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Members include Kirk Hammett (replaced Dave Mustaine, 1983, who had replaced Lloyd Grant), lead guitar; James Hetfield, vocals, rhythm guitar; Jason Newsted (replaced Cliff Burton, who died in a tour bus accident, 1986; left group, 2001), bass; Lars Ulrich, drums. Addresses: Record company--Elektra Entertainment, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.elektra.com. Website--Metallica Official Website: http://www.metallica.com.

After 20 years, ten albums, and five Grammy Awards, Metallica has more than proven its staying power as rock's preeminent metal group. The group paid its dues during the hair band era of the 1980s, but Metallica's 1991 release addressed the decidedly adult topics of nuclear holocaust, mental illness, suicide, and the dangers of drug addiction. Yet despite these grim themes, Metallica's music runs contrary to heavy metal's one-dimensional image; their sound involves more than just bone-breaking chords and fire-and-brimstone lyrics. The band has distinguished itself with a grungy sophistication well beyond the work of its predecessors to become the seventh largest selling act in the history of American music as of 2001. Members of Metallica are rude and cheeky, but they're proficient. Bass Player's Coryat attested, "Their famous 'Metal Up Your Ass' T-shirt ensured Metallica a notorious place in rock-and-roll history." Taste in merchandising notwithstanding, Spin magazine's Alec Foege called Metallica "a burnished black gem."

Metallica coalesced in 1981 with singer-guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, bass player Cliff Burton, and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine. Mustaine, who had taken over for early collaborator Lloyd Grant, was replaced in 1983 by Kirk Hammett. Their first album, Kill 'Em All, attracted droves of "head-banging" fans. The follow-up releases Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets were greeted with even more enthusiasm by the world's heavy metal constituency, which enabled the band to strut their stuff with fellow "metalheads" on the enormous Monsters of Rock Tour. That outing featured a free concert in Moscow that was attended by 500,000 Soviet metal fans. Infamous spitoon in tow for this tour and others--band members needed a place to deposit their chewed tobacco--Metallica was increasingly credited with single-handedly revitalizing heavy metal music, paving the way for other thrash bands like Slayer and Megadeath.

Tragedy struck Metallica on September 27, 1986, when the band's tour bus went into a ditch in Sweden, killing bassist Cliff Burton. After a brief hiatus the band reassembled and began looking for a replacement for Burton. Attempting to fill the bass player's shoes and duplicate his eccentric, unbridled style seemed impossible. Burton had never been a particularly smooth player, but other band members had not attempted to reign him in. They did try once, however, to persuade him to forego his bell-bottom jeans in favor of more traditional heavy metal garb, but quickly realized the attempt was futile; Burton was set in his ways and rarely influenced by others. In truly bizarre heavy metal fashion, one of his dreams had been to invent a gun that shot knives instead of bullets.

To refurbish their lineup, the members of Metallica decided to settle on someone completely different from Burton: Jason Newsted, then with the Phoenix band Flotsam & Jetsam. Newsted was raised in Niles, Michigan, and had decided to turn professional after playing in bands throughout high school. He told Coryat, "I heard Cliff (Burton) had died the day after the accident.... I was a huge Metallica fan at the time. When I was looking at the blurb in the paper, I was sad, but things started flashing through my mind.... I just thought if I could play 'Four Horsemen' once with those guys, I'd be really happy."

Burton had been a remarkable soloist, but Newsted provided Metallica with a more cohesive sound. Burton's sound had not been well-defined, particularly when he played low on the guitar's neck. Newsted chose to mirror the band's guitar riffs precisely instead, producing a newly unified guitar effect. This sound dominated the new band's 1988 double album. Titled ... And Justice for All, the record went multiplatinum by 1989 and earned a Grammy Award nomination, despite a dearth of radio airplay. The release of Justice coincided with Metallica's return to its musical roots: the groundbreaking metal stylings of 1970s rock giants Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. This resolve became the cornerstone for the 1991 release, Metallica,also known as the 'Black' album.

Still steely, but a little slicker, Metallica was produced by Bob Rock, who had also worked with metal acts Motley Crue, Loverboy, and Bon Jovi. Buoyed by the dark, driving single "Enter Sandman," Metallica sold 2.2 million copies in its first week and has sold over 15 million copies worldwide since its release. Metallica's hard-won versatility is showcased on the record with guitarist Hammett's winsome wah-wah, and open-throated, more melodic vocals from Hetfield. The band earned Grammys in both 1990 and 1991 and effectively ascended to a new strata of heavy metal superstardom. Featured on the covers of both Rolling Stone and Spin, Metallica's popularity seemed to know no bounds. With increased media coverage, it became clear that the band's appeal was not narrowly bohemian, political, or reflective of any trend--except perhaps anger. Village Voice contributor Erik Davis wrote that "Metallica's 'image'--dark shades, frowns, and poorly conceived facial hair--allies them with a musical culture of refusal. They haven't stopped dragging mud onto the carpet and slamming their bedroom doors without saying hello. 'Enter Sandman' has touched the brains of fry cooks and Bud guzzlers across the land."

Analysis of Metallica's lyrics reveals the band's unique penchant for conjuring up the timeless grandiosity of myth by placing the object of a line before its subject: "This fight he cannot win," and "Off the beaten path I reign" are two examples. The band's head-banging thrash metal songs are short, but not sweet; they're delivered with grim, tight expressions, and a minimum of emotion, which gives the impression that the entire band is grimacing. Metallica's albums have few tender spots; songs range from the brutal "Sad But True" to the sweet and gritty "Ride the Lightning," from the praised pagan slant found on "Of Wolf And Man" to the metaphysical musings of "Through the Never.'' Commenting on their larger musical style--"Metallica's riffs crack like glaciers"--the Village Voice's Davis said of the band, "They hew thrash to a rigorous minimalism."

Worn from touring during the early 1990s and a contract suit against Elektra, Metallica's next release was not to come until 1996. The album Load, the longest of the group's work with 14 songs, was a marked change in style and sound from the 'Black' album. As described in the group's biography at its official website, the material was "loose, powerful and eclectic, the sound thick and punchy and the image one which screamed out change and freedom from the enslavement to the Black album era." The group built on the critical success of the album and released an additional set of Load session tracks as Reload in 1997. Instead of simply revisitingLoad's eclecticism, Reload offers "enough left curves to make it a better record," according to All Music Guide's Stephen Thomas Erlewine.

The late 1990s and early 2000s brought new challenges for the group, both inside the studio and out. The group toured in support of Loadand Reload in 1997 and 1998, and ventured into new musical territory in 1999 with S&M, a two-disc collection of concert performances with the San Francisco Symphony. The innovative collaboration between the groups featured orchestral arrangements behind Metallica classics such as "Master of Puppets," "One," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Sad But True," and "Of Wolf and Man." On April 14, 2000, the group, along with rapper Dr. Dre, filed suit against Napster, the website that facilitated the sharing of music files between personal computers for free, alleging violation of copyright laws. During a prolonged battle against the site by Metallica, Dre, and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the group managed to block 300,000 users who had downloaded copies of Metallica songs. The group and Dre settled their suit against Napster for an undisclosed amount in July of 2001. Metallica said it would allow some of its music to be swapped on the site after the scheduled start of subscription service in the late summer of 2001.

In January of 2001, Jason Newsted announced that he planned to leave Metallica after 14 years "due to private and personal reasons, and the physical damage that I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love..... This is the most difficult decision of my life, made in the best interest of my family, myself, and the continued growth of Metallica," according to comments at the Elektra Records website. The group planned to search for a replacement for Newsted.

Spin's Foege waxed mathematic in his assessment of Metallica, writing, "At turns algebraically elegant and geometrically raucous, present-day Metallica can stop and start on a dime." With their popularity showing no signs of flagging, their musical and lyrical virtuosity on the upswing, and their fans more crazed than ever, Metallica is a speeding bullet surely headed for continued success.

by B. Kimberly Taylor

Metallica's Career

Group formed, 1981; recorded Kill 'Em All on Elektra/Asylum Records, 1983; released multiplatinum-selling Metallica, 1991; released Load, 1996; released Reload, 1997; released S&M, a collection of concerts with the San Francisco Symphony, 1999; filed law suit against Napster for copyright violations, 2000.

Metallica's Awards

Grammy Awards for Best Metal Performance, 1989, 1990, 1998; Best Metal Performance With Vocal, 1991; Best Hard Rock Performance, 1999.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

February 8, 2004: Metallica won the Grammy Award for best metal performance, for "St. Anger." Source: 46th Grammy Awards, grammys.com/awards/grammy/46winners.aspx, February 8, 2004.

July 2004: Band member Lars Ulrich and his wife, Skylar Satenstein, filed for divorce after a four-month separation. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, July 20, 2004.

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

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