August 21, 2012 by hotdaddywags
So, a few months back, my friend Mark Baumgarten sent out a request to some writers to write an essay about the song you’d most like to hear at the end of the world. I decided that Metallica’s ‘Leper Messiah’ is the one jam I’d need to crank up one more time. Here’s the piece:
Last Song On Earth: Leper Messiah
It’s all come down to this. The apocalypse. The arrival of the doomseeker, signaling the final countdown to end game, set, and match. There’s no time to consider the afterlife, sink to a knee in deep prayer, or send a group text. Family and friends are replaced by visions of boulders floating on rivers of lava. There’s a kaleidoscopic shit show ripping the sky apart, and I can feel the first spray of a tsunami the size of North Dakota bearing down on me. It’s not a particularly good situation. It’s pretty well fucked.
I’ve got enough time for one song. One last clang and clatter, shake, rattle and roll. I ask myself what kind of mood, what sort of headspace do I want to be in when I stand before the smoldering gates of hell and crack a cold soldier with Hades. I could fuck around and get a triple double, take the ironic route and lay down Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day,” because afterall, Momma cooked my breakfast with no hog. Alas, in this life or the next, I wouldn’t be described as more than a casual hip-hop fan – it would send the wrong message – to whom, I cannot say, but assuming this final overnight shift in the DJ booth of life matters, I’d best stick to my guns and uncork some massive, skull-crushing, face-melting rock.
And I’m not talking about contrived fancy lad rock here, ok? You’ll hear no Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as the reaper’s scythe hovers above the back of my neck. Perfectly fine band, sure, but not for all the marbles. Similarly, I won’t outro with some sense of regional allegiance and opt for any number of grunge-era classics, though certainly that music is meaningful – to the living.
It’s got to be a song that is best enjoyed at an ear-shattering volume, in order to drive the inevitable apex of time right up your ass. Cement the cracks. Seal the sarcophagus with gusto. When facing the jaws of oblivion, it’s not my intention to go quietly. I want to feel my hair blown back by an utter, undeniable throb, each step towards the mammoth core of the riff a feat of strength in the thrall of a heavy metal blast furnace.
If I’m trying to stave off extinction for as long as possible, to ensure I get my maximum amount of chuggah-chuggah, I’d drop the needle on Sleep’s 52-minute one-song opus “Jerusalem.” Sleep alum and current High On Fire axeman Matt Pike will undoubtedly assume the role of a bard in Satan’s henhouse when it’s all said and done, maybe he’ll need a lute player. “Jerusalem” is the very definition of doom, a plodding stoner dirge full of sonic peaks and valleys that would make a fitting soundtrack for my last chapter – if it was a mini-series. In the same vein, Pelican’s “March Into The Sea” is a 20-minute sound-off that’s probably more interesting dynamically than “Jersualem.” The tune boasts a myriad of layers, dense, tangible slabs over an an anxious bed of guitar squall, a brief acoustic interlude during which to ponder it all, and a shimmering, hallowed halls finale that would add a touch of class to the proceedings. It’s also an instrumental, and if words, thoughts or sentiments won’t mean a thing when I’m a steaming pile of ash, it’s then an apt choice.
In the end, however, I’d go out with 5 minutes and 40 seconds of the damaging brilliance that is Metallica’s “Leper Messiah.” As metal tunes go, it’s got it all. The initial “1,2 / 1,2,3,4” count-in, followed by a thundering juggernaut of a riff that gives way to this enormous, backwards whoosh of distortion. It’s the sound of the tortured ghosts in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” swimming about your head as you’re enveloped in a vortex of devastation. Vintage James Hetfield here, when his voice still hit some of those higher, sweeter plateaus effortlessly. Lars running a marathon on the kick. Kirk wailing away with slippery leads, adding polish to the edges and guts to the girth of the thing. And the dearly departed Cliff Burton, locking down the bottom end through the song’s heavy, lumbering gait, its breakneck gallops. “Send me money / send me green / heaven you will meet / make a contribution / and you’ll get a better seat.”
It’s absolute. For what it is, what it represents, perfect. Metallica on 11, summoning a magnetic luge track straight to the Underworld. Imagine the scene from Willie Wonka where the kid and his Grandpa ascend up up up in a cylindrical chamber; and flip the script. Instead of popping bubbles and giggling like a schoolmarm, you’re headed south with fire in your eyes and THC in your veins. You’re gnashing your teeth, powerless, and the taste of your own blood is the last bitter, copper pill you’ll ever swallow. No golden ticket. No consolation prize. It is, as they say, what it is. May as well submit and enjoy the ride.
In the pantheon of what is considered modern day speed metal, “Leper Messiah” is relatively simple, there are absolutely no frills here, and that’s precisely its beauty. If you can argue that the lyrics in the last song on Earth are immaterial, then you can argue that the merits of a head-scratching time change, an extravagant solo or a self-indulgent noodly jack-off sesh are equally as useless. It’s the meat of the matter with “Master of Puppets”-era Metallica, nothing more, nothing less, and in its clean, basic and earnest brutality, it is the stripped-down equivalent of rock and roll Armageddon. Sure, lyrics like “Time for lust / time for lie / time to kiss your life goodbye” make it a reasonable choice thematically, but it’s all about that headspace, that mentality as I get unwillingly buttfucked by fate. Am I going to go quietly into that good night? Play a final song about rainbows, unicorns, and cardigans? Maybe smoke a menthol light and take an iron to my Dockers in my dwindling moments? Not me. I’m going to go log-rolling with titans. I’m going to be “stinking drunk with power,” sitting at the helm of a chrome and leather armored tank, waving a tattered white flag, as I crush a stadium of skulls, slowly wending my way down into the valley of death.