It’s the sort of story that scriptwriters would get laughed out of conference rooms for entering. The sort of story that illustrates perfect synchronicity between hunger, passion and time. The sort of story that only happens every 30-odd years. And the sort of story that would approximately 500 pages to do it true justice.
Metallica. A household name. The 7th biggest selling act in American history.
Who’d have thought it when, on October 28th, 1981, drummer Lars Ulrich made guitar player/singer James Hetfield an offer he couldn’t refuse: ”I’ve got a track saved for my band on Brian Slagel’s new Metal Blade label.”
The truth is, Lars didn’t have a band at that time, but he did that day when James joined him. The two recorded their first track on a cheap recorder with James performing singing duties, rhythm guitar duties and bass guitar duties. Lars dutifully pounded the drums, helped with musical arrangements and acted as manager. Hetfield’s friend and housemate Ron McGovney was eventually talked into taking up bass and Dave Mustaine took lead guitar duties.
The band adopted the moniker Metallica after a suggestion from Bay Area friend Ron Quintana, and they quickly began gigging in the Los Angeles area opening for bands like Saxon. Eventually recording a fully-fledged demo called No Life Til Leather, Metallica quickly saw the tape whistle around the metal tape-trading underground and become a hot commodity, with San Francisco and New York particularly receptive.
Metallica performed 2 shows in San Francisco and found the crowds friendlier and more honest than LA’s ”there to be seen” mob. They also caught up-and-coming band Trauma, and most importantly their bass player, Cliff Burton. Cliff refused to move to Southern California: it was enough to convince Metallica to relocate to the Bay Area, and Cliff subsequently joined Metallica.
In New York, a copy of No Life Til Leather made its way to Jon Zazula’s record shop, the aptly named Metal Heaven. Zazula quickly recruited Metallica to come out east to play some shows and record an album. The band made it to New York in a stolen U-Haul. Dave Mustaine, at that point the band’s guitarist, was proving to be more problematic than even these loose young chaps could handle. Thus a few weeks after arrival, Mustaine was sent packing, roadie Mark Whitakker suggesting Kirk Hammett from Bay Area thrashers Exodus. Two phone calls and one flight later, on April 1, 1983 Kirk Hammett joined Metallica.
Metallica’s first album, Kill ’Em All, was released in late 1983 and some ferocious touring which saw the band’s reputation soar both in the US and Europe. In 1984 they went to work with producer Flemming Rassmussen in Copenhagen at Sweet Silence Studios on their second album. ’Ride The Lightning’ proved that Metallica were not some thrash-in-the-pan one trick pony, the writing and sound illustrating a growth, maturity and intensity which saw them immediately targeted by major management in QPrime, and a major label in Elektra. Both deals were done by the fall of ’84 and their reputation continued to grow worldwide.
Returning to the same studios in 1985, the group recorded ’Master Of Puppets’, mixing in LA with Michael Wagner and releasing in early 1986. They quickly secured a tour with Ozzy Osbourne, and that stint (plus a top 30 album chart position) saw their fan base and name take a quantum leap. What had seemed so unlikely was nearer than ever to coming true; world domination.
On September 27th, 1986, that dream was given the most shattering of blows. Somewhere in Sweden on an overnight drive, the bands’ tour bus skidded out of control and flipped, killing Cliff Burton. His influence on the musical growth of the band was enormous. Burton combined the DIY philosophies of jamming and experimenting with an acute knowledge of musical theory, and Hetfield in particular found a lot in his playing and personality. It was impossible to imagine Metallica without him. Yet Cliff would equally not have cared for people throwing in the towel because he wasn’t around. And so it was that after a brief yet intense mourning period, Lars, James and Kirk decided to fight on. Jason Newsted was chosen from over 40 auditions to be the new bassist, the Michigan-born four-stringer leaving Arizona based Flotsam & Jetsam to take on the chance of a lifetime. The quartet immediately jumped into a tour, and then quickly recorded an EP of cover tunes titled Garage Days Re-Revisited (the band literally did the dirty work in Lars’ garage!).
With Jason fully established, the band went back to record their fourth full-length album, …And Justice For All, released in August 1988. The explosion that had been threatening for sometime finally happened. It reached #6 on the US charts, received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal/Hard Rock album, the band blew headliners Van Halen off-stage during the Monsters Of Rock tour and subsequently embarked upon an enormous worldwide tour. It was even the moment they finally delved into video territory, although the footage for ’One’ was most certainly the most ’anti’ video video of it’s era.
The band took the show back out on the road and toured extensively to all parts of the world. …And Justice For All produced two US singles and the band’s very first venture into music video for the song One.
In 1991 Metallica released the self-titled ’Black’ album, and saw their popularity soar to stratospheric heights. With new producer Bob Rock, this album was a subtle departure from the previous album with shorter songs, a fuller sound and simpler arrangements. It went straight to number one all over the world, stayed there for several weeks and ended up selling in excess of 15 million copies worldwide, spawned several legitimate singles as well as earning a Grammy and MTV/ American Music Awards. The band toured for close to three years, playing a solo arena tour in ’An Evening With Metallica’, with Guns N’ Roses on the duos’ joint-headline stadium tour, and as headliner at many festivals. It meant that by the time the fall of 1993 rolled around, the four members were shattered both physically and mentally. Save for some Summer Shed action, there was little major activity as the band allowed their real lives to catch up with their rock lives.
Nearly four years would pass before the next Metallica album saw the light. Called Load, and recorded at The Plant in Sausalito California, it was the longest Metallica album to date with 14 songs, and signaled some significant changes for the band. Produced by Bob Rock, the material was loose, powerful and eclectic, the sound thick and punchy and the image one which screamed out change and freedom from enslavement to the Black album era. So many songs came from the sessions, that a second album titled ReLoad, followed in 1997. The Load tour was spectacular, encompassing cutting-edge technology, stuntmen, two-stages and an epic two-plus hours of performance. What ever doubts people might have had were swiftly blown away, and whilst Load could never match the heights of the Black album sales wise, it became a phenomenally successful album in it’s own right.
In 1998, they re-packaged all the old B-sides, covers and the two previous Garage Days sessions and ran into The Plant to slam down 11 new covers. Electric, exciting and raw, the double-disc Garage Inc. was great reminder that for all the success, Metallica’s heart still lay in the music. This point was further proven in 1999, when with conductor/composer Michael Kamen, Metallica embarked upon collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony to bring new dimension to classic material. Any potential skepticism of the project was blown away by two nights in April at the Berkeley Community Theater which proved to be epic milestones in the group’s history. Far from their material being compromised, the arrangements of songs such as ’Master Of Puppets’ gave symphonic instruments the chance to explode into the spaces and fill them with greater, heavier power than ever before. Having recorded and filmed the shows on the off-chance it might turn out alright on the night, Metallica released the S&M double-disc and DVD in late ’99, marking yet another significant chapter in a Hall Of Fame – like history.
In the summer of 2000, Metallica took yet fresher steps towards establishing freedom from convention, proving that it was possible to assemble, and headline, your own stadium tour without promoting a record. Summer Sanitarium, Hetfield’s back not withstanding, was a huge success, and anticipation grew as to when the band would hit the studio again.
The anticipation was replaced by fear at the turn of 2001 when, after several rumors, Jason Newsted departed the band. No one reason can be fairly the cause, more several long-standing issues that silently grew beyond their initial molehills. Of course many assumed that this would precipitate the break-up of the band, when of course it merely provided a conduit to newer levels of creativity and understanding.
The band realized there was much work to be done on both their personal and creative relationships, and spent the first part of 2001 investigating spontaneous avenues of discovery both in and out of the studio. They set up shop at an old ex-Army barracks called The Presidio, jammed together at length and made a decision not to rush the process of finding a new band member, opting instead to have producer Bob Rock do all bass parts.
In the middle of 2001, James Hetfield reached a place in his life where he felt rehabilitation, rest and re-focus were necessary for him to not only continue but also flourish. It meant that for many months, the members of Metallica embarked upon various levels of deeper discovery about themselves, the band and their lives both as a band and human beings. The results were to manifest themselves two-fold: when they came together again in the Spring of 2002 there was a deeper respect and appreciation for each other than ever before. And they were finally ready to make a new album, free of outside expectations, free of inner expectations and independent of anyone.
Settling into their new HQ, the band set about making ’St Anger’ with Bob Rock. Those early Presidio sessions had certainly helped shape the freeform thinking and expression that was to come, but no-one, least of all the guys themselves, could’ve known just how fierce, raw and passionate the ’St Anger’ material would turn out to be. With Rock always offering prompt and support, lyrics were written by everyone, writing was shared and performance was off the cuff, spontaneous and a 180 degree turn from the months of cut-and-paste which had become a part of the Metallirecording process in the past.
This Metallica was proud, confident, appreciative, humble, hungry, edgy, angry and also happy. Nervous? Sure, a little bit, but that too was good, yet another driver to new places and creative achievements that Metallica were enjoying.
It was in the Fall of 2002 that the band decided it was time to search for a new bassist, and after some closed auditions with personal invitees over a few months, ex-Suicidal Tendencies/Ozzy Osbourne bass player Robert Trujillo was chosen to be the new member of Metallica. Note, member. Not bassist or hired gun or replacement. But a band member. His whole demeanor, happy, relaxed, warm, enthusiastic blended with over 15 years of experience and a ferocious finger-picking style made Robert the only natural choice.
And so it is that as you read this, ’St Anger’ has been completed, expectations are reaching heights that even the band cannot believe and there is the excitement of the first proper tour since Summer Sanitarium 2000. Looking at them, listening to them and seeing them, Lars, Kirk, Robert and James look like excited, eager children, men who cannot wait to be let out of then house to go and wreak aural havoc. Why? Because they can’t! Metallica are about to hit a whole new level…and this is a story that will most DEFINITELY be continued…
…the “St.Anger” era kicked off on April 30th/May 1st with the small matter of a video shoot at San Quentin prison for the same-titled track, and continued in earnest with an MTV Icons tribute show a week later, where peers such as Korn and Limp Bizkit lined up to pay tribute to the chaps. The guys also performed live, marking the first ‘official’ live appearance of Robert Trujillo (and the last in which he wore long trousers!) as well as James Hetfield’s first public performance since his stint in rehab.
Then came the small matter of rehearsals…which Metallica chose to do in front of their loyal fan club members over 4 nights at the historic Fillmore Theatre in San Francisco…and then it was off to Europe in June for the start of what would end up being 19 months of touring, with the festival circuit taking the early brunt, Metallica successfully playing to multiple 60,000-plus crowds. “St.Anger” saw it’s release on June 5th, a raw, feral, unrestrained slab of molten Metallica stuffed with abrasion, aggression and the overspill of four years excitement, anger, frustration and ultimate fruition. For those who thought it would signal a radio-hohned band, “St.Anger” was a big, fat slap in the face. Indeed, it was actually too heavy for some! Oh, and as if to prove that this ‘new’ Metallica were not a bunch of ginger-snap panty-waists, the boys played three shows in three different Parisian clubs in one day during mid-June, each venue harboring a temperature of not less than 100 degrees.
In the US, Summer Sanitarium followed, with Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit amongst the support acts on another series of stadium sell-outs. In the meanwhile, the fervor was slowly building for ‘Some Kind Of Monster’, the documentary film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky about the world of Metallica between 2001 and 2003. Ostensibly slated to be about the making of an album, the filmmakers found a whole new project developing when James went into rehab, and thus having been projected as a marketing tool, the end product ended up being an incredibly revealing 2 hour 20 minute documentary.
As the Mighty Metallica continued ploughing on through the world (going back to Europe, Japan and then onto Australia in January), SKOM was debuted to enormous critical acclaim at the 2004 Sundance Independent Film Festival in Utah during January.
And the year continued in the way that you’d imagine a Metalli-year does, deciding to play (seemingly) every single town capable of hosting a major arena gig in North America (some 80-plus dates) with Godsmack in support. Result? Oh well, the usual sell-outs you’d expect for this ‘in-the-round’ two hour thirty minute set which saw no song off limits and many a fan favorite raised from retirement for a gleeful airing. (p.s….there was another Grammy in February for Best Metal Performance – ‘St.Anger’).
July saw the theatrical debut of ‘Some Kind Of Monster’ which opened to enormous critical acclaim and went on to hold it’s own in North American theaters for three months before going through Europe. And August also saw the release of the first official Metallica book, “So What! The Good, the Mad, and the Ugly”, an edited compilation of the band’s fan club magazine spanning 10 years from 1994 to 2004.
And still the ‘Madly In Anger With The World’ tour continued, selling out venues right through to it’s final date in San Jose, California on November 29, 2004…
A busy spell? By many’s standards most certainly.
Business as usual.
They did publicly state that the majority of 2005 would be spent re-charging those creative and mental batteries, and true to their word it was a quiet year, except for two little hometown gigs with the Rolling Stones at SBC Park in November. We all knew an entire year would not pass without at least a sighting of the guys!
With batteries re-charged after the two shows with the Stones, the guys hit the studio in early 2006 to start writing a new album and were excited to announce that they would be working with a new producer, Rick Rubin. The spring and summer found them escaping from the studio once again with shows in South Africa (their first ever visit to the continent!), Europe, Japan and Korea. “The New Song” made its debut in Berlin, Germany on June 6 to give us all a little taste of things to come in 2007 with the remainder of the year scheduled for more writing and jamming.
Before they had even played ’The New Song’ on that 07 summer jaunt, Metallica had decided to take a different approach to the studio, now working with Rubin. Having availed themselves of long-time twiddler Bob Rock’s expertise and unifying qualities, the band wanted to see what happened when working with the decidedly hands-off Rubin. His message, when the band entered the studio in April of 07 to record, was simple; don’t be afraid of your past, don’t be afraid to rediscover your roots, embrace the ethic of performance over editing and get back to what Metallica essentially is. Thus began months of work with hands-on engineer Greg Fidelman handing the daily duties and Rubin overseeing and dropping in for tete-a-tetes to make sure matters remained on course. In essence, Rubin removed himself from the process as an ally to anyone and forced Metallica to find their own solutions and resolutions. He also made everyone re-record entire parts if they were unhappy to avoid a pro-tools dominated approach to creation, the idea being that it was always about the performance. Ironically, Rubin would later comment in the band’s magazine So What! that the bulk of the album was recorded in a month, despite the fact it finally saw light on September 12, 2008, celebrating the release with two low ticket cost charity shows in Berlin and at London’s O2 Arena.
The popular response was enormous, with the album smashing the charts at #1 and critical acclaim acknowledging that this was, indeed, the return to business that Metallica had threatened for so long. The groundwork had been laid with St.Anger and the fruit was abundant with Death Magnetic, cuts such as ”The Day That Never Comes”, ”Broken, Beat & Scarred” and ”All Nightmare Long” becoming instant fan favorites. Aside from the Death Magnetic album, on March 29, 2009 the band also saw Guitar Hero: Metallica released in North America, with international releases coming in the following couple of months. An Activision game, GH:M features 28 Metallica favorites and 21 songs from bands Metallica like, as well as guest appearances from King Diamond and Lemmy from Motorhead.
As well as all these releases, the band of course hit the road, the World Magnetic Tour starting on October 20, 2008 in Glendale, Arizona. It is a tour that keeps on giving, keeps on coming, and will flow deep into 2010, the band hoping to perhaps play in some places they’ve never been before. Gone, however, are the grueling days of 8-10 weeks at a time on the asphalt, instead the schedule ensures Metallica are never on the road for longer than a couple of weeks before taking at least a week off back at home. It is a highly effective solution to the problem of making the road work with family and home life, and as such the tour thus far has seen some of Metallica’s best performances ever as ’burn-out’ is not even a factor. Indeed, with shows selling out left, right, centre and sideways, an appearance at the legendary British site Knebworth on August 2nd as part of the Sonisphere Festival, plus three sold-out nights in Mexico City, it is fair to say that this portion of the story is most certainly to be continued…