From the Archive: Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Discuss Their 1996 Album, 'Load'
Here's an interview with Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett from the July 1996 issue of Guitar World. To see the Metallica cover, and all the GW covers from 1996, click here.
“When we were making our last record, nobody knew who the fuck Kurt Cobain was!”
Kirk Hammett, at ease in the lounge of the New York City recording studio where he and the rest of Metallica are rushing to finish their sixth album, Load, is acutely aware of how much the musical climate has changed in the five years since the band put out their last studio recording.
In the late summer of 1991, when Metallica released Metallica, “smelling like teen spirit” was still something to be avoided at all costs. A few short months later, Nirvana’s Nevermind had turned the music world on its head.
With its metallic sheen and top-dollar production values, Metallica (known the as the “Black Album” to the initiated) stuck out like a sore thumb in grunge’s raw sonic landscape. Yet, powered by timeless metal anthems like “Enter Sandman,” and “The Unforgiven,” it sold in excess of eight million copies, in the process turning Metallica into one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- bands in the world. As it turned out, it was also heavy metal’s swan song, or at least the last recording to be successfully marketed as “metal.” Today, Metallica stands as the last towering monument to an era marked by bombast and excess.
When it came to make Load, Metallica clearly felt the need to find a new, more forward-thinking sound. “A lot of bands get stuck staring at their own belly buttons,” says vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield. “They’re like, ‘Wow, we made such a good record last time. We’ve got to keep doing this.’ We won’t do that. The whole point of Metallica is to come up with fresh shit.”
Perhaps nothing reflects Metallica's embrace of Nineties musical values than the band's striking new hairstyles, although both guitarists are reluctant to attribute significance to the cosmetic change: "I had fucking long hair for 20 years! Of course I cut it!" grumbles Hammett.
Metallica's new 'dos, however, are peanuts compared to the musical makeover undergone by the band. Load is a fiercely modern album, combining the moody melodicism of Seattle's best bands with the skull-splitting crunch that only Metallica can deliver. It's also the first album in which Hetfield shares rhythm guitar duties with Hammett.
"We wanted to get a looser sound on this record, and the best place to do that was with the guitars," Hetfield explains. "It was a little nerve-wracking at first. I felt like there was too much new shit happening in Metallica at once. And that was probably the newest thing of all, besides our stupid haircuts."
Hammett also approached the new guitar regime with a degree of trepidation. "I was actually feeling very self-conscious about it, because I didn't want to step on James 's turf," he says. "But it turned out a lot better than I thought it would, and it adds a great texture to the mix." The new division of labor, which yields slyly intertwining parts, is more closely related to the telepathic guitar interplay of the Rolling Stones than to the battering-ram riffery of Judas Priest or Diamond Head.
While amply packed with heavy fare, Load also finds Metallica exploring new sounds and previously unexplored genres. Songs like "2x4," with its Aerosmith-like swagger, and "Dusty," which rocks to a ZZ Top-on-steroids groove, reflect the band's new-found ability of the band to incorporate Hetfield's love of Southern rock and Hammett's blues jones into Metallica's patented grind. Hypnotic, pop-tinged offerings like "F.O.B.D." and "Mouldy," a startlingly lush, swirling anthem, also indicate that Hetfield has vastly expanded the emotional range of his vocal delivery. In so doing, he firmly establishes himself as one of the premier rock voices of the Nineties, along with a handful of others like Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley and Soundgarden's Chris Cornell.
And bands like Soundgarden, of which Hammett and Hetfield are both staunch admirers, are the company that Metallica intends to keep. This summer, Metallica will headline the Lollapalooza tour, sharing the bill with Cornell and Company, the Ramones, Rancid and a host of other alternative rock bands. "I think that the bill on this year's Lollapalooza is pretty good," says Hammett. "It may be a little top-heavy because of us and Soundgarden, but it's certainly stronger than last year's. Fuck all those fucking elitists who say 'Metallica's not alternative' or 'They're too big of a band to play Lollapalooza.' They're just being very narrow-minded."
Hetfield's take on why Metallica belongs on Lollapalooza is a bit more succinct.
"Uh, next guitar question, please."
GUITAR WORLD: How long have you been working on Load?
JAMES HETFIELD: It's been a long time, man. We started in April or May of last year. We worked on writing the songs for three or four months and just kept going and going. We had tons of material, stuff we had accumulated from five years of not writing. First it was like, "Okay, let's stop at 20 songs." Then we'd get going and say, "All right, we'll stop at 30."
It was fuckin' crazy, man. All this material had built up on the road. There were bags and bags of tapes with riffs on them. Sifting through all that shit was difficult.
Did you record more songs than those that are slated to appear on Load?
HETFIELD: We recorded quite a few drum tracks, I think 28 in all. We were thinking of doing a double record, but as time went on we realized that we couldn't tackle all of it at once; we were like nine months into the recording and weren't even done with half of the songs. It was too hard to focus, too much to swallow.
Do you think that you'll use some of the drum tracks on your next album?
HETFIELD: Oh, definitely. That'll be the next record. The tour for this album is supposed to last one year -- no more. When we're done with that we'll go into the studio to finish up the 15 or 16 songs that we've already started. Hopefully, they'll still sound good to us then. If we like them, we like them; if not, we'll revamp them, add to them or do whatever it takes. But our feeling right now is that there are some good songs waiting to be finished.
It sounds like you're eager to accelerate your touring and recording cycle.
HETFIELD: Five years between records is too crazy. We don't want to do that anymore. It's getting to be too fucking ridiculous: people waiting for new material forever, us touring too long, killing ourselves. We have to shorten these things up. Unfortunately, it's really difficult to shorten the tours. People don't really realize how global the music market has become. There didn't used to be a fucking Indonesia to play, there wasn't a South Africa, an India or a fuckin' Turkey. Now there is, and we want to be there. [laughs] We're going to have to miss a lot of places we hit on the last tour in order to be back in a year.