Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band
eatallica began in 2001 as a lark, playing Beatles songs in the style of Metallica. Word spread, and the joke band became a minor cultural phenomenon, attracting worldwide press and hundreds of thousands of website hits. Although Beatallica now play metal festivals globally, the physical release of Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band is somewhat of a surprise. Their first two albums were Internet-only free downloads, and in 2005, Sony, on behalf of the Beatles, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the band. Unexpectedly, Napster grouch/Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is a Beatallica fan, and offered legal assistance. The band ultimately signed with Oglio, which has friendly ties with Sony. With appropriate royalties now accruing to the Beatles and Metallica, Beatallica can satirize both with impunity.
However, the band's methods go beyond simple tribute or parody. Songs conflate not only titles, but also music and lyrics. "The Thing That Should Not Let It Be," for example, is a stunning foreplay, coitus, and cuddling between its sources. Such interplay stands out in a time when "mashup" merely denotes songs superimposed digitally. Mashing up The Beatles and Metallica is almost logical; they're the world's biggest rock and metal bands, respectively, and they got there the same way: songwriting rife with hooks, melodies, and twists.
Disappointingly, Sgt. Hetfield's skews towards its Beatles side. Much of it is basically revved-up covers; the last thing the world needs is another Beatles cover band. This "beauty and the beast" steamrolling is a disservice to both the Beatles and Metallica: "hear some classics in a funny metal voice!" Admittedly, Michael Tierney (aka Jaymz Lennfield) does a spot-on impression of James Hetfield's gruff bark, and Jeff Salzman (aka Grg Hammettson) accurately evokes Kirk Hammett's pentatonic triplets. But Metallica's first four albums are a metallic run equivalent to, say, Help! through Sgt. Pepper's, and to hear "Hey Jude" (as "Hey Dude") march faithfully by with only a token trill from "Nothing Else Matters" is a letdown.
But when the band jams Metallica up the Beatles' ass, so to speak, the results are bracingly hilarious. "Leper Madonna" begins with "Lady Madonna"'s signature bass line, only to be flattened by "Leper Messiah." "Blackened the U.S.S.R." polkas through thrash beats; "Taxman" and "Enter Sandman" merge to form, uh, "Sandman." "Helter Skelter" adopts the skulking frame of "Harvester of Sorrow," a sublimely Neanderthal pairing. "Anesthesia (I'm Only Sleeping)" violently segues from Cliff Burton to Paul McCartney, throwing in riffs from "Seek & Destroy" for good measure. "Ktulu (She's So Heavy)" also pays tribute to Burton's molten, wah-fueled tone, and has a mind-melting bridge where the guitar plays Metallica, the bass plays Beatles, and the lines fit perfectly. When "The Call of Ktulu"'s melodies wrap around "She's So Heavy"'s slow dirge, it's heavier than anything Metallica has written in years.
The subtlest, yet most subversive move comes in "...And Justice for All My Loving." It grafts the drum intro to Metallica's $5.98 EP onto "All My Loving," which is significant because the song, like many other Beatles hits, begins straight off with vocals. Here, the song gets two intros, which kiss for a second, then race off in parallel. Double-time drums flail away, guitars gleefully machine-gun the changes, and Lennon spins in his grave, headbanging all the while.