Metal Machine Music, subtitled *The Amine β Ring, is the fifth solo studio album by American rock musician Lou Reed. It was originally released as a double album by RCA Records in 1975. A departure from the rest of Reed's catalog, Metal Machine Music is variously considered to be a joke, a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music. The album features no songs or even recognizably structured compositions, eschewing melody and rhythm for an hour of modulated feedback and guitar effects, mixed at varying speeds by Reed. In the album's liner notes he claimed to have invented heavy metal and asserted that Metal Machine Music was the ultimate conclusion of that genre.
The album cost Reed credibility in the music industry while simultaneously opening the door for some of his later, more experimental material. Although panned by critics since its release, Metal Machine Music is today considered a forerunner of industrial music, noise rock, and contemporary sound art.
In 2010, Reed, Ulrich Krieger and Sarth Calhoun collaborated to tour, playing free improvisation inspired by the album, as Metal Machine Trio. That same year, Reed announced his plans to re-release Metal Machine Music in remastered form.
A major influence on Reed's recording was the mid-1960s drone music work of La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music, whose members included John Cale, Tony Conrad, Angus Maclise and Marian Zazeela. Both Cale and Maclise were also members of the Velvet Underground (Maclise left before the group began recording).
The Theatre of Eternal Music's discordant sustained notes and loud amplification had influenced Cale's subsequent contribution to the Velvet Underground in his use of both discordance and feedback. Recent releases of works by Cale and Conrad from the mid-sixties, such as Cale's Inside the Dream Syndicate series (The Dream Syndicate being the alternative name given by Cale and Conrad to their collective work with Young) testify to the influence this important mid-sixties experimental work had on Reed ten years later.
In an interview with rock journalist Lester Bangs, Reed claimed that he had intentionally placed sonic allusions to classical works such as Beethoven's Eroica and Pastoral Symphonies in the distortion, and that he had attempted to have the album released on RCA's Red Seal classical label; it is not clear if he was being serious, although he repeated the latter claim in a 2007 interview.
On release, it was reviewed in Rolling Stone magazine as sounding like "the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator" and as displeasing to experience as "a night in a bus terminal". In the 1979 Rolling Stone Record Guide, critic Billy Altman said it was "a two-disc set consisting of nothing more than ear-wrecking electronic sludge, guaranteed to clear any room of humans in record time". (This aspect of the album is mentioned in the Bruce Sterling short story "Dori Bangs".) The first issue of the seminal New York zine Punk placed Reed and the album on its inaugural 1976 issue, presaging the advent of both punk and the discordance of the New York No Wave scene. Reed biographer Victor Bockris wrote that the recording can be understood as "the ultimate conceptual punk album and the progenitor of New York punk rock". The album was ranked number two in the 1991 book The Worst Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell.