If you were to take the smooth vocals of Iron Maiden, the in your face brooding metal and hard partying ways of Black Sabbath with a sprinkle of the epic guitar riffs of Led Zeppelin into a blender, the result may be something close to the band that would redefine the face of music in the early 1980’s. A band that became so massive that in 2013 they became the first musical act to ever perform on every continent when they performed live in Antarctica. A band whose hard partying ways and love of Jägermeister helped usher in the age of the hard partying rock stars. But how do you get to be known as one of the biggest musical acts to ever exist? By putting out consistently great music, that’s how! But do they still rock? Do the cool kids still listen to them? Lets find out WTF Happened to METALLICA?
But as always we must begin at the beginning and the beginning began in 1981, Los Angeles when drummer Lars Ulrich put in advertisement in the local newspaper that said “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with.” One person to answer the ad was guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield. Five months later the band would take shape after Ulrich’s friend was forming a magazine devoted to his love of metal and was deciding on two names: MetalMania and Metallica. Ever the opportunist, Ulrich loved the second name for his band and convinced his friend to use MetalMania as the name of his magazine, and thus Metallica was officially born. Not long after Guitarist Dave Mustaine would join the band and they would record their first track, Hit The Lights. This would lead to Metallica playing their first ever gig on March 14, 1982 with newly hired bassist Ron McGovney. That gig proved to be quite successful which would lead Metallica to be invited to open for touring British band Saxon for one show on their 1982 US tour and by late 1982 the band had recorded their first demo album Power Metal. But all was not right with the band, Hetfield, Ulrich and Mustaine were not impressed with McGovney’s bass playing saying that they didn’t feel he contributed to the band, so one fateful night Ulrich and Hetfield went and saw the band Trauma at the Whisky a Go Go Club in West Hollywood where they were absolutely blown away by the bands bassist, Cliff Burton. By May of that same year the band was ready to record their debut album, unfortunately at the time, the band seemed to think Dave Mustaine liked to party a bit too much, leading to many angry drunken nights. This lead the band to kick Mustaine out after he had helped write many new songs, and bring in Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammet. With Hammet in place, the band was able to record their first album Metal Up Your Ass, but were convinced to change the name to a more marketable Kill ‘Em All which would initially sell just 17,000 copies in its first year before going on to sell over 4.5 million worldwide.
Kill ‘Em All was not a massive success out the gate, but it built up enough of a fanbase that the band was able to start selling out underground clubs with their groundbreaking fast paced thrash metal sound. By 1984, Metallica was ready to record their second album, heading to Ulrich’s home country of Denmark to record Ride The Lightning which Kirk Hammet had taken from a line in Stephen King’s The Stand. The album would initially be another low selling affair at first, until the band signed with mega label Elektra Records who re-released the album ultimately being certified 6 time platinum with nearly 7 million copies sold in the United States alone. In 1986 the band would release their third album, Master of Puppets which would become their first huge hit, becoming their first album to be certified Gold by the RIAA before selling over 8 million albums worldwide and being regarded as one of the most influential albums ever recorded, not just metal albums, but albums in general.
And then, tragedy struck. On the evening of September 27, 1986 while the band was in the middle of the European leg of their Damage Inc Tour, the four members of the band: Lars Ulrich, James Hatfield, Kirk Hammet and Cliff Burton, decided to draw cards to determine which bunk on the tour bus each person would sleep in that night, Burton won the game and chose to take Hammet’s bunk. In the middle of the night when all the members were asleep the bus was involved in an accident which caused Burton to be violently thrown out the window with the bus rolling over and landing on top of him. Metallica’s bassist, Cliff Burton, was dead at just 24 years old. At first the band didn’t know how to continue, but ultimately agreed that Burton would never want them to lose the drive that he was a part of. The band would remain close with Cliff’s family while his father Ray Burton would be a staple at Metallica live shows until his death at 94 in 2020.
The band would begin the audition process for a new bassist ultimately finding Flotsam and Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted after he came to the audition having already memorized the entire set list for the bands upcoming tour with Ozzy Osbourne. This impressed the band so much so that they hired him just two days later. The hiring was supported by Cliff Burton’s parents who Newsted said gave him a big hug after he was hired and told him “You are the one, please be safe.” Back in the studio the band would put together The $5.98 E.P- Garage Days Re-Revisited featuring cover songs that would later be released on the bands 3.3 million album selling Garage Inc. released in 1998. But this E.P (or Extended Play for those not in the know) was merely an amuse bouche for their next feature album: …And Justice For All which featured such iconic tracks as Harvester of Sorrow and One, which is widely recognized as one of the greatest music videos ever made. The album would be their first to chart in the top ten, topping out at spot 6, on the Billboard 100 charts and would go on to sell over 10 million albums worldwide while also netting the metal icons their first Grammy win when One took home the award for Best Metal Performance, an award they would win three years in a row with the second win coming for their cover of Queen’s Stone Cold Crazy. That third Grammy win in a row would come for the bands fifth studio album simply known as Metallica or as it is more commonly know: The Black Album. This would be the record that would take Metallica from just a popular band into the stratosphere as one of the greatest bands to ever exist. With epic tracks such as Enter Sandman, Sad But True, Wherever I May Roam in addition to daring new musical stylings such as The Unforgiven and Nothing Else Matters, The Black Album redefined an entire genre and in doing so become one of the highest selling albums of all time and one of only 4 albums to spend over 700 weeks on the Billboard 200 charts selling nearly 20 million albums worldwide.
What do you do after you release a highly successful album? You tour! And the band would take the next three years to tour around the world including the now infamous August 8, 1992 concert where they co-headlined with Guns n’ Roses when James Hetfield, confused about where the use of pyrotechnics were going to be on the stage, walked head first into a 12 foot high flame resulting in Hetfield suffering second and third degree burns to his entire upper body. For most, that would be the end of the road for the tour, but Hetfield vowed to continue the tour and just 17 days later he was back on stage singing his hit songs with a touring guitarist filling in for him as he healed. After headlining Woodstock ’94, that’s the one that didn’t get burned to the ground, the band would step back into the recording studio for their sixth studio album: Load. This album would court controversy for several reasons: first, when the band re-emerged they had cut their iconic long locks, wore eye make-up and no longer looked like the thrash metal pioneers they were but almost like a pop act. Two, the album seemed to feature a softer edge to their music than fans were used to. And last but certainly not least: the band had been known for their iconic illustrated cover art, for Load the band decided to go in a different direction, enlisting controversial photographer Andres Serrano to concoct the image titled Blood & Semen III which as you guessed was a mixture of bovine blood and Serrano’s own… well you know, pressed between two pieces of plexiglass. Reactions to the album were mixed with many claiming it leaned too heavily into the grunge style, taking away from the bands thrash metal roots. The band actually recorded enough new music for a double album resulting in 1997’s Re-Load which again featured cover art by Andres Serrano, this time of his own urine and bovine blood pressed together. The album would again receive mixed reviews, although Fuel and The Memory Remains are two phenomenal tracks.
1999 would see Metallica do what no metal band had done before: collaborate with a Symphony to create a wholly new experience for metal fans. Composer Mark Kamen approached Metallica with this idea in 1991 before helping compose their iconic hit Nothing Else Matters. The resulting album was the amazing S&M, short for Symphony & Metallica. The following year Metallica would again take on an entirely new endeavor when they agreed to craft a new song for a feature film. The song titled I Disappear was to be featured on the Mission: Impossible- 2 soundtrack. While recording demos for the song, Metallica began noticing incomplete versions of it were leaked online which they were able to trace back to the file sharing service Napster. This resulted in the band taking legal action against the service citing copyright infringement. Sadly this case became something most people would know Metallica for as it was a massive headline grabbing case. Many fans burned Metallica merchandise in protest, I guess to show them they meant business by burning something for which they already paid for?! But ultimately what the case boiled down to was this: the band was upset when they heard an unfinished version of their song on the internet. Combine that with the fact that even though Metallica is one of the most successful bands to ever exist, what they were fighting for was the little guy who depends on the sales of their music to continue doing it. It is something that still remains prevalent in todays world as just a few weeks back, Corey Taylor, lead singer of Slipknot talked about how important Metallica’s stance against Napster was to all artists from then on out and how many of your favorite artists wouldn’t be around today if Metallica hadn’t done what they did.
But behind the scenes at Metallica inc. it wasn’t all sunshine and rose either. Ulrich and Hetfield had begun having families and taking time off from making music. Jason Newsted had long ago said that his only passion in life was making music and if Metallica was going to take long gaps between gigs, he wanted the opportunity to go out with his side project band Echobrain. Hetfield refused this, saying that if Newsted went on with a different band it watered down the Metallica brand and was almost like cheating on them. This resulted in Newsted deciding to leave Metallica. The aftermath of that decision would be chronicled in the hit documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster which followed the band as they set about recording their new album St. Anger while producer Bob Rock stepped in on Bass duties before the band would hire Suicidal Tendencies bassist Robert Trujillo as their next bassist. The film, directed by Paradise Lost filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, would gain notoriety for its unprecedented look at the inner workings of the worlds biggest metal band including lead singer James Hetfield’s struggle with alcohol addiction. The film would win Best Documentary Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. The resulting album, St. Anger would be released in 2003 to less than stellar reviews with many noting the absence of Metallica’s signature guitar solos and the “steely” sound of Ulrich’s snare drum. Despite that, the album still managed a first place opening, selling over 417,000 copies in its first week and would ultimately win the Grammy for Best Metal Performance for the title track.
Since the 80’s the band has entered the stage to iconic sounds of Ennio Morricone’s Ecstasy of Gold from the film The Good, The Bad and the Ugly so when a tribute album was being out together for the legendary composer, Metallica would record a version of the song which would result in the band receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Performance. They would then get back into the studio to record their ninth studio album, Death Magnetic. The release would continue the bands record of debuting in first place where it remained for three consecutive weeks while most reviews called it a return to the thrash metal roots and would ultimately net the band another two Grammy wins for best Rock Album and Best Recording Package. A follow up E.P was released titled Beyond Magnetic was released a few years later featuring 4 unreleased tracks. Of course they weren’t just sitting idly by, they had released the video game Guitar Hero: Metallica to much acclaim while on April 4, 2009 the band would officially be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It would seem the band was having
so much fun touring the world that writing new music kind of became secondary to the thrill of performing live which they did relentlessly, headlining various festivals, performing at professional sporting events including performing the star spangled banner at the NBA Finals. In 2013, the band would star in the feature film Metallica: Through The Never that featured the band performing a live concert while one of their roadies, played by Dane DeHaan, traverses a seemingly post apocalyptic world set to the music of the band. The 3D film was released on IMAX screens across the country where it unfortunately tanked with just $31.9 million made against a $32 million budget. While it would be Grammy nominated for best musical film.
It would be eight long years until Metallica released their next album, the longest gap between albums in the bands entire history. But for many the wait was worth it as Hardwired… to Self Destruct would receive near unanimous praise with many calling the album a true return to their heavier roots. The album would mark the bands sixth consecutive number one debut. The album would go on to win Album of the Year from Revolver Magazine as well as Top Rock Album from the Billboard Music Awards and be nominated for Best Rock Album at the Grammy Awards. The band would head back out on the road to do what they do best, perform live. For the next four years the band would again headline various stadium filling events including a second concert with the San Francisco Orchestra titled S&M2. Sadly in 2019, James Hetfield re-entered rehab to deal with his addictions and many of their live shows were postponed to 2020 while the band stood by in full support of their friend. Of course 2020 would come and our dear trusted leader shut the fucking world down which would see many more shows get pushed back and/ or cancelled.
While performing sets in their studio to benefit their All Within My Hands foundation, the band would begin formulating new material for their next album. And then on November 28, 2022, the band, without warning, dropped the track Lux Aeterna while announcing their eleventh studio album 72 Seasons which Hetfield explained was about the first 18 years of our lives where we form who we truly are. The album, released on April 14, 2023, would receive exemplary reviews from critics who noted Hetfield’s lyrics hit harder than some of his others in recent memory as they focused on hard hitting trauma while mixing in genuinely moving lyrics that brought together an album of brash speed metal that you don’t see very much in todays world. Though the album did debut at number one in 20 different countries, it would actually debut at number 2 in the United States, ending the bands over 35 year streak of debuting atop the US charts. With the release of their newest album, which has already been certified Gold, the band has embarked on their latest worldwide tour, the M72 World Tour, which will be going through September 29, 2024 with tour reviews saying that Metallica is by far still the best band to see live.
And as we all know, you can’t be iconic until you are immortalized on The Simpsons which the band did in 2006 while also appearing on an episode of Carpool Karaoke in 2017. It may seem music is the entirety of who the members of Metallica are, but they are far more. Hetfield would appear in his Some Kind of Monster director Joe Berlinger’s 2019 Ted Bundy film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile while Kirk Hammet is an avid surfer and when not on the stage, Lars can be seen back in his homeland of Sweden while Robert Trujillo is busy being the proud father to son Tye who has followed in his father’s footsteps as the bassist and frontman for thrash metal band Ottto. Tye actually helped record some of the guitar riffs you heard in the now iconic scene from Stranger Things where Eddie Munson rocks out to Master of Puppets atop a rooftop. That scene would reignite the passion of many long time Metallica fans while introducing the iconic band to an entire new generation of fans, which means that Metallica will continue rocking our collective worlds as their music truly transcends generations. And that is WTF Happened to Metallica!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/wtf-happened-to-metallica/