Hard Rockers Metallica Get Touchy-Feely
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – After two decades as one of the biggest hard rock bands in history, the members of Metallica took the most radical step of their career.
They sat down a few years back and got to know each other.
With the band teetering on the brink, the staunch defenders of bone-crunching heavy metal brought in a therapist who inspired them to share their feelings, hug each other and even resolve issues going back to their childhoods.
Such heartwarming moments play out on “Oprah” every other day, but Metallica didn’t sell 80 million records by adopting a warm, cuddly persona. The band became huge through grim anthems like “Creeping Death” and “Seek & Destroy.” Onstage, it projected invincibility, pummeling fans with symphonic power.
“St. Anger” (Elektra), Metallica’s first studio album since 1997’s “Re-Load,” set for release the week of June 9, reveals a vulnerable side to the newly enlightened musicians, says drummer Lars Ulrich.
To fans who might worry that the band has lived too long in the liberal bastion of San Francisco, Ulrich told Reuters: “If people don’t like the fact that that’s what it is now, then at least respect it and then walk away from it gracefully.”
That’s what bass player Jason Newsted did in early 2001. He stunned the group by quitting after 14 frustrating years during which he was prevented from working on outside projects and also bullied by bandmates grieving his predecessor, Cliff Burton, who died in a 1986 tour bus crash.
“In retrospect, it’s amazing that he lasted 14 years,” Ulrich said during an interview at Metallica’s headquarters in San Rafael, north of San Francisco. “But what he did was he forced us to take a look at the way we were doing things, and it was very clear that … in order for this band to have a future and to continue doing something under the Metallica banner, there had to be radical, radical change.”
Enter Phil Towle, a performance coach who specializes in getting members of sports teams to get along. But exit singer/guitarist James Hetfield, who spent several weeks that year in alcohol rehab and seemed poised never to return.
Since Ulrich and Hetfield, now both 39, co-founded Metallica in 1981, the two have battled each other for control of the band. The turf war pitted the leonine Hetfield, a shy big-game hunter, against the diminutive Danish-born Ulrich, a self-confessed control freak, whose controversial stand against music piracy enraged fans who like their music for free.
Normally, Hetfield’s absence would have allowed Ulrich to grab power. But Towle taught the band — which also includes 40-year-old lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and Newsted’s recent replacement, Robert Trujillo — to work as a collective.
“We don’t spend half our energy now fighting for pole position because now we actually have found a new way of communicating and talking to each other and sitting down and considering other points of view,” Ulrich said.
“The whole thing was completely adhered to in the recording of this record, and pretty much all the decisions.”
Ulrich and Hetfield were solely responsible for most of Metallica’s songs in the past. This time they shared the credit on all of “St. Anger” with Hammett and longtime producer Bob Rock, who filled in on bass.
All the songs were created during lengthy jam sessions at Metallica’s headquarters. No one was allowed to bring in any material of his own. After each session, Ulrich and Rock sat at the computer, molding the best bits into songs.
Primary lyricist Hetfield then added the words, with help from his bandmates. Sober and relaxed, he bares his soul in such songs as the title track (“I want my anger to be healthy”) and “Dirty Window” (“I drink from the cup of denial, judging the world from my throne”).
“COLLECTION OF MOMENTS”
Ulrich calls the record “a collection of moments.” Make that “long moments.” None of the 11 songs is under five minutes, and three clock in at over eight minutes. That’s classic Metallica, before they annoyed fans during the 1990s by recording radio-friendly songs.
Perhaps more worrisome for aficionados is the absence of guitar solos. Ulrich says the band tried desperately to add overdubs, but they ended up “cheapening” the sound.
Trujillo, 38, who was working with Ozzy Osbourne when he got the call to join Metallica in February, said the band has already accepted his input on such matters as album artwork and the DVD that will accompany the CD.
“They’re motivated to have a collaborative entity, and that’s really important for me,” he said. “If this would have been happening two years ago, I may not be sitting here because we might have been clashing in certain ways.”
Hard Rockers Metallica Get Touchy-Feely