"WHAT can I say about Metallica now, I couldn't say five years ago ... mmmm, I think we cherish our freedom a little more and the fact we can do what the fuck we want; we've always said that but there's always been this unwritten law in Metallica, 'you can't do this, you can't cut your hair, you can't do that ...' Now all that's shit; just blown out of the window.

"There's total freedom but there's such a unity in the band now with that freedom. It's so weird. Everything is out in the open; everything is - there's no clouds. I think everyone is very respectful of each other and, err, just glad things are out in the open and we can do basically what we want. I think Jason has starred big time on this record with his playing and Kirk has surprised me too with his rhythm and chops and things."

The metal of the matter is that Load is personal. Hetfield gets all soft around the edges when he starts talking about the songs, his love of songwriting: yet sometimes it's as if even James Hetfield - this strong man - is unsure of what he's let fly, where the poetry, the very words fell from; and he's open for the first time. Load is Hetfield and there's no escaping the invasion and incision of the private.

It's almost like he half expects somebody to burst out laughing at his human foibles; he can't even hide behind his once blonde hair. Nowhere to run. He starts slowly.

"I think we really wanted these songs to be their own entities, have their own characters and I think we did pretty good at that. We tried to give each song its own flavour, even more so than on The Black Album.

"Yeah, there's a lot in the songs. It's inner feelings but this time it's a little different because there weren't really any subject matters I was going for. The way it always was before was I got all these subject matters, I got all these titles, put 'em all together. This time, it's like 'that's so fucking stale. Okay, throw that fucking book away. Let's try something else. Just start writing just whatever comes into your head, just start writing. I might have an idea about where I wanted to go but I just started writing and things came out and turned into stuff and it's like 'whoa, I didn't really want this but I got it, you know." He stops eyeing off the purple bass leaning against the far wall, looks back and his eyes laugh as he does.

"I guess a lot of the time I start writing and 'boom' THAT part happens but then you have to start thinking 'well, this part needs help now' and really kind of tweak it and get it happening. I'm never really satisfied with them, ever, you know. You think they could be better always." There's a pause and then a rough chuckle, "but it's damn good. This record's damn good. Good stuff."

His following admission is almost coy. James Hetfield enjoys songwriting more than anything else in the five-star rock world where the elevators to The Observatory in Sydney's exclusive The Rocks are sealed to the third floor where he and Newstead are conducting promotional business. It takes a key to gain admission - or the lift has a memory lapse and follows 2 with 4. Poetic really. "2 X 4" is track two.

Not that Hetfield cares. In his world "when the song is great and you add a lyric that takes it to another level, there's no better feeling. There's a big satisfaction in that. But I don't know, it's a proud kind of feel: 'Here's my baby; look at my kid'."

And Bleeding Me is father's fave. "It's thick as snot, man," he enthuses sounding like gravel has suddenly imbedded itself in his lower throat. "It's full on. It's a great song. It's got it all." It has.

The cool is dissolving at X-Files pace. The sniff of the road is already in his nostrils. These publicity jaunts the first stretch of the legs, a tone-up for the year-long stampede ahead. A short trans-global over ground by their standards that includes the headlining slot on the trimmed down and leaner Lollapalooza '96. That's fitting too - what's more alternative to grunge than heavy rock with metal spurs.

"Heh, heh, heh," the big man's into third. "The gears are turning again. The fact that new record - it's hard to believe. We struggled; no we didn't struggle. We put a lot of work into it. A lot of fucking time. We shaped, we moulded, we tried so many different things; we push pulled, there were battles internally. No doubt, this was the biggest group effort of all the records from the four of us. But, yeah, the fact it's really done. Coming home from New York after the war ... we were in New York two months, mixing and finishing up vocals and I'm still writing fucking lyrics and shit while I'm mixing the fifth song and it's 'oh, I'd better get going'.

"After being there for so long and not really hearing all the songs together - especially as there's 14 songs (coming in at a second under 80 minutes, the time limit of a CD - 45 seconds of guitar and vocals had to be faded off the album's epic 10-minute closer The Outlaw Torn'to get everything on: the full version will see light as a future 'b-side'), that's the most we've done on a record - so, yeah, on the flight home I just put the DAT on and listened to it, like top to bottom, and it's like 'fuck, it's done man'. I didn't know whether to cry or scream or what. Really, really, a good feeling, a really good feeling." 

He breathes, and disappears into an even longer rant about how good producer Bob Rock was in the studio; how they chucked the "Metallica records this way" rule book out of the window; how overdubbing went the same way ("When you start overdubbing it gets tighter and you get more anal about things, like it's gotta be exact and 'oh, you're not on the beat' and all that shit: we threw that out the window."); how some of the vocal tracks went the same way and Poor Twisted Me was a scratch vocal ("I just did it and boom").

He positively smoulders, "This time it was more GET IN THERE with your own microphone and start yelling, blast the speakers and we'll go with it. I found myself in the mixes saying, 'hey turn the vocals up'. I never, ever, would have said that before. I guess I'm proud of it or something. I really want people to hear all the songs. Yeah, I do."






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