© Dave Ling - August 1998 - previously published in RAW magazine
Where were you the first time you clapped ears on Metallica? I recall my own initiation as if it were yesterday. It was one evening in 1984 at the Shades record store in central London when Lars Ulrich strolled in clutching a white label copy of the band’s second album, ‘Ride The Lighting’. In that funny Danish accent of his, he explained how pissed off he was that the test pressing played slow, as the chainsaw guitar and blitzkrieg drums began to decimate my brain. Slow?! Shurley shome mistake…
The years have flashed by and precious little has changed. The San Francisco band’s inimitable combination of high-velocity molten metal and carefree street credibility has assured them of a stature of regal proportions.
After surviving the tragic loss of bassist Cliff Burton – killed in a coach crash in September 1986 – the nucleus of Ulrich, guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett recruited former Flotsam And Jetsam man Jason Newsted and even found themselves in the UK Top 30 with their ‘$5.98 EP: Garage Days Revisited’.
“It’s not the sort of thing you can put on in the background
and then go and cook breakfast or have a wank.”
Lars Ulrich on the ‘…And Justice For All’ album
September 5th sees the release of Metallica’s fourth album, ‘…And Justice For All’. To celebrate, the talkative sticksman returned to London for a week of hectic press interviews. As with ‘…Lightning’, my introduction to ‘…Justice…’ was a memorable one. Some bright spark at Phonogram Records had issued a four-track sampler cassette that somewhat diminished my enthusiasm for the new product. Missing from this press preview was the quite phenomenal title track – a riff-laden masterpiece that’s likely to be acclaimed as Metallica’s finest nine-and-a-half minutes – and we were left with a handful (almost) of numbers that on first hearing sounded a trifle lukewarm and uninspired. Had the band finally run out of steam and inspiration? Ulrich finds the idea laughable.
"Not at all. The general reaction has been very encouraging," says Lars. "But what you have to realise is that is definitely one of those albums you need to spend a lot of time with. It’s not the sort of thing you can put on in the background and then go and cook breakfast or have a wank. You have to really listen to it because there’s so much going on in the songs. If you don’t pay attention it won’t sound like anything more than a bunch of riffs.
"I personally think that albums where the initial reaction is something of a question mark tend to be the ones that last a bit longer," he continues. "But it doesn’t surprise me that people’s first reaction is to go, ‘Whaaat?!’ Maybe that’s a good thing. But basically I’m so confident with this album that I feel almost bullet-proof at the moment. This is the first time there have been no compromises either song-wise, or the time we’ve been able to spend recording."
He’s not kidding either. As with the band’s last album, ‘Master Of Puppets’, the songs take some living with, but early indications suggest that ‘…And Justice For All’ is more than worth the time taken to digest. Besides the earth-shattering title track there’s the first single, ‘Harvester Of Sorrow’, which lumbers along like a tortoise with a hangover. A host of similarly stupefying offerings include perhaps the most commercial number the band have recorded to date. ‘Eye Of The Beholder’ may even be released to radio, oh yes!
Clocking in at 65 minutes, the album is to be put out as a double ("We couldn’t wait for someone to invent the 14" record!" quips Lars), but will retail for the price of a single disc after long consultation with the record company. There’s some fast songs, some slow ones and plenty of numbers that occupy the middle ground, all bearing the time-honoured Metallica trademarks. As with the last pair of LPs, production was handled by the band themselves along with their old pal Flemming Rasmussen. Initially, Mike Clink (who has worked with Triumph, produced Guns N’ Roses’ mega-selling ‘Appetite For Destruction’ and is currently involved with new Chrysalis signing the Sea Hags) was named as producer. However, it turns out that Clink only had a hand in the B-sides of the single – covers of Budgie’s ‘Breadfan’ and ‘The Prince’ by Diamond Head – plus the drum tracks for ‘Harvester Of Sorrow’ and ‘The Shortest Straw’. So what happened?
Lars sighs: "People are making a bigger issue out of this thing with Mike than they should. We were very excited about the new songs and thought that excitement might burn out if we waited for Flemming to become available. So we occupied our time doing B-sides with Mike and focussing on recording again."
So Clink’s input was negligible? According to rumour, he was actually going to be the producer for the whole project.
"His input was minimal at the end of the day," shrugs Lars. "Y’know, sometimes people make too much of the word ‘producer’. What Flemming does with Metallica is that he records the band. To me, the word ‘produce’ means to create something, to make something happen, and most of that comes from the band in the songwriting stages. In America, people live and die by these fucking phrases and it amazes me how seriously they take a co-production or an engineering credit. I find this highly amusing, so let me say that Flemming records rather than produces us."
Nevertheless, the production does sound a little disjointed in places, I venture. Almost as if it’s been started by someone and finished off by somebody else. Compared to past works, it’s a weird-sounding record; with lots of drum-fills in places you don’t expect them.
"I wouldn’t exactly say it sounds ‘weird’, but I appreciate the point you’re trying to make," Lars qualifies. "It’s different. We consciously tried to make it a lot deeper than ‘Master Of Puppets’, especially after the ‘Garage Days…’ thing. We wanted harder sounds and we realised we could get more impact by not using reverb and echo, that type of thing. What we’ve created here leaps out in a way that ‘Master Of Puppets’ did not; I listen to that album now and it’s like a wet noodle."
And those odd drum ideas on ‘Harvester Of Sorrow’?
"Well, I’d been listening to Clive Burr on a couple of early Iron Maiden LPs," admits Ulrich with a laugh. "He did some amazingly simple things that worked incredibly well. I wasn’t trying to rip him off or anything; I just tried to do a few things that would work and it’s good to hear that people are noticing that. Instead of playing against the guitars it’s good to experiment, but you also have to maintain the groove. You have to make sure you don’t do a Yes."
One thing you can rely on Metallica is that surprises are kept to a minimum. There are moments when things take an unexpected turn on ‘…Justice’, but basically it’s the band doing what they do best. It also represents Jason Newsted’s first ‘proper’ time in the studio with the band, and the Newkid has acquitted himself with flying colours.
"His playing is a bit different to his predecessor, and I’m not knocking Cliff here," Lars expands. "But the guitar and bass are more of a unit now, rather than being separate entities. We encouraged Jason not to play too much in places, to lay back, kind of get a groove thing. This time the attention wasn’t focussed so much on the musicianship, with everyone running off in different directions. It was more to do with the songs and the vibe."
Newsted’s contribution wasn’t limited to playing – he was heavily involved with a song called ‘Blackened’, which he co-wrote with Lars and James. Also credited with a section of ‘To Live Is To Die’ (essentially an instrumental track with a few spoken vocals) is the late Cliff Burton, although the drummer is keen to keep this fact as low-key as possible. He explains: "The main ideas came about between October and December of last year, but this one stood up so well that we had to use it."
But the really key question is: how many songs did Megadeth mainman Dave Mustaine contribute? [Quick aside: Mustaine later claimed that ‘Leper Messiah’ was a song he wrote before the group sacked him].
"Er… let me see," smiles Ulrich, taking the question in the spirit it was intended. "I can’t remember if it was six or seven this time around; there was a bit of an argument about the seventh!"
The band nominated ‘Harvester…’ as the album’s first single after playing it at a secret gig at the Troubador in Los Angeles and several times on their Monsters Of Rock tour of the States with Van Hagar, the Scorpions, Dokken and Kingdom Clone.
"It was the most instant, groove-orientated song of the nine," Lars explains. "When we played it the response was fucking phenomenal. When the record company started whingeing on about a single it was the obvious choice because it wasn’t 14 minutes long and didn’t have 39 silly time changes."
Metallica’s immense following will doubtless ensure that ‘Harvester…’ follows ‘Garage Days…’ into the UK singles chart, and don’t be surprised if it makes the success of its predecessor – an unlikely No. 27 – seem a little lowly, particularly with the band poised to start a full UK tour on September 24 at the Edinburgh Playhouse, possibly with Danzig in support. Expect a stageshow based around the album sleeves that, according to Lars, will be "slightly more than Marshall stacks…
"You know there seems to be this thing where bands try to pretend they don’t care what goes on," he continues. "But one thing’s for sure; we’re happy to be in any chart – there’s a difference between not caring and not dwelling on it. Anyone who says they don’t want to see their record in the chart is full of shit!"
To put the glove on the other hand, however much success a band enjoys there’s always the possibility of a backlash. Anthrax seem to be suffering a mini reprisal right now and nobody is completely safe.
"It can happen to anybody ho does well," Lars agrees. "Peter Mensch [Metallica’s co-manager] has been saying that for years. But as far as we’re concerned, it’s like, go ahead, help yourself. If people want to start fucking with Metallica then let them try and tear the record apart – I still like it."
Surprisingly, Ulrich agrees with me when I suggest that ‘One’, a carbon copy of ‘Ride The Lighting’s ‘Fade To Black’ (the story of a being with no limbs or senses), make the band an easy target for the verbal snipers. "Yeah, fair enough, I don’t deny the similarities," he says.
What’s even more clichéd is the fact that this track occupies the end of Side One, a traditional spot for Metallica’s ballad-embellished numbers. It’s almost as contrived as the way that the first track on Side Two of any Iron Maiden album is likely to have been penned by bassist Steve Harris and be an epic about the fall and rise of the Greek Empire.
"I agree, and I’m not going to defend that," Ulrich shrugs. "I had about 72 different running orders written on a Federal Express envelope at my house precisely because of what you’re saying. I lost three days of sleep because I knew that people would rip it apart. Then I went back and realised that the stuff was written this way, and that I was fucking with the basic thing that Metallica is all about – following gut instincts."
To finish, I enquire what the best thing about being a member of Metallica might be. Without a moment’s hesitation, Lars replies: "Unlike most bands, we have more control and more to do with everything around us. Touring, staging, videos and promotion; we have something to do with everything. What you see is 99 per cent direct action from us. We pretty much stand or fall on our own terms."
Metallica have been standing firm for seven years, and on the evidence of ‘…And Justice For All’ they’re not about to fall down now (not unless that bottle of Absolut Vodka mysteriously disappears…).
The official Metallica website
Gosh, things have moved on so much since this piece was written. Metallica have become so huge, it’s hard to imagine them in the era before they made videos – in those days they’d have held up a crucifix at the subject’s mere mention – or would consider checking into rehab. It was fun to interview Lars Ulrich for the first time (I think). Prior to that I’d only met the drummer on a couple of occasions, which I seem to recall involved consuming alcohol. Of course, Lars is known for his prodigious verbiage, and he didn’t let me or the readers of RAW Magazine down on this occasion. He might also have enjoyed the chat because the next time he met Malcolm Dome, then also a RAW scribe, he apparently told Doc Doom [I won’t attempt to do phonetic justice to the ludicrous Danish-US accent]: “Hey, you know what? Dave Ling’s grown up…” Actually I think maybe he meant to say was, thrown up… (25th August, 2004)
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