Heavy Metal has always had its baroque non-metal elements. It seems that no matter how hard and fast a metal band rocks, they’re eventually going to slip into some form of medieval Scandinavian folk music, Teutonic opera, Tolkienesque fantasy concept album song cycle, or at least—on the bubblegum end of the spectrum—soft rock ballad…. (You’re probably already picturing tiny Stonehenge on the Spinal Tap stage.) Such references have been in the genre’s DNA since the days of metal forefathers Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.
Metallica, and the other three of the big four founders of thrash metal—Anthrax, Megadeath, and Slayer—emerged as an antidote to metal’s occasional pretentiousness and grandiosity. Much closer to punk and hardcore (they once covered campy horror punks The Misfits) than to the bombastic spandex and hairspray industry metal became, early Metallica prided themselves on violently aggressive music and imagery, and a complete absence of subtlety. (See the original title and cover for their debut album Kill ‘em All.)
But they softened in time, as we know, and eventually introduced some some non-metal into their songwriting—most notably in the grim acoustic balladry of megahit “One.” Now, thanks to new (-ish) bassist Robert Trujillo, the metal legends can add a completely different acoustic style to their repertoire—“flamingo,” as lead singer James Hetfield describes Trujillo’s flamenco guitar chops in the video above. And, as if to prove his bona fides in the flamenco world, Trujillo got to jam with the reigning king and queen of Nuevo Flamenco guitarists, Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela—two players whose speed and virtuosity match those of the best metal shredders, but whose roots come from a much older tradition. (See them rip through “Tamacun” below.)
In the video at the top of the post, Trujillo and his low-slung bass join the acoustic duo on stage during their encore at a Red Rocks concert in 2014 for a flamenco-style medley of Metallica classics, including “Orion,” “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” “The Frayed Ends of Sanity,” and “Battery.” It somehow seems like a perfect fit for the versatile Trujillo, who grew up as inspired by jazz fusion bassist Jaco Pastorius and funk and Motown players (he opens his guest spot above with the “Jungle Boogie” bass riff) as he was by Black Sabbath. He brought many of these influences to previous bands like Suicidal Tendencies and Infectious Grooves. And now—in addition to “flamingo”—he’s brought to Metallica something else previously unheard-of in metal: slap bass solos.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
Flamenco? It was just an acoustic set.