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Metallica: 35 Years Later, Still The Reigning Kings of Rock

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by Lisa Schreiner

On October 28th, 1981, four young musicians came together, completely unaware that they would become one of the biggest bands in the world, continuously, for the next 35 years; though it’s likely it was an ambition.  Metallica has become a staple in not only the rock n’ roll/heavy metal/thrash scene, but a solid staple in music all around.  They are the epitome of success as well as a cautionary tale of what it truly means to be in a rock n’ roll band.  Through it all, Metallica has always come out on top.  They continue to sell out venues all over the world, they’re still pumping out albums and they’ve remained a relevant band, avoiding the nostalgia ditch their peers have fallen into (see Guns N’ Roses).

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In 1981, frontman James Hetfield answered an ad in The Recycler, the famed Los Angeles based classifieds-only newspaper, posted by a young, Danish drummer named Lars Ulrich, looking to start a band.  Hetfield and Ulrich would be the only two absolute original members of Metallica.  Original bassist Ron McGovney would be replaced by Cliff Burton, who tragically died in a tour bus accident in September of 1986, while the band was touring in Europe.  Burton would be replaced by Jason Newsted, who departed the band in 2001.  Newsted would be replaced by current bassist Rob Trujillo (formerly of Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Groves and Ozzy Osbourne).  Trujillo’s audition and ultimate hiring is documented in Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster documentary.  Original guitarist Dave Mustaine was replaced by current guitarist Kirk Hammett in 1983; Mustaine would go on to form “rival” band Megadeth in 1983.  Got all that?

Forgoing the spandex, hairspray and make up that engulfed the 1980’s rock scene, Metallica instead relied on their raw guitar riffs, screeching vocals and fast-paced drumming to thrash their way onto the scene.  Their lyrics consisted not of girls, money and lavish lifestyles but of death, destruction and greed.  Though there were certainly lean times for the foursome, soon enough, the band would be the ones drawing the crowds in for the music act they were opening for…Ozzy Osbourne; a true example of the student surpassing the teacher.  From then on, Metallica continued to gain their now famously loyal fan base, thus becoming the world-renowned band they are today.

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Now, Metallica has released their tenth studio album, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct (produced by Greg Fidelman along with James and Lars) , almost exactly 35 years from when James Hetfield answered that ad.  And coincidentally (or maybe not), on Kirk Hammett’s 54th birthday.  The album’s first track, “Hardwired” though very reminiscent of early Metallica, was still a shock to the system.  First reaction upon hearing the first ten to fifteen seconds of the song: “They’re back.”  The in-your-face rock continues with the second track “Atlas, Rise!” before the third track “Now That We’re Dead” brings us back to Load era Metallica.  In fact, the next few songs seem to calm the album down a bit, but nonetheless speak heavy volumes. “Here Comes the Revenge” begins with a very familiar riff…so familiar that one could mistake it for the beginning of “Leper Messiah” off of Master of Puppets.  However, it soon changes into another unique albeit hard-rock-filled track.  The album ends just how it began: with heavy metal that could melt your face off.  “Spit Out the Bone” once again makes you say “they’re back”.  This was a very well-thought-out album and should not go unappreciated.  That’s not to say any other album wasn’t thought out, but Hardwired…To Self-Destruct has a certain, “je ne sais quoi” about it.  Is it the eight-year wait fans had to endure?  Maybe.  Is it the yearning to hear pure, satisfying, true rock n’ roll that has seemingly gone missing among the Justin Biebers and Drakes of the world?  Perhaps.  One thing is for sure: Metallica has the ability to withstand the test of time and Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is the perfect example of that.  And, when they tour again, their endurance and that same ambition to be one of the greatest bands in the world that they’ve been holding onto since 1981 will be extremely palpable in every venue they play.

There will always be a divide between “old school” Metallica fans and those who enjoy most of their music.  Some fans just cannot get past …And Justice For All or their self-titled album (commonly known as The Black Album), and that’s sad.  There is incredible music on albums Load and Reload as well as –dare it be said– St. Anger.  Yes, Metallica has changed throughout the years.  The band is made up of four individual human beings; no change would be unnatural.  Let’s face it, the same fans that complain about Metallica changing would be the same people that would complain if they remained unchanged.  And please, please stop bringing up the Napster lawsuit; the horse is dead already.  The truth is, many artists did not agree with what Napster was doing.  Metallica was the only band to stand up and do something about it.

James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo may get older, but their music will never age.  Maybe they’ll retire some day but it’s more probable they’ll continue on until they’re physically unable to walk out onto the stage.  Why?  Well, as Metallica promised in the song “Whiplash” 35 years ago:

We’ll never stop, we’ll never quit ’cause we’re Metallica.

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