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Metallica – The Ecstasy Of Aragon (Zodiac 004)

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The Ecstasy Of Aragon (Zodiac 004) 

Aragon Ballroom Chicago, IL. USA February 9, 1985 

(75:22) The Ecstasy Of Gold, Fight Fire With Fire, Ride The Lightning, Phantom Lord, The Four Horsemen, (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth (Bass Solo), For Whom The Bells Toll, No Remorse, Fade To Black, Seek & Destroy, Whiplash, Creeping Death, Am I Evil ?, Motorbreath

The new label Zodiac seems to be focusing on releases geared towards hard rock and heavy metal, fine with me. One of their earliest releases is a trip back in time to when the Mighty Metallica was just an opening band, on this eve they are playing as special guests to  W.A.S.P and were touring in support of the classic second LP Ride The Lightning. The record itself was a definite leap forward from their debut Kill Em All in both structure and more important, sonically, the heaviness was taken to the next level. 

The recording is a good audience recording that is clear and well balanced but at times suffers from distortion and some unevenness as if the recording device was being moved around. Overall an excellent example of Metallica circa 1985. The intro of “Ecstasy of Gold” is perfect, the Clint Eastwood movie music sets the tone for what is to follow. The band hits the stage with the same opening duo of songs as on the Ride record “Fight Fire With Fire” and the title track “Ride The Lightning”, one of only two songs on the record that credits former guitarist Dave Mustaine. The speed and intensity is there from the start but it is “Phantom Lord” that really has the band hitting their stride. Cliff’s bass is overloading the recording and Kirk Hammett plays a blistering solo that blows his equipment and takes him a minute to get back in the mix. The song is linked non stop with “The Four Horsemen”. The song has Kirk still experiencing some trouble and he is absent for a majority of the song and the band simply play harder to compensate for him not being there.

James tells the audience they are a bunch of rowdy f***ers and they respond in spades as he introduces Cliff for a bass solo. He plays the “Anesthsia” part but also add some newer tones at the beginning. His playing was so unique and just hearing it brings pleasure to my ears. He was such an important part of the bands sound and really changed my perspective about what a metal player could do. He stays with the wah pedal for “For Whom The Bells Toll”, a classic in this day and age but back then another new song. His intro sounds haunting in a strange  way, must be the echo in the hall and the bottom end during the song is really deep.

Hammett’s solo towards the end of the song is excellent and he lets loose at the songs conclusion then with extreme precision they rip right into “No Remorse”. The song is one from the first album that sounds a lot heavier than the recorded version. A step forward in song writing is “Fade To Black”. If the band ever had what one could consider a ballad from the Cliff era it is most certainly this song. The lyric paints a cryptic tale of death but the cause is left to the listeners interpretation. Hammett plays the melodic (yes melodic) leads perfectly and the song would become a live favorite.

The band’s sing along crowd interaction song is next.  The taper manages to separate himself from the audience so there is little interference near the recorder but makes it difficult to hear the crowd as they scream as James instructs them to get it “some balls”, this is Chicago after all! There is blood in the water, the band rips into “Whiplash” without remorse, speed metal at is best and most brutal. Aggression and sheer energy propel the band, the thing that works for me on this song is not the solid drumming from Lars but the incredible leads from Kirk. He nails the leads and one of my favorite solos is right after he plays a great one, the band stops and James screams “Whiplash” and Kirk just rips it again, excellent stuff.

The set ends and the band takes a breather, as special guests they get a longer set and return with the band’s song of Biblical times and arguably the heaviest song on Ride, “Creeping Death”. You can hear the sheer power of the band as the recorder seems to almost crumble as it just can’t handle what is being played, it gives the recording a slight distortion that actually adds to the ambience. James spews out the lyrics in superb fashion and the song is certainly a set highlight. Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” follows. When I first heard this song via the “Creeping Death” cassette single (remember those ?) it became an instant favorite and I had no idea it was even a cover. This version has a nice nasty sound to it and is not the full version. As with other tours it is usually linked with another song (the versions with “Damage Inc.” are killer) and tonight we are treated to, from out of nowhere and introduced by some Lars drumming, “Motorbreath”. As the band kicks in you can almost hear the place just levitate from the energy, the song is an obvious homage to Motorhead and sounds as if it would be right at home on No Sleep Till Hammersmith. The song finishes the set and probably most of the audience, who would want to follow a band of this magnitude? An excellent show.

The packaging is typical for Zodiac (and many others), full color inserts with excellent graphics based upon the Ride The Lightning record. There are even pictures of the actual gig on the inside as well as a picture of the handbill for the concert. While the average sound quality may not appeal to all, for the seasoned metal collector this is an excellent “snapshot” of the up and coming Metallica and how many silver releases of shows from this era are there? A fine job by the folks at Zodiac, give us more.

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