Personalities | Metallica | Nineties | Rock

Formed in California 1981 by drummer Lars Ulrich (born in Denmark, 26 December 1963) and James Hetfield (born 3 August 1963, vocals, guitar) who shared a mutual love of British new-wave heavy metal

Dave Mustaine (lead guitar) and Ron McGovney (bass) were recruited for early live work but due to personal and musical issues the pair were quickly replaced by Kirk Hammett (born 10 November 1962, lead guitar) and Cliff Burton (born 10 February 1962, bass). Burton wore bell-bottoms at all times and insisted that, if the band wanted to work with him, they relocate to San Francisco – they did.

This classic line-up recorded the poorly produced but seminal debut Kill ‘Em All (1983) funded and released by their first manager Johnny Zazula on his Megaforce label. Fast interlocking instrumentals and brutal loud speed on tracks like ‘Search And Destroy’ and ‘No Remorse’ laid the foundation stone of thrash metal. Hard touring and a second album Ride The Lightning (1984) cemented a growing international cult status achieved with little radio play.

Puppet Life

By this time the band had parted with Zazula and Megaforce, signing an eight-album deal with Elektra Records. Instrumental prowess on complex extended tracks like ‘Orion’ and the anti-war message of ‘Disposable Heroes’ – played at blistering speed – saw Master Of Puppets (1986) become Metallica’a first fully fledged masterpiece. Along with Slayer’s Reign In Blood (1986) it remains one of the best extreme metal albums ever recorded.

Tragedy struck during a 1986 European tour when Burton was killed when the band’s bus turned over. After a decent interval, Jason Newsted (born 4 March 1963), formerly of Flotsam and Jetsam, was drafted in as a replacement and slotted into the live and studio machine. On the Garage Days Re-Visited EP (1987) tribute was loudly paid to influences like Diamond Head and Budgie. And Justice For All (1988) showed that there was musical chemistry after Burton with trademark speed, hard riffing and quality control. Lyrically the confident vocals of Hetfield were turning away from hell, damnation, war and suffering to more mature and social lyrical concerns. The single ‘One’ became an international hit and the first of many Metallica videos.

Black Masterpiece

Bands like Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth (formed by Mustaine) had followed in the wake of Metallica to turn thrash into a defined genre that reinvigorated heavy metal as a musical form. Metallica cemented their status as tribal leaders on the aptly named Metallica (1991) by adding orchestral backing and shorter, more melodic songs to the trademark hard-edged sound. Seen as a sell-out by some long-term fans used to extended tracks, this ‘Black Album’ became a metal Thriller, selling 15 million copies worldwide and spawning five hit singles including ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Nothing Else Matters’.

Whilst touring this set around the world for over two years grunge changed the points on the American music railroad. It was not until 1996 that a new Metallica album...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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