Metallica is a thrash metal band from San Francisco that pioneered the thrash metal movement of the 80’s. Metallica are widely regarded as the most successful heavy metal band, and experienced massive crossover success in the 90’s with their albums Metallica (The Black Album), Load, and ReLoad. The original lineup of Metallica was James Hetfield (vocals, rhythm guitar), Dave Mustaine (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ron McGovney (bass), and Lars Ulrich (drums, backing vocals). McGovney was later replaced by legendary bassist Cliff Burton.
Metallica have drawn influence from Motorhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Mercyful Fate, Black Sabbath, and Diamond Head. In particular, the band has stated that Diamond Head was one of their primary influences, covering “Am I Evil” on Garage Inc., and playing the song live on many live concerts.
Originally based in Los Angeles, the band moved to San Francisco to differentiate themselves from the glam metal movement that was gaining a foothold in Southern California (and also as part of a request from Burton after the band courted him to join). After garnering a following in San Francisco, the band planned to work on their debut album, then titled Metal Up Your Ass. Dave Mustaine was fired for drug and alcohol abuse just prior to the recording of the album, though his writing contributions to the first album were significant. Mustaine, who went on to found thrash band Megadeth, also receives songwriting credits on the band’s sophomore album, Ride the Lightning. Mustaine was replaced by Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett.
In July 1983, Metallica released their debut album, retitled to Kill ‘Em All after being urged by record label Megaforce. “Whiplash” and “Jump in the Fire” were officially released as singles, though the album is better known for “Seek and Destroy.” It received little attention at first, but built an underground following for the band which allowed them to record their sophomore album, Ride the Lightning.
Ride the Lightning was recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1984. Released the same year, it reached #100 on the Billboard 200, and featured the single “Creeping Death.” Later, the album would be best known for the title track, “Fade to Black,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Mustaine, though not in the band at the time of the album’s release, received writing credits on the songs “Call of the Ktulu” and “Ride the Lightning.”
In 1984, while touring behind Ride the Lightning, the band was signed to Elektra Records. Their third album, the legendary Master of Puppets, was released in March, 1986, and went gold months later. The lone single from the album was “Master of Puppets,” though almost every track from this album is played live by the band, while “Sanitarium” receives significant radio airplay. This was the last studio album to feature the late bassist Cliff Burton. Master of Puppets is considered to be the band’s magnum opus, and one of the best heavy metal albums of all time.
While touring in support of Master of Puppets on the Damage INC. tour, the band visited Sweden on September 27, 1986. While traveling through the backroads betweeen Stockholm and Copenhagen, the bus started skidding, swerving, and the bus started to flip over. Cliff Burton was thrown out the window, and the bus landed on him. The three other band members were left unscathed. The bus was hoisted up by a crane to retrieve Burton, who was unresponsive, but the crane slipped, and the bus landed on top of Burton once again. This tragic turning point in Metallica’s history left the band with the decision whether to continue on without Cliff, or to dissolve the band. Ultimately, they decided to continue on, with the Burton family’s blessing. They found a replacement with Flotsam and Jetasam’s bassist Jason Newsted. With Newsted, the band finished their Damage INC. tour in early 1987.
In August 1987, Metallica released their EP titled The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited. It went platinum, and was the first album to feature Jason Newsted on bass, and the first album without Cliff Burton. It features five covers of NWOBHM songs, punk, and hardcore.
In early 1988, the band started to record demos for their next full release album. Initially, the band worked with Guns N’ Roses producer Mike Clink, but wound up with longtime Metallica producer Flemming Rasmussen. …And Justice For All was released on August 27, 1988, eventually receiving 8 times platinum status. The album is credited as their most progressive work, with multiple riffs, 8 minute songs, and complex solos throughout. It has been noted for poor production, thin drum sounds, and virtually no bass, at behest of Hetfield and Ulrich. Unofficial mixes have appeared online that feature heavier, audible bass lines. The singles from the album were “Harvester of Sorrow,” “Eye of the Beholder,” and “One.” Metallica’s first ever music video was produced for the song “One,” which has remained a live concert staple.
Following the success of …And Justice For All, the band was at an all-time popularity high. The metal and rock music scene was changing with the rise in popularity of alternative and hard rock. Metallica opted to use the producer of Motley Crue‘s successful album, Dr. Feelgood, Bob Rock, for their next album. This ushered in a new phase in the history of Metallica, where all albums were produced by Bob Rock until the final album he produced in 2003, St. Anger. The recording process of the album, titled Metallica, or better known as The Black Album, was plagued with problems between producer Bob Rock and the band members. It infamously resulted in ending the marriages of Ulrich, Newsted, and Hammet. Bob Rock has been heavily criticized for his heavy influence on the album’s content and sound. The final result was a more groove oriented, polished hard rock sound that abandoned much of the band’s thrash metal roots in favor of slowed down, contemporary rock riffs and ballads. The Black Album cost over $1 million dollars to record, and was a direct polar opposite of the previous album …And Justice For All.
Released on August 12, 1991, the first single, “Enter Sandman,” helped propel the album to #1, selling over 600,000 copies in the first week of its release. Its mass commercial appeal helped grow the band’s popularity exponentially, with Metallica receiving 16 times platinum status by the RIAA. Worldwide, it has sold over 30 million copies, making it by far the band’s best selling album.
Metallica continued to gain momentum with the subsequent singles “Don’t Tread on Me,” “The Unforgiven,” “Nothing Else Matters,” “Wherever I May Roam,” and “Sad But True.” Touring for the album would last nearly three years, including a co-headlining run with Guns N’ Roses in support of Use Your Illusion. The album received positive critical acclaim, while original fans of earlier Metallica work less happy. Globally, the band broadened its reach with Metallica, which allowed them to further experiment with even more commercial rock sounds in the 90’s.
In 1994, the band began to assemble demos of what would become the 1996 album Load. This picks up where The Black Album left off, with songs further delving into traditional heavy metal, alternative, hard rock, blues, and country. It contains no thrash metal songs or elements. Over the course of over a year’s time, the band recorded enough material for a double album, but opted to record half and save half for their later album ReLoad. Under Bob Rock’s tutelage, the band stripped down their guitars, drums, and bass, while putting greater emphasis on vocals and lyrics. Even the band’s famous trademark logo underwent a change, with a more rounded, ninja star appearance that would be adopted for the next several albums. The band changed its appearance, too, cutting their hair, wearing more stylish clothes, and wearing makeup in videos. Alice in Chains later commented on their appearance by writing “Friends don’t let friends get Friends haircuts” on Mike Inez’s bass, since the band members were in attendance at the recording. The album’s cover art also marked a major departure, with abstract artwork of semen and blood, which was handpicked by Ulrich and Hammet.
Load was released on June 1, 1996, and debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. It has sold over five million copies in the USA. The debut single was “Until it Sleeps,” was heavily played on MTV, and featured the band’s new look. It won the 1996 MTV Music Awards for Best Rock Video. Later, the singles “Hero of the Day,” “Mama Said,” and “King Nothing” would be released as singles. “Ain’t My Bitch” and “Bleeding Me” also received radio airplay, but were never officially released as singles.
Reload was released on November 14, 1997. It was led by the single “The Memory Remains,” which featured Marianne Faithful on background vocals. Later, the single “Unforgiven II” was released, culminating with “Fuel,” which remained a live staple. Reload was stylistically the same as Load, with the same sound, similar cover art, interior art, and lyrical content. It sold over 4 million copies in the US.
Following Reload, the band compiled many of their covers onto the 1998 album Garage Inc. It featured the singles “Turn the Page,” “Whiskey in the Jar,” and “Die Die My Darling.” Versions of the cover songs were recorded from 1984-1995, resulting in a varied sound throughout the album.
Over a two day period in April 1999, Metallica recorded with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra in what would become the live album S&M. It featured the single “No Leaf Clover,” and was the final album to feature Jason Newsted on bass.
In 2000, the song “I Disappear,” which was to be released as a single for the soundtrack Mission Impossible 2, was leaked early to radio stations. Metallica traced the source of the leak to the file sharing service, Napster, which also housed the band’s entire back catalog available for free download. The file sharing service was sued by Metallica for copyright infringement and other acts. In addition, Metallica hired a consulting firm to track the users that downloaded their songs on Napster. They found over 330,000 users who were sharing or downloading Metallica’s music, and had the documents delivered to Napster, requesting those users be banned from their site. Ultimately, Napster wound up declaring bankruptcy later. Lars Ulrich infamously appeared in a skit with Marlon Wayans on the 2000 MTV Music Awards. In the skit, Wayans was listening to the song “I Disappear,” downloading it from Napster, when Ulrich walks into the room. Ulrich proceeds to try to teach Wayans a lesson by having his road crew come in to “borrow” his belongings from his dorm room, leaving him with almost nothing. Ulrich was later booed from the audience when presenting Blink 182. This event scarred Metallica’s reputation for many years, though it did assist in the closing of Napster and the prosecution of sites that offer illegally downloaded music.
On January 17, 2001, Jason Newsted announced he was leaving the band to pursue a solo career with his side project Echobrain. He later joined the band Voivod. The band began recording their next studio album in 2001, but recording halted when singer James Hetfield entered rehab for alcoholism. Some of the songs recorded for this “lost album” are referred to as the Presidio Album. Upon exiting rehab, the band started anew in 2002, with Bob Rock on bass. They would hire a psychiatrist to help mediate with band problems, while all of the tensions were recorded and sifted through to produce the 2004 film documentary, Some Kind of Monster. The studio sessions resulted in the 2003 album, St. Anger. It is largely regarded as their worst album, and was panned critically and commercially, though the album fared well in album sales. St. Anger featured a very stripped down, nu metal inspired Metallica. The production values were virtually nonexistent, which was a heavily critiqued aspect of the album. The drums snare was turned off, which resulted in a tinny, simple drum sound. Guitar solos were also absent from this album, while the guitar riffs were not thrash based, but more leaning towards simplistic nu metal.
Following the completion of St. Anger, Robert Trujillo of Suicidal Tendencies and Ozzy Osbourne‘s backing band was announced as the new bass player for Metallica.
In 2006, the band started to work on a new studio album, the first release in 15 years to not feature production by Bob Rock. Rick Rubin was announced as the producer, who worked with the band to get back to their thrash metal roots. Death Magnetic was released on September 12, 2008, with the song “The Day That Never Comes” released as the first single. Death Magnetic saw the return of guitar solos, double bass drumming, heavy riffs, and more complex rhythms. Other singles from the album were “My Apocalypse,” “Cyanide,” “The Judas Kiss,” “All Nightmare Long,” and “Broken, Beat, & Scarred.” The album was largely well received both critically and commercially. It stayed at #1 on the Billboard 200 for three weeks straight, marking their fifth album to do so. The album also came under fire for being part of the “loudness wars,” where the sound was made to be as loud as possible, while suffering some distortion.
On April 4, 2009, Metallica were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They invited bassist Jason Newsted back to perform with them, along with Dave Mustaine, who declined to attend because of Megadeth touring obligations.
In 2010, it was announced that Metallica would be part of a series of “Big Four” shows in Europe, consisting of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. The shows were very well received, and were very limited in numbers.
In 2011, Rick Rubin announced that Metallica had begun working on their 10th studio album with him as the producer.
Metallica also collaborated on an album with Velvet Underground singer Lou Reed, titled Lulu. It was released on October 31, 2011, and received negative reviews and fanfare.
In November 2012, the band left the Warner Bros. label and started their own label, Blackened Recordings.
The band announced they would be creating a new music festival called Orion Music + More, which was held on June 23 and June 24 in Atlantic City. Metallica headlined the shows and played Ride the Lightning and The Black Album at the shows. Orion Music returned in 2013 in Detroit, with the band secretly playing a smaller stage under the name “Deehan,” and performing their entire debut album, Kill ‘Em All.
The band released their first IMAX 3D concert film entitled Through The Never on October 4, 2013 to rave reviews. Metallica plans to spend most 0f 2014 writing and recording for their next album. In March of 2014 Metallica played their first new song in six years called “Lords of Summer” live in Colombia. The anticipated release of their next album is some time in 2015.
- Kill ‘Em All (1983)
- Ride the Lightning (1984)
- Master of Puppets (1986)
- …And Justice for All (1988)
- Metallica (1991)
- Load (1996)
- Reload (1997)
- Garage Inc. (covers album, 1998)
- S&M (live, 1999)
- St. Anger (2003)
- Death Magnetic (2008)
- Beyond Magnetic (EP, 2012)
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