How did the Metallica phenomenon begin? Around 1980, many hard rockers were baffled by recent trends in metal, a feeling further aggravated by the appearance of Eddie Van Halen on "Beat It" by Michael Jackson.
Enter Metallica. As a young band inspired by 70's hard rockers Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy, then refueled by the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) with its take-no-prisoners approach, Metallica, after their formation in 1981, crafted a new heavy metal sound, which fans would call speed-metal or thrash-metal. Bands like Megadeth, Slayer or Anthrax would soon follow the same direction. But Metallica would remain as the leader of this new league for years to come.
Rhythm guitarist / vocalist James Hetfield met drummer Lars Ulrich, who had placed an ad in a South California paper called The Recycler looking for musicians to play with, in the spring of 1981 and recorded some songs.
The twosome were joined by Dave Mustaine (lead guitar) and Ron McGovney (bass). Metallica (the band name was actually "stolen" by Lars from a friend of his who wanted to call a fanzine like that) began gaining a large word-of-mouth reputation, particularly in Europe. The band had recorded a demo called "No Life 'Til Leather", containing the songs "Hit The Lights", "Mechanix", "Phantom Lord", "Jump In The Fire", Motorbreath", "Seek & Destroy" and "Metal Militia". Soon after, Metallica got a record deal with Megaforce and recorded in New York. At this point, the band had also settled into a firm line-up, dropping bassist Ron McGovney for Cliff Burton and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine (who later founded Megadeth) for former Exodus picker Kirk Hammett. In fact, Dave Mustaine got kicked out of the band after having a rough fight with Hetfield.
Though they had initially wanted to call their 1983 debut "Metal Up Your Ass", the more eloquently titled "Kill 'Em All" (released in July 1983) was still enough to do the trick, selling over 300,000 copies, thanks to the blazing songs written largely by Hetfield and Ulrich. Interestingly, the version of "Hit The Lights" that kicks off the album is less like what we now call "thrash" than an embellishment on the high speed boogies of Motorhead and their NWOBHM counterparts.
In December 1983, Metallica start working on material for their second album "Ride The Lightning", which saw the foursome cut away the remaining blues-based touches and play pure thrash. However, Metallica purposely threw in a ballad, "Fade To Black", to keep pushing the envelope outward. The album was released in June 1984.
"Ride The Lightning" also gave a clearer illustration of Metallica's unusual recording style than the first set. The band recorded every instrument separately, sometimes even measure for measure. So what one hears on a Metallica album is not really a metal quartet playing together but a power trio-Hetfield, Burton and Ulrich-and a de facto "solo-specialist", Kirk Hammett, who
only plays leads. All the rhythm guitar parts are Hetfield, though in concert both players share rhythm duties.
Metallica's landmark 1986 tour opening for Ozzy Osbourne is surely one of the most important events in the history of thrash. Not only did it mark the commercial acceptance of Metallica and speed-metal, as it was in support of the Top 30 "Master Of Puppets" album, but it also showed heavy metal coming full circle, as Ozzy-the Godfather of metal-symbolically passed the heavy metal baton to Metallica.
Of course, the historical significance of the Ozzy tour would be nil without "Master Of Puppets" (released in March 1986), an album many consider the greatest thrash recording ever made! From it came such classics as "Battery", "The Thing That Should Not Be" or "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)". As the lead guitarist, Hammett naturally got most of the attention from guitar fans, who marveled at his manic, speed-picked solos on "Battery" and "Damage Inc.", among others. His recorded tone was vastly improved from previous Metallica efforts, making his Strat and Flying V-powered speed runs easier to hear and his nervous, Tony Iommi-like vibrato all the more unnerving.
Despite the tremendous breakthrough Metallica made with "Master Of Puppets", the Ozzy shows and the public acceptance of thrash, 1986 still ended on a grim note, as Cliff Burton was killed in a tragic tour bus accident during the Scandinavian leg of the tour.
But Metallica realized that Burton would have wanted them to carry on and that they did, picking up Jason Newsted from the rising hardcore act, Floatsam and Jetsam. And to prove their intentions, the revitalized foursome jumped into the studio in 1987 to bang out some guitar-drenched cover tunes by such band favorites as Diamond Head, Killing Joke, and the Misfits. These sessions were released as "The $5.98 E.P./Garage Days Re-Revisited", a mini album that was well received by fans and, surprisingly, even by critics, who appreciated the band's non mainstream tastes and studio spontaneity.
Two years after "Master Of Puppets" forever changed the rules of heavy metal, Metallica reappeared with "...and Justice For All", an album which blasted into the Top10, earned them a write-up in the prestigious New York Times Magazine, and confirmed every rave write-up or word-of-mouth recommendation ever given to the band. Despite a noted lack of bottom end, muscular tracks like "Blackened", "The Shortest Straw", and "Dyers Eve" showed the central Hetfield/Ulrich writing combination to be as potent as ever, while "One" was nominated for a Grammy in 1989. Metallica performed the song at the awards show, but laughably lost out to Jethro Tull.
In 1992, the band was back with "Metallica" (or "The Black Album"). By paring down the arrangements and coercing Hetfield to actually sing (rather than his typical grunt 'n roar), the Black Album pushed Metallica over the top. The trigger was the full bore rocker "Enter Sandman", which featured a punishing bass-string hook, a typically spazzed-out Hammett solo, and some seriously beefed up drum tracks (thanks to producer Bob Rock).
More powerhouse hits emerged from the disc: the ballad "Nothing Else Matters" (with a superb Hetfield Solo), "The Unforgiven", "Wherever I May Roam", among other strong album tracks. The album, selling over ten million copies, and ensuing tours proved to be the blockbuster metal event of the early '90s (remember the snake pit?).
In 1996, Metallica reacted to the alternative/grunge movement with "Load", which featured lighter guitar textures and grooves. Thanks to a highly controversial cover, a new logo and new musical style, longtime fans jeered the album's '90s-rock fare, including the fairly heavy single "Until It Sleeps". But a generation of young fans raised on Nirvana and Pearl Jam responded favorably, and "Load" proved to be another big hit, as did the following tour.
And in November 1997, Metallica released "ReLoad", a new studio album filled with tracks recorded during the original "Load" sessions, which was supposed to be a double-CD. Reactions to it have been generally positive, as the songs have definitely become more elaborate again.
In November 1998, Metallica issue a third volume of the "Garage Days" series, entitled "Garage Inc.", which will include cover songs from the original "Garage Days Revisited" and the famous "Garage Days Re-Revisited", as well as many covers previously only released as B-sides on various singles.
After the "Loads", this seems to be a return to the sound and music of the thrash metal era!!
The next milestone was then to be set on April 24th 1999, when Metallica played togehter with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, directed by Michael Kamen. It's not been the first time that Rock and Classic would meet, but definitely the best! The show was later then released as a double CD and a video. A must-see experience!