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Sunday Old School: Metallica

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Band Photo: Metallica (?)

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Hansel and Gretel and A Christmas Carol. These are stories that we all know and in the case of metal fans, another story everyone knows is that of Metallica. However, since it’s the three hundredth edition of Sunday Old School (hooray for us,) we'll be marking the landmark with a look at one of metal’s biggest bands, even if we do all know the documented story by now. A band which has always been both revered and reviled but continued to do things their way throughout their illustrious career. A band known simply as, Metallica.

The group was the brain child of a young, Danish heavy metal fanatic named Lars Ulrich, who had gone as far as to travel to Europe to see his heroes, Diamond Head, eventually staying with the band for a month. Upon returning to the United States, where he had lived since his teenage years, he was determined to form his own band, inspired massively by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, even name dropping groups from the movement such as Tygers of Pan Tang in his advertisement looking for like minded musicians, which answered by Leather Charm guitarists, James Hetfield and Hugh Tanner, though Metallica itself would not be formed until five months later, when the drummer asked Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel if his band could appear on their forthcoming, "Metal Massacre" compilation.

Tanner was not involved in the band any further and the duo put out another ad seeking a guitarist, which gained the attention of a young guitar prodigy named Dave Mustaine. The trio recorded a song entitled, "Hit the Lights" for the compilation, with Hetfield handling bass duties, before deciding hours before its inclusion that it needed more lead guitar parts, and so rushed over to Jamaican musician, Lloyd Grant’s house so he could quickly put his stamp on the track.

"Hit the Lights" would be the closing song on the “Metal Massacre” record, which also featured such bands as Ratt and Cirith Ungol. They were unhappy that their name had been spelled wrong on the pressing but were more than pleased with the hype the song generated, leading them to recruit a full time bassist, Ron McGovney and begin performing live, with their second ever gig opening for British heavy metal favourites, Saxon. They recorded a demo entitled, "Power Metal," perhaps a nod to another of their British heroes, Venom and their album, "Black Metal," which was released the same year and before long, had become one of the biggest bands in the emerging thrash metal scene, particularly after they had left Los Angeles and relocated to the Bay Area where more aggressive metal was appreciated. The move was brought on by their decision to ask Trauma bassist, Cliff Burton to take over from McGovney, which he agreed to on the condition they moved nearer to him. This was the famous lineup which solidified their cult like following and status amongst the scene and wrote their debut album, originally titled, "Metal Up Your Ass."

Unfortunately for the label, Metal Blade was unable to cover the costs of recording for the record and the band accepted an offer from thrash metal’s other legendary record company, Megaforce, which was run by East Coast promoter Johnny "Z" Zazula, who was impressed by their famous, "No Life ‘til Leather" demo. The quartet travelled to New York to record the album and perform their first East Coast shows but along the way, it was agreed they could no longer deal with the hard partying and drunk aggression of Mustaine anymore, and listened to demos of other bands in search of a new guitarist, during which they settled on Exodus founder Kirk Hammett as the ideal candidate and sent Mustaine home on a three day long bus journey. The album was eventually retitled, "Kill 'em All" after disputes with their labels and featured many of their most beloved songs such as, "Seek and Destroy," "Whiplash" and of course, "Hit the Lights."

The popularity of the band and their debut album led to them joining forces with British heavy metal trio, Raven for the "Kill ‘em All for One" tour, as well famously supporting Venom on their "Seven Dates of Hell" tour. Even though they had already released an album, Hetfield was still a little uneasy about performing vocals and the band offered the job to Armored Saint singer, John Bush, who turned down the offer. With no choice but to continue as the band’s singer, Hetfield and the others travelled to the Danish capital city of Copenhagen to record their sophomore full length, "Ride the Lightning." It was still unquestionably a thrash metal album but showed a much more mature approach, experimenting with more melodies and even featuring a slower, ballad type song in the form of, "Fade to Black," which stacked up well with other Metallica classics on the album such as, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Creeping Death," in addition to the epic instrumental, "The Call of Ktulu."

It was another massive success and soon the band embarked on a headlining European tour of their own, joining forces with English outfit, Tank and appearing at the legendary Monsters of Rock festival, shortly after signing with major label, Elektra in the United States. Their first album for the company proved to be one of the biggest, best received and most popular to date, increasing the use of melody whilst still providing furious blasts of metal. The album in question was of course, "Master of Puppets," which was able to reach number twenty nine on the Billboard Top 200 and impressed both critics and headbangers alike, allowing them to secure a high profile supporting slot for Ozzy Osbourne. It featured plenty more classic songs such as the spellbinding title track, the frenzied, "Battery," the haunting, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" and another breath taking instrumental, "Orion."

Tragedy would nearly obliterate the band whilst touring in support of the album however, as during a tour of Sweden, their bus hit a patch of black ice and caused a horrendous crash, killing bass player Cliff Burton in the process. The remaining members questioned for a while whether or not they should continue, but eventually decided it was what their bassist would want and so they began auditioning replacements, drawing in some high profile and highly skilled names such as Les Claypool of Primus fame, though they eventually settled on Flotsam and Jetsam bass player, Jason Newsted, who was initiated into the band by being tricked into eating a bowl of wasabi.

Their first release with this lineup would be the covers EP, "The $5.98 Garage Days Re-Revisited," in the 1987, before a fourth full length album, "... And Justice For All" was released the following year. It was another success, peaking at number six on the Billboard albums charts, helped quite largely by the release of their first music video for the song, "One," which caused some resentment amongst fans, one of which even spat on Hetfield and accused the group of selling out. Despite this, there was still plenty of thrash on offer, with more fan favourites being crafted in songs such as "Blackened" and "Harvester of Sorrow," as well as the aforementioned, "One."

Whilst the band had always been stars in the thrash metal scene, it was soon time for them to become global superstars. This was to happen in 1991, when the band released another classic album, known either as an eponymous release, or more famously as simply, "The Black Album." Making the album was a long and tough process, causing the end to three marriages, James Hetfield to damage his voice and never sing the same afterwards, and costing over a million dollars. It proved worth it however and their controversial choice to team with Bon Jovi and Motley Crue producer, Bob Rock paid off. The album debuted at number one in ten countries and to date has sold over sixteen million copies in the United States alone to date. It featured more hits such as, "Sad but True," the ballad, "Nothing Else Matters" and perhaps most famous of all, "Enter Sandman," which features one of the best known riffs in the history of metal music. It also spawned two home video releases, one documenting the recording of the album and another covering the band on tour, including the ill fated trek with Guns N Roses, where Hetfield suffered severe burns in a pyrotechnic accident amongst other disasters, as well as a three disc live album, "Live Shit: Binge and Purge."

Touring for the album was enormous and they were unable to take a break until three years after the release of the record. When they returned to the fold, metal fans were in shock. Not only had the band members (shock, horror!) cut their hair but the new album, "Load," was nothing like their previous released, containing practically no thrash metal whatsoever and instead leaning more towards alternative music, which was popular at the time, causing the first mass accusation of selling out. Despite this, the album was another success, selling over five million copies in the United States, as well as successful singles such as, "Until it Sleeps," "King Nothing" and "Hero of the Day."

The band had recorded enough material for two albums, which they initially intended to release as a double album, before deciding to release half the music as "Load" and rework the rest for another album, which came a year later in 1997 under the title, "Reload." It did nothing to win over fans who had tarnished them with the "sellout" tag but again sold very well and contained some popular songs such as "Fuel" and "The Memory Remains." A double did come the next year in the form of, "Garage Inc," which featured a disc of previously recorded covers, many of which had appeared as B-sides, and a collection of all new cover songs, spanning a more varied palette from Mercyful Fate to Bob Seger and included a successful cover of the traditional Irish song, "Whisky in the Jar," which had previously been made a rock hit for Thin Lizzy. The band revisited their past further still with a double disc live album recorded with the San Francisco symphony orchestra entitled, "S&M," which was an interesting and quite successful release, despite the reservations of some fans.

People continued to express their distaste for the band when they publicly took on the file sharing website, Napster, which they discovered had released a demo of a new song, "I Disappear." Things got harder still for the band when Jason Newsted decided to leave the group, citing his desire to perform other avenues of music, notably with his Echobrain project, which Hetfield was strenuously against. He also claimed that he never really felt part of the group and that the hazing he received upon joining the band never stopped and made life difficult for him. Shortly afterwards, a documentary crew began following the band, who was hit further still when Hetfield checked himself into rehab for alcoholism, initially leaving just Ulrich and Hammett to work on new music, and then the singer working on a restricted time schedule when he returned, while the lack of a permanent bass player resulted in Bob Rock handling that role for the new album.

The album that came of these emotional surroundings, "St. Anger," was highly anticipated and before it was released, the band confirmed that they had found a new bassist in former Suicidal Tendencies member and Ozzy Osbourne bassist, Robert Trujillo, something of a strange move as Jason Newsted was revealed to be Ozzy’s new bassist soon afterwards. Despite the heavy promotion for the album, "St. Anger" turned out to be a massive disappointment, earning criticism from fans and eventually from critics, who viewed the record as a flawed attempt to return to their thrash roots and jokes about the sound of the drums in particular. It was still a commercial success however, debuting at the top of the Billboard charts and leading to huge shows around the world.

It was to be another five years before a new album was released, coming in 2008 in the form of, "Death Magnetic," its title allegedly referring to the early deaths many in rock music such Layne Staley of Alice In Chains and Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, as well as their own, Cliff Burton. The album still did not win over those that had made up their minds long ago that Metallica was never going to be good again, but it definitely did a better job of revisiting their thrash metal roots and many critics, as well as some fans, saw it as a return to form from "St. Anger," and arguably from the "Load" albums too. It spawned three music videos for "The Day That Never Comes," "Broken, Beat and Scarred" and "All Nightmare Long."

Since then, the band has mostly busied themselves with live shows and different projects, including their own version of the Guitar Hero video game, a movie, "Through the Never" which was not as successful as they’d hoped and a collaboration album with the late, great, Lou Reed entitled, “Lulu,” which was praised those more inclined towards the avant garde style of music, but hated by pretty much everyone else. Of course the big question about Metallica is, when will they release a new album? It’s been six years since, "Death Magnetic" and Lars Ulrich recently stated that while a new album is high on their agenda, it’s nowhere near being ready to record, let alone release. Whatever happens in the future, Metallica really have crafted a unique legacy of their own, becoming both one of the most beloved and the most hated bands in the history of metal, but forging some of the best metal albums of all time along the way and taking the genre to stadiums around the world in a time when metal was declared dead. Love them or loathe them, Metallica changed metal forever and for all their faults, or perceived faults, they surely deserve a lot of respect for all they’ve been through.

Metallica - "Seek and Destroy"

Metallica - "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

Metallica - "Damage Inc."

Metallica - "Blackened"

Metallica - "Through the Never"

Metallica - "King Nothing"

Metallica - "Fuel"

Metallica - "Whiskey in the Jar"

Metallica - "St. Anger"

Metallica - "All Nightmare Long"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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4 Comments on "Sunday Old School 300: Metallica"

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ssdd_13's avatar


1. ssdd_13 writes:

Thank you Ollie, for giving the boys the their due. I've been a "Meatlli-kid" since 1984 with no regrets. This band has inspired me, disappointed me, and caused me to swear, a lot...
Great choice on the videos too, well played.

# Jun 28, 2015 @ 8:46 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
gripper's avatar


2. gripper writes:

love to hate em
long live Metallica

# Jun 28, 2015 @ 8:05 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Diamond Oz's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

3. Diamond Oz writes:

Cheers guys!

# Jun 29, 2015 @ 1:08 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Westfallen's avatar


4. Westfallen writes:

F'n a!

In 1988, I moved to a new town in WI. My new babysitter (lol) said I had to check out this band Metallica. He took us to Musicland in the mall, and they had one tape left, Kill Em All. Still have it (the one with bonus tracks ... ohhhh yeahhh), still my favorite record, and still has the best song ever constructed by humankind. Metal Militia.

Post #1 kinda sums them up though! They do all sorts of stupid shart, but then have great moments like "Ride the Lightning" on the newest Metalli-movie.

Dumb to speculate but I'll do it anyway. Imagine if Cliff lived, Lars quit the sticks and turned to manager, and Gene Hoglan played drums. They would've best the undisputed greatest band of all eternity and have conquered the universe. That's how it should've gone in my head haha

# Jun 29, 2015 @ 4:14 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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