Who Is: Metallica

My name is Remco Faasen, and I am one of the editors-in-chief of the metal e-zine Zware Metalen. I was asked to briefly introduce this listening party for the new Metallica album: 72 Seasons. A listening party at a music documentary festival. That sounds strange, but it’s not because it’s Metallica. And Metallica has been doing what it wants for years.

It all started for Metallica on October 28, 1981, in the most logical way for that time: with an advertisement in the newspaper. “Drummer is looking for other metal musicians to jam with,” was the message. That drummer was Lars Ulrich: a Dane who had moved to Los Angeles at sixteen to work on his training as a tennis player but preferred to get behind the drums. James Hetfield responded to the ad: a musician who started out on the piano but switched to the guitar after hearing the music of another name that still captures the imagination: Aerosmith. From then on, Ulrich and Hetfield are the two captains on the Metallica ship: responsible for the bulk of the song material and the longest-serving members.

Talent is not enough to become a big band: a bit of luck is also involved. Metallica got that lucky in a few crucial moments. The first and second moment of luck is at the end of 1982: a few months after the live debut and the release of the band’s first demo. Hetfield and Ulrich are unhappy with their bass player at the time when they see a performance by the band Trauma and are blown away by the man who plays bass there as if he’s holding a guitar: Cliff Burton. Burton has more experience playing for bands but accepts Metallica’s offer to play for them on the condition that they move from Los Angeles to the Bay Area of San Francisco.

In one fell swoop, Metallica gained someone who, with his playing and technique as a bass player, is still seen as one of the best bass players of all time, even though he passed away in 1986. And by moving to San Francisco, Metallica suddenly became part of a special movement within heavy metal that was emerging there: thrash metal, a mix of more traditional heavy metal made in England and hardcore punk that emerged in the late 1970s all over the United States. Thrash metal was especially faster and more aggressive than traditional heavy metal, and Metallica became its main exponent.

Metallica Master of Puppets

The band broke through with its third album: Master of Puppets, in 1986. It spent 72 weeks on the American album charts and eventually became six times platinum with almost 8 million copies sold in the United States.

The third crucial moment of luck is August 12, 1991. It is the release date of the fifth album that everyone with ears has heard at least one song from. It is called Metallica, also known as The Black Album, because of the black cover. The previous Metallica albums had eight or nine songs. This one has twelve. Metallica had deliberately chosen to write shorter songs, no guitar-driven long parts but short, powerful, and somewhat slower songs that go more towards commercial heavy metal and thrash metal. A cello passes by on the album and even an orchestral recording. Where Master of Puppets was the breakthrough for the metal audience, The Black Album became that to the non-metal audience.

Metallica The Black Album

The result: one of the best-selling albums of all time with 22.7 million copies. More than ABBA has ever achieved. Or Madonna. Or Britney Spears. Or Elvis Presley. Or The Beatles with their acclaimed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Since The Black Album, Metallica has been doing what it wants. They play live with pianist Lang Lang and pop star Lady Gaga. Record a song with singer and actress Marianne Faithfull and even an entire album with musical all-rounder Lou Reed. They make two live albums with a full orchestra: the San Francisco Symphony. The second concert is released in cinemas worldwide and, with a gross of 5.5 million dollars, is the largest rock event in cinemas ever. At the beginning of this century, the band suffers from internal difficulties and a therapist gets involved in getting things back on track. Metallica has a documentary made of the process. In fact, they even make a song about it.

Metallica makes its own version of The Ecstacy of Gold, which the Italian composer Ennio Morricone made for the western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It is nominated for a Grammy for the song. Metallica sets up a tour with The Big 4: the four greatest thrash metal bands ever with Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax in addition to Metallica itself, thus fulfilling the dream of many metal fans. The registration of the concert in Sofia, Bulgaria with 2 DVDs and 5 CDs is still available online for 450 dollars. I have a copy too, but my price won’t be much lower.

Metallica will play in the Johan Cruijff Arena a little further down the road in two weeks. The cheapest ticket is 95 euros, but when the band celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in San Francisco in 2011, a ticket cost only 6 dollars. All records, CDs, DVDs and whatever else is released in terms of music from the band has been released exclusively through its own record label for years. In 2013, Metallica made its own 3D film. Later that year, Metallica became the first band ever to perform on all seven continents when the band played in Antarctica in front of 120 people in a dome especially made for his purpose.

In 2020, when we were all at home due to corona, the band put complete live registrations on YouTube to kill boredom while working on the new album for which we are here now. And it is another fine example of ‘Metallica does what it wants’. On behalf of Zware Metalen, I have already been able to attend several listening sessions. Usually, this means listening to the music in a room, usually in the band’s presence. But for Metallica, it’s getting people worldwide to the cinema to introduce the songs one by one. All this after a former pianist responded to a tennis player’s newspaper ad.

I wish you a lot of fun with 72 Seasons. Go to tomorrow and then to your calendar. Put our next appointment in it because Metallica will continue to do what it wants: August 18 and 20 live in the cinema: the registration of the concert that the band will give in Arlington, Texas. Until then and for now: thank you and goodbye.