From the Archive: James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica Discuss Their 1997 Album, 'Re-Load'
Here's an interview with Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield of Metallica from the December 1997 issue of Guitar World. To see the Metallica cover, and all the GW covers from 1997, click here.
Inside a wood-panelled Sausalito, California, studio called The Plant, Metallica frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich gaze reflectively at a dust-covered relic sitting in the corner of the room."
This thing's been in the closet for 10 years," says Hetfield. "It was the second guitar I ever owned, and it was the only one I had when we recorded Kill 'Em All." He picks up the cheap, white Flying V copy and begins to pluck out southern rock licks in the vein of Lynyrd Skynyrd. "It still plays pretty good," he beams.
In truth, the guitar has seen better days. The paint across the top has eroded, as if spattered with acid, and the headstock has been snapped in half and glued back together. Below the toggle switch, the words "fuck it" are crudely etched into the wood, and the neck is scratched and worn. But like an antique with blemishes that reveal its history and character, the battered Flying V is a perfect symbol of Metallica's tooth-and-nail struggle for recognition in the early Eighties. Seven albums and many millions of dollars later, recognition isn't a problem, but Metallica are still struggling to grow and evolve.
At the moment, the band members are letting down their already shorn hair following an intense studio session for their new record, Re-Load. The ringmaster for the session is Bob Rock, who also added his crisp production to the last two Metallica studio albums, and who is presently under the strain of an impending deadline that looks like it will never be met. "Bob really chewed me out the other day. He totally screamed at me," gripes Hammett. "He does that about once every record. I think the first time was well documented on one of our home videos."
Considering how much pressure they're under, Metallica seem surprisingly relaxed . When he's done widdling on the Flying V, Hetfield hands it over to Ulrich, who flips it over, exposing a rendering of a giant, extended middle finger, and an ugly notched gouge that runs across the back of the instrument. "That's from the bullet belt James used to wear!" laughs Ulrich. "He used to beat the shit out of that thing when we were on tour for Kill 'Em All. That was back when he just didn't give a fuck."
In many ways, Hetfield still doesn't give a fuck. Since their formation in 1981, Metallica have gone from being a batch of reckless, long-haired speed demons to a bunch of anally retentive, methodical musicians who have forsaken sheer velocity for experimentation. Like last year's Load, Re-Load is a departure from the galloping metal anthems and thrash 'n bash barnburners of yore. But while Load embraced boogie-blues licks, swaggering rock rhythms and swirling melodic hooks, Re-Load is more experimental.
Many of the songs are over seven minutes long, and the band favors intricate, sprawling arrangements over instantly memorable hooks. Rest assured, Metallica haven't lost their penchant for crunching distortion and surging power; they've just couched it with more textural and dissonant embellishments.
"Fixer" features an ominous, droning bassline, undulating guitar licks and a riff that sounds like a cross between "Leper Messiah" and an ancient Indian mantra. "Memory" starts as a mid-paced grind that slithers with serpentine guitars before shifting into an unsettling Hebraic-sounding chant by guest vocalist Marianne Faithful I. And "My Eyes" is a shuffling ballad in the style of Tom Waits or Nick Cave, replete with tattered acoustic strums, violins and hurdy-gurdy. Then, of course, there's the B-bender guitar-saturated revamp of the "Black Album'"s "Unforgiven" called (appropriately enough) "Unforgiven II."
"Over the past few years we've all really developed our own personalities and our own points of view," says Hammett. "In the new songs, you can hear how those four personalities play off each other. We just throw it all into one big melting pot, and when you pour it out, this is what you get." He pauses to puff a Cuban cigar he smuggled back from a recent show in England, then continues. "The only band that comes to mind that has evolved along the same lines as us is Led Zeppelin . From Led Zeppelin to Coda is a world of difference. I'm not comparing us to Zeppelin, but just in terms of pure evolution, the similarities are there."
GUITAR WORLD: Why did you call this record Re-Load after releasing one last year called Load?
JAMES HETFIELD: These records belong together, and they should have come out at the same time, but the songs weren't all done. We're putting this one out a year later, now that we've had time to finish it, but we want them to be twins.
KIRK HAMMETT: We were gonna do them both as a double album, but we didn't want to spend that long in the studio. Also, if we did a double album, it would have been a lot more material for people to digest, and some of it might have gotten lost in the shuffle.
The artwork for Load featured a photo by Andres Serrano, who blended his own sperm with cow's blood to create the shot. Will Re-Load feature another picture by Serrano?
HETFIELD: Yes. I hate it, but it has got to match. It's matching hatred. [laughs] I'm not a big fan of the man and his perversions. There's art and then there's just sick motherfuckers, and he's one of them. The thing is, they belong together. I don't care if the guy blows donkeys. The art has got to match.
HAMMETT: I'm really into Serrano. I really like his picture of [a man about to have sex with] a [naked] dwarf [from his History of Sex series]. That's one sexy dwarf. I also like his picture of a guy who has two nipple piercings tied up to a dick piercing, and they're all stretched out. Is it pleasure or pain? It's up to the viewer to decide.