music / Hall Of Fame

411 Music Hall of Fame Class of 2009: Metallica

February 19, 2009 | Posted by Dan Haggerty


• Pioneers of thrash metal
• The only band to debut five consecutive albums at #1
• Six Top 40 singles, including the Top 10 “Until It Sleeps”
• Twenty-Five Top 40 Mainstream Rock Hits, seven #1s
• At 15 million sold, Metallica is one of the Top 25 best selling albums of all-time
• 100 million worldwide album sales
• The fourth best-selling artist of all-time
• Nine Grammy awards, including six for Best Metal Performance
• Inducted into the Kerrang! Hall of Fame (2003)
• Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (2009)
• The biggest metal band of all time

Born of an age when music was exploding into territories never before imagined, four men from California’s Bay Area would hit the music scene and stake out music terrain that would shake the foundations of the business. They were Metallica and they didn’t invent heavy metal, but they did take it to a whole new level and challenged an industry in the process. They were fans who took that style of music from the likes of Sabbath, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, with a healthy dose of the street aggression of punk to join the thrash underground. When they were done, they would own the thrash underground, sharpen that sound into a devastating weapon of war to become the leaders of the metal scene, and eventually become the monsters of rock. They are the story of starting out on top and waiting for the rest of the mass consuming public to catch up.

Metallica started as a lone heavy metal fan determined to get a single onto Brian Slagel’s Metal Blade compilation Metal Massacre. Lars Ulrich was that man, and he was into the scene so much he interned himself by sleeping on the floor at Diamond Head recordings just to be around his idols. But he did not have a band. With visions of melting the airwaves in hand, he set about recruiting people and quickly making the deadline for that release. First to answer his ad was James Hetfield, who would end up tapping roommate Ron McGovney to play bass. They would crank out the song “Hit The Lights” to make Slagel’s album, and would immediately create a buzz in the metal underground.

In need of a lead guitarist the band would end up posting another ad and as a result would meet Dave Mustaine, whose equipment alone would impress the band enough to win him the spot. This would be a fateful decision that would have effects on the band unto today. Mustaine would influence the songs he performed with the band, and would have an active hand in writing material for the band as well. His imprint would be felt on the band’s first two albums despite not actually performing on them. His tenure would come to an end when the band traveled to New York to record their first album. Alcohol, drugs, and tension would see Mustaine get fired at the eleventh hour, which would lead to the other fateful decision that would influence their music. Metallica, desperate for a new lead guitarist, would call a man they had seen playing a gig they also worked – Kirk Hammett from Exodus. The job would be his if he could get to New York and record with the band. Kirk would do just that and accept the position.
The final piece of the puzzle also came about during the journey through the band’s demo days. The band grew weary of McGovney as well, and decided to find a new bass player. After seeing Cliff Burton perform with a band called Trauma, and being blown away by his performance, they would approach him to join. Originally refusing, Burton would agree if the band moved to his hometown of San Francisco. With a new bass player and a new location, Metallica would start the process of serious demo construction to get a label deal. McGovney does remain an indirect influence to this day, however, being the man who created the now famous Metallica logo.

After several famous underground demos (the only recordings of Burton and Mustaine actually performing together), the band would land a deal with Megaforce Records and make the fateful trip to New York to record their first album. During the club shows and demo days, fanzines became ground zero for the buzz while the currency of the emerging world order was paid in tape trading. But suddenly this exclusive club was blown wide open with the debut of Metallica’s first album Kill ‘Em All. The underground had arrived and the metal scene was put on notice. Inside a hectic touring schedule the band continued to gel as a foursome and started working off of the axe work Kirk brought to the table. This would lead to the devastating album Ride The Lightning, and its impact would shift continental plates in the metal scene. Music was set to shift in new directions, but the innocent people occupying the surface world were still unaware of the silent change in direction. If metal fans were amazed that the band went straight to 10 on their debut, the sophomore album literally rewrote the rules and catapulted Metallica as leaders of the underground.

With a formula to explore and sound to perfect, Metallica returned to the recording studio to retool the weapon into one of mass destruction. When Master Of Puppets hit the streets, Metallica officially conquered the metal kingdom and put the surrounding territories on notice. Almost a quarter century later, Master Of Puppets still tops most lists as the greatest metal album of all time.

The band knew they would have to change up their sound to push in new directions; the last two albums had fully explored the sound the band created and lone dominated. Change would sadly be forced upon them during the tour of Sweden. On September 26, 1986 the band drew straws to pick sleeping bunks on the tour bus. Cliff Burton would win and decide to take Hammett’s bunk. When the tour bus hit ice and crashed – that fateful choice would result in Burton being tossed from the bus and crushed underneath it. This would crush the spirits of the band, and they considered ending it right there. But after consideration and blessings from Burton’s family, the decision was made to continue Metallica and find a new bass player.

They found their man in Jason Newsted from Flotsam & Jetsam. With him onboard, and an EP full of covers to introduce him to fans, the band would return with their fourth studio effort in …And Justice For All – an album that would take the Metallica sound, pile on progressive elements, and oddly come with a clinical sound due to mixing their new bassist back in the mix. But the massive songs and complex structures would continue to grow the band’s fan base and by the time they released a video for the song “One”, they would break through the glass ceiling and wake up the mainstream masses.

After a tour and break, Metallica brought in producer Bob Rock to again rework their attack for the final assault on the mainstream. At the cost of a million dollars and three marriages, the vehicle of that assault would be their self titled fifth album; also known as “The Black Album” due to the cover. With a streamlined and simplified take on their earlier work, a pumped up bottom end, hooks, melodies a mile wide, and even a few ballads, the beachhead assault was complete. Metallica had arrived as a household name and the album flew off the shelves. It hit number one on Billboard the very week it was released, and would go on to turn platinum 15 times. Old fans complained of the mainstream feel of the album and the first grumbles of “sell out” rumbled out of the metal scene, but the album still won over most hardcore fans while gaining the band sevenfold in new legions of admirers.

There was no stopping the Metallica machine by this point, and the establishment was forced to take notice and gave the band a Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance for “Enter Sandman”. Still smarting from looking out of touch when they snubbed “One” several years earlier (in favor of Jethro Tull no less), the industry had finally admitted what a nation of fans already knew. Defiantly, the band tossed the fact back in the face of the Grammys when they accepted the award and thanked Jethro Tull for not releasing an album that year.

Metallica toured the hell out of the album for three years, the band now a world wide phenomena and in demand. It would be five long years before they would return with new material. Touring, success, and the artist’s credo of pushing oneself would see Metallica delve into new music territory again. Load would be the result, a bold new direction for the band that would heavily ratchet back on the metal, rework the heavy, and add in some rock and roll. The album was again an event and the album hit number one while achieving critical success. But the band would see many traditional fans depart while continuing to pick up new ones. The band that was once fans playing for fans was now larger than life rock stars, and the propensity to act like it did not settle well with a metal underground pushing the envelope into more extreme territory. But the discontent was still a rumble lost among the cheers of filled arenas, and Metallica played on to new heights of critical success. The band’s new image and success was quickly followed up with extra material from the Load sessions with the release of ReLoad. Despite the album being extra material from the previous album, the band poured its energy into the album. It also achieved success and showed how much momentum and talent the Metallica monster had by producing singles and quickly topping the charts.

But discontent was still building from the fan base that built Metallica, and when the band got involved in the Napster fiasco that discontent became a backlash. What started as an attempt to stop people from bootlegging material before its release turned into a full fledged copyright debate. Just as Metallica had taken the underground metal scene and made it mainstream, now the discontent of the underground had become mainstream. The band suddenly found itself in the role of the status quo defending their position at the top, trying to explain how a band that originally built its name on tape trading was going to sue people for trading their music.

During this rise of controversy for the band inner turmoil was taking its toll. Over time, growing issues about creative direction between James and Lars developed and arguments broke out, with Hammett and Newsted needing to step in to be mediators. Also Metallica had never gotten over the loss of Burton, and in affect would subject Newsted to endless hazing. Add in a band hiatus, Newsted’s desire to work on side projects where he had creative control and the band not wanting him to split his interests Jason would decide to leave Metallica.

Without a bass player, Hetfield in rehab for half a year, guys under counseling to hash out band issues, and enduring continued fan discontent Metallica would enter into the St. Anger sessions. Metallica knew it had to sort out its issues, and part of the cure was a return to basics. Returning to a garage-y sound that featured heavy music blasted hardcore and unpolished was their version of music detox. Some people welcomed the interesting and emotionally revealing change, while others blasted the album. Critics ranged from calling it brave to panning it as garbage. One thing for sure, the band was wiping the slate clean and no one accused them of selling out.

With picking up new bassist Robert Trujllo of Suicidal Tendencies fame, the band would embark on a new world tour. An older and wiser Metallica would now take their time between tours for family and rest. With a revitalized spirit as a whole band working together, wiser for the years and lessons learned, they would continue to tour and begin working on new material. With a varied catalog rich in content, the band decided their next direction would still be getting back to their original core sound. With their first new producer in over a decade and a half, Rick Rubin, the band would record a new album that would deliver that promise.

In 2008 the band would release Death Magnetic to fan and critical success, an album that would realize their vision of returning to their foundation sound. Metallica had developed a huge fan base in a quarter century, and the sounds reminiscent of their underground days would now achieve success with all audiences. A heavy metal thrash attack that now had mainstream appeal, all due to the massive impact of the very band itself. Old fans and new alike would be revitalized, and again the Metallica machine started to rumble forward with fans on board.

With the dawning if 2009, Metallica now stood a triumphant band. They had come full circle and along the way reshaped the music landscape itself. Some battles lost, but the war won. Whole again and in command of its future, the band was ready again to move into the future as the monsters of rock.

Why Metallica Was Selected:

Never before had a band hit the music scene and so seamlessly went straight to 10, revolutionizing a music scene and eventually forcing an industry to bow to its vision. Where most bands win critics over by continued success, Metallica hit the establishment like the fist of an angry God. With their grip around the throats of an industry that refused to look them in the eyes, they held on tight until the status quo finally admitted what was obvious to a nation of fans. Metallica was more than the face of heavy metal; they were a juggernaut that was forcing music to shape around the weight of their very presence. Where most bands find success in the forum of public opinion, Metallica changed the opinion of the public to its vision of musical success.

As a force of nature that ebbs and flows, they continue to feed off the momentum of their own vision to push forward from each success or controversy. In a script that is still being written, the end of their story is not known. But one thing is for certain; Metallica will write that epilogue on their terms and be at the top when they do it. The only unknown is how many additional generations of musicians will be influenced by them when it’s all said and done.

That is why they are being inducted into the 411 Music Hall of Fame.


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Dan Haggerty
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