Formed by Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield in Los Angeles in 1981 and initially inspired by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), Metallica’s music was built on frenetic guitars cranking one deliciously sleazy riff after another, played at a blinding speed and fearful intensity.
The band’s debut album, Kill ‘Em All, was released in 1983 when Iron Maiden was still the biggest, newest noise in Heavy Metal. Metallica combined the power of classic rock with the raw speed and DIY attitude of punk. Thrash Metal had arrived.
Originally released on Megaforce and later reissued on Elektra, Kill ‘Em All was originally set to be named Metal Up Your Ass. When Megaforce told the band that distributors wouldn’t go for an album with such a title, bassist Cliff Burton replied: “why don’t we just kill ’em all?”. Voila – a new album title.
But Metallica grew up fast. On 1984’s Ride The Lightning, they broke with the conventions of thrash metal to record the genre’s first power ballad in Fade To Black.
Two years later came Master Of Puppets (1986), their masterpiece. If Nirvana killed hair metal, Metallica delivered a hefty blow with this smart, streetwise, uncompromising, multi-million seller.
Following the death of bassist Cliff Burton in a tour bus crash in Sweden on 27 September 1986, Jason Newsted made his debut – albeit inaudibly – on 1988’s …And Justice For All, which featured much-overblown riffage and the future classic One.
Using Bon Jovi‘s producer Bob Rock on 1991’s Metallica (aka The Black Album), the group adopted a more direct approach with Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters, rivalling Guns N’ Roses for the title of Biggest Rock Band In The World.
Though some fans decried the slicker, cleaner production, the album earned the band their first Grammy Award and made Metallica almost a household name.
After a five-year hiatus, Load and its partner album Reload were released in successive years, alienating some hardcore fans with the retro-rock flavour of tracks such as 2 x 4 and pictures of the band in makeup.
Garage Inc collected the band’s cover versions while S&M – a credible experiment with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra – proved Jason Newsted’s swansong.
Metallica filed a lawsuit against the online music network Napster in April 2000 when they discovered fans were downloading their entire back catalogue.
The action sparked a massive internet file-sharing debate, with Metallica coming off as millionaires getting litigious with high school kids and rock bad guys acting like corporations.
In January 2001, bassist Newsted walked out on Metallica with a yearning to make “cutting-edge music”.
There was a bitter irony for the band in Newsted’s departure. For this was a band that revolutionised Heavy Metal in the 1980s before the influence of age and money led them too close to the mainstream for their bassist’s liking.