Published Jul 01, 2003For more than 20 years now, Metallica has flown the heavy music flag, turning heads and snapping necks since their primitive debut release Kill Em All. Eschewing the '80s hair-metal trappings of Mötley Crüe and Quiet Riot, the original, Los Angeles-based line-up singer/guitarist James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Cliff Burton, and drummer Lars Ulrich honed a nihilistic yet honest aggression of frenzied guitar riffs, speedy drumming and bleak, ire-filled lyrics. Their music spoke to millions through a massive underground network of tape-trading and fanzines before 1986's Master Of Puppets ushered in a ride 'em high attitude that completely buried the Van Halens and Bon Jovis of the day. Long-time fans frothed with anger when the band sold 12 million copies of 1991's The Black Album and recent years have seen Metallica more concerned with fighting online file-sharing giant Napster than battling demons on stage or record. This month the band unleashes St. Anger, packed with the most savage tunes since 1988's And Justice For All, though none of the cuts contains one guitar lead a oddly tolling bell for a band that has built their career on screaming solos. Old-school or newfangled, Metallica always have something interesting up their black T-shirt sleeves.
1980 to 1981
Mixing Judas Priest-ly rock with the rawness and speed of punk, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) reaches its peak in England. After following NWOBHM alumni Diamond Head around Europe for three months, young Californian drummer Lars Ulrich decides to put together a band. James Hetfield answers Ulrich's ad in a local newspaper (in the classifieds under "heavy metal") and together they form one of metal's most grounded partnerships. Ulrich steals the name Metallica from a fanzine started by Ron Quintana, San Francisco's "Mister Metal." Along with Dave Mustaine (guitar) and Ron McGovney (bass), Metallica gig around Los Angeles (including Hetfield's high school), eventually scoring opening slots for bands like Saxon. The band quickly builds a reputation for being a down-to-earth crew of beer-guzzling party animals.
On his new label, Metal Blade Records, Brian Slagel releases the first Metal Massacre compilation, including Metallica's snarling "Hit The Lights," to little fanfare. They record their first demo, No Life 'Til Leather, which quickly becomes a hot commodity in the tape-trading underground. San Francisco crowds seem more receptive to their thrash metal than L.A.'s "see and be seen" crowd; after watching local band Trauma, they are blown away by bassist Cliff Burton. Since Burton refuses to move (he calls L.A. a "fucked-up freak show"), the band relocates to the Bay Area and Burton joins the band after McGovney bows out. The band especially Hetfield and Mustaine indulge more in hard liquor, resulting in numerous fistfights, drunk driving, and bruised egos. On tour in their U-Haul "limo," the band almost crashes "10 or 15 times" with an extremely intoxicated Mustaine at the wheel. In an interview for Metal Mania, Ulrich reveals: "We said, This guy isn't stable enough to be happening on the road.' That was when we decided this was the end [of Mustaine]."
Metal maven Jon Zazula asks Metallica to come to New York to do some East Coast gigs. Once there, Hetfield tells Mustaine that he's out of the band. "James tapped him on the shoulder, woke him up, and said, We've decided you're not in the band anymore,'" says Ulrich in Metal Mania. Ulrich buys Mustaine a bus ticket, and an hour later he's gone. Vowing his revenge, Mustaine forms Megadeth coming first alphabetically, his records would always be in front of Metallica's in record stores. Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett immediately replaces Mustaine, cinching the classic line-up. Zazula tries to secure the band a recording contract but when that fails, he starts his own label, Megaforce Records, with Metallica as his first singing. The band's fiery debut, Kill 'Em All, is released. Despite its lack of musical variation, the album is continually cited as revitalising heavy metal's underground. Though ex-member Mustaine pens four of the ten original tracks (Elektra would re-release it in 1988 with Diamond Head and Blitzkrieg covers), the record is pure Metallica thrash with a wily punk edge.
Since Hetfield is insecure about playing guitar and singing at the same time, Armored Saint singer John Bush is asked to join the band. He refuses. After a Boston gig is cancelled due to heavy snow, their tour truck is stolen; it contains all their equipment except guitars (removed out of fear the cold would warp the necks), including Hetfield's prized amps, responsible for his Kill Em All sound. The band flies to Copenhagen, Denmark to record with producer Flemming Rasmussen; the result, sophomore Megaforce release Ride The Lightning, proves that Metallica are no flash-in-the-pan metal act. Longer, more progressive epics take root for many tunes to come. They meet Cliff Burnstein of Q-Prime Management and Michael Alago of Elektra Records, resulting in a major label deal; Elektra releases Ride The Lightning worldwide.
The band plays the Monsters Of Rock Festival in Donington, UK; sandwiched between Bon Jovi and Ratt, Hetfield teases the 70,000-plus crowd: "if you came here to see spandex, eye makeup, and the words Oh baby' in every fuckin' song, this ain't the fuckin' band." While in Europe, a fan is spotted wearing an "Alcoholica" T-shirt hand-made with the cover of Kill 'Em All. (Instead of a hammer and blood, the T-shirt shows a bottle spilling vodka.) The name is adopted to describe these days of carefree binge drinking. In an incident that makes him infamous to hotel managers, Hetfield pays a fine for getting an elevator stuck between floors, setting off false fire alarms, and discharging a fire extinguisher. The band returns to Copenhagen to record Master Of Puppets with Rasmussen.
Still cited as one of metal's true masterpieces, Master Of Puppets is released, reaching the Top 30 and eventually selling three million copies with zero radio airplay. The band sharpens their attack with catchier riffage, faster blastbeats, and clearer vocals. Hetfield accidentally breaks his wrist while skateboarding, and Hammett's guitar tech John Marshall (future axeman for Metal Church) fills in for several dates while Hetfield sings. On September 27, while on tour in Sweden with Anthrax, the band's tour bus hits a patch of "black ice" (or the driver overcorrects a turn), flips over, and lands on its side, crushing and killing bassist Cliff Burton while he sleeps. The rest of the band is shaken, but uninjured. Hetfield will long claim there was no "black ice" he and Ulrich walk for miles up and down the road searching for it. Hetfield believes the driver may have been drunk, and therefore responsible for Burton's death. Radio stations that never promoted Metallica now play their music in memory of Burton. Believing Burton wouldn't have wanted them to quit, the search for a new bassist begins. After Armored Saint's Joey Vera turns them down, the band auditions more than 300 hopefuls, including future Primus front-man Les Claypool who, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, refuses to play anything but songs by 70s funk band the Isley Brothers because he isn't "into" heavy metal. Flotsam and Jetsam's Jason Newsted is invited to a bar where they drink themselves into the night. The three Metallica mates conference over bathroom urinals and decide that Newsted is the one. Two months later, Newsted hits the road, and undergoes a rigorous hazing ritual by the band, who, in a weird way, take Burton's death out on him through practical jokes and pranks.
Hetfield breaks his wrist again while skateboarding and decides to give it up; the band is forced to cancel an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Metallica initiates Newsted by recording an EP of covers, The $5.98 EP Garage Days Re-Revisited, featuring tunes by Diamond Head, Misfits, Budgie and Killing Joke. The band's video debut, The $19.98 Home Vid Cliff 'Em All, also hits the shelves, paying homage to Burton through personal photos, home movies, concert and television footage.
Recording in Los Angeles instead of Copenhagen results in And Justice For All. It successfully stretches the band's prog-thrash epics to their limits and categorically ends the band's progressive years. The muddy production by Rasmussen one rumour has it that Newsted's bass is buried in the mix on purpose as a joke by his band mates doesn't satisfy critics, but the album peaks at #6 on U.S. charts and sells platinum. The band finally relents to MTV's pull and films their first-ever music video, for "One." Jägermeister is declared the band's official drink.
"One" becomes an instant classic, thanks to its video's heavy MTV rotation. Based on Dalton Trumbo's anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun, "One" boasts some of the band's most memorable riffs, including a lush acoustic intro and blazing machine-gun imitations. The Grammy Awards give a "best heavy metal album" award for the first time; Metallica is nominated and performs live at the ceremony, but astonishingly, Jethro Tull wins. Presenter Lita Ford stifles a laugh and the show cuts to commercial as the venue echoes in boos. The band add a sticker to their new album that reads, "Grammy Award LOSERS."
Metallica wins a Grammy for And Justice For All and thank Jethro Tull for not releasing anything that year. The band hunkers down in their L.A. studio with producer Bob Rock. The sessions are bumpy at times the band and Rock don't always see eye to eye creatively, and Ulrich has trouble drumming all the way through a song as many as 50 of his takes are sliced together for each track.
The self-titled record (aka The Black Album for its stark, Spinal Tap-esque black cover) hits stores in August, enters U.S. charts at #1, and stays in the Top 40 for 85 weeks. Stripped-down, brooding metallic rockers replace their grinding anthems of yore, and the griping voices of old-school fans are buried under the sheen of the new Metallica. On tour, they introduce the Snake Pit (a design inspired by Def Leppard's Hysteria tour stage), a large pit in the middle of their diamond-shaped stage, set aside so a few lucky fans can stand in the middle of the action. The band begins efforts to extricate themselves from their Elektra contract, sparking legal woes that will haunt the band for years to come.
Beavis And Butthead airs for the first time on MTV Beavis is permanently clad in a Metallica T-shirt. In Montreal, on tour with Guns N' Roses and Faith No More, Hetfield suffers third degree burns on his arm when some onstage pyrotechnics explode accidentally. Metallica's set is cut short. At the same show, Guns N' Roses front-man Axl Rose walks offstage only 15 minutes into their set, citing vocal problems. 2,000 fans riot, breaking windows and raiding a souvenir shop. Hetfield, en route to the hospital, thinks he may never play guitar again, especially when doctors are forced to cut the rings off his fingers because his hand is so swollen. Metal Church's John Marshall fills in on guitar while Hetfield sings and dances around in an arm cast.
Metallica take over a Manhattan record store for a day, selling only Metallica albums and merchandise; a limited-edition tape (with "Scary Guy" cover drawn by Hetfield) is sold at this event. The box set Live Shit: Binge & Purge is released, weighing in at a whopping three live CDs, three live videos, tour book, backstage pass, and "Scary Guy" stencil.
During a hunting trip, Hetfield is involved in an ATV accident, requiring 40 stitches to his head, and a haircut. Jason Newsted finishes his Sepultura-styled side project IR8, featuring Strapping Young Lad's Devin Townsend and Exodus's Tom Hunting, but the band forbids him to release it.
The band continues work on Load throughout the year. Elektra releases a remastered Kill 'Em All (with covers replacing Dave Mustaine's tracks) after a contract settlement is reached. Along with Hole and Veruca Salt, Metallica plays the Molson Ice Polar Beach Party in the Northwest Territories a far cry from the band's underground-supported early days. Newsted again delves into side projects with members of Exodus, Kyuss, Sepultura, Melvins, and Machine Head but is once again forbidden by Metallica to release it. The band plays at Motörhead front-man Lemmy Kilmister's 50th birthday party at Hollywood's Whiskey A Go-Go (the club where Hetfield and Ulrich first met Cliff Burton); they dress up in Lemmy costumes and play seven Motörhead covers as the Lemmys.
Hetfield cuts off what's left of his long hair, shocking the metal community and packing metalheads into salons worldwide. After being played over the P.A. at Holland's Dynamo Festival for 60,000-plus fans, Load is released, sparking a chain of critical hubbub from the music's blatant un-metal groove to the band's new haircuts. It enters the charts at #1 and remains in the Top 40 all summer, while Metallica headlines the Lollapalooza (dubbed Metalpalooza) with Soundgarden and the Ramones. Load's cover art, designed by Andres Serrano, depicts bull's blood and the artist's own semen pressed between two sheets of Plexiglass. MTV hosts their MotherLOAD contest, with the winners receiving enough merch to fill four tractor-trailer trucks. Finnish act Apocalyptica releases their debut album, Plays Metallica by Four Cellos, introducing classical interpretations of the band Metallica have the quartet open for them on tour in Finland.
Ulrich marries fiancée Skylar, former girlfriend of actor Matt Damon (who immortalises her as actress Minnie Driver's character Skylar in the movie Good Will Hunting). Metallica play their first all-acoustic concerts at the Bridge School Benefits in San Francisco, with Alice In Chains' Jerry Cantrell and John Popper assisting. "The Memory Remains" single is released on the same day that the band plays their free, Million Decibel March parking-lot concert in Philadelphia. A continuation of Load material, ReLoad is released and enters charts at #1, despite a growing fan schism over the band's new direction. Metallica perform on Saturday Night Live with Marianne Faithfull singing backups on "The Memory Remains."
The Record Company, Ulrich's Elektra imprint label, signs its first act, Canadian band DDT. After filing a lawsuit against online store Amazon.com over the bootleg album, Bay Area Thrashers: The Early Days, Metallica release their own version: the two-disc covers set Garage Inc., which repackages their '87 Garage Days Re-Revisited EP alongside new interpretations of Bob Seger, Blue Öyster Cult, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Thin Lizzy.
It's a legal matter, baby, as Metallica sue lingerie chain Victoria's Secret for using their name for a new lipstick line; it is settled out of court. Two other suits target West Mill, a tuxedo-manufacturing licensee of Pierre Cardin, which used the band name in its advertisements, and nail file manufacturer Cosmar, which embossed file sleeves with "Metallica." Metallica are inducted into San Francisco's Walk Of Fame mayor Willie Brown proclaims it officially Metallica Day. Obviously influenced by Apocalyptica's classical renderings, Metallica play two nights with Michael Kamen and the San Francisco Symphony, recording it for S&M.
Another year, another lawsuit Metallica sue Napster for copyright infringement and unlawful use of digital music; Ulrich delivers a list of 335,435 Napster users that Metallica want banned from the music site. At the outset of their Summer Sanitarium tour, a 21-year-old fan dies at the Psinet Stadium in Baltimore after falling from the upper deck onto the pavement outside the venue. Three days later, a back injury of slipped discs sidelines Hetfield for a few shows. Ulrich testifies before the U.S. Senate on the future of internet downloading, and Hammett takes part in a San Francisco protest march against the increased rental prices of rehearsal studios. They perform on the VH1 Music Awards, but when the band wins Best Stage Spectacle, Jason Newsted refuses to take the stage. (Ironically, this would be Newsted's last show.)
Citing "personal reasons," Jason Newsted leaves the band after nearly 15 years. Lars Ulrich appears on an all-star episode of television game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and wins $32,000 for a San Francisco hospital. MacFarlane Toys unveil their new line of Metallica action figures, based on designs from the And Justice For All era. The March issue of Playboy features a cobbled-together Metallica interview that makes them sound like four bickering little boys about to break up the band. In it, Newsted complains that only Hetfield is allowed to do side projects one of the reasons for his departure. By mid-summer, the band drops the suit against Napster probably due to the fact that their perceived money-grubbing is in such contrast to the band's underground-supported, anti-corporate beginnings. Hetfield checks into a rehab facility for alcoholism and other addictions. Metallica sues an alloy wheels manufacturer over using the band name and wins. Hetfield comes out of rehab and rejoins the band.
Ulrich shuts down his Elektra-affiliated label The Music Company, home to Systematic, among others, while Newsted starts one, Chophouse Records, on which he releases the debut from his new rock band, Echobrain. Hetfield appears on a Gov't Mule track on the NASCAR/Fox-sponsored Crank It Up compilation, and ironically, Newsted performs with the Mule on a string of gigs. Hammett injures his arm while surfing and receives 16 stitches. Together with members of Biohazard and Linkin Park, Ulrich takes part in an instructional video to raise awareness about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL); the video is distributed to school districts throughout the English-speaking world. Ulrich also sets a record at Christie's auction house when he sells some of his private collection of post-war Danish artists for about $13 million. In the studio, producer Bob Rock is handling bass duties while the search for a permanent replacement continues; Newsted joins Canadian avant-metal act Voivod as a permanent member.
Ulrich speaks out against the U.S. military's use of "Enter Sandman" to interrogate Iraqi prisoners who've never been exposed to heavy metal. "I feel horrible about this," he tells the World Entertainment News Network. "No one in Iraq has ever done anything to hurt me, and I don't understand why we have to be implicated in that bullshit. What about firing up some Venom or some of those Norwegian death metal bands instead?" Metallica finally name ex-Suidical Tendencies/Ozzy Osbourne bassist Robert Trujillo as a permanent member, and in an odd flip-flop, Newsted fills Trujillo's vacancy in Osbourne's band but maintains that he'll pull double duty with Voivod on the second stage at this summer's Ozzfest. In an attempt to avoid bootlegging, Metallica releases their first studio album in six years five days earlier than originally scheduled. St. Anger is also packaged with a DVD of rehearsals of each song on the album another first. In addition to cover art by long-time band artist Pushead, the record boasts a return of sorts to the band's more complex song structures of the late '80s, though critics immediately cite Hetfield's Godsmack-meets- And Justice For All vocals as a disappointment. It sells nearly half a million copies in its first week. VU Games signs a contract with Metallica to release a third-person combat videogame with voiceovers, background music, and exclusive songs from the band; a trailer can be seen on the St. Anger interactive CD. Metallica gear up for their Summer Sanitarium tour with Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and the Deftones.