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THRASH KINGS RETURN JAMES, KIRK, LARS AND JASON - 1991


Metallica teams up with Bob Rock for its "biggest'' album yet.

We went into the studio with the intent of making a real lively record that bounces off the walls,'' says Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich of the Bay Area thrash kings' long-awaited new album, simply titled Metallica. "It should have gone quicker, in theory, than trying to get everything note perfect like we have before. But as usual with Metallica, all those theories and normality's go straight out the window.'' In fact, Ulrich confesses rather sheepishly, ``it took us twice as long to make a record that is twice as loose.'' 

Released by Elektra Records on August 12th, Metallica is the fruit of an entire year's labor -- two months of concentrated songwriting, primarily by Ulrich and singer-guitarist James Hetfield, and ten months of recording and mixing in Los Angeles with producer Bob Rock, the Canadian AOR-metal hotshot whose multi-platinum resume includes hits by Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and Loverboy. Just days before the early-July deadline for mastering the new album, Rock and the band were still in the studio tinkering with the final mixes and recutting Hetfield's vocals on two tracks. 

"We spent so much time on the sounds,'' says Ulrich, taking a break from the final stages of what he dryly calls "new-album hell.'' ``One of the things we said to Bob was to help us make a record that sounds huge and big and throbbing. We've had problems with that in the past. It was time to get someone in who could help us make that big record.'' 

Metallica, the band's fifth full-length release, is certainly the biggest record it has ever made. Bob Rock has jacked up the boom factor in the rhythm section, especially compared with the rather boxy bottom end of Metallica's last album, 1988's double platinum . . . And Justice for All ("It couldn't get any worse,'' cracks Hetfield). Rock has also expanded the group's instrumental palette to include such unorthodox touches as Hetfield's electric-sitar intro on "Wherever I May Roam'' and the cellos lurking deep in the mix on "The Unforgiven.'' 

But much of Metallica's wallop comes from the stripped-down songwriting. Where Justice was composed mostly of epic ravers -- lasting up to nine minutes and crammed with reeling time changes and terse, jarring guitar motifs -- the twelve new songs on Metallica are nearly all in the four-to-six-minute range and feature only one or two key streamlined riffs fortified with maximum Metallica oomph. 

"It was a challenge for us to jam every fucking riff in the universe into one song and make it work,'' says Hetfield. "Now we're pretty much doing the opposite. Which is even more of a challenge.'' 

"The mood never strays away from where it starts off,'' says Ulrich of the songs on Metallica. "That's one of the major differences. The songs are still long by others' standards. But these songs feel a lot shorter and a lot more condensed. When the mood is set, they stick to it.'' 

The first song on the album -- a roaring five-minute thunderfest called "Enter Sandman'' -- is literally "a one-riff song,'' according to Ulrich: "The whole intro, the verse, the bridge, the chorus, all that stuff, is the same riff.'' "Enter Sandman,'' he notes, was also the first song written for the album: "That's why it's the leadoff track. To me, it was "Here's the new vibe gone right to the extreme.' '' 

Metallica is the first album on which the band, which has always fiercely guarded its musical independence, has deigned to use an outside producer. "Our first album has a producer's credit,'' guitarist Kirk Hammett says, "but the guy basically just sat there and doodled on his note pad and made coffee for us.'' Bob Rock, on the other hand, nearly became a fifth member of the band. He was even accorded the honor of being allowed to sit in on the band's rehearsals. 

"It was real weird for us because nobody like that has ever sat in on our rehearsals,'' says bassist Jason Newsted. "And [Bob] would say, every once in a while, "Why don't you try F sharp there for a couple of bars, and go into such and such?' And James would get that look on his face -- `What?' But we were open-minded about it. We'd try it, and about eighty percent of the time he was right.'' 

The members of Metallica originally planned to produce the album themselves and bring Bob Rock in to mix it, largely because of the sound he got for Motley Crue on Dr. Feelgood. "There was something about the way that record sounded that was . . . fuck! -- major hard-on,'' explains Ulrich. Rock, however, wanted to produce the whole album and, to Metallica's surprise, was quite upfront in his criticisms of the band's recording technique. 

"He'd seen us live on the Justice tour,'' says Ulrich. "He loved our shit and loved the fact of a band that was on the edge. But he felt we'd never captured in the studio what we could get across live. We told him how we recorded in the studio, and he fell off his chair laughing. "Is it actually possible for all four of you to be in the studio at the same time? Things we didn't know.'' 

Bob Rock's interest in making Metallica's music listener-friendly without dulling that edge actually coincided with the band's own desire to bust out of thrash-metal's buzz-saw prison. The most dramatic example of that on Metallica is the ballad "Nothing Else Matters,'' an acoustic reverie (with the exception of one blinding electric-guitar solo) on openness and commitment that Hetfield sings in an unexpectedly deep, romantic tenor, complete with harmonies. It was written long before Rock came into the picture and provided the band with an opportunity to step out of its standard ballad mode. 

"We really wanted to get away from the pattern of `Fade to Black' and `One,' '' Ulrich says. "Those were ballads that would eventually go into the super-freight-train-out-of-control vibe. Let's just stick with the melodic thing. Be powerful just with that.'' 

"I always wanted to do something more like that, but I knew it would freak people out,'' Hetfield says of his startlingly soulful vocal. "I freaked myself out when I was doing it.'' Still, he contends, "the word harmonies has never been a bad word in the Metallica camp.'' 

"We've always used guitar harmonies,'' Hetfield continues. This time it was "Here's some vocal parts with some open chords behind them, to show off the lead vocal. It's not your Def Leppard three-part la-la's. It's accenting certain lines to make it a little more dynamic.''

There is no shortage of familiar Metallica buzz 'n' bluster: the ultra-Sabbath stormer "Sad but True'' ("It really moves some air,'' raves Newsted); the locomotive road song "Wherever I May Roam''; the album's bristling climax, "The Struggle Within.'' And while Hetfield, the band's lyricist, is not as aggressively topical as he was on Justice, there is a definite combative kick to his patriot's wail "Don't Tread on Me'' and his swipe at crybaby protest groups in "My Friend of Misery.'' Yet Ulrich admits that the musical and stylistic changes wrought on Metallica are, in part, a reflection of the band's huge chart success with Justice and the Top Forty single "One.'' 

"It didn't change my attitude in the sense of "Oh, wow, let's have more hit singles,'' says Ulrich. "But it changed my attitude in the sense of "Well, there's nothing wrong with putting a single out or doing a video."

"There will be people who go, Yeah, the token radio song," Ulrich says, referring to "Nothing Else Matters.'' "But all I can say is, this time around this is where our heads are at. We're going to fuck with some videos, fuck with some singles. For the first time in the last ten years, it just feels right.'' 

Metallica is also embarking on a typical rock-till-we-drop tour that starts with a swing through Europe, in August and September, on a Monsters of Rock bill headlined by AC/DC and also featuring Queensryche, Motley Crue and the Black Crowes. The group is then expected to start a headlining tour in the U.S. beginning in late October and continuing into the spring of 1992. 

As for the album title, Ulrich claims that was Metallica's way of getting out of the "big fucking circus, big cartoon images, fancy wordplay'' that often goes into naming a record, especially in heavy metal. "Here's sixty-five minutes of music,'' Ulrich says. "The wrapper it comes in doesn't have to be a big production. Looking around at other bands and looking at what we'd done before, we thought it was time to play that thing down to a minimum. We were even talking about not calling the album anything. It's basically called Metallica by default. 

"Then again,'' Ulrich adds, `"maybe in three or four years, we'll look back and go, "Gee, that was really dumb."

 

 

 

 

 

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