Tuesday 15 October 2019

Metallica: Nothing else matters but the music

James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo and Lars Ulrich of Metallica
James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo and Lars Ulrich of Metallica
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Lemmy was asked in 2010 the secret of his survival. "Not dying," the Motorhead legend replied.

The secret of Metallica's survival is far more complicated than not dying, though some of their members have indeed died. (In 1986, bass guitarist Cliff Burton lost his life in a bus accident in Sweden, where Metallica were touring their Master of Puppets album.) It is probably more to do with staying relevant and doing the unexpected. The fin de siecle album, Lulu, with Lou Reed in 2011, was a surreal set of songs based on 19th Century German playwright Frank Wedekind's work.

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The 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster is another example of Metallica doing something entirely unexpected and even shocking, for let's face it, the biggest hard rock band in the world.

It turned out to be one of the greatest, and funniest, rock docs ever made, but exposed so much about the inner workings of Metallica that it could have torn the band terminally asunder.

Some Kind Of Monster reveals the band hated each other so much that they had to employ a not very heavy metal "performance-enhancing coach" Phil Towie (who wears not very heavy metal cashmere jumpers) to attempt to iron out their issues.

This psychodrama is played out as lead singer James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, and guitarist Kirk Hammett are trying to write and record the band's eighth studio album St Anger in a studio at an old US Army barracks in a suburb of San Francisco.

The atmosphere is so toxic that you imagine if the album does get made, it will be some kind of miracle and even then it will be, possibly, Metallica's last album. You start to feel for them; start to think that they would be better off without each other, not least because of the pain they are going through individually.

Hetfield one day enters a rehab program to deal with his alcoholism (he misses his son's birthday at one point to go hunting bears and drinking vodka in Russia) and is not seen again by the band for six months. When he returns, the cleaned-up rock god will only be in the studio until 4pm to aid his recovery from addiction. The mood has not lightened.

"When I was running this morning," Ulrich tells Hetfield, "thinking about seeing you, saying the word 'f**k' just comes up so much".

Hetfield says to Ulrich: "I'm not enjoying being in the room with you, playing."

In hindsight, St Anger was, Hetfield told Rolling Stone magazine, "more of a purge, just getting that s**t out of me". The great purge long since completed, Hetfield and the rest of the band are what some might argue is their best on this tour - which lands to much acclaim this Saturday in Lord Henry Mountcharles's back garden in Slane.

Expect the haunting Enter Sandman, the ultimate HM lullaby, expect The God That Failed, Creeping Death and Seek & Destroy amid the vulnerable tenderness of Nothing Else Matters. Don't expect, however, a performance-enhancing coach in a bad sweater. Now, for Metallica, nothing else matters but the music.

Sunday Independent

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