It's funny that Metallica would be criticized for not wallowing in such tired heavy metal cliches like "Satan" or "Kill." By this logic, they should also be criticized for not writing enough songs about groupies, hot cars, and supermodels. Oh, more tunes about "rocking out!!!!"
Hah - funny. I'm 35 now, and many of my friends were Metallica freaks in the '80s when they and the other thrash bands were all underground. The whole '80s underground music world - thrash and speed metal, hardcore punk, hip hop - was built upon directly rebelling against the pop music of its day. I think the punk aesthetic ruled the roost; we were all Ramones in spirit, even if the music was vastly different. But there's a clear line connecting Dead Kennedys Husker Du to Metallica to Megadeth to Run DMC Public Enemy. It was the music of the streets (the movie Style Wars comes to mind as I write).
The punk and thrash bands threw themselves into topical, political material because it was the very opposite of airy pop and hair metal. We were the anti-Poison. The anti-Michael Bolton. The anti-Stryper. The anti-New Kids on the Block. Yet more rock anthems on the hot groupie chicks? How does a kid relate to that in 1980's America? So that's how you distinguished yourself in the scene. You dealt with war, poverty, hypocricy, urban decay, corporatism, yadda yadda.
This is a crucial reason why you really can't go back again. Asking 45-year-olds to revisit their youth a generation ago, now that everything and everyone has scattered to the four winds, is a fool's game. You'll never recapture the spirit of those days. No artist can. You can only capture the present moment. Bitter medicine for aging adults who look to their rockstars to turn back the clock, and turn us all into teenagers again.
I vastly prefer the "CNN Metal" to the tired, nerd claptrack that metal has descended into. Now it's just a teenage macho joke, just waiting the elf ears and the 12-sided dice. In my humble opinion, of course. But I've always preferred protest music, anyway. If you have nothing to say that's useful in daily life, what's the point? There are enough bland love songs and car commercials.
Now, if all these bands stayed in the same realm forever, I would agree. It's best to move on, to evolve and explore new ideas. I know that's poison to the headbangers, but that's just the way life works. Thank goodness The Beatles evolved. Thank goodness Dylan evolved. If I had to listen to a half dozen Metallica albums that aped Ride the Lightning, I'd go crazy and shoot someone. And I love that album!
I've been a great admirer of Master of Puppets for many years. It represents the pinnacle of thrash metal to my ears (although speed metal junkies will obviously go for Slayer's Reign in Blood). I think I prefer the diversity on the third Metallica album. Fast songs, slow songs. Heavy songs, light songs. The personal and the political. The blistering and the beautiful. I've never understood the backlash, the way Metallica split its fans right down the middle when Black Album exploded. This band was always bigger than one sound. They were far closer to Led Zeppelin than their peers. And I wish heavy rock music would discover that imagination again. I wish it could recapture that original sense of wonder, of opening up to new ideas. It's far too cliquish and Puritanical. We need a new Houses of the Holy. We need a new Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
Anyway, hope I didn't ramble too far, but it got my brain whirling.....