Metallica was an appropriate name (it was actually the title of a proposed Metal magazine). The Thrash/Metal merchants started in L.A. and made their stage debut in Anaheim in early '82. The group was signed by Jersey based Megaforce Records. Metallica relocated to the greater New York area to be closer to their label's HQ and played several memorable New Jersey shows. Just a month later Dave Mustaine was fired and replaced by Kirk Hammett. Mustaine didn't let the rejection get to him and produced a solo album before launching Megadeth.
Moving from Megaforce to Elektra Records Metallica unleashed a series of incredible albums, "Kill 'Em All," ('83), "Ride The Lightening," ('84), "Master of Puppets" ('86) and "... And Justice For All" ('88). Metallica was the premier Metal group. They were "guests" on Ozzy Osbourne's U.S. tour ('85), showed up on the '86 edition of Lollapalooza and were regulars on The Monster's Of Rock Tours ('85, '87 and '88). A major down point in this fevered activity came in '86. While on Scandinavian tour, the bus went off the road and crashed instantly killing bassist Cliff Burton. The other band members were not seriously injured. Road life can be hazardous to say the least. For Rockers it's almost as dangerous as staying home.
Had Metallica run out of steam at the end of the '80s they would have had an exceptional run. No worries, they were just getting things cranked up. '91 saw the release of "Metallica" containing the group's first Top 20 single, "Enter Sandman." Eighteen-years later, the album was named the top seller of the Nielsen SoundScan era (since '91). Their fifth studio effort, which also included "The Unforgiven," sold more than 15,490,000.
They appeared once again on "The Monsters Of Rock Tour" in '91 before embarking on several world tours ('91, '92, '98 and '99). In '92, Metallica coughed up thirty-eight grand to pay for repairs to the Orlando Centroplex after fans trashed the place. This was also the show where fans dangled an usher from the balcony by his ankles. Metallica continued to blast their way into the hearts of Metal fans with "Live Shit: Binge & Purge" ('93) and the classic pair "Load" ('96) and "Re-Load" ('97). They were a key draw at the historic Million Decibel March (11/11/96) in Philadelphia. Metallica even found themselves dancing with lawyers again, only this time as the plaintiffs. They sued Victoria Secret for putting out "Metallica" lipstick. Tyra Banks will never know how close she came to a stomping.
Metallica released a pair of albums containing unreleased material and covers in '98, "Garage Days" and "Garage Days Revisited" (these albums were later re-released as a double album "Garage, Inc."). "S & M" came out in '99 and Metallica spent the summer of '00 touring the U.S. with KoRn, Kid Rock, Powerman 5000 and System Of A Down.
Over the years, Metal mashing takes its toll. James Hetfield could attest to that. In '86, he broke his wrist skateboarding. Not a good thing for a guitarist. A stage prop exploded during a '92 concert in Montreal burning Hetfield's arms. Metal Church guitarist John Marshall filled in until Hetfield recovered. And finally, Hetfield was rushed to the hospital in '98 for an emergency appendectomy.
None of these injuries did as much damage as Metallica's Napster adventure. Metallica was the first major group to sue the Internet music trading company Napster for copyright infringement. This did not sit well with fans, many of whom had been downloading songs for years. Metallica was seen in the worst of all possible lights - nothing more than a record industry/corporate tool. As this nasty drama played itself out Hetfield entered rehab in '02 for the usual addictions.
By the time the dust settled, Napster was done and Metallica seriously damaged. But never count Metallica out. The group uncorked one of its best efforts in years, "St. Anger" in '03. Then they hit the road to support the album headlining the "Summer Sanitarium" tour that included the Deftones and Limp Bizkit.
Even with Hetfield back on the straight and narrow, Metallica was still wounded. The answer was group therapy. With an uncanny ability to turn pain into profit (or at least entertainment) the healing process produced the acclaimed '04 documentary film "Some Kind Of Monster."
Having used Ennio Morricone's "The Ecstasy Of Gold" as concert intro music since '83, Metallica got around to recording their own version for the '07 tribute-compilation "We All Love Ennio Morricone." The original version was composed for the Sergio Leone spaghetti western (starring Clint Eastwood) The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. It's played while Tuco desperately searches for gold coins in a graveyard.
Metallica's cover earned them an '08 Grammy nomination (Best Rock Instrumental Performance) but not a trophy. They lost to Bruce Springsteen's "Once Upon A Time In The West" which was also a Morricone composition on "We All Love Ennio Morricone."
Following an extensive and intensive touring schedule Metallica announced they would be working with Rick Rubin, rather than Bob Rock who'd been the group's producer for 15 years, on their next effort, "Death Magnetic." Hetfield explained the significance of album's title. "It started out as a tribute to people who have fallen in our business, like (late Alice In Chains frontman) Layne Stayley," said Hetfield. "Some people are drawn towards (death), just like a magnet, and other people are afraid of it and push away."
But before any new material surfaced the group issued a DVD collection entitled The Videos 1989-2004. Then came vinyl versions of "Kill 'Em All" and "Ride The Lightning." The albums were available as a single LP and as a double-disc, 45-rpm package for superior sound quality.
Recording "Death Magnetic," the group's ninth studio album, began in early '07 but wasn't completed until the end of the year. The first single, "The Day That Never Comes," topped Billboard's Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart (September '08) while "My Apocalypse" was available exclusively on Metallica's web site.
Of course, given the band's checkered history with the online distribution of their music, "Death Magnetic" naturally had its' own glitch. The album was leaked days before the official release. However, Lars Ulrich, speaking for the group, was more philosophical than enraged. "Ten days out and it hasn't quote-unquote fallen off the truck yet? Everybody's happy. It's 2008 and it's part of how it is these days, so it's fine. We're happy."
They should be. Moving more than 490,000 copies in less than a week, "Death Magnetic" made its debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Metallica became the first band ever to have five albums debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 (U2, The Beatles and Dave Matthews Band each have four).
Though "Death Magnetic" reached double platinum status in '10 having sold over two million copies in the U.S. alone, the controversy persisted that the set was mixed and mastered too loud. "When I hear it, it puts a smile on my face and it blows me away, and I don't understand what people are talking about," said Ulrich stepping into the fray.
Producer Rubin and his recording engineer, Greg Fidelman were most often blamed for the sound issue though some fault was placed on the band.
Ted Jenson, who mastered the album (the process of transferring the recorded audio to the final master) said the problem was evident when he received the source material.
"Suffice to say I would never be pushed to overdrive things as far as they are here," said Jensen. "Believe me, I'm not proud to be associated with this one, and we can only hope that some good will come from this in some form of backlash against volume above all else."
Metallica was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in '09. Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea did the honors. Former band members, Mustaine and Newsted were invited to the ceremony. Mustaine's Megadeth obligations prevented his participation. However, he did pen an open letter to the band congratulating them. "I'd like to say to [drummer] Lars [Ulrich] and [singer-guitarist] James [Hetfield], I am so very proud of all you have accomplished," wrote Mustaine. Newsted did attend and performed with the group.
Of course, Hetfield had the last word. "One of the greatest things is that we're still relevant [and] still making heavy music." And just to prove the point, Metallica's single, "Cyanide," from "Death Magnetic," landed at #1 on Billboard's Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
The Hall of Fame induction yielded an odd pairing. "Lulu," a collaborative album by Lou Reed (the Velvet Underground/"Walk On The Wild Side") and Metallica, was released in '11. The set featured songs that were originally conceived by Reed as part of his plays Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box. They tell the story of an abused young dancer.
"After coming together with the 'Tallica boys for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts in New York in '09, all guilty parties knew they wanted to make more music together," wrote Metallica in a statement. Reed originally composed the 10 song set for a theatrical production inspired by the work of German expressionist writer Frank Wedekind.
Too bad it didn't turn out better. "Lulu" was outsold by the Mustaine-led Megadeth album "TH1RT3EN." A lot of excuses were offered but the most relevant was that Metallica fans and Lou Reed fans were not the same people. So this was a pass for most of them.
Bouncing back, Metallica released their four-track "Beyond Magnetic" EP on CD in the U.S. (the set was originally available as a download only release). "Hate Train," "Just A Bullet Away," "Hell And Back" and "Rebel Of Babylon," were leftover songs from the '07 and '08 "Death Magnetic" recording sessions.
Next, Metallica ventured into film. The 3D "Metallica Through The Never" hit IMAX screens in '13, a week before going into general release. Filmed during two '12 Vancouver concerts, using a $5 million stage show specially constructed for the production, the concert movie/surreal adventure - revolving around a roadie, no less - had the biggest opening for a concert film ever at IMAX theaters. It appeared on 308 3D IMAX screens and took in $780,000 on its first day. But as they say, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
"Metallica Through The Never," cost more than $20 million to make, with the band putting up all the money, but failed to connect with a wider audience. The film took in just $3.4 million in the U.S. after four weeks.
As it turned out, Napster wasn't Metallica's last controversy. Hetfield narrated The Hunt on the History Channel. The multi-part program, broadcast in '14, chronicled the annual controlled hunt in Alaska for Kodak brown bears. His contribution to the program was severely criticized by animal rights advocates. Some even circulated a petition calling for the cancelation of the group's headlining slot at the Glastonbury festival. Metallica called the effort 'ridiculous'.
Side Bar: Metallica has won several awards from the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences - the Grammy Awards people. They usually won Best Metal Album Art or Loudest Band To Show Up For The Show. No, actually it was for Best Metal Performance (which Metallica has picked up repeatedly). But it was the award they lost that was the most famous. Nominated in '89 they were aced by (drum roll please) Jethro Tull (neither Heavy Metal nor Hard Rock). You can't win 'em all. Apparently, Grammy voters needed time to catch up.
1983 Kill 'Em All
1984 Ride The Lightning
1986 Master Of Puppets
1988 ...And Justice for All
2003 St. Anger
2008 Death Magnetic
2011 Lulu (w/ Lou Reed)
2012 Beyond Magnetic EP
The Napster mess disillusioned fans. Still, it has to be remembered that from the mid-'80s through the mid-'90s Metallica Rocked, with very few missteps.
Practically given up for dead (or worse, irrelevant), Metallica roared back with bludgeoning rage on "St. Anger." This usual themes of alienation, angst and annihilation permeate.
"It's possible to be the Rolling Stones at (age) 65," explained Ulrich in an interview prior to the release of "Death Magnetic." "It may not be possible to be Metallica at 65." It's easy to understand Ulrich's reservations. Metallica hits harder that the Stones ever did - and that's got exact a heavy price. Still, Metallica sounds far from retirement on "Death Magnetic" and, in some ways, this is a fresh start - their first album in five years and first with bassist Robert Trujillo.