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Music / Metal Machine Music

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"One record for us and it."

"Most of you won't like this, and I don't blame you at all. It's not meant for you."
—Liner notes for Metal Machine Music.

Metal Machine Music: *The Amine β Ring, better known as simply Metal Machine Music, is the fifth studio album by Lou Reed, released in 1975 through RCA Records. Released on the heels of the slick, popular Sally Can't Dance, the album is a sharp left turn in style, instead being two LPs of modulated guitar feedback without any structure or form beyond variances in the audio's mixing speed. Intentionally designed to be as impenetrable as possible, Reed described the album as the culmination of Heavy Metal, which he claimed to invent.

Reed wouldn't revisit the style again in the studio, returning to his signature brand of art rock on later albums. He would, however, return to experimental work near the end of his career, with the ambient album Hudson River Wind Meditations in 2003 and his Metallica collaboration Lulu in 2011.

In the years since its release, Metal Machine Music has been described as a progenitor to the genres of industrial, noise rock, and drone. In 2002, Reed performed the album live in collaboration with the avant-garde classical ensemble Zeitkratzer and formed a band named the Metal Machine Trio as a Noise Rock project.


LP One

Side One
  1. "Metal Machine Music, Part 1" (16:10)

Side Two

  1. "Metal Machine Music, Part 2" (15:53)

LP Two

Side Three
  1. "Metal Machine Music, Part 3" (16:13)

Side Four

  1. "Metal Machine Music, Part 4" (16:01 or ∞)note 

CD releases are on a single disc

Metal Machine Tropes:

  • Album Filler: To most of the audience this entire album constitutes of filler. Just one continuous drone full of screeching sounds that nobody on Earth would listen to for fun or relaxing.
  • Alliterative Title: "Metal Machine Music".
  • Avant-Garde Music: The most avant-garde record Reed ever released and that is saying something!
  • Content Warnings: The somewhat erratic liner notes for Metal Machine Music end with them.
    As way of disclaimer, I am forced to say that, due to stimulation of various centres (remember OOOHHHMMM, etc.), the possible negative contraindications must be pointed out. A record has to, of all things. Anyway, hyper-tense people, etc., possibility of epilepsy (petite mal) psychic motor disorder etc., etc., etc. My week beats your year. - Lou Reed
  • Cool Shades: Reed wears them on the album cover.
  • Covers Always Lie: When you see Reed in his Cool Shades and black vest on the cover you'd expect this album to be a heavy rock record where he at least does some singing. The spotlight effect from the backlighting on the cover pic also makes it look like it might be a Live Album.
  • Epic Rocking: All four sides of the original LP are one long continuous noise.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It is indeed "metal machine music".
  • Face on the Cover: Reed in his characteristic shades and leather jacket, striking a cool pose.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The "music" consists of two separate strands of noise running simultaneously, panned hard to the left and right channels, with no center.
  • Harsh Noise: All the way through.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Reed wears a leather jacket on the album cover.
  • Industrial: An early forerunner of the genre.
  • Instrumental: All tracks are instrumental.
  • Last Note Nightmare: The entire album could count as one, but there's also a more literal example of this trope. On the original LP the last groove was a continuous loop, causing the irritating noise to keep going, unless you went to the record player and took the needle off the record.
  • Leave the Camera Running: To the point contemporary reviews make sure to notice that the main problem with the album is that not only it runs an unpleasant drone, but it keeps on and on until the side breaks.
  • Minimalism: If you want to be generous and say Reed was doing this album as a completely serious work, it fits into this category, since it consists of an hour of noise. Via his longtime collaborator John Cale, Reed had an arm's length connection to serious Avant-Garde Music figures like La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Tony Conrad, and you can call Metal Machine Music an attempt to take their approach to music to another level. Reed even gives Young a Shout-Out in the liner notes. Conrad's notorious 1965 short film The Flicker (which is just all-white and all-black film frames silently alternating for a half-hour) was also reportedly an influence.
  • New Sound Album: The album is certainly unprecedented in both Lou's catalogue and the music world. It was the Trope Codifier for Noise Rock and Industrial.
  • Noise Rock: The first album of its kind.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Since this is an instrumental album the title doesn't appear on any of the tracks.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • Let's get the facts straight: Reed released a completely instrumental double album full of unlistenable, ear piercing oscillator noise.
    • He also claimed that the album had sonic allusions to two of Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies (Eroica and Pastoral), and that he tried to get RCA to release it on their Classical Music sublabel, Red Seal.
  • Sensory Abuse: It's a veritable endurance test for your ears and patience.
  • Springtime for Hitler: If it was Reed's intention to bomb commercially it went exactly according to plan. However it did manage to sell 100,000 copies and gain an audience for a live performance in 2002 in Berlin.
  • Stylistic Suck
  • Take That, Critics!: It has been interpreted as a way to force critics to listen to four record sides of incomprehensible noise. However, at least one critic at the time, Lester Bangs, praised the album, touting it in a series of not-completely-serious Creem magazine essays.
    Lester Bangs: If you ever thought feedback was the best thing that ever happened to the guitar, well, Lou just got rid of the guitars.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: A rather monotonous drone at that, though it does change keys (for lack of a better term) over the course of the album.
  • Title Track: All four tracks are titled some variant of "Metal Machine Music".