Table of Contents
Metallica - Battery
This was my intro to the life-changing world of Metallica.
Lulled into a false sense of calm by that iconic, layered acoustic/classical intro, I was about to have my brain put on a full rinse and spin cycle by one of the most ferocious intros in metal…
The Main Riff
The main riff is iconic (let’s face it, everything about this album is iconic) and it’s an absolute bastard to understand and to play.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
- It’s speed (fast on the album and even faster live!)
- There’s an accent switch in the middle of it that renders it feeling “lopsided” or somehow “off”.
This is an analysis/breakdown of that riff, a look at how it works, why it feels lopsided and how to actually think it so you can play it.
*** Caveat, I’m a bass player! I’ve tabbed out Cliff’s bassline and in isolation it has it’s own quirks so to put it into context I had to work out Het’s guitar part and add it to my GP file. Sorry if guitarist think I’m stepping out of my lane… ***
A quick note on tempo
If you buy the bass transcription from the store (hopefully I’ll get the rights!), you’ll notice that it’s transcribed at 96bpm.
This is because, even though the song is really fast, Cliff’s part has an openness and flow that means it’s clearly legible on the page at the correct tempo of 96bpm but unfortunately, at 96bpm, the guitar tab is a cluttered looking mess!
As such, the guitar parts in this deep dive are tabbed out at a face melting 192bpm!
Chunking things down
To make all of this simpler I’m going to break the riff down into pieces (insert Papa Roach singalong here…) and slow things down considerably to really illustrate where the bait and switch happens.
Here’s how the whole riff looks:
Here’s how the whole riff sounds at 192bpm with a click.
Part 1: Galloping
We start off with two very common metal rhythms: the “Maiden” gallop and four 8th notes. Bar 1 is actually pretty straight forward and doesn’t require much analysis…
I’ve you’ve ever played any Iron Maiden song you’ve played the rhythm of the first two beats!
You need to apply a very heavy downbeat here to emphasise the 1. This is the easy bit of the riff (apart from how fast it is, obviously!)
Here’s the audio at tempo and then slowed down so you can hear it more clearly.
Bar 1 @ 192bpm
Bar 1 @ 120bpm
Part 2: Accent switch
Bar 2 begins with two more heavy downbeat “Maiden” gallops and another set of four 8th notes but the accent is shifted forward down the bar and into the next one!
Here’s a picture of bars 1 and 2 side by side; you can see that, rhythmically, bar 2 is exactly the same as bar 1 but, as mentioned above, the accent switch happens here, right as bar 2 goes into bar 3.
Straightening things up
The low E 8th note in the bar 2, group of four, is almost a throw away note (a dead note or rest, even) that has the effect of stopping the riff in it’s tracks, standing the riff up and pushing the accent onto the offbeat.
All the rhythmic weight is now on the “G5-G5-F#5-G5” 8th notes across bar 2 into bar 3.
The four 8th notes in the red box are played as a straight group of four as if the first G5 is the downbeat and this is where the accent switch happens.
*** In an ideal world, the G at the start of bar 3 would actually feel like a heavy downbeat to tee up the rest of the bar but it doesn’t; it’s just note 4 of a straightend up group of 4 which takes away the natural start of bar 3 and makes you feel all wobbly… ***
Here is it from the throw away low E note (and on into the accent switch) at 192bpm and 120bpm for emphasis:
Bar 2 into bar 3 @ 192bpm
Bar 2 into bar 3 @ 120bpm
Hopefully in the 120bpm audio you can hear the throw away nature of the low E and the way the 8th notes stand up against the gallop that led us into them.
Part 3: Inverted gallops
Next, we’re focusing on what happens after the G (the last of the straight four 8th notes) at the start of bar 3.
Bar 3 offbeat gallops @ 192bpm
Bar 3 offbeat gallops @ 120bpm
This switch from the downbeat to the offbeat makes the three 8th notes at the end of bar 3 feel like you have to snatch at them in order to make it to the next part of the riff in time!
Below is the audio from the offbeat right to the end of bar 3:
Bar 3 offbeat gallops to end of bar @ 192bpm
Bar 3 offbeat gallops to end of bar @ 120bpm
Part 4: Turnaround Time
Bar 4 begins with a palm muted open low E which is also effectively another throw away note.
This one throw away low E note is there to buffer out of bar 3 into bar 4 from the “snatched at” ending of bar 3.
It gives bar 4 just enough breathing room for you to stick the landing and get your fretting hand down to the 2nd fret the big power chords.
Bar 3 inverted gallops into bar 4 to throwaway note @ 192bpm
Bar 3 inverted gallops into bar 4 to throwaway note @ 120bpm
Bar 4 wraps up nice and simply leading comfortably back to the double gallops of bar 1 as the whole thing repeats…
Bars 3 & 4 complete
Bar 4 complete @ 192bpm
Bar 4 complete @ 120bpm
However, in the 2nd time repeat, things change as the riff goes into the big rung out chords that lead into the verse.
Part 5: 2nd Time's the charm
The turnaround in the 2nd time repeat bar is where things get a bit spicy.
It leads into the big powerchords just before the verse and is a variation of bars 3 and 4 (with an accent switch lifted from bars 2 into 3!).
Let’s take a look at the whole 2nd time phrase.
Turnaround: 2nd Time Repeat Inverted gallops (as per regular bar 3) @192bpm
Turnaround: 2nd Time Repeat Inverted gallops (as per regular bar 3) @ 120bpm
Below is the inverted gallop leading into the straightened up 8th notes leading into the first stab in bar 4!
I know, that’s a lot…
Turnaround: 2nd Time Repeat Inverted gallops, group of 4 Into stab 1 @ 192bpm
Turnaround: 2nd Time Repeat Inverted gallops, group of 4 Into stab 1 @ 120bpm
The significant difference with this straightening up is that, unlike in bars 2 into 3 where the downbeat of bar 3 (the G5) is played as part of the group of 4 from bar 2, we hit a rock solid offbeat, the “&” of 1, which is the first of the offbeat stabs that characterise this last bar.
This leaves us to pick up the riff from the weaker offbeat, but here
Below is the group of 4 into all the stabs so you can feel the weight of the 4 and the offbeatyness of the stabs.
Turnaround Group of 4 into all stabs @ 192bpm
Turnaround Group of 4 into all stabs @ 120bpm
I really hope that makes sense as it’s not an easy thing to describe!
Taking those ideas and stringing them all together into the powerchords ahead of the verse sounds like this this:
Turnaround Inverted Gallops Group of 4 into all stabs Into Powerchords @ 192bpm
Turnaround Inverted Gallops Group of 4 into all stabs Into Powerchords @ 120bpm
TL;DR Because I know you're busy...
This has been a deep dive into a sinlge riff!
I appreciate that you might be a bit too busy to want to read through the whole thing and you’ve understandably skipped ahead to this section.
Below you’ll find the riff broken down into chunks with tab and audio (at 192bpm and 120bpm) so that you can practice each bit and stitch it all together and get it up to tempo when you’re ready.
Bar 1: Simple!
Bar 2: Gallops into throw away note
Bar 2 into 3: straightened 8th notes
Bar 3a: Offbeat Inverted Gallops
Bar 2: Gallops into throw away note
Bar 4: The Turnaround
Bar 3 into 4: 2nd time repeat
Bar 3 into 4: 2nd time repeat to end
Bar 3 into 4 into power chords!!
And that’s it. Hopefully this has been of some use to you.
Metallica are often viewed as more of a “blunt instrument” when compared to an overtly technical band like Megadeth but Het’s a complicated and, as we all know, monstrous riffer in his own right.
Here’s a little extra something that might be useful to you…
Sometimes taking things away can make something complex become a lot clearer.
Below is the riff as just rhythms; no note values. Trying to match the notes to the rhythms can cloud the issue but just hearing the rhythm and learning the striking patterns and accents might be of use.
I hope it helps.
Main riff RHYTHM ONLY @ 192bpm
Main riff RHYTHM ONLY @ 120bpm