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Metallica Biography

Metallica Biography

Metallica is an American heavy metal band of the 1980s, 1990s and the 2000s.

Formation and early work

Metallica was formed in Los Angeles, California in 1981 by drummer and former tennis protege Lars Ulrich, and guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield, who met after each had separately placed classified advertisements in the American publication The Recycler. The band got their name when drummer Lars Ulrich was helping a friend to pick out a name for the magazine he was planning to use to promote Thrash metal and the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) bands. Ulrich's friend came up with a suggestion: "Metallica." Lars quickly suggested another and decided to use that name for the band he and James Hetfield had just started.

The band's first demo, "No Life Till Leather", featured Lloyd Grant on guitar; Grant was soon replaced by Dave Mustaine, the guitarist and singer who later went on to form Megadeth. Guitarist Jef Warner and Bassist Ron McGovney were brief members, and Mustaine soon departed due to personal tensions with the other members. Bassist Cliff Burton was the next to join, and would remain a member until his untimely death in 1986. Mustaine was replaced by guitarist Kirk Hammett, who first performed in concert with Metallica in 1983.

The group relocated to San Francisco and eventually built a healthy local following via word-of-mouth and live performance bootlegs which, somewhat ironically in light of later events, were encouraged by the band. After traveling to New York in 1983 at the urging of local promoters Jon and Marsha Zazula, the band signed with the Zazula's brand new label, MegaForce Records, and who would release their first two albums. The first album, Kill Em All set the template that they would follow throughout the 1980s, strongly featuring the heavy vocals and rhythm guitar of James Hetfield. The next, Ride The Lightning expanded and improved their form with longer songs featuring both instrumental pyrotechnics and lyrics which rose above some of the more puerile songs on Kill 'Em All. Perhaps the most significant feature of Ride the Lightning was the inclusion of "Fade to Black," a slower, more interior song that mused on the thoughts of someone contemplating suicide. Indeed "Fade to Black" is the first such song in a tradition of these kinds of songs that would come to include "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" and the band's first single to receive a video, "One." The inclusion of these songs distinguished Metallica from other speed metal bands such as Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth.

Metallica's formation was seen by some fans as a direct reaction to the prevalent rock and roll music of the early 1980s. Inspired by bands such as Diamond Head and Saxon, the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal, as well as hardcore punk like the Misfits and Discharge, Metallica were single-minded in their desire to break the grip of soft metal on heavy metal fans.

Popular success

Signing to a major label Elektra Records in 1986, Metallica went on to produce another album, Master Of Puppets, regarded by some of their fans as their best work. The same year the band's bassist Cliff Burton perished in a coach-accident during a tour. The band eventually found a new bassist in Jason Newsted. As a preliminary effort with their new bassist, Metallica produced in 1987 The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited. This album continued the band's interest in recording obscure songs by relatively obscure (to American audiences) British metal and hardcore bands. In 1988 they recorded ...And Justice For All, an album full of some of the band's most structurally complex music. Critics regarded ...And Justice For All as a milestone in the history of metal, noting its intense focus on topics related to personal control and independence. Importantly, many writers also celebrated this album (and, by extension, Metallica itself) for the way it appeared to divorce hard rock from the blues in ways bands such as Mötley Crüe or Poison resisted.

In 1990, their self-titled album, Metallica (popularly known as "The Black Album") broadened the band's horizon again. Although still heavy metal, the record was co-produced with Bob Rock to create a more commercially viable product, and with a black cover that was a sly nod to Spinal Tap. The album featured the hits "Enter Sandman", which exemplified the radically pared-down style of songwriting across the album, and "Nothing Else Matters", a more plaintive, acoustic ballad that outraged some of their more hardcore fans. The album was a massive crossover hit, bringing Metallica firmly into the mainstream, and it was with this album that band first encountered accusations of having "sold out." Charges of selling out would follow Metallica throughout the 1990s.

Burnt out from almost three years of touring upon the Black Album's success, Metallica took a respite until late 1995, when they came back into the studio with a new zest for recording. Ulrich and Hetfield, both of whom were very strict on Hammett and Newsted in previous endeavours, claimed to have loosened the reins somewhat. Some have said the albums, Load (1996) and Reload (1997) were alternative rock-influnced, but others disagree, citing the band's hard touring, hard knocks, and hard liquor as factors in the "softness" of these albums. "Alcoholica's" reputation was catching up to them; they received flak for cutting their hair, a symbol many hardcore thrash fans saw as an earmark of Metallica going soft, but as Metallica themselves say, "The hair doesn't make the band."

In 1998 Metallica compiled a double CD called Garage, Inc, featuring eleven newly recorded cover songs as well as gathering all of the band's previous cover songs. The first CD contained the newly recorded tracks, ranging from obvious Metallica influences Danzig and Sabbath to more unexpected choices such as Bob Seger and Nick Cave. The second CD consisted of previously released covers including the Garage Days Re-Revisited EP, which had become a hard to find collectors item, and a collection of b-sides from Metallica singles going as far back as 1984. While many fans appreciated the chance to get a hold of rare Metallica recordings, others saw this as a cyncical method of releasing an album without having to write any new material.

On the 21st and 22nd of April 1999 Metallica recorded a live show with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, led by Michael Kamen. Kamen, who had previously worked with the band on the black album, (specifically the track "Nothing Else Matters"), had approached the band shortly after with the idea of pairing Metallica's music with a classical orchestra. Metallica played a collection of tracks dating as far back as Ride The Lightning, in addition to composing two new tracks for the event. The recording was eventually released as the album S&M (a word play on Symphony and Metallica, as well as being the common abbreviation for Sadism and Masochism) in November 1999 on both CD and VHS/DVD.

Napster controversy

Lars Ulrich found himself a new enemy, alienating himself further from the long-haired hard rockers and anti-Classical Thrashers in the form of every teenage boy on the face of American in his clash with the internet file sharing network Napster, claiming it was "sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is." They managed to set forth action that eventually led to the fall of Napster. Some have commented that Metallica's slogan could easily be "Destroying competition for 20 years." Metallica successfully took the evil sheen and feathered hair out of thrash music, pushing the competition to another level of success.

Jason leaves

Before they went into the studio to record their next album in 2001, Jason Newsted left the band due ostensibly to "the physical damage I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love", but subsequent interviews with Jason and the remaining members reveal that Jason's intent to release his Echobrain side-project was a main cause of friction (or perhaps the catalyst for other, deeper rooted problems).

This signalled a low-point in recent Metallica history, with James entering rehab due to "alcoholism and other addictions" in July, 2001. The band continued as an incomplete 3-piece throughout the recording of their next album, with producer Bob Rock roped into bass duties for the recording sessions. Metallica eventually found their newest member, ex-Suicidal Tendencies bassist Rob Trujillo, who was at the time playing with Ozzy Osbourne's band. In an interesting turn of fate, Jason Newsted, who had joined Canadian heavy metal band Voivoid, filled Rob's shoes playing bass for Ozzy during the Ozzfest 2003 tour (which Voivoid also supported).

In 2003, Metallica released their ninth studio album, St. Anger, which debuted at number one on the album charts but has also received harsh criticism for its underproduced sound (notably the sound of the drum snare), overwrought songs and lack of guitar solos.

The band has, to date, received 6 Grammy Awards.


Band Members

Former Band Members


Metallica's albums (in chronological order):



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