I’m having a Metallica resurgence. Growing up, they were my favorite band, at least until the release of Load and Reload. I was such a huge fan that my super awesome dad went to pick me up a copy of Load at midnight on June 3, 1996. I was trembling as I ripped open the plastic and nearly scratched the disc as I placed it into my 50-disc carousel (I’m dating myself here). I didn’t even finish listening to the album when I ejected it and threw it at the wall. Of all the little things that have left me disappointed, this was about the worst of them. New logo, new hair (yeah, we weirdly cared back then like Bieber fans), new sound. While I can now get behind the album as sort of a side project, it’s really the moment Metallica stopped being “cool”. Even after 2008’s Death Magnetic, it wasn’t until the recent release of Hardwired that I felt like I could wear a Metallic shirt in public again. With that, I’ve been listening to Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …and Justice for All on constant repeat, rediscovering the band of my youth in a new way that wasn’t previously possible.
While obsessing over the aforementioned albums, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, which stemmed from the purchase of the making of Masters of Puppets hardback, “Back to the Front”, that you probably should have bought. Something we never had was the Internet, and Wikipedia, which offer comprehensive behind-the-scenes information, with sources, for pretty much anything and everything. I’ve learned a lot of new things about Metallica and thought it would be sort of fun to break down some of the shocking facts surrounding the band, even if you may have heard some of them.
These are the 10 Sad But True Facts About Metallica…
The Metallica that we know features James Hetfield on vocals and rhythm guitar. But it almost wasn’t always that way. In fact, the lead vocal job was offered to someone else leading into the recording of Ride the Lightning.
Hetfield felt uneasy about performing double duty on vocals and rhythm guitar so the band offered the job to Armored Saint singer John Bush, who turned down the offer because Armored Saint was doing well at the time, says Wiki. Hetfield gradually built confidence as lead vocalist and kept his original role. Producer Bob Rock would eventually push Hetfield further on the recording of the self-titled album in 1991.
It continually blows my mind that drummer Lars Ulrich has fucked up the audio on not one, but four of Metallica’s albums.
The first recorded instance is that of the 1988 …and Justice for All, which was the first album to feature new bassist Jason Newsted. Yet, his parts are barely distinguishable on the final product, which has led to many rumors. While Lars claims the guitars are covering the bass, Steve Thompson, who mixed the album, opened up and explained everything that happened to lead to the absence of bass on that album.
In an interview with Ultimate-Guitar, Thompson explains exactly what happened:
We had to get the drum sound up the way he had it. I wasn’t a fan of it. So now [Lars Ulrich] goes, “See the bass guitar?” and I said, “Yeah, great part, man. He killed it.” He said, “I want you to bring down the bass where you can barely, audibly hear it in the mix.” I said, “You’re kidding. Right?”
He said, “No. Bring it down.” I bring it down to that level and he says, “Now drop it down another 5 db.” I turned around and looked at [James] Hetfield and said, “He’s serious?” It just blew me away.
The second fuck-up might surprise some of you, although it never ended up coming into fruition. While a lot of Metallica fans give Bob Rock shit, he’s also the one voice the band would listen to during the recording of the self-titled album. In (I think) either this or this making-of documentary, the cameraman catches some verbal sparring between Ulrich and Rock over the levels of the guitars on the album. Rock, having just listened to the album in his car, made the executive decision to turn the guitar levels up to the displeasure of Ulrich. Rock screams something along the lines of, “Did you listen to it in your car?”, which leads to Rock getting his way. Thankfully, this one instance of imbalance of power saved one album from the clutches of one Lars Ulrich. The next two weren’t so lucky.
The troubled St. Anger was released in 2003 with one glaring issue: the drums. There’s a plethora of articles on the Web trying to understand why the snare drum sounded so bad. Ulrich called into “The Cane Show” on 92.3 K-Rock and went on a this insane rant over the sound.
“If that’s what it’s about to you… Like, people sit there and go, ‘I can’t listen to the record because of the way it sounds.’ It’s like, ‘Peace’. [laughing] It’s fine,” he said. “It sounds fine to me, and when I hear it, I love, and I know Kirk [Hammett] and James [Hetfield] feel pretty much the same way. And it’s sort of like, there’s four million people around the world that have bought this thing, and if nobody can listen to it, then there’s four million copies of it sitting around… I don’t know. It’s just kind of so weird to me… Especially, we were in Germany over the weekend… [imitating the German accent] ‘Vat’s this the snare sound?’ and ‘It’s very difficult to listen to the record with the snare sound.’ I go, ‘You know what? Let me paint a picture for you, OK?! Let’s flip this one around. Let’s say every hard rock record that came out had a snare sound like ‘St. Anger’, right? Then all of a sudden, METALLICA would put a record out that had a snare sound like, say, I don’t know, ‘The Black Album’, everybody would sit there and go, ‘What the fuck are they doing?’ ‘What’s with this fuckin’ ‘Black Album’ snare sound?’ ‘Why doesn’t it sound like the ‘St. Anger’…?” You know what I mean?! As soon as you do something that people are not quite used to… that’s the one thing about, like, hard rock audiences, especially over in Europe and stuff, they’re very, very conservative — everything has to be a specific way, and the minute you change on iota of it, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God. I can’t deal with it. My hard rock world is crumbling.’ OK, you can’t listen to the record because of the snare sound?’ You know what? Then don’t listen to the fuckin’ record. That’s the nature of being in METALLICA — we just sort of seem to get a reaction out of everything we do, but we’re pretty used to it. I’m fuckin’ psyched about the record, and so are a bunch of other people, so it’s all good.”
I think it’s safe to say that most Metallica fans don’t listen to it. So, there, Lars…
The most recent snafu was on the 2008 Death Magnetic, which was Metallica’s most triumphant album since 1991. It’s too bad it’s like listening to the band through someone crumpling up paper. Blabbermouth detailed the controversy, explaining that several articles from both the mainstream press and recording industry websites have discussed the album in context of the so-called “Loudness Wars,” a term used by UK publication The Guardian, which claims that the music industry is trying to make recordings as loud as possible mainly to stand out on radio. The result is “clipping distortion”, which you can read about here and furthermore here.
An audio clip then surfaced on YouTube comparing music from the Death Magnetic CD to tracks from the album used for Guitar Hero, which were prepared differently. (Death Magnetic is unlistenable on Spotify, IMO.)
And guess what? Lars also responded to this controversy. In an interview with Blender.com, Ulrich explained:
“Listen, there’s nothing up with the audio quality. It’s 2008, and that’s how we make records. Rick Rubin‘s whole thing is to try and get it to sound lively, to get it to sound loud, to get it to sound exciting, to get it to jump out of the speakers. Of course, I’ve heard that there are a few people complaining. But I’ve been listening to it the last couple of days in my car, and it sounds fuckin’ smokin’.
“Somebody told me about [people complaining that the Guitar Hero version of ‘Death Magnetic’ sounds better]. Listen, what are you going to do? A lot of people say [the CD] sounds great, and a few people say it doesn’t, and that’s OK. You gotta remember, when we put out ‘…And Justice for All’, people were going, ‘What happened to these guys, this record? There’s no bass on it. It sounds like it was recorded in a fuckin’ garage on an eight-track.’ And now ‘…And Justice for All’ is sort of the seminal Metallica record that supposedly influenced a whole generation of death-metal bands. The difference between back then and now is the Internet.
“The Internet gives everybody a voice, and the Internet has a tendency to give the complainers a louder voice. Listen, I can’t keep up with this shit. Part of being in Metallica is that there’s always somebody who’s got a problem with something that you’re doing: ‘James Hetfield had something for breakfast that I don’t like.’ That’s part of the ride.
“I will say that the overwhelming response to this new record has exceeded even our expectations as far as how positive it is. So I’m not gonna sit here and get caught up in whether [the sound] ‘clips’ or it doesn’t ‘clip.’ I don’t know what kind of stereos these people listen on. Me and James made a deal that we would hang back a little and not get in the way of whatever Rick’s vision was. That’s not to put it on him — it’s our record, I’ll take the hit, but we wanted to roll with Rick’s vision of how Metallica would sound.”
This writer only listens to the Guitar Hero version and wishes Metallica would remix both …and Justice for All and Death Magnetic.
Update: Multiple readers, including Jameson, wrote in with some exciting news that I was completely unaware of. “Update on the sound of ‘Death Magnetic’: the band has issued an updated mix of the album as a digital download. The version currently available on iTunes supercedes the previously-available copy at that retailer. It is an improvement over the sonics on the physical CD available at release. The copy currently available directly from the band is sourced from the same master. From what I gather, the version at Google Play has not been updated, nor has any currently-available commercial physical formats. It was kind of a quiet remaster (not sonically, but not widely-announced), though band reps have confirmed this on the band’s message boards.”
It’s time we fix the history behind Bob Rock’s involvement with Metallica. They chose this path, not him.
Rock gets all the shit and more – fans even have multiple petitions requesting his exile from working with the band – even though the band had made the decision to change their style for their self-titled release in 1991.
Rock altered Metallica’s working schedule and routine so much that the members swore never to work with him again. The animosity and tension between Metallica and Rock was documented in ‘A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica’ and ‘Classic Albums: Metallica – Metallica‘, documentaries that explore the intense recording process that resulted in ‘Metallica’. Years after the production, a petition signed by 1,500 fans was posted online in an attempt to encourage the band to prohibit Rock from producing Metallica albums, saying he had too much influence on the band’s sound and musical direction. Rock said the petition hurt his children’s feelings; he said, “sometimes, even with a great coach, a team keeps losing. You have to get new blood in there.” Despite the controversies between the band and Rock, he continued to work with Metallica through the 2003 album ‘St. Anger’.
Kirk Hammett confirms this as he reflected back on the look on their fan’s faces during live performances of their epic 10-minute long songs off …and Justice for All.
“We realized that the general consensus was that songs were too fucking long,” lead guitarist Kirk Hammett told Rolling Stone in 1991. “Everyone [in the crowd] would have these long faces, and I’d think, ‘Goddamn, they’re not enjoying it as much as we are.’ ” Hammett acknowledged that the band was becoming bored with the songs’ intricate arrangements, as well. “I remember getting offstage one night after playing ‘Justice’ and one of us saying, ‘Fuck, that’s the last time we ever play that fucking song!'”
What have we learned today? Metallica changed their length and sound, while Rock saved the album’s mix. I think history is showing more and more than he was actually just trying to save them from themselves.
Speaking of Rock’s influence on the band, there’s one really interesting backstory on the writing process of the self-titled Black album. In one of the aforementioned docs it was revealed that Metallica not only changed the length of their songs, but their composition. While earlier songs were constructed from the guitar up, Rock convinced the band to build their music from the drums on up, which will infinitely change how you listen to the album. It wasn’t until Death Magnetic (at the request of producer Rick Rubin) that they revisited their older compositions that made them who they are today.
Before entering the studio to record Ride the Lighting, Metallica collected ideas on “riff tape” recordings of various jam sessions, Wiki recounts. Hetfield and Ulrich went through the tapes and selected the strongest riffs to assemble into songs. Instruments were recorded separately, with Hetfield playing only rhythm guitar. Rasmussen, with the help of drum roadie Flemming Larsen, taught the basics of timing and beat duration to Ulrich, who had a tendency to increase speed and had little knowledge of rhythm theory. Drums were recorded in an empty warehouse at the back of the studio, which was not soundproof and caused reverberation.
Deceased bassist Cliff Burton introduced the basics of music theory to the rest of the band, according to Wiki, and had more input in the songwriting on Ride the Lightning. Instead of relying strictly on fast tempos as on its debut Kill ‘Em All, Metallica broadened its approach by employing acoustic guitars, extended instrumentals, and more complex harmonies. He showed Hetfield how to augment core notes with complementary counter-melodies and how basic guitar harmony worked, which reflected on the song compositions, according to Joel McIver’s 2009 “To Live Is To Die: The Life and Death of Metallica’s Cliff Burton”.
Speaking of Cliff Burton, who recorded Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets with the band before dying in a freak bus accident on Sept. 26, 1986, Kirk Hammett was supposed to be sleeping in his bed.
On the night of Sept. 26, 1986, Metallica were traveling between tour dates in Sweden when Burton and guitarist Kirk Hammett drew cards to decide who would get to choose a bunk. The bassist drew the Ace of Spades, and chose the bunk Hammett had been occupying. “I said fine, take my bunk,” the guitarist recalled in VH1’s Behind the Music. “I’ll sleep up front; it’s probably better anyway.” (source)
The driver claims to have hit a patch of ice, while the band insists he fell asleep driving. The band would enlist Jason Newsted to fill Burton’s role on the band’s next album, …and Justice for All.
A whopping three albums later, Metallica was still using music contributed by former guitarist, Dave Mustaine, who was kicked out before the recording of Kill ‘Em All.
Mustaine claimed he had co-written “Leper Messiah”, based on an old song called “The Hills Ran Red”. Hammett denied this, though admitting that a section incorporated ideas of Mustaine’s, Wiki explained.
“Even though Dave might claim that he wrote ‘Leper Messiah,’ he didn’t. There’s maybe a chord progression that was in that song, like, maybe 10 seconds that came from him — that, ironically, is just before the guitar solo. But he did not write ‘Leper Messiah’ at all. In fact, I remember being in the room when Lars came up with the main musical motif.”
Ironically, Mustaine took his credit in an interview on Rolling Stone earlier this week.
There’s certain riffs that you hear, and you just know who the songwriter is. And I’m not talking about just when I write. So there are certain parts of “Ride the Lightning” and “Leper Messiah” and the first album, all that stuff, you can tell little things that are similar with Megadeth’s guitar playing ’cause you know there’s so much you can do with an instrument. I think they did great with it.
The riff they’re referring to? It’s just before and after the guitar solo – or, an easier way to find it is to listen for the best part of the song.
It’s sort of fucked that Metallica was still using Mustaine’s riffs three albums in. No?
Kirk Hammett is one of the best guitar players in the world, and his solos are on another level, but did you know that Lars and James write most of the band’s music? In fact, Hammett doesn’t have a single writing credit on the band’s new album, Hardwired.
Hammett recently recalled the “devastating” time in 2014 he lost his phone containing hundreds of song ideas for the 10th record – which meant he “had to start at zero” again. But he admits he still found Metallica’s new songwriting plan a “very bitter pill to swallow.”
He adds: “For me, being in this band, I always want to contribute. I always have a lot of musical concepts and ideas to bring to the table. Obviously, that was not meant to be this time, and I had to accept that fact.
“So I focused on my solos, just making sure that my playing on the album was at its best – at its full potential. Hopefully I can bring my ideas to the next Metallica album. I just hope it’s not another eight years.”
Obviously, Hammett was a gun for hire on Kill ‘Em All, replacing a recently kicked out Dave Mustaine. If you dig through most of Metallica’s catalog, though, you’ll find that most of songs are credit to James and Lars, who wrote the majority of the riffs/songs. This is not to take anything away from Hammett, who wrote THE riff of all riffs for “Enter Sandman”, although video footage provides evidence that Lars is the one who contorted it into the majestic all-time great that it is.
Metallica is quite the anomaly…