The Most Successful Band In The World, Metallica
Posted: Jun 16 2021
It was through a love of British heavy metal that the band known Metallica came to be. Now considered the big four in thrash metal alongside Megadeath, Slayer and Anthrax, their influence and new approach to music is one that has fostered the success of bands to follow in their footsteps.
You can buy official Metallica merchandise from the Twisted Thread website.
Getting The Band Together
The year was 1981 and Los Angeles based Danish drummer Lars Ulrich was looking for some like-minded musicians to play with after his career in high school tennis went down the drain.
He placed an ad in the newspaper, The Recycler, that read “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with.” Guitarists James Hetfield and Hugh Tanner responded. It took some convincing that Ulrich's skills were worthwhile forming a band with but when Hetfield and Ulrich bonded over British metal music, Hetfield begun to see the light.
Before even being signed to a label, Ulrich convinced a record label to release one of his songs on a compilation album. Hetfield recognised the determination and five months later the band was formed.
The name Metallica came to fruition when Ulrich’s friend Ron Quintana was forming a zine and needed a name, the options were MetalMani or Metallica and Ulrich decided upon hearing the names he wanted Metallica for his own band.
Dave Mustaine also replied to the advertisement and was recruited due to his extensive equipment, he didn’t even audition. The band’s first song, ‘Hit The Lights’ was recorded in 1982 as part of the Metal Massacre I compilation. Hetfield played bass, rhythm guitar and sung, Lloyd Grant had a guitar solo and Ulrich was on drums. Following the release, the band played their first show at Radio City Hall in California the same year with newly added bassist Ron McGovney. They found success early with their live performance and were asked to open for British heavy metal band, Saxon on their 1982 US tour, Metallica recorded their first demo Power Metal in 1982 as well.
The Beginnings of Thrash Metal
In 1984 Kerrang! Journalist Malcolm Dome first used the term Thrash Metal to describe Anthrax’s song, ‘Metal Thrashing Mad.’ Eventually, Metallica would also join the ranks in that genre but initially, Hetfield was calling Metallica’s sound Power Metal. This was until they discovered Cliff Burton who was playing in a band called Trauma at the time. His use of the wah-wah pedal was something both Ulrich and Hetfield were blown away by and it would go on to be a part of their sound transformation into what they are today.
Hetfield refers to Burton to this day as the only real musician in the band. They asked him to join Metallica and asked McGovney to leave as he wasn’t contributing enough. They performed with Burton for the first time at The Stone in March 1983 and recorded their next demo, Megaforce.
Well and truly ready to record an album, promoter Johnathan ‘Johnny Z’ Zazula offered to organise a deal for them when they couldn’t afford it themselves. He ended up borrowing the money, creating a label just for the band and signing Metallica's to his own label, Megaforce Records.
Metal Up Your Ass
The band travelled to New York in May 1983 to record the debut album, Metal Up Your Ass, produced by Paul Curcio. Sadly for Mustaine this also signaled the end of the road for him and Metallica as the band asked him to leave due to his drug and alcohol abuse and violent behaviour, Kirk Hammett replaced Mustaine the same day and they played their first show together alongside Anthrax.
Mustaine actually went on to form Megadeath and has always expressed his hatred for Hammett claiming he stole his job and his guitar leads that he wrote. The feud, although he was only in the band for a short time, would go on for over a decade. When it came to the release of the album, distributors refused to release an album called Metal Up Your Ass so the album’s name was changed to Kill ‘Em All. It peaked at 155 on the Billboard 200 in 1986. It wasn’t financially successful but built a strong underground following. They toured the album soon with Raven, a highlight was performing to 7000 people at the Aardschok Festival in the Netherlands.
Ride The Lightning
Their second album Ride the Lighting was recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark at Sweet Silence Studios, it reached number 100 in the Billboard 200. A misprint in France led to the covers being printed as green and are now collector items. Mustaine was credited on ‘Ride the Lightning’ and ‘The Call of Ktulu’. This would be the last album with Zazula too as whilst he had the love and drive behind the band, he did not have the finances.
The band gained interest from the management company, Q-Prime Management after the co-founder Cliff Burnstein attended their concert in 1984 and they were signed shortly after. The band’s success was mounting, even selling 40,000 copies of a limited edition release of the single ‘Creeping Death’.
They headed out on their first major European tour alongside W.A.S.P. Metallica played their largest show to date in 1985 in England opening for Bon Jovi and Ratt, to 70,000 people.
Master of Puppets and Burton Passes Away
Back in Denmark again, the band recorded their third album, Master of Puppets and released it in March 1986. The album peaked at number 29 on the Billboard 200 where it spent 72 weeks and was the first album of Metallica’s to be certified gold and then in 2003 six times platinum.
At the same time, Megadeath were also on the rise, proving the growing fandom for Thrash Metal. Following the success of the release, they supported Ozzy Osbourne on his U.S tour. In September on the band’s Damage Inc tour, tragedy struck when their bus driver lost control of the bus which caused the bus to overturn several times. Ulrich, Hammett and Hetfield came out fine but Burton was pinned under the bus and died. The driver said that he hit black ice but an extremely upset Hetfield went back to check and there was none. He said,
“I saw the bus lying right on him. I saw his legs sticking out. I freaked. The bus driver, I recall, was trying to yank the blanket out from under him to use for other people. I just went, 'Don't fucking do that!' I already wanted to kill the [bus driver]. I don't know if he was drunk or if he hit some ice. All I knew was, he was driving and Cliff wasn't alive anymore."
The band were unsure where to go from here and eventually, with Burton’s families blessings, decided to continue as that is what he would have wanted. They begun auditioning a new member, after over 40 auditions they landed on Jason Newsted from Flotsam and Jetsam. Impressed with Newsted who had learnt the band’s entire setlist they invited him to play at the Country Club in California. The band initiated him in by tricking him into eating wasabi. At the same time, they decided to move the band’s practice place and headed for San Rafael, north of San Francisco.
They recorded an EP in order to check out their new space and Newsted’s talents, it also helped relieve some grief and stress following Burton’s death. They also released a video called Cliff ‘Em All to commemorate Burton’s three years in the band.
Finding Commercial Success and Next Albums
….And Justice For All was the band’s first album since Burton’s death and was released in 1988. This album marked the first sign of real commercial success with the album reaching number six on the Billboard 200, the first album to enter the top 10.
Only nine weeks after its release it was certified platinum. The tour "Damaged Justice" followed as well as, in 1989, the band’s first Grammy award nomination for the album in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category. A top pick to win, they lost to Jethro Tull for Crest of a Knave, the band were the side of the stage ready to perform their song ‘One’ and Jethro Tull was told to not even attend, a true upset to metal fans.
After the album was out, the band made their first music video ever for the song ‘One.’ This was one of the many antiwar songs by Metallica with the video a dark, grim story of a soldier who was limbless and blind and praying for God to take his life. Regardless of the losses, the album went on to win two Grammys.
The Notorious Black Album
Known to many as The Black Album but actually called Metallica, in October 1990 the band started work on what would be the hardest work to date alongside producer Bob Rock (Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue). There were various conflicts and issues with this album, Rock wanted the band to work together on every aspect of the album, including writing. It cost US$1 million to make and was delayed by over a year.
Eventually, the hard work paid off, debuting at number one in 10 countries and considered the band’s heaviest work to date. The making of the album and the 14 month tour following its release were documented in A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica. The tour included 1.6 million fans in Moscow for the first ever open-air rock concert in the former Soviet Union.
Following this tour the band headlined with Guns N’ Roses. During the tour Hetfiled walked into a new pyrotechnics set up and suffered third degree burns to his upper body and was unable to play. John Marshall replaced Hetfield for the rest of the tour.
Metallica vs Napster and Some Kind of Monster
In the year 2000 the band discovered their song ‘I Disappear’ was getting radio play. The song was only released, to their knowledge, on the Mission Impossible Soundtrack but not on radio.
Eventually the band was able to trace to song back now defunct Napster, a peer-to-peer file sharing network. They also discovered the band's entire catalog was on there too. So, driven by Ulirch, the band sued Napster on the grounds of three laws being broken. Once in court, Napster was ordered to put on a filter on the site or be shut down.
There seemed to be an agreement met when Bertelsmann BMG were opting to buy out the company, with the agreement that Napster would block users who shared music by artists who didn’t agree. Instead, in 2002, Napster filed for bankruptcy and the sale was blocked.
During this time, Newsted left the band due to his own personal reasons and so for their next album, St Anger, producer Bob Rock played bass. Things really were unfurling for the band at this point, in April 2001 Hetfield entered rehab for alcohol and drug addiction. The album was put on hold until December when Hetfield left rehab.
Over this time, a documentary was being made of the band titled, Some Kind Of Monster which was released in 2004. And in June 2003, St Anger was finally released, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 and nabbing a Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Bob Rock filled in during the recording process but the band needed a permanent replacement and so after auditions, Robert Trujillo of Suicidal Tendencies joined.
Next Steps and Death Magnetic
Metallica released a DVD which captured them live from 1989-2004, however, adding to the way things were falling apart, in 2004 before their Download Festival appearance, Ulrich had an anxiety attack and couldn’t perform. When Hetfield called for help from other festival performers the job was split between Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison and Ulrich's drum technician Flemming Larsen.
In 2007 they released a tribute album for the now late Ennio Morricone and recorded a version of his best known song, 'The Ecstasy of Gold' which received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Their next album, Death Magnetic saw the change from long time producer Bob Rock to Rick Rubin. The album debuted at number one upon its release in 2008, making Metallica the first band in the world to have five number one albums in a row. In 2009, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Lulu and Beyond Magnetic
Following on from the release of the album, the band toured for two years non-stop, ending with Australia and New Zealand. From the tour, two EPs were released of live recordings and new tracks.
In 2009, Ulrich stated there would be no next album but in 2011 recording with Rick Rubin started. Lulu was their 9th album and was recorded with Lou Reed, released on October 31 2011. In the same year, the band were due to make their first ever appearance in India but "India Rocks" was cancelled due to the venue being unsafe after the audience stormed the stage, later that year they made their first appearance in Bangalore.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Metallica were invited to play the Black Album in full for the Download Festival. They also organised four shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco where guest appearances were made from those who had featured in the band’s career including, Ozzy Osbourne, Jason Newsted, Dave Mustaine and many more.
Not done yet, the band announced their own music festival, Orion Music + More in 2012, with themselves as headliners, they also left Warner Bros and started their own label, Blackened Recordings, starred in a 3D concert film, Metallica: Through The Never, released another concert DVD and played in Antarctica, making them the first band in the world to play on all seven continents. This all further cemented them in history as the most successful heavy metal band in the world.
In 2014, the band performed at the Grammys, started a new tour called Metallica By Request and headlined Glastonbury Festival. In 2015, they made their return to Lollapalooza for the first time in 20 years. Due to their larger involvement in the music industry, festivals etc their next album, Hardwired to Self-Destruct took a back seat in 2016, Ulrich in 2016.
"The way we do things now is very different than the way we did things back in the days of Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning. Nowadays we like to do so many different things. Unless something radical happens it would be difficult for me to believe that it won't come out in 2016".
Released on time, it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. With little time spared, in 2019 it was confirmed another album was coming. Commemorating twenty years of S&M, the band performed with the San Francisco Symphony and was screened at 3000 theatres worldwide, earning them $5.5 Million USD. Following that success, it was released on DVD shortly after.
In 2019, Just before the band were due to appear in Australasia with Slipknot, Hetfield had gone back into rehab and the tour was postponed. Just like most things in 2020, their next tour was also postponed but due to COVID-19, and like most artists they made do with virtual performances.
Alongside their nine Grammys, Metallica are credited with changing the way heavy metal was seen and surpassed the idea of what it means to be a band, taking full control of recording, owning masters and thinking creatively outside of just creating music. The themes in their music and musical style influences bands today, discussing things of a socially conscious nature such as war, politics and world leaders - not to mention mental illness and addiction.
Commercially, they have sold over 125 million records worldwide making them the most successful heavy metal band in the world. They are listed as the third greatest heavy metal bands in the world on MTV, fifth on VH1’s greatest bands of all time list and top the list for many more.
As for their influence, there are many bands that wouldn’t exist without them, Korn, Godsmack, Machine Head, Trivium, Avenged Sevenfold and many more cite the band as life changing and their main inspiration.
All over the world tributes flow for the band including albums, TV shows, tribute bands, parody bands and most recently, Miley Cyrus announced she would be doing a Metallica covers album. Whist they are now 39 years into their career, there appears to be no end to what this band will end up achieving.
You can buy official Metallica merchandise from the Twisted Thread website.