Crawling out of San Francisco in the early 1980s, Hetfield and Ulrich's plan for world domination was a slow burner at first. The sparkling debut proper, Kill 'Em All, and the following Ride The Lightning set down a marker which Master of Puppets picked up and turned to gold. Newsted's arrival coincided with the massive selling LP ...And Justice For All, while the group's self-titled fifth disc, the so called Black Album found them moving into huge arenas and notching sales to match.
Typically audaciously, the Load and Reload albums were recorded as two parts of a double (1996/7) and by the end of the 1990s Metallica's status was such that their live masterpiece S&M, which was recorded with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Kamen, an esoteric project, still reached the heights of charts everywhere.
The previous year's covers disc, Garage Inc. paid homage to the new wave of metal with nods at Diamond Head, Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mercyful Fate and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Their version of BOC's 'Astronomy' is worth the price of admission alone and the other 60 odd minutes ain't too shabby either.
Metallica have enjoyed critical success to go with all the accepted trappings of fame but while they are no angels - Hetfield has admitted to personal problems - they are resolutely professional and hard working dudes, rather than showy or flash individuals and it's that trait which endears them to their monster fan base. When they play live they give the decided impression that they are at one with the audience and the experience. There is a purity to their craft which is deeply affecting.
Leave 'em wanting more is another characteristic of this quartet. They took six years to release St. Anger but boy, was it worth the wait. The album, produced by Bob Rock (he'd hooked horns with Lars and chums in 1991) won the group a Grammy for Best Metal Performance and its six million plus sales indicate it's another must hear ear worm.
Brutal and beautiful the St. Anger album was recorded in an old rented army barracks in Presidio, California during a time of turmoil, documented in the film Some Kind of Monster. Because of all the changes the outfit were going through it's cited by them as their most intensely personal album, with Rock pushing them to hit their rawest nerves and emerge triumphant, like some kind of reborn garage band. St. Anger was also the catalyst for an insane period of touring as Hetfield and co. got all their problems out of their system on a crushingly exhaustive two year world tour. The road had always been one of Metallica's fortes but now the sound and the fury coalesced and Trujillo's appearance on the Rehearsals DVD only added to the impression of a band on the brink but waiting for redemption. What were they letting themselves in for?
2008's Death Magnetic, recorded at Sound City Studios, LA - a very old school environment - and also in their HG in San Rafael, was a completely different proposition. Boasting a more modernistic style, thanks in great part to a new liaison with producer Rick Rubin, the Metallica core values of intellectual thrash were retained; guitar solos, which were stripped to rhythm alone on St. Anger, are all over this album. Hard core fans rate this disc for its full fat sturm und drang. Hammett and Hetfield have rarely sounded so possessed. As if to hammer home the gems within, the band have released six variational singles from Death Magnetic with 'The Day That Never Comes' and 'Cyanide' in particular emulating the power and majesty of their trademark song 'Enter Sandman' an anthem for metal nuts everywhere.
That Lou Reed collaboration - Lulu - a devilish combo of old Lou's Berlin and the band's Master of Puppets, flummoxed, enraged and delighted listeners, often at the same time. Acoustic guitars? It was like a neutron bomb going off in metal land, according to Lars Ulrich but then they've never been an outfit to do things either by halves, or half-heartedly. Hence, perhaps, the decision to utilise concept producer Hal Willner for many of the cuts.
With 2011 also unleashing the long form EP Beyond Magnetic and the shorter 30th Anniversary celebration, live from the Fillmore, San Francisco, it seems the band are back in gestation mode; no doubt plotting new ways to enthrall. There are rumblings underground. Metallica have started their own label, Blackened Recordings, to be distributed by Universal Music internationally, and they have a film in the pipeline ready for IMAX release this autumn entitled Through The Never. Rumours imply they will soon be working with Rick Rubin again, picking up where Death Magnetic left off. With Metallica you see, there is always unfinished business. Even when you don't see 'em they aren't standing still. The rage remains as does the mystery of these sandmen puppeteers who have come to rob you of your sleep and to imprint their sonic wonder all over your retinas and synapses.
Remarkable group this lot. A band that amazes, and a brand stamped with integrity. Now, that's something you don't always see in rock and roll.
The true birth of thrash. On Kill 'Em All, Metallica fuses the intricate riffing of New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Diamond Head with the velocity of Motorhead and hardcore punk. James Hetfield's highly technical rhythm guitar style drives most of the album, setting new standards of power, precision, and stamina. But really, the rest of the band is just as dexterous, playing with tightly controlled fury even at the most ridiculously fast tempos. There are already several extended, multi-sectioned compositions foreshadowing the band's later progressive epics, though these are driven by adrenaline, not texture. A few tributes to heavy metal itself are a bit dated lyrically; like Diamond Head, the band's biggest influence, Kill 'Em All's most effective tone is one of supernatural malevolence -- as pure sound, the record is already straight from the pits of hell.
Ex-member Dave Mustaine co-wrote four of the original ten tracks, but the material all sounds of a piece. And actually, anyone who worked backward through the band's catalog might not fully appreciate the impact of Kill 'Em All when it first appeared -- unlike later releases, there simply isn't much musical variation (apart from a lyrical bass solo from Cliff Burton). The band's musical ambition also grew rapidly, so today, Kill 'Em All sounds more like the foundation for greater things to come. But that doesn't take anything away from how fresh it sounded upon first release, and time hasn't dulled the giddy rush of excitement in these performances. Frightening, awe-inspiring, and absolutely relentless, Kill 'Em All is pure destructive power, executed with jaw-dropping levels of scientific precision. Elektra reissue added the cover songs "Blitzkrieg" and "Am I Evil?" from the European Creeping Death EP, which were later deleted and included on Garage, Inc.
Words - Steve Huey
Kill 'Em All may have revitalized heavy metal's underground, but Ride the Lightning was even more stunning, exhibiting staggering musical growth and boldly charting new directions that would affect heavy metal for years to come. Incredibly ambitious for a one-year-later sophomore effort, Ride the Lightning finds Metallica aggressively expanding their compositional technique and range of expression. Every track tries something new, and every musical experiment succeeds mightily. The lyrics push into new territory as well -- more personal, more socially conscious, less metal posturing. But the true heart of Ride the Lightning lies in its rich musical imagination. There are extended, progressive epics; tight, concise groove-rockers; thrashers that blow anything on Kill 'Em All out of the water, both in their urgency and the barest hints of melody that have been added to the choruses. Some innovations are flourishes that add important bits of color, like the lilting, pseudo-classical intro to the furious "Fight Fire with Fire," or the harmonized leads that pop up on several tracks.
Others are major reinventions of Metallica's sound, like the nine-minute, album-closing instrumental "The Call of Ktulu," or the haunting suicide lament "Fade to Black." The latter is an all-time metal classic; it begins as an acoustic-driven, minor-key ballad, then gets slashed open by electric guitars playing a wordless chorus, and ends in a wrenching guitar solo over a thrashy yet lyrical rhythm figure. Basically, in a nutshell, Metallica sounded like they could do anything. Heavy metal hadn't seen this kind of ambition since Judas Priest's late-'70s classics, and Ride the Lightning effectively rewrote the rule book for a generation of thrashers. If Kill 'Em All was the manifesto, Ride the Lightning was the revolution itself.
Words - Steve Huey
Even though Master of Puppets didn't take as gigantic a leap forward as Ride the Lightning, it was the band's greatest achievement, hailed as a masterpiece by critics far outside heavy metal's core audience. It was also a substantial hit, reaching the Top 30 and selling three million copies despite absolutely nonexistent airplay. Instead of a radical reinvention, Master of Puppets is a refinement of past innovations. In fact, it's possible to compare Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets song for song and note striking similarities between corresponding track positions on each record (although Lightning's closing instrumental has been bumped up to next-to-last in Master's running order). That hint of conservatism is really the only conceivable flaw here.
Though it isn't as startling as Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets feels more unified, both thematically and musically. Everything about it feels blown up to epic proportions (indeed, the songs are much longer on average), and the band feels more in control of its direction. You'd never know it by the lyrics, though -- in one way or another, nearly every song on Master of Puppets deals with the fear of powerlessness. Sometimes they're about hypocritical authority (military and religious leaders), sometimes primal, uncontrollable human urges (drugs, insanity, rage), and, in true H.P. Lovecraft fashion, sometimes monsters. Yet by bookending the album with two slices of thrash mayhem ("Battery" and "Damage, Inc."), the band reigns triumphant through sheer force -- of sound, of will, of malice. The arrangements are thick and muscular, and the material varies enough in texture and tempo to hold interest through all its twists and turns. Some critics have called Master of Puppets the best heavy metal album ever recorded; if it isn't, it certainly comes close.
Words - Steve Huey
The most immediately noticeable aspect of ...And Justice for All isn't Metallica's still-growing compositional sophistication or the apocalyptic lyrical portrait of a society in decay. It's the weird, bone-dry production. The guitars buzz thinly, the drums click more than pound, and Jason Newsted's bass is nearly inaudible. It's a shame that the cold, flat sound obscures some of the sonic details, because ...And Justice for All is Metallica's most complex, ambitious work; every song is an expanded suite, with only two of the nine tracks clocking in at under six minutes. It takes a while to sink in, but given time, ...And Justice for All reveals some of Metallica's best material. It also reveals the band's determination to pull out all the compositional stops, throwing in extra sections, odd-numbered time signatures, and dense webs of guitar arpeggios and harmonized leads.
At times, it seems like they're doing it simply because they can; parts of the album lack direction and probably should have been trimmed for momentum's sake. Pacing-wise, the album again loosely follows the blueprint of Ride the Lightning, though not as closely as Master of Puppets. This time around, the fourth song -- once again a ballad with a thrashy chorus and outro -- gave the band one of the unlikeliest Top 40 singles in history; "One" was an instant metal classic, based on Dalton Trumbo's antiwar novel Johnny Got His Gun and climaxing with a pulverizing machine-gun imitation. As a whole, opinions on ...And Justice for All remain somewhat divided: some think it's a slightly flawed masterpiece and the pinnacle of Metallica's progressive years; others see it as bloated and overambitious. Either interpretation can be readily supported, but the band had clearly taken this direction as far as it could. The difficulty of reproducing these songs in concert eventually convinced Metallica that it was time for an overhaul.
Words - Steve Huey
After the muddled production and ultracomplicated song structures of ...And Justice for All, Metallica decided that they had taken the progressive elements of their music as far as they could and that a simplification and streamlining of their sound was in order. While the assessment made sense from a musical standpoint, it also presented an opportunity to commercialize their music, and Metallica accomplishes both goals. The best songs are more melodic and immediate, the crushing, stripped-down grooves of "Enter Sandman," "Sad but True," and "Wherever I May Roam" sticking to traditional structures and using the same main riffs throughout; the crisp, professional production by Bob Rock adds to their accessibility. "The Unforgiven" and "Nothing Else Matters" avoid the slash-and-burn guitar riffs that had always punctuated the band's ballads; the latter is a full-fledged love song complete with string section, which works much better than might be imagined.
The song- and riff-writing slips here and there, a rare occurrence for Metallica, which some longtime fans interpreted as filler next to a batch of singles calculated for commercial success. The objections were often more to the idea that Metallica was doing anything explicitly commercial, but millions more disagreed. In fact, the band's popularity exploded so much that most of their back catalog found mainstream acceptance in its own right, while other progressively inclined speed metal bands copied the move toward simplification. In retrospect, Metallica is a good, but not quite great, album, one whose best moments deservedly captured the heavy metal crown, but whose approach also foreshadowed a creative decline.
Words - Steve Huey
Load is the sixth studio album by American heavy metal band Metallica. Released on June 1, 1996 through Elektra Records, it sold 680,000 units in its first week (making it the biggest opening week for Metallica) and the biggest debut of 1996. Load debuted (and spent four consecutive weeks) at #1 on Billboard 200. The album has sold over five million copies in United States and is certified 5x platinum by the RIAA. Four singles were released in part of the marketing campaign of the album: "Until It Sleeps", "Hero of the Day", "Mama Said", and "King Nothing".
Metallica recorded so much material for Load -- their first album in five years -- that they had to leave many songs unfinished, otherwise they would have missed their deadline. During the supporting tour for Load, they continued to work on the unfinished material, as well as write new songs, and they soon had enough material for a new album, Reload. The title suggests that Reload simply is a retread of its predecessor, and in many ways that's correct -- there's still too much bone-headed, heavy Southern rock for it to be anything other than the sequel to Load -- but there's enough left curves to make it a better record. Marianne Faithfull's backing vocals on "The Memory Remains" complement the weird, uneasy melody, and "Where the Wild Things Are" has an eerie menace that Metallica never achieved on Load.
There are also a couple of ballads and country-rockers that don't work quite so well (it's never a good idea to have an explicit sequel, as on "The Unforgiven II"), and that, along with a few plodding Metallica-by-numbers, is what keeps Reload from being a full success. Still, the towering closer, "Fixxxer," along with handful of cuts that successfully push the outer edges of Metallica's sound, make the record worthwhile.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Metallica's first new material in over five years arrived after a flurry of non-musical activity that included a much-publicized spat over Internet file sharing, the departure of bassist Jason Newsted, and a lengthy stay in rehab for James Hetfield that suspended the recording of a new album indefinitely. Hetfield returned to the fold in late 2001. Still without a bass player, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and their newly sober frontman recruited longtime producer Bob Rock to man Newsted's spot, and creation of the album commenced in May 2002. St. Anger arrived a year later as a punishing, unflinching document of internal struggle -- taking listeners inside the bruised yet vital body of Metallica, but ultimately revealing the alternately torturous and defiant demons that wrestle inside Hetfield's brain.
St. Anger is an immediate record. Written largely in the first person, it never warns of impending doom, doesn't struggle with claustrophobia, and has care neither for religion's safety nor its hypocrisy. (The religious symbolism of its title and artwork seems only to function as a metaphorical device.) Lacking the heavy metal baggage of these past themes, Metallica is left to ponder only itself and its singer's psychosis, and delivers its diagnosis on slabs of speed metal informed with years of innovation and texture. The record exists as it ends.
As the lockstep thrash of the eight-plus minute "All Within My Hands" tumbles toward its final gasp, Hetfield is explicit in his aims. "I will only let you breathe my air that you receive," he seethes. "Then we'll see if I let you love me." Ulrich's drums sputter in fits and starts, but the guitars are already dying, shutting down as Hetfield stabs at the microphone. "Kill kill kill kill kill," he screams, and you have to check the wall for a splatter radius. It's a brutal, ugly end to an album that switches on like a bare light bulb in an underground cave. It blasts each corner with harsh, unfiltered light for 75 minutes, until the bulb is shattered with a combat boot, leaving disquieting after-images exploding on the backs of your eyelids.
Call Death Magnetic Kirk Hammett's revenge. Famously browbeaten into accepting Lars Ulrich and producers Bob Rock's dictum that guitar solos were "dated" and thereby verboten for 2003's St. Anger -- a fraught recording chronicled on the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster -- Metallica's lead guitarist dominates this 2008 sequel, playing with an euphoric fury not heard in years, if not decades. This aesthetic shift isn't because Hammett suddenly rules the band: powerless to add solos to St. Anger, he couldn't reinstate them without the blessing of Ulrich and James Hetfield, the politburo of Metallica.
The duo suffered some combination of shame and humility in the wake of the muddled St. Anger and Monster, convincing these two unmovable forces to change direction. They ditched longtime producer Rock -- who'd helmed every album since 1991's breakthrough blockbuster Metallica -- in favor of Rick Rubin, patron saint of all veteran rockers looking to reconnect with their early spark. Rubin may be the go-to producer for wayward superstars but as the producer of Slayer, he's also rooted in thrash, so he understands the core of Metallica's greatness and gently steers them back to basics on Death Magnetic.
After 1988's ...And Justice for All, Metallica pared down its progressive, heavy metal sound. During the '90s, the band's studio releases grew slicker and more produced, resulting in mostly radio-friendly, good ol' boy metal. By the end of the decade, Metallica was established as the pioneer of modern metal, but the band hadn't done anything innovative, arguably, in ten years. In April 1999, the group performed two concerts with the San Francisco Symphony, and the result was S&M, a two-disc collection of the concerts. Overall, the album successfully pairs violin strings with guitar strings, but it's no surprise that the best tracks here are the older songs; their multi-layered, compositional style works well with symphonic arrangements. "Master of Puppets," "Call of the Ktulu," "One," and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" sound richer and fuller with violin, trumpet, clarinet, harp, trombone, and flute accompaniments, but "Sad but True," "Devil's Dance," and especially "Of Wolf and Man" range from haphazard and melodramatic to uninspired.
S&M definitely has its moments, and not just with the pre-Black Album material: "Fuel" surpasses the furious pumping energy of the studio version, "Hero of the Day" stays poignant throughout, and "Until It Sleeps" has a wonderfully sinister feel. James Hetfield maintains his madman persona from beginning to end, laughing maniacally and grunting and growling at all the right moments. Overall, the symphony adds a macabre, ghoulish atmosphere -- it all sounds like a Broadway freak show or a revved-up Danny Elfman nightmare. Which is exactly what a Metallica album should sound like, even if every song isn't the best (or most appropriate) in the band's catalog.
Words - Gina Boldman