It’s hard to picture it today, but there was once a time when the music of Metallica was perceived by the masses as incomprehensible, unprecedented and without any point of comparison. There was a little Motorhead in their music, maybe a little bit of Iron Maiden, but for the most part, it was completely original, and its newness was what made it so exhilarating to fans and so terrifying to everyone else.
The $5.98 EP – Garage Days Re-Revisited, Metallica’s 1987 release, is the last vestige of the period in which their music could be described that way, and this month it’s been reissued after years out of print. Its five songs have appeared on the 1998 compilation Garage, Inc., but this reissue finds the EP in its original configuration, freed from the two-plus hours of stupid nonsense that was stinking up the 1998 release.
The EP was released a year after the group’s original bassist, Cliff Burton, died in a bus accident while the band was on tour in Europe, and it was their first to feature Jason Newsted on four-string duties. It consists of five cover songs, by such bands as the Misfits, Killing Joke and Budgie.
It also features cover songs by the British bands Holocaust and Diamond Head, which led to a brief period of heavy metal fans pretending to know who those bands were and acting like they had always been longtime fans. That may seem like a gratuitous slam, but it’s important to demonstrate the degree to which there was no daylight between Metallica and their fans at that point.
How extreme was that dynamic? Well, one day, James Hetfield would appear in a copy of Kerrang! wearing a Samhain shirt (for example), and one week later you could be certain that the group’s fans would have all dutifully purchased one of their own, the better to emulate their heroes.
Fans wanted not just to listen to Metallica, but to be in Metallica, and the group’s collective persona and presentation was such that it didn’t actually seem like a huge stretch.
Of course, as we all know, the band eventually went on to systematically destroy that accessibility, but it was a sweet ride while it lasted, and it provided the public with a few untouchable slabs of music, The $5.98 EP – Garage Days Re-Revisited being the last of these.
Lasting only 25 minutes, the EP finds the band burning through high-energy readings of the songs they’ve chosen, and they sound like fans themselves as they play them. Their enthusiasm for the material is plain as day.
The highest points of the EP are the first two songs, “Helpless” and “The Small Hours,” and the last, a medley of “Last Caress” and “Green Hell” by the Misfits. The other two songs, “The Wait” by Killing Joke and “Crash Course in Brain Surgery” by Budgie, are markedly less great than the others, but as a self-contained package the five songs hang together well and make for a thoroughly satisfying listen.
Speaking of thoroughly satisfying listens, there was never another one in the entire Metallica catalog after this. Their follow-up, 1988’s …And Justice for All, is an overlong, incoherent mess from start to finish, and the music only got worse from there. However, luckily for all of us, we still have Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and this EP, which add up to about two hours of excellent music that captures a long bygone era perfectly.
Now for the bad news. At the time when The $5.98 EP was released, you could actually get it for $5.98. You cannot do this today. It’s $5.99 to download in most places, but the CD costs an average of $10 and the vinyl is now the most expensive way to get it, with many outlets selling it for $16 or thereabouts. But most of you people probably have Spotify anyway, so who cares?