Metallica are finally on their way to India. They of the irrepressible riffage and thrash metal divinity, yes. In a more existential scheme of things, their concerts here might be the central point in the lives of several thousands of fans who’ll probably be seeing them for the very first time.
They’ve been at it for a while; 30 years, to be exact. Sometime in ’82, when Metallica got to a recording studio in Rochester, NY, for the first time ever to record their debut album Kill ‘Em All, the glory wasn’t guaranteed. It did come eventually, up there in the lights, with polished Grammys to show for it too.
Along the way, though, were twists of fate. Not necessarily course corrections, but it took them down their own road to fame, money, tabloid headlines and yes, ignominy. Whatever it was, it was one ride we’re glad we stood by.
Master of Puppets
The funny thing about creating something as grand as your imagination is, if you succeed, you’d be hard pressed to do any better. With Master Of Puppets, Metallica achieved the kind of technical and orchestral compactness that garage bands playing Judas Priest covers could only dream of. All this, while still kicking maximum ass and never letting up on the proverbial blood and sweat.
Before this, they’d been a roiling underground phenomenon. This was them breaking through the ground beneath your feet.
Cliff Burton’s death
Cliff Burton dying was rank unfortunate. The circumstances, and the man they claimed, definitely made it one of music’s much sobbed about tragedies. A large part of that sorrow, of course, was having to acknowledge the loss to Metallica, and music in general, with the passing of one of the – if not the – best bassists of his time.
For posterity, he was caught under the Metallica tour bus in Sweden in ’86, after the driver lost control of it and it went turtle. The other three – Hammett, Ulrich and Hetfield – escaped barely bruised, but Cliff Burton got trapped inside on an upper bunk.
Several years later, Metallica released a tribute compilation, called Cliff ‘Em All, of unseen footage from Burton’s three years in Metallica. It reached No.2 on Billboards Video Charts.
What’s with the hair, dude?
Metallica have stayed true to their thrash metal ethos, more or less. The shift to a slower-paced, considered version of metal, with more concerted songwriting, was a step towards mainstream that was executed perfectly under the guidance of long-time producer, Bob Rock.
But then, the fad grew. Soon, before you knew it, James Hetfield got a haircut too. It was a defining moment, because since then, Metallica haven’t really been metal.
It’s all more seemingly contrived, more rehearsed and often, sold to the highest bidder. Maybe, it was going to Lollapallooza in 1996 and hanging out with all those hippies.
When Napster ran riot on college broadbands across America at the turn of the century, all it needed was someone who’d be okay with playing the bad guy. Metallica, led by Lars Ulrich, stepped up to that particular dusty plate.
They did what they had to do, with a vengeance. Lawsuits against Napster apart, Metallica even hired security agencies to track down the geeks responsible for sharing their catalogue online and have them blocked from Napster services for good.
It was all crystallized in the photo-op of Jason Newsted lugging the 60,000-page document, containing the dirt on 300,000 of Napster users, to their offices. These kids, of course, would’ve just been ordinary Metallica fans, before the band decided to have them systemically excommunicated.
Again, subjectivity rules. For many, Dave Mustaine’s firing might’ve made it on that list too, because they figure him antagonizing Metallica throughout, with the formation of Megadeth and beyond, kept the band sharp with a point to prove. Some would like to even reminisce about Newsted’s sudden departure.
It probably all made a little difference. I just happened to run out of time.