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Metallica is one of the most important and most influential metal bands of all time, drafting the blueprint for thrash metal in their earliest days, then pushing the boundaries of mainstream metal and hard rock as they settled into their role as a popular legacy act as the decades went on. Between the meeting of raw energy and intricate speed metal compositions of their 1983 debut Kill 'Em All and the layered, radio-geared production of 1991's self-titled "black album," the band turned in classic album after classic album, each new chapter leading the development of metal on a global scale. Throughout the '90s and beyond, the group was highly active as a stadium-level touring act while sporadically releasing new music. Razor-sharp riffs, growling vocals, and high-power precision drumming remained at the core of their sound even as they explored new ideas on later albums like 2003's St. Anger or their tenth studio album, 2016's Hardwired...To Self-Destruct.
Metallica was formed in Los Angeles in 1981 by drummer Lars Ulrich. He put a call out for local musicians to form a new band, and eventually an early lineup came together that included guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield, bassist Ron McGovney, and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine. In their earliest iteration, Metallica combined the speedy tempos of hardcore punk acts like Discharge with the influence of more obscure acts from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that was unfolding around the same time, resulting in some of the earliest thrash metal. The band made a few demo recordings with McGovney before asking him to leave the group when they met innovative bassist Cliff Burton. Burton eventually joined Metallica, and the quartet set out to record their first album in 1983. During the recording sessions, however, Mustaine's problems with drugs and alcohol led to him being fired from the band, and they quickly recruited new lead guitarist Kirk Hammett to complete the album. Released in 1983 on independent thrash-focused label Megaforce Records, Metallica's debut long-player, Kill 'Em All, marked the beginning of the legitimization of heavy metal's underground, bringing new complexity and depth to thrash metal. Second album Ride the Lightning followed quickly in 1984, deepening the band's sound with the inclusion of classically themed guitar elements and the dark ballad "Fade to Black."
Shortly after the release of Ride the Lightning, Metallica signed on with major label Elektra Records. They worked with the label towards the release of third album Master of Puppets, which came out in March 1986. Master of Puppets would prove to be a significant breakthrough for Metallica, reaching mainstream audiences without diminishing the band's standing in the metal community. It was their best-selling record up until that point, but also their most innovative and boundary-pushing, going on to be heralded as one of the most influential metal albums of all time. Tragedy struck the group later that year when their tour bus crashed while traveling in Sweden. Burton died in the accident. When the band decided to continue, Flotsam and Jetsom bassist Jason Newsted was chosen to replace Burton. Newsted was touring with the band by 1987, and that year his first recorded material with Metallica was released on The $5.98 E.P. - Garage Days Re-Revisited, a self-produced EP of ragged covers the band put together in a practice space. In 1987, Metallica also paid tribute to their departed bassist with Cliff 'Em All, a video release that included unreleased live footage and intimate home videos of Burton.
In 1988, the band returned with their conceptually ambitious fourth studio album, ...And Justice for All. Before this record, Metallica had been outspoken about rejecting aspects of the music industry that they found disingenuous, including pandering for mainstream acceptance by making their music more accessible or making music videos, which were a relatively new medium in the 1980s. This changed with Justice, as the group released their first-ever video for the song "One." Despite minimal support from MTV or mainstream radio, the album hit the Top Ten and sold over a million copies within weeks of its release. But the band completely crossed over into the mainstream with 1991's Metallica, a self-titled effort that found the group trading in their long compositions for more concise song structures. With slick, layered production from Bob Rock and a shift from the thrash of the band's early days for more digestible, almost pop-leaning hard rock hits like "Wherever I May Roam" and "Enter Sandman," it resulted in a number one album that sold over seven million copies in the U.S. alone. To support the record, Metallica launched a long tour that kept the musicians on the road for nearly two years.
By the '90s, Metallica had changed the rules for all heavy metal bands; they were the leaders of the genre, respected not only by headbangers but by mainstream record buyers and critics. No other heavy metal band has ever been able to pull off such a feat. However, the group lost a portion of their core audience with their long-awaited follow-up to Metallica, 1996's Load. The album moved the band toward alternative rock in terms of image -- the bandmembers cut their hair and had their picture taken by Anton Corbijn. Although the record was a hit upon its summer release, entering the charts at number one and selling three million copies within two months, certain members of the Metallica fan base complained about the shift in image, as well as the group's decision to headline the sixth Lollapalooza. Re-Load, which combined new material with songs left off the original Load record, appeared in 1997; despite poor reviews, it sold at a typically brisk pace and spun off several successful singles, including "Fuel" and "The Memory Remains." Garage Inc., a double-disc collection of B-sides, rarities, and newly recorded covers, followed in 1998. Metallica's take on Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" helped maintain their presence in the charts, and the band continued their flood of product with 1999's S&M, which documented a live concert with the San Francisco Symphony. It debuted at number two, reconfirming the group's immense popularity.
Metallica spent most of 2000 embroiled in controversy by spearheading a legal assault against Napster, a file-sharing service that allowed users to download music files from each other's computers. Aggressively targeting copyright infringement of their own material, Metallica notoriously had over 300,000 users kicked off the service, creating a widespread debate over the availability of digital music that raged for most of the year. In January 2001, bassist Jason Newsted announced his amicable departure from the band. Shortly after the group appeared at the ESPN Awards in April of the same year, Hetfield, Hammett, and Ulrich entered the recording studio to begin work on their next album, with producer Bob Rock lined up to handle bass duties for the sessions (meanwhile, rumors swirled of former Ozzy Osbourne/Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez being considered for the vacated position). In July, Metallica surprisingly dropped their lawsuit against Napster, perhaps sensing that their controversial stance did more harm than good to their "band of the people" image. That same summer, the group's recording sessions (and all other band-related matters) were put on hold as Hetfield entered an undisclosed rehab facility for alcoholism and other addictions. He completed treatment and rejoined Metallica as they headed back into the studio in 2002 to record St. Anger, which was released in mid-2003.
The recording of St. Anger was capped with the search for a permanent replacement for Newsted. After a long audition process, former Ozzy Osbourne/Suicidal Tendencies bass player Robert Trujillo was selected and joined Metallica for their 2003-2004 world tour. The growing pains that the band experienced during the recording of St. Anger were captured in the celebrated documentary Some Kind of Monster, which saw theatrical release in 2004. Four years later, Metallica returned with Death Magnetic, an energized album that returned the group to their early-'80s roots. Former Slayer producer Rick Rubin helmed the album, having replaced the band's longtime producer Bob Rock, while Kirk Hammett (who was forbidden to play guitar solos on St. Anger) peppered the record with metallic riffs and frenetic solos.
Death Magnetic spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard charts and the band supported it with an extensive international tour that included a festival gig with Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Metallica closed out their Warner contract with Death Magnetic -- outtakes from the sessions appeared as the Beyond Magnetic EP in late 2011 -- and while they were exploring their options, they struck up a collaboration with Lou Reed, releasing the ambitious, arty Lulu in the fall of 2011. In 2012, Metallica launched their own label, Blackened, which would be distributed by Universal. The following year, they announced the release of their second motion picture, Through the Never, which combined spectacular concert footage of them blasting through gems from their back catalog with a surreal road-trip odyssey starring Dane DeHaan. The film and its accompanying soundtrack album were released in September 2013.
Over the next few years, Metallica played the occasional high-profile concert as they worked on a new studio album. In 2016, the band launched a series of expanded reissues, starting with deluxe editions of Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning. These reissues were the preamble to the November release of Hardwired...To Self-Destruct, a double album that was the group's first new music in eight years. Produced by Greg Fidelman, James Hetfield, and Lars Ulrich, Hardwired...To Self-Destruct debuted at number one throughout the world upon its November 2016 release. The following year saw the group release a massive expanded edition of their landmark 1986 LP, Master of Puppets.
In 2019, Metallica celebrated the 20th anniversary of S&M by reuniting with the San Francisco Symphony for another pair of concerts of orchestral arrangements of their original songs. This provided the source material for 2020's S&M2. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Greg Prato