Load is one of the most intense rock 'n' roll albums you will ever hear. "Just because you have a nice house doesn't automatically cure your feelings and cure your anger," says Hammett. He is sitting next to Hetfield, wearing a sleeveless white t-shirt. Nearby, an equipment case sports a
bumper sticker that reads "Security Provided By 12 Gauge." "It doesn't cure your disrespect for authority or anything else."
When I ask Hetfield if he thinks the group has been able to maintain a true rebel stance, he snarls, "Fuck you, by the way."
"Yeah, up yours, buddy," adds Hammett, before they both start laughing.
"Money still doesn't cure being pissed off at seeing things that you don't agree with going on around you," says Hammett. "It just ensures that you can go in there and be pissed off in a big house, that's all it really does. Money isn't a cure-all for anything. It might buy you more distractions but it's not all it's cut out to be."
Gone soft? I don't think so. In fact, the group's success seems to have simply strengthened their convictions. Load continues the group's musical evolution. Sonically, it is the group's most accomplished album. And from the songwriting to the guitar playing, it is a true tour de force. Again, success seems to have empowered lyricist Hetfield to open up and write more about his own feelings, as well as some of the things the band has experienced.
"Nowadays it's a little easier to figure out where some of the feelings are coming from," admits Hetfield, who is wearing a white t-shirt and cut-off jeans on this hot summer afternoon. "But still, it's mass confusion. [I] look at it and go, 'Wow, I might be really messed up but I sound pretty good. I sound like I know what I'm talking about.'"
One of the new album's stand-out tracks is "King Nothing," which includes the lines "All the wants you waste/ All the things you chase/ And it all crashes down/ And you break your crown.../ Where's your crown King Nothing."
When I suggest to Hetfield and Hammett that perhaps this song is about their own experiences with fame and fortune, they guardedly agree. "I think he wrote that song about Lars and I," laughs Hammett. "Our time in New York. Lars and I went all full bender at one point."
"That's [one] interpretation," says Hetfield, who doesn't like to explain his lyrics. "Everyone wants to know what the songs are about. But this time they're going to have to figure it out for themselves."
SEX & VIOLENCE
It is the ultimate subversive act. In thousands of record stores throughout the world, displayed for anyone to see, is a photograph of ejaculated sperm mixed with blood. The cover of Metallica's humorously titled Load is a 1990 photograph titled "Semen and Blood lll" by the controversial artist Andres Serrano (his 1987 work, "Piss Christ"--a cross submerged in the artist's urine-- was condemned on the Senate floor by Republican senator Jesse Helms) that Hammett found in a book of Serrano's work that he bought at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Neither Hetfield nor Hammett will talk about the meaning of the cover art. "I don't really want to get into exploring the deeper meaning of that image only because I don't want people to hear it and get a mindset on it and always see what I get out of that image," says Hammett. "I'd rather just explain that it's semen and blood and it's by this guy named Andres Serrano and that I think it's a really beautiful abstract image that is open to a lot of interpretation and metaphor."
Certainly one literal interpretation--that semen equals sex and blood equals violence--is an apt one for a group that hates stereotypes. The humor of, in effect, calling an album by a group that has been relegated to the heavy metal trash heap for years, "Sex & Violence," is obvious.
"Whether it's thrash, metal or alternative, we hate labels," says Hetfield. "Big time!"
Why Metallica have been thrown in with other metal bands all these years is something of a mystery. From the start they didn't really fit in anywhere. They were a hard rock band on an indie label. They played a never before heard mix of sped up metal and punk that became known as "speed metal," even though it had no more to do with, say Black Sabbath than the work of artists like Soundgarden and Black Flag. In fact, Metallica have influenced so-called "alternative" bands including Alice In Chains. They are certainly one influence on the early '90s Seattle grunge sound.
"Maybe we should tell our lawyers and demand some payment, some restitution," laughs Hammett when I bring up their impact on certain Seattle bands.
"But the thing was, it was not any conscious thing," insists Hetfield. "Fusing punk and rock to create this thrash kind of thing. Those are things we liked. So through our filters, we just started playing them and that's what came out of us. I know there are bands that sit there and scheme. 'What's popular now?' Industrial and grunge or whatever it may be and try to fuse them together and create this new sound to shock the world and takeover or whatever the hell they're trying to do."
He looks over at Hammett. "We just naturally play things that we like to play. Back then, nobody else really liked it."
Laughing, he says, "And we did. [Eventually] they were forced to like what we did. That's continued on through our career."
THE HOUSE THAT METALLICA BUILT
The year was 1981. Hetfield was a Southern California teenager way into Black Sabbath, as well as Kiss and Ted Nugent. He met up with Denmark-born Lars Ulrich that spring, and Ulrich introduced him to the "new wave" of U. K. metal (Saxon, Motorhead and Iron Maiden) that had emerged as the '70s gave way to the '80s. The two music fans became fast friends, and by the end of the year they were, as Rolling Stone put it in a 1991 cover story "playing together in Hetfield's living room with a prototype version of Metallica."
In '82 the entire band, which also included bassist Cliff Burton [Burton died in 1986, when the group's tour bus overturned during a European tour; he was replaced by James Newsted] and guitarist Kirk Hammett, who replaced original lead guitarist Dave Mustaine [who went on to form Megadeth]. Success came fast for the band. Kill 'Em All sold 300,000 copies, and led to a contract with Elektra Records (home to Motley Crue at the time).
They toured relentlessly, since their music wasn't considered radio-friendly. Album sales continued to increase. Ride the Lightening, released in 1986, sold over 500,000 copies while Master of Puppets surpassed 900,000 in sales. ...And Justice For All, released in August of 1988, went double platinum (over two million copies sold). But it was 1991's Metallica that literally went through the roof, selling 15 million copies during the two years the group toured non-stop. "We pretty much grew up in public," says Hammett. "We started when we were like 19, 20 years old. And our whole adult life has been spent living, eating, shitting, breathing Metallica."
This time, the group will tour for just a year. Do they foresee a time when they stop going on the road? "There'll be a time when it will be physically impossible for us to do long tours because of health, family, whatever," says Hammett. "You have to draw the line somewhere. Old age? I don't know."
"We tour because it's fun and because that's what we know and that's what we do best, I think," adds Hetfield. "Length of the tour...who knows? Two years was too long. And we found out. But the only way we found out was because we did it. We have to push ourselves as far as we can and we do that a lot."
He is silent for moment. "We'll be pushing ourselves to the limit like we always have and do," Hetfield says. "That's what we'll be doing. Whatever that limit will be, who knows? Our bodies will tell us at that time."
UNTIL IT SLEEPS
Last year, Kirk Hammett showed up at the Lollapalooza '95 show in Mountain View, CA. He arrived backstage around the time Beck went on, and hung around for Pavement, Hole and Sonic Youth. So while the media at large was stunned when, earlier this year, Addicted To Noise first reported that it looked like Metallica would headline Lolla '96, it made perfect sense to me.
The group chose some of the bands that are performing with them this summer. Soundgarden [who in turn wanted the Ramones on the bill] was one choice.
Screaming Trees [managed by Q Prime, the management company that handle Metallica, was another]. More unexpected was outlaw country star Waylon
Jennings [a favorite of Hetfield's] who will play a few dates, and the Cocteau Twins, who were there at the kick-off show in Kansas City on June 27.
"There's so much crap going on now about [our] haircuts and playing Lollapalooza and all this stuff we're not supposed to do," says Hetfield. "We don't give a shit, really."
It's hard to avoid the dramatic change in the group's image. All four members cut their hair short. Ulrich and Hammett sport earrings, and Hammett has tattoos on various areas of his body, as well as the piercing below his lip. And they enlisted Anton Corbijn, the U. K.-based photographer best-known for photographing U2 (as well as Echo and the Bunnymen in the '80s), to take the numerous images that appear in the 32 page CD booklet, as well as their latest PR photos.
Hetfield and Hammett say they're fed up with the media's current attention on things they describe as "superficial." When I somewhat jokingly list the image changes they've made and ask if they're "gone alternative," they respond with good humor. "Is that some sort of recipe for alternative-ism?" asks Hammett.
"Yep. I'm wearing shorts," says Hetfield.
"I'm wearing the labrette that's been around for like 2000 years," says Hammett. "Haircuts? Did alternative people invent haircuts? Is hair cutting an alternative thing now?"
"It's the law," laughs Hetfield. "You cut your hair, you're alternative."
In fact, while some might see Metallica's image makeover as a calculated bid for acceptance by the Alternative Nation, I think it's the healthy sign of guys not stuck in a rut. I don't know about you, but I don't wear the flares I wore as a kid in the late '70s. Bands, like people, get tired of the same old thing. They cut their hair. They buy new clothes. They add different musical styles to their sound. It's all part of staying alive, or remaining in the moment, not stuck in the past.
"People freak out about things that are different," says Hetfield with a shrug. "Five years [since the release of Metallica] is a long time. Nirvana came and went. A lot of things happened in that five years. When [the fans] compare the two records, the two looks, the two everythings next to each other, they can't see how we got there. They see A, they see Z. They don't see the B through Y."
"It just feels really dumb and really stupid that people are scrutinizing very small, insignificant things that don't have very much to do with the music," says Hammett. "It's just annoying. Hopefully, once we get on tour, the focus will be back on the music and us as a live band rather than whether or not we cut our hair this week."
A few days later, when I witness the awesome power of Metallica up close, as they slash and burn through the beginning of their set at the San Francisco nightclub Slim's, it is indeed the music, not their haircuts, they myself and the 600 or so members of the Metallica fan club in attendance are firmly focused on.
"There's a lot of time spent in Metallica and Metallica mindset," Hetfield said towards the end of our interview. "Metallica is burnt into the brain. You can't escape it. The light won't go off."
"It's a lifestyle," added Hammett.
"It's impossible to turn it off no matter where," said Hetfield. "If I'm off hunting in the middle of no damn where, still it's there. And I don't want it to be there but it is, which is great. You're part of a family that is important to you and obviously it can't go away. But a lot of time is spent on Metallica. And that doesn't give you a lot of time for personal things or getting other lifestyle...like getting your house together, getting a home and homelife together is pretty difficult. That's where I think sometimes it suffers. Being torn between two things sometimes.
"But this is family," he said, gesturing to Hammett and the rehearsal studio filled with Metallica's gear. "Being on the road is great fun. There's a lot of hard work to be done as well. It's just all about extremes."
"I think to the day I die, every single day I'll be thinking about Metallica and the other three guys in Metallica," said Hammett.
James Hetfield looks me right in the eye. "We don't know anything else," he said. "We grew up with it. This is our life."