Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last week alone, such as his rewriting of the history of the Civil War, not only in interviews but on his own fucking golf course), I’ve decided to do something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball completed the NCAA Basketball Championship in April, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.
What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?
Here we are – we’ve finally made it to the Final Battle for the right to wear the crown of the greatest hard rock/metal band of all-time. Both bands have slogged through their respective regions – including knocking off the #1 seed in both regions – to meet on this hallowed battleground. Without further ado, here are your two heavyweights vying for the championship, with a brief history of each combatant. In Part Two, we will see how they match up with the criterion we’ve set for determining the victor and crown the champion.
AC/DC vs. Metallica
AC/DC – The True “Thunder” Came From “Down Under”
AC/DC was founded in the wilds of Sydney, Australia, by the Young brothers, lead guitarist Angus and rhythm guitarist Malcolm, in 1973. In their early years, they tried to perfect the “three chords and thunder” sound that would become their trademark, but they also needed the right personnel to bring that sound to the people. Their first break came in finding their rhythm section in Phil Rudd (drums) and Cliff Williams (bass), but it was the vocals of Bon Scott that started the group on its way to glory and success.
AC/DC received some accolades for their early work, particularly High Voltage in 1975, but it was their 1979 album Highway to Hell that broke them as an international superstar act. With such songs as the title track, “Girls Got Rhythm,” “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” and “Touch Too Much,” AC/DC would eventually sell eight million copies of the record. It would also mark a moment that shook the band to its core.
As they were in the studio creating their next album, Scott would die of accidental alcohol poisoning. The band briefly considered breaking up but, encouraged by Scott’s father, decided to soldier on with the band. With new lead singer Brian Johnson at the front of the stage, the band released what would arguably be their masterpiece, Back in Black. The record featured no noticeable change in the style of the band and the title track, “Hells Bells,” “Shoot to Thrill“ and the legendary “You Shook Me All Night Long,” became staples of classic rock stations. The success of the album has been seen in its longevity – it is second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in worldwide album sales and been certified double diamond (20 million sales) in the States of America. It is also arguable that AC/DC is now known more for Johnson’s voice than for Scott’s.
Over the next 30-plus years, AC/DC continued to pound out classic hard rock for its legion of fans around the world. This would eventually lead to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, but they haven’t even come close to slowing down since then. Lately they’ve gone through some issues – in 2014, Rudd was replaced after being charged with a litany of offenses, including “attempting to procure a murder;” also in 2014, Malcolm Young cited his health in departing the band; in 2016, Johnson was replaced (by Guns ‘N Roses singer W. Axl Rose) after doctors said his hearing could be permanently lost if he continued touring; following the final show of their 2016 “Rock or Bust” World Tour, Williams announced his resignation, citing that the loss of Johnson and Rudd made AC/DC “a changed animal.” But the constant of the band has been the sight of Angus Young, in his schoolboy outfit, still doing his modified Chuck Berry “duck walk” to the delight of crowds worldwide.
Metallica – Bay Area Thrashers Fueled by Inner Demons
Metallica was founded in Los Angeles, CA, in 1981, but for the entirety of its career has called the San Francisco area its home turf. The band’s drummer, Lars Ulrich, put an ad in a local newspaper looking for a singer/guitarist for the band he wanted to found. That band would take on a new form of hard rock/metal, the skate-community inspired “thrash metal” and the pieces of the band had to fit perfectly together. When guitarist James Hetfield– and fellow original members in lead guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist Cliff Burton – all came on board, the band Metallica was born and exploded on the music scene.
“Exploded” is a rather tame term for the power and aggression that Metallica attacked the then-Euro-driven synth pop and “hair metal” of that era. From their first album, Kill ’em All, in 1983, the band’s in-your-face approach was evident: hard core guitars crashing around machine gun drumming and the angry growl of Hetfield crushing anything in its path. The aural assault also brought something else that hadn’t been a part of the hard rock/metal scene: lyrics delving into issues such as isolation, religious issues, anger, militaristic thought, drug usage and the damage of such usage, not exactly the thing that the “hair metal” acts were singing about on the Sunset Strip.
With these demons, however, came changes to the band. Mustaine was ejected from the group allegedly because of his drug usage and would be replaced by Kirk Hammett. As their star was on its ascendance, tragedy would strike the band in the death of Burton while the band was touring in Sweden in 1986. After receiving the blessing of Burton’s family, the remaining members of Metallica decided to keep the band going, replacing Burton with Jason Newstead, at which point they would enter arguably their most creative and successful era of their career.
In 1988, Metallica released …And Justice for All, arguably their most creative work, and the music world responded. The album, driven by such songs as “One“ (it’s video, splicing scenes from the film Johnny Got His Gun in with band performance, is considered one of the Top 100 videos of all-time), “The Frayed Ends of Sanity,” “Harvester of Sorrow“ and the title track, rocketed the band into notoriety. It was also one of the first competitors in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental category at the 1989 Grammy Awards, but was comically bested by Jethro Tull‘s Crest of a Knave for the inaugural honor (something that is recognized as one of the greatest gaffes in the history of the Grammys; it was corrected somewhat the following year when Metallica won the Grammy in the category).
Not content to sit on that success, Metallica would next release arguably their masterpiece. The entirely black cover – hence many fans and others calling it “The Black Album” but officially an eponymous album – sparked even bigger things for the band. Through such songs as “Enter Sandman,” “Wherever I May Roam,” “The Unforgiven,” “Sad But True,” and others, Metallica solidified its place in the pantheon of “thrash metal” gods (alongside Mustaine’s Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax). It also etched its place in music history; Metallica would be the band’s first #1 album, has sold 16 million in the States of America, and started their consecutive streak of studio albums that have debuted at #1 (six, including their latest Hardwired…to Self-Destruct).
To this day, Metallica continues to pound out their brand of metal to an appreciative audience, even though Newstead left the band in 2001 and was replaced by Robert Trujillo. They have also brought attention to many social issues, including mental illness, often depicting their own struggles with those subjects (mental problems and drug and alcohol abuse) in documentary fashion. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 (first ballot), but Metallica shows absolutely no signs of slowing down as we get deeper into 2017 (and the “Hardwired” tour rolls along with two bands they’ve influenced, Avenged Sevenfold and Volbeat). In fact, if the Hardwired record is any indication, it is possible they still can get better – hard to believe, but potentially true.
Now it is up to you, the voters. We will break the competitors down by the criteria in our final essay and make the decision – who is the greatest hard rock/metal band of all-time? Vote, argue, fight about it (just keep the chains, brass knuckles and knives out of the battle, thank you!)…just let us know who the ultimate champion is going to be!