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Music Preview: Metallica is as angry as ever
Sunday, September 19, 2004

A whole mess of strange things -- some decidedly non-metal -- have happened since Metallica last darkened our doorstep in 1998.

First, the band scared off part of its fan base by waging a lawsuit against Napster to try to stop file sharing of its songs. Then, Metallica recorded an album with a bunch of people wearing tuxes and playing violins and French horns.

Carl Redhead, Associated Press
Metallica's Lars Ulrich.
Click photo for larger image.
Metallica
WITH: Godsmack.

WHERE: Mellon Arena.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday.

TICKETS: $55 and $75; 412-323-1919.


After that, the band's third bassist, Jason Newsted, departed, leaving a lot of hurt feelings and a gaping hole in the rhythm section.

All these things and more led to an absolute meltdown during the making of "St. Anger" that found formidable frontman James Hetfield going into rehab and the guys hiring on a $40,000-a-month therapist to keep the franchise together.

Rather than hide all this away or save it for another round of "Behind the Music," the band chose to document it with first-rate filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky ("Brother's Keeper") in the theatrical release "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster."

For a band that trafficked in testosterone, you'd think all that touchy-feely stuff might weird-out their fans, who cherish their copies of "Kill 'Em All."

Heading into Metallica's Wednesday concert at Mellon Arena, drummer Lars Ulrich says it's not so.

"Not from what I could tell, not weirded-out, no. I think most of our dedicated fans know that with Metallica, it's always a different kind of a ride and that you should never take anything for granted or get too stuck in one way of thinking. So I don't think that it freaked them out or anything. ... I think, basically, all the Metallica fans were really, really excited by it and really enjoyed getting closer to us and that next-level accessibility that it gave them to the guys in the band."

Among other things, "Some Kind of Monster" documents the 23-year-old band trying to tap into its youthful rage after a series of uncharacteristic, midtempo albums in which it experimented with its sonic range.

Says Ulrich: "I think we really needed to show to ourselves, prove to ourselves that we're capable of kind of stepping it up and throwing it down like that -- doing a really hard record, aggressive, that wasn't cleaned up, that wasn't over-thought-out, that wasn't overproduced. It was important for us after the last couple records."

"St. Anger" didn't happen without considerable emotional and financial turmoil. The band set out to make the record in early 2001 at an old Army barracks in San Francisco called the Presidio, with producer Bob Rock filling in on bass.

What resulted was a power struggle between the players, a series of creative impasses and a trip to rehab for Hetfield. It looked as if it could have been the end of Metallica. But the band reconvened in the spring of 2002 with Hetfield refreshed, though setting limits, much to Ulrich's frustration, on how much time he would spend with the band.

"St. Anger" was unleashed in the summer of 2003, topping the charts and being hailed as a return to form. It was raw, aggressive, some even claimed hard to listen to. One critic wrote, "It's probable that no band has worked harder or longer to craft an album with the intention to make it sound as rough as possible."

"That's a pretty serious misinterpretation," Ulrich says. "We were in the studio for a long time, but ...

"Eh," he says, changing his tone. "I guess you could spin it that way. Who am I to judge? We were in the studio for a long time but the amount of work that went into the songs that ended up on the record was minimal. Most of the time was taken up by the 80 percent of the material that didn't make it onto the record. Depending on which angle you look at it, you could say, yes, we worked on it for a year to end up with those 11 songs. But we worked for nine months of that year on 35 other songs that are sitting in a vault somewhere. So, it kind of depends on how you spin it."

"Some Kind of Monster" offers other glimpses of Metallica never seen on stage or record. We see Hetfield going to his daughter's ballet rehearsal. Ulrich auctioning off his art collection for millions of dollars. And, even more interestingly, the band bouncing their children on their knees while they listen to their own monstrous music.

It can't help but make you wonder how these middle-aged metal heads muster the kind of rage that can be heard on "St. Anger."

"There's this cliche," Ulrich says, "that when you become successful you lose your ability to get angry or annoyed. Maybe that's for some other people, but I can tell you I would almost reverse it and say the opposite. I get way more frustrated with a lot of things, because now that I'm successful, I expect things to be at a different level, and then when they're not I get really frustrated [laughs]. I get really frustrated with myself and my own inabilities. I get really frustrated with a bunch of things that go on around me all the time.

"So I don't [believe] that cliche that now that you've got some money or any of that crap that means you can't fire up the aggression. To me, that's something that comes from within you. It doesn't necessarily come from, like, the food you're eating or the carpet in your living room, whether it's dirty or clean. Those things, to me, they burn so far inside you that I'd like to think that at least for me, for James, they seem greatly unaffected by whether we stay at a five-star hotel or a three-star hotel."

The band has seen its share of hotels over the past 15 months, touring in support of "St. Anger" while playing a generous amount of vintage Metallica.

"We've just got so much material," Ulrich says, "and so much ground to cover, in between old stuff, new stuff, cover songs, a couple obligatory songs that you wouldn't be able to leave town without playing. There's a lot of material, so we've been playing about five or six of the new songs and we alternate and play two or three of them every night."

If it all sounds a little different from how it used to, that's because of the addition of bassist Rob Trujillo (formerly of Suicidal Tendencies and Ozzy Osbourne). In spite of his almost frightening stage presence, Ulrich says Trujillo brings "a good vibe" to the band.

As for his playing, Ulrich says: "He's more of a bass player in the traditional sense of it, where Jason was a little more in tune with that was happening with the guitars. Rob and me have much more of a thing going on as a traditional rhythm section."

Looking ahead, as painful as it was the last time, Ulrich says he's pretty confident that the spirit is there for future Metallica records.

"Certainly, that's what we're hoping and looking forward to. We'll be done touring soon and then we're probably going to go back into the studio some time next spring or summer and start thinking about it again. We've been collecting a lot of fun ideas on the road and we have a little tuning room backstage that we play in and jam in. Before we go out on stage, we kind of fire it up."

Before they go back into a studio, though, they just might want to make sure the therapist's number is on the speed dial.

First published on September 19, 2004 at 12:00 am
Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.
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