Why Metallica Open Their Concerts With ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’
Metallica have opened every single show they've played since 1983 (sans Load / Reload era) to Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold" composition, originally featured in the 1966 Clint Eastwood film, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. But do you know why?
Well, to start, obviously it's an ideal intro tape — Morricone's composition is evocative on so many levels. A slight breeze rushes past and you feel each strand of hair sticking straight up from your arm as they gently flow in whichever direction it's blowing. "Ecstasy of Gold" is a layered piece of work, a three-minute swirl of crescendoing orchestral might that sets a tone of invincibility and triumph.
Then Metallica walk out.
This, however, was not their idea and it's not a stretch to imagine a group of hard-partying thrashers who had just released Ride the Lightning, their second and final Megaforce Records album, weren't entrenched in the world of orchestral music and film scores. That's where having a manager can be quite useful.
Megaforce founder Jon Zazula, affectionately known as Jonny Z, was also managing Metallica at the time (he had signed them to their first record deal, after all) and suggested the band use "Ecstasy of Gold," rejecting what was already in place — a clip of an accelerated heart beat.
"I’ve always been a huge Morricone fan, and I was looking for an intro song to be played prior to Metallica’s performance onstage," Zazula told Loudwire in 2019 while promoting his autobiography Heavy Tales., noting he wanted "something emotional to get the crowd ready."
There was another Morricone composition, in contention in the back of Zazula's mind, which was featured in the same film. "I was tossing around 'The Trio' because of the fiery coronets at the finale of the song but 'Ecstasy of Gold' won."
Ennio Morricone, "The Trio"
Metallica are a band who modeled themselves after their idols, constantly seeking sources of inspiration to mold their own band into the ideal metal machine. One of those chief influences was Iron Maiden, who not only had a vicious looking mascot, but a steady intro tape as well — "Doctor, Doctor" by UFO.
As to whether that was Metallica's ultimate aim, Zazula didn't know that answer.
As recollected in Heavy Tales, Zazula had organized a summer show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City, dubbed "The Midsummer's Night Scream," which was to serve as a Megaforce Records showcase. On the bill were a young Anthrax, who had released their Fistful of Metal debut and were aggressively working toward a follow-up (Spreading the Disease), Metallica and headliners Raven, all the way from Newcastle, England.
"During the Metallica set I had noticed some people hanging around the audience," wrote Zazula. "Q Prime Artist Management co-founder Cliff Burnstein, Elektra Records CEO Bob Krasnow and his young A&R man Michael Alago were all there at this concert."
Any 'Tallica fan with a slice of knowledge about the band's history knows what happened next — the band inked a deal with major label group Elektra, leaving the DIY ambitions of Megaforce and its internal management.
Zazula, whose roster went on to later bring up bands such as Overkill, Testament, King's X and more, obviously wasn't very concerned about what his former client was playing before walking out onstage and didn't give it much thought.
"There was a long period of time that Metallica and the Zazulas (including Jon's wife Marsha, who was also instrumental to the label's success) didn’t get together. Some years had passed till we spent time together again. When we finally did James came up to me and said, 'Hey Jonny, we’re still using your intro.' I was very flattered. I believe it was on the Summer Sanitarium Tour," he commented.
Who knows? Maybe we never get the S & M album, the 1999 live release where Metallica joined forces with a symphony orchestra to reimagine a slew of their most iconic songs and some rarities, if the group had never been introduced to "The Ecstasy of Gold" all those years ago.
In 2007, Metallica expressed their gratitude for Morricone's masterwork and contributed to the We All Love Ennio Morricone tribute album, playing a metalized version of "The Ecstasy of Gold."
The Italian-born Morricone passed away on July 6, 2020 at the age of 91, which prompted a tribute post from metal's biggest band that reads, "Your career was legendary, your compositions were timeless. Thank you for setting the mood for so many of our shows since 1983."
Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness. As Lived by Jon Zazula can be purchased here.
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