Metallica: 1995- 2003. A retrospective.
1982 was a time when metal and hard rock were still sorting out how to make sense of the end of an era for one of its biggest names in Black Sabbath, and the end of the road for another in Led Zeppelin. Deep Purple hadn’t released a studio album in over seven years with the original members appearing to be scattered to the four winds. There was also a sense that while NWoBHM and Germany's Scorpions and Accept were the metal for the times, with the exception of the soon to be colossal Bruce Dickinson fronted Iron Maiden, and the already commercially successful Judas Priest, there wasn’t much happening either side of the Atlantic with regard to significant mainstream cultural representation.
Metallica. The name alone stands tall as the edifying monolith to the change that metal would experience after the release of the debut album Kill ’Em All in 1983. It is entirely possible the winds of change became a hurricane on any one of the Dave Mustaine-and-Heineken powered demos which were circulating in the underground scene in 1982, and while it is certainly true that many thrash bands of the era were active at the same time (Anthrax, Exodus), none offered the accessibility of Metallica and certainly none would achieve anywhere near the same coverage across so many markets in the following years.
In the simplest possible terms, Metallica changed the game.
In a review that I authored for The Metal Forge web publication for the album Hardwired... to Self-Destruct (’16), I described the two albums following Kill ’Em All as “…two of the most continuously influential albums in recorded music history”. Ride the Lightning (’84) and Master of Puppets (’86) are albums that have transcended the genre, and as I will go on to explain have transcended even Metallica themselves… for better and for worse.
With the exception of the truly batty Lou Reed collaboration “Lulu” in 2011, the era from 1996 to 2003 is without doubt the most controversy plagued and critically questioned of Metallica's career. The release of the Load (’96) and ReLoad (’97) albums (and subsequent tour cycle), the Garage Inc. ('98) covers album, the S&M (’99) live album, the “I Dissappear” and Napster controversy and finally, the myriad of events surrounding the St. Anger (’03) album release all occurred during this eight-year period and are covered here.
…And Justice for Cliff
To ensure the scene is adequately set, it’s necessary to discuss some key points surrounding the studio releases between Master of Puppets and the Load album series.
1986 bought with it the genesis of critical and commercial success, as it did a tragedy that still affects the band to this day.
Clifford Lee Burton occupies a mantle that very few rock and metal bass players (alive or dead) will ever share. His influence on the Ride the Lightning is immense. However, it is his contribution to Master of Puppets, especially the superb instrumental “Orion” that make this album Burtons’ very own magnum opus. Bell-bottomed and almost permanently moustachioed, Burton is the Misfit (pun intended) and fan favourite that is revered as the aura surrounding this magnificent period in Metallica’s career. Burton’s death due to a road accident in Sweden in 1986 devastated his bandmates and fans alike.
The band quickly regrouped, hiring Flotsam and Jetsam bassist, Jason Newstead, as Burton’s replacement. Without suggesting any insensitivity, the incoming Jason Newsted probably thought he had won every lottery drawn that year by winning selection as the new Metallica bassist.
Unfortunately for the highly competent Newsted, after putting in a strong showing on The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited in 1987, the first of many peculiar episodes enveloping his tenure was on the near horizon: The recording sessions and mixing of the first post Burton album…And Justice for All (’88). Some well-publicised commentary from Steve Thompson, the engineer who worked on the album surfaced in 2015 adding a remarkable twist to the saga surrounding the lack of audible bass on …AJFA. Thompson is quoted as saying that even though “[Newsted] killed it on bass. Perfect marriage with Hetfield's guitars." Ulrich asked him to “…bring down the bass where you can barely, audibly hear it in the mix”. Thompson further offers that he thought “…they were looking for more garagey-type sound without bass”.
One could hypothesise that the band were simply not ready to replace Burton. That Ulrich may have felt it was more appropriate to change the band’s sound as a sort of compromise. Worth noting is that Newsted contended with an at times brutal array of pranks and hazing through his tenure in the band.
The lack of bass guitar in…And Justice for All’s mix didn’t seem to impact the fans (then) acceptance of a new Metallica album sans Burton. The album hasn’t aged well and is now regarded as a flawed thrash metal classic by many due to the lack of bass, the paper-thin veneer encasing the mountains of A+ riffage and the labyrinthine yet aesthetically pleasing arrangements in each song.
In the wake of …And Justice for All, drummer and percussionist Lars Ulrich spoke willingly about the ‘sound’ producer Bob Rock had achieved on the Mötley Crüe album Dr. Feelgood (’89), and that Rock would helm the new Metallica album. This was the first sign that the bands overall direction would veer from the straight up metal path trod to date. The subsequent release, Metallica, would become to be known universally as the ‘Black’ album (given it was an album with no title and carried Spın̈al Tap-esque all black artwork). The album was released in late 1991, to massive fanfare and an even bigger commercial response.
For each existing fan that may have shied away from the ‘Black’ albums simpler arrangements and radio friendly polish, another 100 bought the album, purchased a ticket to the globetrotting ‘Wherever we may roam’, ‘Nowhere Else to Roam’ or ‘Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium tour’, then duly procured the concert t-shirt to prove attendance. Metallica’s success was a monumental accomplishment as far as then ‘metal’ bands were concerned, particularly so given the looming grunge meteor that landed around the same time in Nirvana’s Nevermind (’91). The awkward and in hindsight, deeply troubled Kurt Cobain wrote an album that literally ended the careers of thousands of bands plying their trade in musical tillage not too distant from where Metallica now found themselves.
The ‘Black’ tour cycle ultimately concluded during the ‘Shit Hits the Sheds Tour’ in late 1994, which included headlining a re-creation of the famed Woodstock festival. After a break, the band entered The Plant Studios, Sausalito, California in May 1995, where the recording sessions for Load and ReLoad commenced. Producer Bob Rock once again accepted production duties.
It is impossible to say for sure when news first started to filter through that the new Metallica album, designed for release to coincide with the retail boom North America experiences during their summer, was intended to be a different affair from all that had passed before. What is without question is that Metallica in 1996 were certainly and fundamentally no longer willing to be known as simply a ‘metal’ band.
The band agreed to reams of interviews, mainly describing the birthing process for songs, tone and gear choice as well as the repeated desire to ‘think forward’ (or words to the effect). In all the interviews I managed to find posted online from that year, and recall from my own reading of publications featuring interviews with the bands members back then, the band never actually fully explained why there was a decision to move away from the ‘metal’ tag. The closest we may ever get is 18 years later, when asked about Metallica’s headline slot at Glastonbury Ulrich quipped:
“People say it's controversial because we're the first metal band to headline Glastonbury, but I'm not even sure we're 'metal.' Glastonbury's one of the biggest rock festivals in the world and we're one of the biggest rock bands."
The first track I heard was the lead single “Until it sleeps” during its premiere on Triple J. James Hetfield and Jason Newstead had made the trip to Australia to promote the album and lead single, both sounded very amicable and fan friendly when being interviewed. “Until it sleeps” contained a verse strain I’d never heard from the band and the cynic in me thought they had released a track for radio play, one that mirrored the grunge epithet of ‘loud chorus, quiet verse’. It actually turned out the band had even gone to the extent of naming the demo of the song after a well-known Soundgarden track. The accompanying music video would also be the first concept or themed video in the bands career. Directed by Samuel Bayer, who directed Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the video appeared to be a nod to Ulrich’s evolving passion for the fine arts.
I purchased the single for a friends 18th birthday present, so I had an opportunity to sample what else was on the disc: A live recording of new track, “2x4” and a skeleton version of “Until it sleeps” which was designed to give the fans a taste of what the song sounded like when being demoed. What struck me first though, was the stylised new logo on the cardboard cover of the CD single.
The iconography of a metal bands logo is almost as important as the music it accompanies. What Metallica did was remove the bullet belt and spiked wristband provoking “M” and “A” in the logo and replace it with a far less threatening and more marketable script. It was a sure sign that things would be very different from here on. Of interest to note is that in 1997, former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine would do something similar for the Megadeth album Cryptic Writings ('97), however Megadeth’s famous scripted logo would be paired with a block lettered logo that fans could accept as merely part of the albums visual narrative.
Like so many, I purchased Load as soon as I was able to obtain a copy. I listened to it in its entirety and at the time, found only a single song that contained trace elements of the Metallica that I liked "The House That Jack Built". The opening tracks “Ain’t My Bitch” and “2x4” start with riffs that would work well between bull riding events at a rodeo. Both tracks also appear to be the genesis of a feature for all future Metallica releases: Ulrichs’ penchant for relatively simple drum arrangements that sit high in the mix.
The single's “Hero of the Day” and “King Nothing” are attempts at straightforward hard rock fare and “Mama Said” is the biggest departure from the bands traditional sound. “Mama said” is essentially the albums obligatory power ballad. In a contentious move for fans, the track features lap steel guitar and overt country musical stylings. Did Metallica possess the DNA to write and perform rock infused bluegrass or country music? The jury is still in recess on that one all these years later, however “Mama said” doesn’t actually sound out of place on the album given the propensity for slide guitar to appear across so many other songs.
Of the 14 songs on Load, it can be roughly divided into halves. Three of the four singles are in the first half, rendering it the stronger of the two. On the second half, along with “Mama Said”; “Poor Twisted me”, “Thorn Within”, “Ronnie” and “The Outlaw Torn” are tunes that veer far from the Metallica that had evolved to that point.
It is also important to note that when Hetfield and Newstead were in Australia for the promo tour, both made repeated references to the brilliant Kyuss, whose Blue Cheer inspired song craft certainly commanded attention against the grunge narrative of the time. Kyuss supported Metallica during the Australian leg of the ‘Nowhere Else to Roam’ tour which landed on these shores in 1993.
How much of an effect Josh Homme and co had on Metallica across each of the nine dates is not necessarily a mystery. I will hypothesise that key elements of the California cantina in the desert-at-dusk vibe of the then in-market album from Kyuss (Blues for the Red Sun- '92) and its follow up (Welcome to Sky Valley- '94) made their way onto the Load album series. The most notable is the thick, bouncy, blues inspired riffage and Ulrich may have paid particular attention to Brant Bjorks drumming technique.
Combine the Kyuss elements with the bands well known love of blues based hard rock such as Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, AC/DC and UFO, then overlay this on the musical template that led to the 'Black' album… that’s one way of summarising the change in sound found on the Load series of albums.
Another plausible theory is that the band had spent so much time travelling, that by 1995, like truckers journeying well into the night they found solace in road-referencing cuts by Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Mellencamp and a host of country artists. Hetfield certainly discussed country music often enough during the Australian promo tour to lend creedence to the theory.
So a change in musical direction and a new logo, paired with the album cover art and updated visual identity of the members of the band, were all ingredients for a polarising reception.
For the prudish, the album cover concept is patently vulgar: The artist's (Andres Serrano) own semen and blood between two sheets of Plexiglas. Serrano was already rather infamous due to a piece called “Immersion (Piss Christ)”, which is a photograph of a crucifix in a glass of urine. I recall from interviews at the time, Hetfield hated the cover concept and Newstead just plain refused to talk about it. In my own then 18-year-old mind the artwork was plain weird and made little sense. After the blood, lightning, graveyards, sword and snake used on other albums… semen certainly isn't a predictable selection.
The photos that accompanied the album booklet were another matter altogether. The band enlisted famed Dutch photographer Anton Corbjn to essentially mimic his collaboration with U2 from their 1991 release, Achtung Baby. Depeche Mode was also a muse of Corbijn’s around the same time, and the resulting sessions would significantly influence the final product.
Where the slight frame of the demure Dave Gahan dressed in the fashion of the day, and the choirboy looks of Depeche Mode's outstanding guitarist, Martin Gore, work wonderfully against the stark hues Corbijn is so synonymous for creating, many fans and critics felt Metallica and taken one bridge too far through the collaboration. A brief search in Google for ‘Metallica Corbijn 1996 photos’ returned images of members of the band posturing and pouting, wearing eyeliner, shagpile coats and snakeskin pants. Inside the booklet accompanying the Load CD… many more await.
The photos illustrate men approaching middle age, members of one the most popular bands on the planet, reaching for the opportunity to redefine and maybe even re-invent themselves. However it is important to note the change in image actually started two years beforehand.
For a performance at Woodstock '94 the most ‘metal’ of the group, Newsted, already sported a crew cut. Hetfield looked a lot like Dog the Bounty Hunter and Kirk Hammet rocked what looked like a fringe of dreadlocks. Only Ulrich looked as he always had. In early 1996 when Alice In Chains recorded for MTV Unplugged, all four members of Metallica attended and they all had short hair, so the haircuts accompanying Load weren’t a surprise to many. I certainly felt that given the era and the bands proximity to the mainstream it was inevitable they would alter their image.
Hetfield is on record stating he is uncomfortable with the Load album series and accompanying imagery. He also calls the Load album series the ‘U2 version of Metallica’ and that Burton would have been an ally in providing resistance to the bands then direction. While not implying the blame for this era lies with Ulrich and Hammet (due to the bands dynamic Newstead didn’t have any real decision making power), it’s a telling comment from the bloke who had to stand out front and sing the songs, answer the medias questions and interact with fans as the most clamoured for member. As for what Burton may have thought, Hetfield sums it up nicely:
“There’s some great, nice songs on their (Load and ReLoad), however my opinion is that all the imagery and stuff like that was not necessary. And the quantity of tracks that had been written – it diluted the potency of the poison of band. And I believe Cliff would have agreed with that.”
Due to intense interest in a new Metallica album, Load sold a staggering 680,000 copies in its first week and has since been certified x5 Platinum in the USA.
ReLoad was released in late 1997, a little over a year after Load to what I remember was a weary metal listening public.
Numerous (then) popular newsprint publications had taken aim at the perceived reasons for fans disdain for Load. The Rolling Stone quipped that fans were in a ‘dither’ over “a few haircuts, some eyeliner and a little song craft” and the same publication later proclaimed that Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All were ”… transitional albums that moved the band from the pure aggression of Kill 'Em All to the flawless ‘black album’”
Most will agree and remember that 1997 was a low commercial ebb for heavy metal. Iron Maiden was touring and releasing albums without Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith; Max Cavalera had just left Sepultura; Pantera had started their drawn out and ultimately tragic demise as they splintered through the recording of the excellent yet critically underrated The Great Southern Trendkill (’96).
There were very few metal bands with major label support- so essential to securing mass distribution of a latest release. Metal, with a few notable exceptions, had gone underground.
ReLoad contains songs written the same time as the batch that appear on Load. In what was due to be a double album, Metallica staggered the release of the songs over two separate albums as they hadn’t finished the songs that eventually made ReLoad. There was also the added advantage of the prolonged touring cycle such a decision would afford.
The lead single from ReLoad was “The Memory Remains”, a cut that features the ever-endearing Marianne Faithful. Near the end of the track she can be heard beckoning the listener to “Say yes. At least say hello…”. One can almost envision this lyric as the band themselves asking a maternal figure to reach out to a cohort of beleaguered fans asking them to give ReLoad a chance.
The cast changed little across the album: Rock was allocated production duties; Serrano’s artwork would once again adorn the album cover, virtually repeating the same concept as on Load with a single change: it is his own urine and blood between two sheets of Plexiglas (because semen is just so 1996 and urine was de jour in 1997…). The photos accompanying the album were credited to Corbijn again, but this time around the shagpile coats and snakeskin pants stayed in the closet. Corbijn’s photography focused on the band doing what they do best: Performing live and in various states of motion.
The change in the photo concept can also be used as an analogy for the principle difference between the two albums. ReLoad is more focused. Where Load can be roughly divided into two halves, the ‘talent’ is spread evenly across ReLoad. The songs bite a little harder, they pack more punch overall.
If Load starts with song’s suitable for a hillbilly rodeo then ReLoad commences with a song customised for illegal street drag racing. “Fuel” starts with a rapid fire vocal quickly halted by the turbines under full throttle roar of the opening “riff”. This song is important in the chronology of Metallica’s evolution as it contains passages that sound like riffs, but really aren’t (quasi riffs?). What started on this track is further refined in a few years on the ill-fated Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack ('00) song, “I Disappear”, but more on that later.
If “Mama Said” was a detour to Nashville then “Low Man’s Lyric” is a pit stop in a Bavarian beer barn due to the hurdy gurdy adding a touch of ye-olde Europe to the album. (The hurdy gurdy was borrowed incidentally from Jim Martin who is the original guitarist in Faith No More)
Elsewhere “Devils Dance” is probably the heaviest track on both albums. Both “Attitude” and “Fixxxer” sound positively Ronnie James Dio fronted Black Sabbath and the “The Unforgiven II”, is another attempt to bring country into the current Metallica sound. The finished product on this album cut is a heavier cousin to the music on Jon Bon Jovi’s Young Guns II soundtrack ('90). This song is a personal favourite as the chorus contains a stunning, instantly memorable yet versatile lyric that twists the double entendre of the title rooted in a suitably restrained riff.
ReLoad sold 436,000 copies in its first week and has since been certified x4 platinum in the USA.
As far as a hardcore fan could be concerned, a fan whose tastes are rooted in the thrash era, is there a genuine upside to the Load album series? Hetfield’s voice never sounded better- maybe the decision to change the tuning of the guitars to Eb helped. I am also willing to wage that the listener appreciated finally getting to hear the bass guitar again on a Metallica album.
Jason Newsted had a tougher task than he would likely admit. This cat can play and for a genuinely creative soul it must hurt that his single writing credit on both albums is “Where the Wild Things Are” (ReLoad). Without courting controversy he is almost a better fit for Metallica sonically than Cliff Burton due to the sustained attack playing the bass with a pick provided – and he had mastered playing between the percussive rhythm guitar jam of Hetfield and the loud and often erratic Ulrich.
Newstead was so often the bands defender in both print media and in recorded interviews. I do recall an interview with the publication Metal Maniacs where he was asked if he was aware how highly regarded he was by metal fans. The response was bashful and almost apologetic if I recall correctly. Later in the same interview he said that fans needed to respect Hetfiled and Hammet as they were the 'teachers' and If you are playing the guitar fast with plenty of palm muting and downstrokes then it was due to them.
When it’s all said and done and regardless if the band felt they had a warrant to experiment on whatever they released after the colossal success of the 'Black' album, what Newsted or any member couldn’t varnish was the most damning assessment that many critics of the Load series of albums raise: The absence of many truly great heavy metal riffs- the type that revolutionised metal on Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All.
If both albums were condensed to a single release limited to a more palatable 11 songs, in no particular order this is what I select:
The House That Jack Built
Hero of the Day
Until It Sleeps
The Memory Remains
The Unforgiven II
Where the Wild Things Are
Load and ReLoad tour cycle
It would come as a surprise to virtually no one that Lollapalooza founder and Janes Addiction front man Perry Farrell was strongly against Metallica headlining Lollapalooza No. 6. Still, the idea that Metallica’s set list could potentially contain the biker-bar stomp of “Ronnie” and the roadhouse at dawn lament of “Mama Said”- all within the same arena that the ethereal Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins sang “Cherry-Coloured Funk” and “Wax and Wane”, raises a chuckle and more than a few eyebrows.
In 1996 the almost four-year global trek in support of the Load album series started with Metallica headlining the globes foremost ‘alternative’ music festival.
Reviews for their performance certainly weren’t disparaging as Metallica’s true bull pit is the live arena. Looking over set lists from the time it was stacked with songs from previous albums. Farrell has since softened his view on Metallica’s billing on the festival but the sentiment is still there and it ought to be mentioned the festival went on an indefinite hiatus following Lollapalooza No. 7 in 1997…
The global tour was called “Poor Touring Me” and started a month after commitments to Lollapalooza No. 6. ended. Looking over set lists from the time about four interchangeable songs from Load and the yet to be released Reload made the set. Again, reviews were solid. Trainspotters will be interested to note that Soundgarden was a major support.
Once ReLoad was released the global tour title was switched to “Poor Re-Touring Me” (geddit??!) and “Touch, Peel and Stand” hit makers Days of the New were enlisted as the support act. The addition of ReLoad songs to the repertoire took the Load series contribution to about six songs each performance. I attended one of the Australian concerts in 1998 and I can recall some restlessness during the ‘Metallica in the round’ segment where they performed classic numbers as acoustic versions. I can imagine a ferocious sneer from the architect of many of Metallica’s favoured songs, Dave Mustaine, as Metallica performed “The Four Horsemen” in this acoustic format. Looking over old set lists, “Low Mans Lyric” and “Mama Said” were also segment features.
Keep in mind that this is well before the days of 24/7 media coverage and social media, however I’m unaware of any controversy surrounding the tours. Fans flocked in their hundreds of thousands and I’m sure the band made a killing from the merchandise stall and renewed interest in the back catalogue.
The tours were also notable for the following reason: The Load series tracks that made the set list eventually found a home amongst the thrash canticles in much the same way an awkward child settles into a new school. The stock of bona fide classics such as “Creeping Death” and “Leper Messiah” skyrocketed and to this day, approximately half of a Metallica set list is a revolving selection of songs from Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. Considering there are 10 studio releases that’s a significant tip of the hat to that particular era.
During an interview, Ulrich stated that he wanted Metallica to release a studio album every year until 2000. Wasting no time at all, as soon as obligations to ‘Poor Re-Touring Me’ concluded in September 1998, the band hit the studio to record a double album of covers and musical keep-sakes called Garage Inc. (’98)
It was revealing that the logo on the album cover is a starkly drawn stylised version of the logo that adorned all albums up to and including the 'Black' album. Was this an olive branch to what the band now probably realised, were some extremely faithful yet disaffected fans?
Garage Inc apes The $5.98 E.P. Garage Days Re-Revisited release over a decade prior and the E.P. itself would even be included as a part of the package. The band chose to cover an array of artists that inspired them- veering from the violent street punk of Discharge, the sinister storytelling of Nick Cave and prime NWoBHM selections that inspired the band to play instruments in the first place.
Once again, Bob Rock was selected to produce (co-Produce with Ulrich and Hetfield), indicating a desire to stick to the blues meets 'Black' album’sound from the Load series
There are some interesting moments across the album and trainspotters will again recognise that “Die, Die My Darling" was an honourable nod to one of Cliff Burton’s favourite artists, The Misfits, with the band performed the song with commendable vigour.
Is the decision to go back to their roots motivated by the critical response to the Load series? The band certainly never let on, but one can’t help but feel the timing was appropriate.
S&M - Symphony and Metallica
After the period of relative calm that was the Garage Inc. album and tour, Metallica threw another curve ball right on the dawn of the new millennium: S&M - Symphony and Metallica (’99).
In April of 1999 Metallica performed alongside The San Francisco Symphony at the Berkeley Community Theatre to rabid fans and confused seasons ticketholders of the Symphony.
The decision to perform and also record with The San Francisco Symphony certainly worked on paper- enlist the exceptional Michael Kamen to morph a symphonic arrangement around choice cuts from the catalogue. Kamen would be known to most metal fans through his arranging the score to the rock and metal leaning soundtrack on the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero.
Once again, the release polarised both fans and critics.
My own take on the matter is there is no room in the thrashier numbers for a third guitar yet alone a whole orchestra- the orchestra sounds as if it playing a different song entirely on the track “The Thing That Should Not be”. It works marginally better elsewhere although it was clear to me that Metallica’s music ultimately clashes against the instruments used in an orchestra, so the genesis of Lulu is also here in the teaming of Metallica with an element not found on their periodic table. Some tracks do work well though- In the same manner that Jon Lord specifically composed music for Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra ('69), both “No Leaf Clover” and “Human” were designed specifically for orchestral arrangement and are justifiably the albums highlights.
I’ll pause for a moment to put forward a theory- one that at least sounds reasonable: Why did Metallica release S&M and Lulu? Lars Ulrich has made no secret of his rather Avant-garde European upbringing. He loves his art and is by all accounts a polite and cultured fellow who has all the time in the world for Metallica fans. He has met a lot of fans over the years and he may have got a sense that the average fan would benefit from some exposure to genres and forms of art they otherwise would not seek for themselves. Ulrich may see himself as a guide, or chaperone to the uninitiated. There was no better way than to introduce some culture directly through Metallica’s music.
“I Disappear” and the Napster controversy
In May of 2000 a track called “I Disappear” specifically recorded for the film Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack, was released.
A demo version of the track found its way onto the internet and was distributed over P2P network Napster well before the release date. As a consequence radio stations started playing the track and Ulrich was not happy, speaking to The Rolling Stone he said that it was “…sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is.”
In April 2000, Metallica filed a lawsuit against Napster and universities, as it was on campuses around the USA that P2P flourished. Many universities refused a request by Metallica to block access to Napster.
Drawing comparisons between P2P and the tape trading scene, would Ulrich have made the same remarks about tape trading in the early eighties if they were by then a band with almost 10 studio albums to their name, hundreds of thousands of fans globally and a storied place assured in hard rock and heavy metal? Would so many heads have started banging if it were not for the fans that copied and dubbed the demos and early albums? Essentially it is the same thing: Reproducing the artist’s work without consent or permission.
Of course the sheer scale of P2P networks such as Napster presented a real problem to the music industry. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) had actually beaten Metallica to the punch, they sued Napster in December of 1999.
The controversy reached flash point when, during a media event orchestrated by the band themselves, Ulrich arrived at Napster head office to personally present the names of over 300,000 Napster users who at some point had participated in the sharing of Metallica songs over the P2P network. Ulrich was heckled and jeered, at one point a fan even smashed Metallica CD’s in protest.
Ulrich maintained "This is not between Metallica and its fans” and that “This is between Metallica and Napster, let there be no question about that." Although the perception from fans was very different. Fans felt targeted and perhaps justifiably so. Copyright law expert Eric Doney said "If Metallica or anyone else who is being infringed wanted to start picking people off to make an example of them, they could"
It would be many years before streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music started to replace P2P as the dominant media. In doing so finally issuing a commercial model that awards the artist a royalty when fans consume music over the internet. Ulrich is on record as stating that he is fan of Spotify.
Something that was overshadowed was the track “I Disappear” itself. I certainly felt that the song and accompanying Mission: Impossible II inspired video are a strong contribution to the Metallica catalogue, demonstrating the evolution of something I referred to earlier in the critique of the Reload song “Fuel”: Metallica were mastering the use of the ‘quasi riff’- single notes or chords in a staccato sequence. Using this philosophy, the riff was mainly about the timing of the notes and chords rather than the actual notes or chords played. Elements of this can also be heard on the “Sad But True” from the 'Black' album.
Bob Rock co-produced “I Disappear” with Ulrich and James Hetfield. The overall ‘vibe’ of the track is distinct from the songs on the Load series- the overt Blues influence is largely absent and in came something that sounded like a precursor to the mainstream rock that prevailed in the following years from bands such as Nickelback, Theory of a Deadman and Three Days Grace.
“I Disappear” is also Jason Newstead’s swansong, in what I believe is his most creative contribution during his tenure as the bands resident bass player. The pre-chorus contains a simple grooving bass riff that sits counterpoint to Hetfield’s vocal. The bass line itself can almost be isolated as a melody in much the same way Motown legend James Jameson so effortlessly added depth to the Marvin Gaye classic “Whats going on”
Events surrounding St. Anger
Jason Newstead's departure
On balance, Newsted’s addition to Metallica is probably best summed as ‘right bassist, wrong time’.
Citing chronic injury as the reason for his departure, Newsted left Metallica in early 2001 to focus on the decidedly non-metal Echobrain. This decision seemed rather odd. The most metal referencing member of the band, the member that had kept up to date with the modern metal scene leaving and releasing what is essentially a pop album? Years later Newsted would later reveal that Metallica’s management had expressed an interest in releasing Echobrain material, until James Hetfield’s influence cancelled the arrangement.
Hetfield has gone on record as stating his desire to limit the members of Metallica contributing to other projects is because he "… always thought that when one guy jams with somebody else, that will fuck with Metallica. The fist is no longer four fingers. It's not as strong…”
Sensing Hetfield’s disapproval may have stemmed from the Sepultura meets Godlfesh sounding IR8 demo that made its way to radio in 1994, one ponders’ s if Newsted engineered Echobrain as a means of pursuing a creatively fertile outlet well away from the brand of hard rock and heavy metal Metallica was known for.
Either way, Newstead quit Metallica and his next venture was to pursue Echobrain with vigour, losing funds that he had personally invested. Although the project was favourably reviewed it received very little commercial attention. Newsted would leave Echobrain by August 2002.
Newstead would go on to feature in Ozzy Osbourne’s band and Canadian legacy sci-fi thrashers, Voivod. He has made a few forays back into the world of hard rock and heavy metal although he is performing acoustic music as of 2016.
Some Kind of Monster
At some point prior to the recording for the album that would eventually become St. Anger, Elektra Records commissioned Director Joe Berlinger to direct a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the new album.
In what eventually became a rockumentary addressing the dysfunction within the band (a synopsis of you can read on IMDB), viewers were treated to scenes of Ulrich yelling at Hetfield, Dave Mustaine venting to Ulrich, Kirk Hammet talking about his ranch in northern California and Jason Newstead discussing his reasons for leaving Metallica among other scenes. One of the more memorable scenes in the feature film is where Rob Trujillo is handed a cheque for one million dollars to entice him into the band.
The question that I posed, along with many others after viewing the film: Is Some Kind of Monster necessary?
Why did the band subject themselves to the scrutiny of the public in such an open manner? Was it necessary for the camera’s to be rolling once a discussion started, something Ulrich felt was required, in order to keep the discussion civil? Why not just use that footage as a historical document to remind the band of a particularly dysfunctional cycle of their timeline?
Critical opinion be damned, Metallica would release the film to an unprepared public. This was the time of The Osbourne’s reality TV series, The Amazing Race, Big Brother and Australian (American) Idol. Issuing the film was at least a daring and shrewd move on the bands behalf. Perhaps anticipating the reception the new album would receive given its polarity to literally anything else in the bands catalogue, it feels a lot like a companion piece for the listener to make sense of what is a fearlessly unlistenable upcoming album in the spirit of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music ('75)
Viewers were also witness to the embryonic stages of the songs that made it to St. Anger. Not that you can tell from what eventually made it on to the album, such is the sonic delta between the album and the rehearsal tracks shown in the film.
St. Anger, the album itself... almost defies a review or critical analysis.
I view the album as a contribution separate to anything else in Metallica's catalogue and that includes Lulu as that was a collaboration. St. Anger is in every way possible, a statement. A dare. The band issuing the listener a challenge to keep up with them and almost survive the listening experience.
In what would be Bob Rock's final production credit with the band, he also played the bass guitar in the absence of an appointed bassist.
Rock has been unfairly accused of initiating the significant change in Metallica’s sound since he came on board to commence producing the 'Black' album in 1990. For those that aren’t in bands or yet to spend any time in a recording studio- unless you are in a Boy or Girl band it is usually the band and perhaps the bands management, that determines the artistic direction. Not the engineer or the producer . Metallica as a band are certainly the protagonist in the overall change in direction, particularly so on the 'Black' album and Load series… now St. Anger. Rock was simply the man who facilitated the change in Metallica’s sound, the agent of change was and is the musicians that comprise Metallica.
Are there any tracks on St. Anger that warrant a closer inspection? The answer is profound as each album cut has the potential to come to life. The metal riffs were actually there this time around however it is like listening to a song buried beneath white noise amidst enveloping arrangements. Literally each song sounds as if it has been arranged in a single afternoon. The decision to tune to what I understand is low C (one and a half whole steps below the tuning featured on the Load series…) is disorienting. Only the title track with its Prison Break imitating video filmed in the notorious San Quinten Penitentiary sounds as if it is anything close to what it was: A leading album cut, designed to entice listeners to the album.
Kirk Hammet chops as a lead guitarist appear to have sat this album out- not a single guitar solo in sight and much has been written about Ulrich’s performance due to the drum sound.
I feel like adding the album to the theory I proposed in the review of S&M - Symphony and Metallica. It simply cannot be a matter of dismissing the drum sound as a matter of taste and personal preference. Ulrich was reaching for something… what that was, he has never explained yet the drum sound on St. Anger has been compared to the bashing of tin cups on steel trash can lids.
I’ll hypothesise again that due to the enormous fan base that Metallica boasted and the still rising stock of the thrash-era songs, Ulrich may have felt that he had one more roll of the dice on pushing fans and critics boundaries. An individual of Ulrich’s intelligence would have to have known that producing such a din would cause controversy.
Regardless, Ulrich, to his credit, couldn’t care less.
St. Anger was released with an accompanying video of the band performing the album in a rehearsal space. The lasting legacy of the music on St. Anger is that this visual accompaniment is the best medium to digest the cuts, far above attempting to listen to the album cuts alone.
Despite the change in direction that occurred on the Load album series, a change that would only essentially be resolved on the 2008 release Death Magnetic, Metallica became the most successful and certainly most popular heavy metal/ hard rock band in history from 1991 to 2003.
What is it about the band that attracts the legion of followers that will in many cases, defend the bands decision to do whatever they want? Check Blabbermouth boards next time Metallica are mentioned, how many comments does the band attract in response to article compared to any other band mentioned?
There is a level of emotional investment that invites the listener to become a part of the band on every album. I can certainly recall significant events of my own life and songs or albums that were released that coincided.The band does possess an x factor. Is it Hetfield’s vocal? Ulrich’s penchant for interviews? The tremendous riffs that changed metal on Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets? The fearlessness in which the band adapts to self-initiated change? It is no doubt different to each and every listener and that is what makes the band so unique.