Metallica: Monster's Brawl
Originally published in Guitar World, June 2004
Fights! Camera! Action! What started as a simple documentary about
Metallica nearly became an account of the group’s destruction. Guitar World goes behind the scenes of Metallica’s critically acclaimed movie, Some Kind of Monster, for a scorching blow-by-blow report.
There’s a scene that occurs roughly an hour into Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the band’s intense new documentary. Drummer Lars Ulrich, pacing the floor at the band’s HQ studios in San Rafael, California, looks across the room at singer and guitarist James Hetfield, fresh out of rehab and still struggling to readjust to the outside world, and offers him a comforting welcome home. “When I was running this morning,” says Ulrich, “I was thinking about seeing you today, and the word fuck just [came] up so much.”
Hetfield, who had been nestled away in a rehabilitation center for more than six months battling alcohol addiction and various other life-afflicting demons, sits silently as Ulrich begins repeating the word, mantralike.
“Fuck,” he snarls at the man with whom, more than 20 years ago, he cofounded what is arguably the most successful heavy metal band in history. “Fuck!” Finally, Ulrich moves in close, until the two are practically nose to nose, and screams one last time: “Fuck!”
It’s a particularly intense and ugly moment in a film that has no shortage of either. Some Kind of Monster tracks Metallica from the sudden departure of bassist Jason Newsted in January 2001 to the completion of their eighth studio album, St. Anger, more than two years later. Throughout the two-hour-and-twenty-minute film, which will be theatrically released in summer 2004, the actions of Metallica’s core members—Hetfield, Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett—are sometimes petty, sometimes reprehensible and occasionally downright embarrassing. And that’s exactly what makes the documentary such a riveting piece of work. Equally impressive is the fact that Metallica, who have been practicing rigorous damage control on their image for nearly a decade, wholeheartedly endorsed being shown in such a revealing and often negative light.
“Our attitude from the beginning was ‘warts and all,’ ” says Hammett. “We said to [filmmakers] Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, ‘Show us good, show us bad. Just show us.’ And you know, sometimes we look like assholes and sometimes we look like spoiled rock stars—but we also look like human beings. I think presenting the full picture offers more insight into who we are as people.”
“There’s still a little part of me that fears this film will come out and people will actually go to see it,” says Hetfield. “But then there’s another part of me that thinks, Hell yeah, people are going to see your struggles, they’re going to see your high points and your low points and they’re going to get to know you better. And that’s exciting.”
By now it’s common knowledge that Metallica went through a rough period prior to St. Anger’s release in June 2003. The media coverage that accompanied the album’s release often—and rightly— characterized the band’s previous few years as a perpetual downhill slide that began when Ulrich crusaded against Napster and subsequently alienated the band’s core fan base, continued when Newsted jumped ship after 15 years of service, and bottomed out when Hetfield entered rehab for “alcoholism and other undisclosed addictions.”
What was given short shrift, however, was how hard the band’s members fought—as a unit and against one another—to survive each new tragedy that befell them. Their efforts included hiring a $40,000-per-week “performance enhancement coach” named Phil Towle (a move that in the film Newsted dismisses as “really fucking lame and weak”) and overhauling their infamously rigid working conditions to allow each band member equal say in the songwriting process. And as the film demonstrates, Metallica struggled not only to move forward but also to confront head-on the issues that had hindered them in the past. This is no more evident than when Ulrich sits down for a one-on-one, long-overdue meeting with former Metallica and Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was brutally fired by Ulrich and Hetfield in 1983.
“This is not a movie about the making of St. Anger,” says Hetfield. “It’s not about the music. This is a movie about the people in Metallica and the relationships that they share with one another and with the other individuals in their lives. The music is secondary to the whole picture.”
“Hopefully,” Hammett adds, “by showing what we went through, the film can give some direction to other people that are experiencing some of the same things, whether they’re in a band or not. I think that we explored options that a lot of other bands wouldn’t have even considered. And yeah, I know Metallica have an image as this big, indestructible entity and that a lot of the things you see in the film, like us sitting in therapy, may be viewed as signs of weakness. But I gotta tell you, we’ve always been known for just laying our balls on the line and saying, ‘Fuck it.’ ”