Metallica is undoubtedly one the most successful, electric and influential bands in heavy metal; and rock-n-roll in general. For decades they have been pumping razor sharp riffs and grooves, forging their path to the status of living metal gods during their storied career. Whether you like them, love them, despise them or feel indifferent towards them, Metallica has influenced every metal heads life. You see, if not for Metallica, heavy metal probably would not have become as accepted as it is in mainstream culture. If you are a heavy metal or hard rock fan or musician, Metallica has influenced you or you favorite band or your favorite bands band. So no matter how you may feel about these heavy metal mavens, Metallica has certainly been an important aspect of all metal-heads existence!
In late 1981, Lars Ulrich (drums) placed an ad in the local Los Angeles newspaper The Recycler. One of the people who responded to responded was James Hetfield (lead vocals, guitar). After a few months, Ulrich placed another ad in the publication, which Dave Mustaine (guitar) responded. After seeing his top of the line guitar gear, Hetfield and Ulrich accepted Mustaine into the band. The band added bassist Ron McGoveny in 1982 and recorded its first demo, Power Metal. While attending a show at the Whiskey a Go Go in West Hollywood, Ulrich and Hetfield saw a performance by Trauma, which featured bassist Cliff Burton. The two were awed by Burton’s use of a wah-wah pedal while playing bass guitar, and immediately asked him to join the band. The band, namely Ulrich and Hetfield, wanted to displace McGoveny because they felt that he really didn’t contribute to the creative; instead he just followed and did what he was told. At first, Burton did not want to join Metallica, but later in the year agreed under the condition that the band relocate to the San FranciscoBay area. After having struggles to find financing for their full length debut, concert promoter Johnny “Z” Zazula borrowed money to produce the album and signed Metallica to his label, Megaforce Records.
Just prior to recording their debut album, Metal Up Your Ass, in Rochester, New York, the band decided to fired Mustaine due to drug and alcohol abuse and violent behavior on April 11, 1983. They flew Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett as Mustaine’s replacement. Mustaine went on to found Megadeth and often vocalized his disdain for Hammett in interviews. The band changed the name of their debut studio album from Metal Up Your Ass to Kill ‘Em All due to conflicts with the label and distributor over the original name. Kill ‘Em All released on July 25, 1983 featuring the singles “Jump in the Fire” and “Whiplash”, as well as the know fan favorite classic “Seek and Destroy”. Though not a major success, the album did crack the Billboard 200 chart, peaking at 155. Kill ‘Em All has been certified triple Platinum by the RIAA.
In July 1984, Metallica released their sophomore effort, Ride the Lighting. The album peaked at 100 on the Billboard 200 and has been certified six time Platinum. Ride the Lighting received great critical acclaim. Q magazine gave the album 5 out of 5 stars, stating: “[Ride the Lighting] reaffirms their status as the pre-eminent metal band of the modern era….They broke with the conventions of thrash metal to record the genre’s first power ballad in ‘Fade to Black’.” Kerrang said of Ride the Lighting, “[The album included] melody, maturity and musical intelligence. It was these traits which helped them broaden metal’s scope.” The company in charge of manufacturing the album pressed 400 misprints, with the album cover being green, instead of the intended blue. These misprints are considered collectibles.
Metallica’s third studio album, Master of Puppets, was released February 24, 1986. It was recorded at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark. The album peaked at number 29 on the Billboard charts and has been certified six times Platinum. Many fans and critics consider this to be Metallica’s greatest album, with the title track being considered their greatest sing as well. Steve Huey of Allmusic even noted that some critics consider Master of Puppets to be the best metal album of all time. The song featured a parody of the PMRC’s “explicit lyrics” warning labels, by including an octagonal label stating that the only track you won’t want to play is Damage, Inc. due to its frequent use of F-words and the other songs were void of six of the seven of George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words. The title track was ranked number 51 on The Greatest Guitar Solos from Guitar World. In 2006, the album was voted the fourth “greatest guitar album of all time” in Guitar World. In March 2007, the guitar magazine Total Guitar ranked it in the 100 greatest riffs of all time and the main riff of the album’s title track was ranked number one.
On September 27, 1986, during the European leg of Metallica’s Damage, Inc. Tour, members drew cards to see which bunk of the tour bus they would sleep in. Burton won and chose to sleep in Hammett’s bunk. Around dawn near Dörarp, Sweden, the bus driver lost control and skidded, which caused the bus to flip several times. Ulrich, Hammett, and Hetfield sustained no serious injuries; however, bassist Burton was pinned under the bus and was killed. Hetfield recalls, “I saw the bus lying right on him. I saw his legs sticking out. I freaked. The bus driver, I recall, was trying to yank the blanket out from under him to use for other people. I just went, ‘Don’t fucking do that!’ I already wanted to kill the [bus driver]. I don’t know if he was drunk or if he hit some ice. All I knew was, he was driving and Cliff wasn’t alive anymore.” Burton’s death left Metallica’s future in doubt. The three remaining members decided that Burton would want them to carry on, and with the Burton family’s blessings, the band sought a replacement.
The band went on to hold auditions for Burton’s replacement. After seeing about forty bassists, including Hammett’s childhood friend Les Claypool of Primus, the band choose James Newsted, formerly of Flotsam and Jetsam. Newsted impressed the band members by learning Metallica’s entire setlist. With Newsted manning the low end, Metallica went on to release Garage Days Re-Revisited (1987), an all covers EP, and …And Justice for All (1988), their first studio album since Burton’s death.
…And Justice for All featured dark lyrical concepts based upon political and legal injustice. The musical arrangements were particularly complex for a thrash metal album, closely resembling progressive metal. The album peaked at number 8 on the Billboard 200 and has been certified eight times Platinum by the RIAA. It features classics such as “One” and “Harvester of Sorrow”.
Metallica released four my albums with Newsted: Metallica (aka the Black Album) (1990), Load (1996), ReLoad (1997), the cover album Garage Inc. (1998) and S&M (1999), which was a live recording with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra conducted by Michael Kamen (Kamen worked with producer Bob Rock on “Nothing Else Matters”.
As plans were being made to enter the recording studio, Newsted left the band on January 17, 2001. His statement revealed his departure was based on “private and personal reasons, and the physical damage I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love.” The band replaced Newsted with Robert Trujillo, formerly of Suicidal Tendencies and Ozzy Osbourne. They went on to release St. Anger (2003), Death Magnetic (2008) and Lulu (2011), a collaboration with singer-songwriter Lou Reed. The band plans on releasing a tenth studio album in early 2014.
Metallica has influenced and inspired countless metal and hard rock musicians; including: Mark Tremonti of Creed and Alter Bridge, Bullets For My Valentine, drummer Shannon Larkin of Godsmack, Robb Flynn of Machine Head, Avenged Sevenfold, Adema, Corey Beaulieu and Matt Heafy of Trivium, Korn and Mike Mushok of Staind.
Whatever Metallica has in store for the future, even if it does not live up to their legendary expectations, it will undoubtedly be good for the heavy metal genre. And as evidence of their 2009 Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame induction, they have already proven their unparalleled contributions to metal and rock music. So no matter how you personal feel about the band, its members, what has happened throughout their career and their songs, you have to ask yourself the question: where would heavy metal music be without Metallica?