetfield perfectly captures the emotion behind the song without going overboard. The words that Hetfield penned for the song leave little to question, and yet few songs are as concise an accurate when addressing their subject matter as one finds here. Bringing words that are both chilling, and yet nothing short of perfect, Hetfield laments, "...sleep my friend and you will see, that dream is my reality...they keep me locked up in this cage, can't they see it's why my brain says rage..." Each line is as angry, yet heartbreaking as the previous line, and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is without question one of Metallica's finest lyrical presentations. With the words growing darker and more wild as Hetfield's vocal approach seems to become more and more unhinged, the song ends with one of the most disturbing lines in the history of music as he sings, "...kill it's such a friendly word, seems the only way...for reaching out again..."

When one looks back at "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," a case can be made that the song may have been a bit more autobiographical than initially perceived. As the truth behind the drama that lived within Metallica nearly from the start, this song is one of many that can be seen in many different ways. Though it does not have the overtly thrash-based sound that many of the songs on Master Of Puppets contain, one cannot argue that it is one of the most stunning moments from the landmark record. In many ways, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" showed the world that there was far more to Metallica than just speed and volume, and the fact that they were able to keep the dark, unsettling mood consistent for the entire song instantly put them in a group far above their peers. With an absolutely beautiful musical progression running throughout the entire song, each of the bands' four musicians are clearly locked into the deep groove, and the song remains a highlight of the bands' live performances. As the song moves from the somber, slow opening all the way to the deranged, chaotic end, the band keeps the listener completely mesmerized, and few songs so completely encompass their subject matter as brilliantly as Metallica does on this track. Though the idea of slowly losing ones' mind has been explored countless times in music, there is simply no other instance that even comes close to the overall mood and sheer power of Metallica's 1986 sonic masterpiece, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)."

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