History On Metallica Essay, Research Paper
The History of Metallica
College English II
As the nineteen seventies came to a close so did many of the musical styles of that decade. While some faced what seemed to be extinction others went through a sort of evolutionary process. The bands that were at the top of the heavy metal ladder during this time were such acts as Motorhead, Iron Maiden, and Tygers of Pan Tang. These groups would be just some of what the new crop of heavy metal bands would consider inspirational. This style, which is typically referred to as “The New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” would fuel and empower many acts to stardom. (Marshall 3)
At around this time, almost halfway across the world, Lars Ulrich got his first drum set in his home in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was eleven years old and had just been to his first heavy metal concert. The entire idea of being a drummer was viewed as just being a hobby, his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a professional tennis player. As nineteen eighty came around Lars’ parents decided that he needed to be in a different environment in order to hone his tennis skills. They decided to move to Newport Beach, California because they believed the sunny climate would be more conductive to Lars’ tennis practices. (Doughton 13)
As these events were taking place in Lars’ life halfway around the world James Hetfield, the future front man of Metallica, was attending Downey High School in Downey, California. This would be the beginning of a bumpy road for James. In his second year of high school his mother died of cancer. His parents, being Christian Scientists, shunned medical treatment and this caused a deep resentment in James in the upcoming years. After his mother’s death James was forced to move to La Brea with his brother-in-law. This was only temporary; he would stay there until he finished high school. After graduation James moved back to Downey and was offered a place to live by his friend Ron McGovney. Ron’s mother owned several houses, and the vacant one James would be moving into was doubled as a rehearsal space since Ron was learning how to play the bass guitar. (Doughton 15-16)
As nineteen eighty one rolled around both James and Lars were looking for musicians that shared the same taste in music they each had. Lars decided to place an advertisement in a South California paper called “The Recycler.” The only other ad that came close was James’ and so the two decided to meet. Their first practice together was anything but smooth, considering the fact that Lars was still learning and could not even keep his drum set upright. (Krgin 51) Even though Lars was clearly unprepared to make a career out of music he had made some connections. He befriended a man named Brian Slagel, who was in the process of forming his own record company named Metal Blade Records. Brian was in the middle of doing a compilation project where his goal was to expose up and coming bands to the general public. He pretty much guaranteed Lars a spot on his project if Lars could form a band. Lars got the information back to James and so they decided to give it a try. James, Lars, Ron, and a friend, guitarist Lloyd Grant went into a recording studio and recorded what would be Metallica’s first song, “Hit The Lights.” Slagel was clearly impressed and did not hesitate to place the song on his compilation project. (Crocker 25-26)
Soon thereafter though several small problems became evident. First of all James did not feel that Lloyd could keep up very well. James turned to another friend, Dave Mustaine, to fill in the void and Dave soon took over the role of lead guitarist for Metallica. Another problem was that Ron did not really want to play and had to be coaxed into helping James, Lars, and Dave record a few more new songs. Ron stayed but was not very enthusiastic about the situation. The recording in question was finished in April of nineteen eighty-two and became very popular in the underground metal scene. This led to another demo recording being released called “No Life Till Leather,” which caught on even better than the first one. (Doughton 19-22)
An important moment in the band’s history came in August of nineteen eighty-two. James and Lars were in attendance at a club called “Whiskey-A-Go-Go” where they saw an amazingly talented bass player named Cliff Burton. Both almost immediately pursued Cliff, they saw him as the missing piece in what would otherwise be a remarkable band. Cliff was not as optimistic as the other two and held out for a while. It was not until the end of that year that Cliff agreed under one condition, Metallica would have to relocate from Los Angeles to San Francisco. This was not a problem to James, Lars, or Dave considering that Los Angeles was the center of a totally different genre of music. The band moved to San Francisco in December of nineteen eighty-two and, in the process, parted ways with Ron McGovney. (Krgin 52-53)
Change still seemed to be the vibe that surrounded the band. In April of nineteen eighty three the band got a call from a heavy metal producer in New Jersey named Johnny Zazula. He was interested in Metallica and wanted to produce their first album. The band enthusiastically accepted the invitation and set to go across the country from San Francisco to New York City in order to record an album. Along the way though problems became apparent between Dave Mustaine and other members of the crew helping them, including fellow band members. The main problem was Dave’s alcoholism. He would get drunk and cause trouble with almost anyone and everyone. James and Lars could not figure out any alternatives. A few days before Metallica was set to arrive in New York Lars just happened to be listening to a band called Exodus and was impressed by the guitar work done on it. He and James soon decided that Exodus’ guitarist, Kirk Hammett, would be perfect for the band. One day after arriving in New York the band decided to formally relieve Mustaine of his duties. He was sent back to California and Kirk Hammett flew in to New York the next day. (Doughton 39-41)
Almost immediately after the change the band went into a recording studio in Rochester, New York and recorded their first album, “Kill ‘Em All.” In the first two weeks of sales the album sold twenty thousand copies. This was an impressive feat considering Metallica was on an independent label and did not get that much exposure. They followed this success with the “Kill ‘Em All for One” tour, which helped Metallica create a following. Afterwards the band left the United States and headed to Lars’ home in Copenhagen, Denmark to begin work on what would be their second album, “Ride the Lightning.” This album became even more popular than its predecessor, mainly because a part of it created some controversy. A song called “Fade to Black” had lyrics that some viewed as pro-suicide. An excerpt of the song includes:
Things not what they used to be;
Missing one inside of me.
Deathly lost this can’t be real;
Cannot stand this hell I feel.
Emptiness is filling me;
To the point of agony.
Growing darkness taking dawn;
I was me but now he’s gone.
Even though many critics deemed this as pro-suicide the band vehemently refused being labeled this. Soon after this was made public hundreds of thousands of fans wrote in saying how the song helped them and in effect steered them away from suicide. The public had spoken and they were in favor of Metallica. (Doughton 56-57)
With public notoriety on their side Metallica decided to launch their first ever major European tour. It was a huge success and each night the band drew close to an average of thirteen hundred fans per show. They then returned to the United States and finished up their tour in mid nineteen eighty-five. Metallica then got some well-deserved rest before returning to the studio to begin work on their third album. They decided to go back to Copenhagen for the recordings. After months and months of work their third album, “Master of Puppets” is released in March of nineteen eighty-six. This album is the one acknowledged by many as the one that put Metallica into the mainstream scene. Various problems, though, would soon surface as the band prepared to go back on tour. (Krgin 57)
Shortly before one of their first shows on their latest tour James Hetfield, lead singer and rhythm guitarist, broke his wrist while skateboarding. This did not seem a big deal and the band got a friend, John Marshall, to fill in while James healed. This event though was a bit of foreshadowing of what would happen later on in the tour. About three months later, in September of nineteen eighty-six, tragedy struck Metallica. While the band was on the way to Copenhagen Metallica’s bus overturned. James, Lars, and Kirk all suffered some bumps and bruises but were utterly shocked when they finally exited the bus. Outside they saw bassist Cliff Burton’s body lying limp underneath the bus wreckage. Cliff was tossed out of the window by the bunk where he slept when the bus overturned and was caught underneath. Totally discouraged and in mourning, Metallica returned to the United States to consider the future of their band. (Doughton 75-78)
After a few months of heavy soul-searching Metallica decided to begin auditions for a new bassist. The auditions proved to be an amazing test of patience on the band considering what they had been through in the previous months. It took Metallica about two months of auditions to finally find a bass player they could deem acceptable. This bassist was a Phoenix, Arizona resident named Jason Newsted. Jason, who was formerly in a band called Floatsam and Jetsam, felt this was an opportunity he could not pass up and so he eagerly accepted. After playing a few shows the band decided to give Jason one last test. The four members of Metallica entered a studio and recorded a six track C.D. that was composed entirely of cover songs. This proved to be successful and the band decided to record a new album of original material relatively soon thereafter. (Krgin 58)
Right before entering the studio Metallica decided that they should pay some sort of tribute to their former bassist and friend. In late nineteen eighty seven they released a video entitled “Cliff ‘Em All.” It was a dedication to the late Cliff Burton and was composed entirely of bootleg videos shot by fans during Metallica’s early days. About a month after this video’s release Metallica went into the studio and recorded their fourth album entitled “…And Justice For All.” By this time their previous album, “Master of Puppets,” had gone platinum and the public was waiting eagerly for the new material. “…And Justice For All” was released in September of nineteen eighty-eight and sold very well. The band was even nominated for a Grammy Award that year. This still would not be their greatest achievement. (Crocker 125-131)
After what seemed to be an endless tour the band got together in the recording studio in early October of nineteen ninety to record their fifth album. The approach they took for this album was different than all the others since the songs were already written; all they needed to do was record them. This seemed to be a simple task but their new producer, Bob Rock, turned them into perfectionists which led to the completion of the album a year later. It proved to be worth the wait. Within a week of release Metallica’s fifth album, which was self-titled but better known as “The Black Album,” sold over six hundred thousand copies in the United States alone and debuted as number one on the Billboard Charts. This has proven to be Metallica’s best selling album to date. (Krgin 59)
The band went on a two year world tour to support the album, which resulted in even more success. As of today “The Black Album” has sold over eighteen million copies worldwide and was still on the Billboard Top One Hundred five years after it was released. This album brought Metallica into what is commonly known as “super stardom.” They were now being compared to the same bands they idolized a little more than a decade ago. After they finished touring to support this album they went on what seemed to be a three-year hiatus. It was not until nineteen ninety-six that they would resurface in the public’s eyes. (Crocker 166-168)
When Metallica decided to make their “return” there was something considerably different. The “headbanging boys from San Francisco” were now clean-cut and had a totally new sound to match. They had now strayed from the genre of heavy metal into what is now categorized as pop music. Many loyal fans seemed to be disgusted yet this did not reflect in their record sales. “Load” was released in nineteen ninety six and, although it did not get the same reception “The Black Album” had, it did fairly well sale-wise and eventually sold four million copies. The band then joined the bill on the alternative music festival “Lollapalooza.” This was far from what they were used to doing but the band wanted to go through a change. (Fricke 33-37)
After “Lollapalooza” and a tour of their own Metallica decided to go back to the studio and finish work on their seventh album. A little more than a year after the release of “Load” Metallica released the follow-up album entitled “Re-Load.” This album had as much impact as “Load” but the general public was prepared and knew what to expect. “Load” and “Re-Load” are two albums that go together perfectly based on song structure and musical style. It is basically a softer approach to the type of music that Metallica has played their entire career. (Smith 44-45)
Changes occur throughout one’s life for various reasons. Whether they are for the better or for the worse takes some time to be determined. All the changes that Metallica have gone through seem to have been for the better. Even though some were more painful than others, these changes were key in their survival and evolution into today’s hard rock and heavy metal acts. Many critics in today’s world regard Metallica as a legendary band, compared to the likes of Led Zeppelin from the seventies. One thing is for sure, Metallica has left an indelible mark in today’s music world.
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Smith, Mike. “Unloaded.” Livewire August 1997: 42-49