When this 1987 EP came out, every Metallifan immediately rushed to the store to pick it up, because it was the first release from the band since the death of bassist and mastermind Cliff Burton. It was also proof that the band could go on after the loss of their best member, because many people expected them to fall into a heavy alcoholic daze and jump off a bridge. But the band, in some kind of denial tactic, quickly auditioned a million bassists (and bass players), chose Jason Newsted, and rushed into a homemade studio to record this five-track EP of covers as a sort of proof of concept.
One thing you’ll remember if you bought this thing back in the fall of ’87 is that it was called the $5.98 EP if you bought the tape, and the $9.98 EP if you were a CD freak, which almost nobody was back in ’87. This was probably to prevent record stores from slapping a regular price on it and soaking the profit. (See also the SST Blasting Concept compilations.) I DID have a CD player and this was probably my 4th or 5th CD purchase ever. Another difference I found is that on the original pressing of the CD, the bands covered are not listed on each song, so I had to borrow someone’s tape during study hall and write down the info. Oh, and old skool fans will know that the “re-re” part of the title is because the first Garage Days was a tiny collection of covers thrown on the backside of the Creeping Death EP import, which were later added to (and then later deleted from) pressings of Kill ‘Em All.
That didn’t matter much anyway, because none of us knew the names of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and hardcore punk bands that were chosen to cover on the EP. Most of us had heard of The Misfits, or at least seen the t-shirt, but Budgie? Diamond Head? Killing Joke? Holocaust? They sounded interesting, but these weren’t albums you’d find in a Musicland in the middle of Indiana, so we had to trust that they’d be cool.
Going into the fast drum beat that leads of “Helpless,” you can tell this is going to be much more raw and less experimental and lofty than the previous Master of Puppets. Metallica manages to take the original Diamondhead version of the song and put their own mark on it, with thick rhythm guitar, fast leads that are almost a throwback to their first album, and bass. Yes, bass! Those of us who were plugged in at the time already knew newkid from his own band, Flotsam and Jetsam, and remember that he could really fucking play the 4-string. Pick up a copy of their first album and put on the song “Metalshock” and he is all over the place and totally up front with his bass sound. He’s all over Garage Days, and that made everyone happy that while he was no Cliff, there would still be mighty bass on future Metallica albums. (This was before the original three members thought it would be funny to totally mute the bass in every further album, making future fans think that Jason could not play at all.)
“The Small Hours” starts with a quiet and creepy guitar bit that sounds almost like horror movie music, and then slowly gets heavier and creeps onward before the group launches into full-on metal mode. It’s a very effective display of their musical ability, and makes you wonder what the original Holocaust version sounded like. Same goes with “The Wait,” which shows us that James Hetfield can occasionally sing rather than grunt and wince, as he belts out the chorus.
Probably my favorite cut from the album is Budgie’s “Crash Course in Brain Surgery,” because it showcases Jason’s bass skills in a fun little song. Yes, he plays a bass solo! And he’s got a groovy line through the whole thing, which also enables Kirk Hammett to lay down a couple of really shredding solos. (A word of warning: you really don’t want to hunt down the original Budgie album with this song on it. It seriously sounds like Jethro Tull’s backing band rocking out to their favorite Spock’s Beard tunes, with Geddy Lee’s sister on vocals. Seriously.) I’m not as hot on the final song(s), “Last Caress/Green Hell.” Yes, I like the Misfits, but it just didn’t fit the band or the rest of the songs on the album. I know at the time I probably thought it was the coolest thing ever, killing babies and raping mothers and all, but now I look back and wish they would have covered “Hybrid Moments” or something.
The best blessing about this little gem of an EP is that it quickly went out of print, and only the old Metallica fans knew about it. For at least a decade, the thing was completely unknown, except for the old-skoolers and a few people who found Japanese bootlegs on eBay for a hundred bucks. That ended when the tracks were reissued on the Garage, Inc collection, and they just didn’t work right mixed in with all of the other B-sides and rarities issued over the years. For me, this was the perfect burst of greatness the band needed before continuing on with bigger and better things. It’s a shame though, because seeing a Metallica do covers like this makes me wish there was an alternate universe where we could just see this band from 1987 belt out Saxon and Motorhead tunes from yesteryear, instead of what Metallica eventually turned into.