By Amanda Wicks, Radio.com
Metallica may have gotten their start in Los Angeles, but in the mid-’80s, the Sunset Strip scene wasn’t a good fit for the thrash metal titans. It would take San Francisco to help forge their sound. The heavy metal wunderkinds moved the genre away from 1970s and 1980s hair metal, back towards a more brooding sound that would help shape heavy metal for the next 20 years.
Currently consisting of members James Hetfield (guitar/vocals), Kirk Hammett (guitar), Lars Ulrich (drums) and Robert Trujillo (bass), Metallica has undergone a few changes over the years. The band started in Los Angeles in 1981 after Hetfield and Ulrich met through a newspaper ad. The two began performing together and were later joined by guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist Ron McGovney.
Even though Metallica was based in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, it would take on a new member that would shift the band’s geographic location. Hetfield and Ulrich caught a show towards the end of 1982 at L.A. club Whiskey A Go Go, where they came across bassist Cliff Burton. Their efforts to recruit Burton to Metallica initially failed. Burton wasn’t biting. It would take a few more months and the promise that they would all move to San Francisco before Burton replaced McGovney.
When Hetfield and Ulrich decided to oust Mustaine and replace him with guitarist Kirk Hammett, the band formed the foursome that would go on to record their 1983 debut album, Kill Them All. While the album wasn’t a mainstream success, it solidifed Metallica’s place in the metal scene at the time as well as their place in the newer subgrenre, thrash metal.
Kill Them All‘s opening song “Hit the Lights” begins with aggressive guitar and drums, building a wall of sound that still manages to keep its melodic footing. It then quickly rips into the fast-paced energy and darker chord progressions that would define much of Metallica’s sound over the years. Hetfield screams the opening lines, exuding metal’s greatness and Metallica’s place in that genre: “No life till leather/ We are gonna kick some a– tonight/ We got the metal madness/ When our fans start screaming.”
After growing their fanbase, tragedy struck Metallica on September 27, 1986 while the band was on tour in Europe. Their bus driver lost control of the vehicle; Burton died in the crash. Although shaken immensely from the tragedy, the band decided to continue playing together, replacing Burton with guitarist Jason Newsted.
Despite member switch-ups, Metallica showed off an impressive ability to keep creating and releasing music. On 1988’s …And Justice for All they won their first GRAMMY. Metallica’s song “One” from the album earned them the GRAMMY for Best Metal Performance, a category they would dominate another five times in 1990, 1991, 1998, 2003 and 2008.
A nearly eight-minute song, “One” opens with a slower guitar chord progression–emotional for its somber tone–and restrained drums, before eventually shifting into a faster chorus that reflects the angry response to war that underscores the song. Its complexity, woven through with audio clips from the anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun, showed off the band’s growth since they first started playing together.
Although the band hasn’t released a new album since their 2008 album Death Magnetic, Hetfield announced to fans in December 2015 that they were back in the studio working on new music. After playing together for over 30 years and helping redefine heavy metal’s possibilities, Metallica continues pushing the boundaries and melting audience’s faces.
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