5 years ago: Metallica confronts dystopia with ‘Spit Out the Bone

Too many Metallica fans, 2016s Hardwired … to self-destruct was a much more satisfying release than anything they had heard in years. It seemed impossible that the band would ever fully embrace their thrash metal roots, but a number of tracks on Metallica’s tenth LP strongly recalled the past.

The last track, “Spit Out the Bone,” was one of the best examples. In a seven-minute high-energy burst, Metallica explored their history with staccato attacks, grinding riffs, angry lyrics and soaring solos. Every time their approach changed, it seemed to come back even louder and faster, delivering a relentless, satisfying reminder of how they’d turned heads on that seminal album Master of Puppets.

Metallica was inspired by a line in British punk band GBH’s track “Passenger on the Menu”, which told the story of a 1972 plane crash in Argentina where survivors were forced into cannibalism. In the end, though, front man James Hetfield decided to explore another form of human risk.

“[It’s] just the wonder and fear of what happens to man,” he said Rolling stones. “Without future stumbling too much, just the possibilities of Terminator, stuff like that.” He added, “We could be a much more efficient race if we just let computers help us. And yes, they help us, but how far does it go? All that madness. So ‘Spit out the bone’ is that your bones are not needed. They break.”

Lars Ulrich, who co-wrote “Spit Out the Bone”, said he knew it was best to leave Hetfield to develop the lyrics on his own. “He really went into his own world and dealt with all that,” Ulrich said in a separate Rolling stones interview. “The thing about him is that he tends to change lyrics a lot as he goes along from the first time I heard it. You have to know not to get too attached to them.”

Watch Metallica’s video for ‘Spit Out the Bone’

Ulrich had provided plenty of feedback as Metallica worked on the 2008s Death magnetic – but this time, “I didn’t like that. I know him well enough to know when he wants me involved and when he wants to figure it out on his own,” he said. “Even at times when I could tell he was struggling, I know when to hold back.”

The pair also adjusted their approach to music: Death magnetic had been the result of long conversations and careful planning, while “Spit Out the Bone” and its accompanying tracks were much more organic. “I think there’s definitely more of a New Wave of British Heavy Metal thing on this record,” Ulrich shared Rolling stones. “It’s just a lot of pounding riffs and rocking kind of moments, as well as some straighter and simpler drumming. … Unlike Death magnetic, we just started jamming and playing. What was different, like with ‘Spit Out the Bone,’ is we started trimming it and making it leaner and thinner, more concise.”

The result, he added, was “an adventure, man.” Ulrich said he had “versions of that song that are two to three minutes longer. We just went on and on and on and on. It was also the first song where we went, ‘Wait a minute, there’s much of the good here?’ And then we started peeling it back. It was one of those things where you just keep going to different universes and different modes and areas because it was super fun. It was like this journey.”

“Spit Out the Bone” was paired with a dystopian sci-fi video by Phil Mucci, who had a history of working with heavy bands with heart, including Cereal and Disturbed. The clip delved deeper into the darker side of Hetfield’s thinking, in the vein of a Terminator-like story where machines dominate humanity and start forcefully turning people into cyborgs – with a hint that it’s for our own benefit because we’ve failed ourselves throughout history.

See Metallica’s debut ‘Spit Out the Bone’ on stage

Guitarist Kirk Hammett admitted he had doubts about achieving a convincing delivery ahead of his first live performance. “‘Spit Out the Bone’ is the Mount Everest of the new album – the highest peak and the hardest climb,” he shared Variety. “On the rest of the record I improvised my solos – not that one. The instrumentation on that song is so tight that I wanted to solo with just as much precision.”

Published on Nov. 17, 2017 as the last single from Hardwired … to self-destruct, “Spit Out the Bone” quickly became one of their most requested songs on tour. Yet Metallica did not immediately debut on the scene.

“What seems to be a fan favorite now is ‘Spit out the bone,'” Ulrich said then. “We’ll get to it all, but I don’t think we’ll introduce ‘Spit Out the Bone’ in a stadium. It’s a pretty deep song; I think it’ll work better in an arena.

“But listen, the fact that the fans have embraced the record at this level, the fact that they want to hear more, and the fact that we’re comfortable opening a stadium show with a new song,” he added, ” it’s a testament to how fantastically this record has been received – far beyond our wildest hopes and imaginations.”

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