Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs: “Am I Evil?” — Metallica (1984)

My mother was a witch, she was burned alive.
Thankless little bitch, for the tears I cried.
Take her down now, don’t want to see her face
Blistered and burnt, can’t hide my disgrace…

So I when I started my Freshman year of college, we’re talking the late summer and fall of 1988 (*shudder*), I was neck freakin’ deep into Metallica. I first saw them at the Monsters of Rock Tour two months earlier, at the late and long-lamented Orange Bowl in Miami. There were five acts on the bill (headlined by Van Hagar), and Metallica was the second group to hit the stage, sandwiched between Kingdom Come (*shudder) and Dokken.

But when they DID hit the stage, I. Was. TRANSFIXED. Immediately. That summer I immersed myself deep into the Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets albums and became a late-blooming fan. Or so I thought.

Their And Justice For All album dropped just as I entered college, and I was the only metalhead on my dorm room floor blasting their music. Or so I thought. I met a buddy named Mark two doors down, and we bonded over our mutual love of the band. It was like finding a long lost relative in a sea of strangers. It’d be a few months before I’d get deeper into indie/college rock, but I never lost my metal roots.

Anyway we introduced a lot of metal bands to each other, especially given that it was the late era of thrash and “guitar hero” music (Satriani, Vai, Macalpine, Malmsteen, etc.), but the album we kept going back to was Kill ‘Em All. It was raw with razor-thin production values and, while a great album on its own, readily showed the seeds of what was to blossom with their next three masterpieces.

One day I decided to pick up my own copy on CD, and found that it came with a bonus track I hadn’t heard before: Am I Evil? Sweet! Later that day I came home, slapped it on my Discman, popped on my headphones… and was TRANSFIXED. All over again.

A cover of the 1980 Diamond Head song, Am I Evil? is a vicious beast of a tune. It starts with a dirge-like procession, a syncopated oppressive riffage as the crowd follows a young woman being led in a cart to a stake. It turns into hammer-on guitar shredding as the flames are lit and creep up her body, searing her flesh away. The song’s central riff takes over as her body is completely taken by the fires, the crowd cheers, and the woman’s young son watches. And waits…

Am I Evil? starts with a witch-burning and turns into a tale of bloody revenge, as her son takes it upon himself to murder every last face in the crowd, one by one, all twenty-seven of them. Without regret, and certainly without pity. He asks himself if he’s evil? Shit. He’s one of us. We make each other what we are. To quote Mark Twain:

All I care to know is that a man is a human being–that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse. I can get right down and grovel with him.

The song still transfixes me. Every time.

Then came the Black Album in 1991 and everyone’s little sister wanted to borrow your CD because they “just loved Enter Sandman” and that was that…

Twenty-seven, every one was nice
Got to see them make them pay the price
See their bodies out on the ice
Take my time

Am I evil? Yes I am
Am I evil? I am Man, yes I am…

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