Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #134. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Ahead of their monumental Australian stadium tour this October, we’re brushing up on our panoramic knowledge of Metallica (‘cause when you’re as bad at math as our editor, you’ve gotta make up for it somehow).
Words by Matt Doria.
R is for Record labels, the politics of which Metallica have the privilege of avoiding with their own Universal imprint, Blackened Recordings. Launched in 2012 and operated by the members themselves, Blackened allows Metallica full control over their masters and release plans – so no cheap, soul-sucking cash grabs or half-assed remasters (unless the band stoop so low on their own accord). They’re yet to sign any other artists to Blackened, but we can only imagine how many up-and-coming acts could benefit from the support of a label driven by none other than Metallica.
S is for Signature guitars, of which Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett have enough to fill a goddamn warehouse. Working closely with ESP, the two have crafted some of the most aesthetically striking (and sonically massive) guitars known to mankind, from Hammett’s idiosyncratic Ouija board design to Hetfield’s bold iron cross-flourished beast.
T is for Tributes, which Metallica have shown a distinct soft spot for in 38-year tenure. In 1998, Metallica released the two-disc Garage Inc. compilation, which saw them tackle everything from hardcore to pop with their signature thrashy spark. On the flipside, there have been dozens of Metallica-centric tribute albums released – look to Apocalyptica’s debut LP, Plays Metallica By Four Cellos, for one of Team AG’s favourites (and a stunning record in its own right). Or for those in search of something a little more quirky, there’s Beatallica, the Ulrich-endorsed stroke of genius that sees Metallica jams smashed together with Beatles hits. It doesn’t always work, but goddamn, is it a load of fun.
U is for the Underground, where, like most bands of their caliber, Metallica cut their teeth in the early ‘80s. After dropping their first original song, “Hit The Lights”, on the Metal Blade Records compilation Metal Massacre, Metallica garnered an early following through word-of-mouth. Their first shows were at dive bars and metal hubs where, by virtue of their angular, rampageous playing and unf***withable attitude, they were an immediate hit. And though they quickly graduated to theatres and arenas, Metallica remained a cornerstone of the underground metal scene throughout the ‘80s – mostly as a gateway for budding metalheads to discover more obscure, DIY-learning acts.
V is for Video games, the soundtracks for which have been a popular vessel for Metallica’s non-traditional marketing since the late ‘90s. They’ve popped up on games ranging everywhere from Hot Wheels Turbo Racing to Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, and, naturally, the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series of performance sims. In fact, there’s an entire Guitar Hero title dedicated to Metallica, with almost 30 of their cuts – spanning Kill ‘Em All through Death Magnetic – playable. The entire tracklist for the latter album was also available as a downloadable add-on for the OG Guitar Hero.
W is for Whisky a Go Go, the venue where Ulrich and Hetfield first discovered Burton. Metallica already had a bassist at the time – Ron McGovney, who also played with Hetfield in a hard-rock band called Leather Charm – but they were eager to kick him out, as he “didn’t contribute anything, he just followed”. The band were enamoured by Burton’s unique use of a wah-wah pedal, and after one set of Burton tearing to his heart’s content as a member of Trauma, they were desperate to snatch him up for themselves.
X is for Xylophone, the instrument best comparable to the blunt, tinny drum tone that Ulrich managed to conjure on Metallica’s underrated 2003 opus, St. Anger. The album itself is redeemed by some of Hetfield and Hammett’s strongest and most spine-rattling guitar work to date (not to mention the former’s sharp, open-hearted lyrics), but upon release, its spate of drum tracks – which don’t sound too unlike a pair of metal bin lids being clanged together – had fans and critics alike in a raging tizzy.
Y is for the Youth, who, despite being two (or even three) generations behind, have embraced Metallica with open arms. Alien Weaponry and Unlocking The Truth – both of whom made breakthroughs before their oldest members graduated high school – are leading a new class of Metallica-channelling thrash bands, taking what Hetfield and co. established in their prime and galvanising it with a distinctly modern flair.
Z is for Zillionaires, which if any band’s members would be, it’s Metallica’s. They’re the third best-selling act since Nielsen SoundScan started racking up musicians’ sales numbers, with over 58 million records sold in the US alone. Add to that the fact that their world tours consistently draw profits in the nine-figure ballpark, it’s clear they can afford to live the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle without breaking a sweat. Of course, Metallica aren’t just using that dosh to fuel their lavish rockstar lifestyles – in addition to their bespoke charity, All Within My Hands, the band have been known to funnel huge cheques over to charities around the world, many of which in secret.
Thursday October 17th - Optus Stadium, Perth WA
Sunday October 20th - Adelaide Oval, Adelaide SA
Tuesday October 22nd - Marvel Stadium, Melbourne VIC
Thursday October 24th - Marvel Stadium, Melbourne VIC
Saturday October 26th - ANZ Stadium, Sydney NSW
Tuesday October 29th - QSAC, Brisbane QLD