Metallica – Blackened Part 1

It’s the late 80’s and I’m in high school.

I’m getting into metal, my buddy Mark has given me a cassette of Metallica’s Master of Puppets album and my life has been forever changed. Then And Justice For All happened…

Aged 13 or 14 and learning guitar (I subsequently switched to the bass because, well, it’s better… 🙂 ) and as soon as I heard this album I knew that I had to learn it!

So I went out and bought the tab book. This is a book we now know to be wildly and hilariously inaccurate in nearly every way but it was all we had back then.

We didn’t have YouTube to see how they played it, no fancy AI apps for slowing things down or isolating the tracks; all we had was the printed page in all it’s erroneous glory.

Track 1, Blackened was, and still is, a face melting, technical assault on the senses. It’s brutal, it’s blisteringly quick, intricate, heavy as balls and demonstrates Metallica at their most “Proggy” and experimental.

On opening the tab book I was confronted with a mass of exotic time signatures and tempo changes, intricate string skipping riffs and all manner of frankly terrifying things to see as a beginner.

In the 33.5 years since its release this song has held a special place in the hearts and minds of Metallica fans, musicians and me.

Many people, both professionals and amateurs, have had a go at transcribing this and sadly all have got it wrong…

The tab sites

Over the years there have been plenty of tab sites and everyone and their dog has tried to tame this beast on the page.

Even I had a go a few years ago but I was following the same faulty logic and feel that everyone else has been using and relying on my memory of that fatally flawed tab book.

I wasn’t trusting my ears, my experience and my sense of musical feel.

The intro (not the backwards bit...)

From the very first bar this song has been confusing people for over 30 years

It’s most often written as a bar of 5/4 at a tempo of between 182bpm and 190bpm. This is also what I remember from the tab book so that could be where this persistent idea comes from.

Below are two screencaps of “officially available versions” of this song.

One is from Sheet Music Direct (and available for sale) and the other is from the king of the tab sites, Ultimate-Guitar.com and available for free (but it’s the “official version” one created by the UG in house team so it’s top of their list of tabs).

From Sheet Music Direct
From ultimate-guitar.com

As you can see they’ve used exactly the same idea, most likely taken directly from the “official” tab book from back in the day, but with slightly different tempos.

Put simply, they’re both wrong…

About the time signature, the tempo and what Jason’s actually playing.

From the source

I’m transcribing the bassline directly from the original bass recording by Jason Newsted (thank you YouTube!) and you can clearly hear the notes he’s playing.

I’m not sure whether it’s a mistake or deliberate but he’s dropping in an A♭ where Het’ and Kirk are Playing the F natural on Fret 1 of the low E string. I mean, technically it is a minor 3rd but it doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be there…

If it’s a mistake, it’s lucky that it’s buried in the mix and so it’s inaudible (it’s not harmonically unpleasant, it’s just odd); if it’s a deliberate choice, it’s an odd one…

Time & tempo

The time signature is 3/4 (no really) and the tempo is 92bpm. Now I know that 92bpm is in the ballpark of half the tempo that all the other tabbers have used and that’s true but it’s also right 🙂

As with everything about this song, it’s easier to “hear” it and “feel” it with a click or the drum part. Here’s the opening bar played with click and an opening bar of just click just to give you context.

Can you hear/feel it?

Keen eyed readers

Now, you may have noticed that lonely looking 16th note at the end of the bar… That 16th note is KEY to the whole riff and mechanics of the whole song.

It’s a pickup note.

Metallica uses these a lot, no doubt an artifact in their song writing that they picked up listening to NWOBHM acts that came out of the more blues rock inflected sounds of the late 60’s and the 70’s.

Understanding the pickup note and how it functions in relation to “the one” of a riff is key to Metallica and many other bands and artists beyond the realms of metal.

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