Form and Narrative in Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu”


I spent an afternoon recently making charts and transcriptions of songs from Metallica’s early albums, looking at how musical details of their songs reflect the topics of the lyrics. I was fascinated by their epic instrumental “The Call of Ktulu,” which stretches out a captivating atmosphere of foreboding for almost nine minutes, making it one of Metallica’s longest tracks. The form of this song, which I’ll describe later as a kind of gargantuan, distended version of the protoypial verse-chorus form with bridge that is used in most metal music, is unique among Metallica’s earlier repertoire. Unlike most instrumentals on earlier metal albums, which are sort of transitional acoustic guitar or synthesizer bits that don’t feel quite like whole compositions (like Black Sabbath’s “Orchid” or Venom’s “Mayhem With Mercy”), “The Call of Ktulu” is a full-length track and stands on its own in comparison to the rest of the tracks on the album.

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