Metallica: Monster's Brawl
Although Hetfield, Hammett and Ulrich are now the sole owners of Some Kind of Monster, it’s apparent from the final cut, culled from more than 1,600 hours of footage, that they didn’t place any constraints on the directors. Berlinger, for one, believes that is precisely what makes the film so impressive. “If these guys didn’t have complete control over the movie and weren’t paying for it out of their own pockets, it wouldn’t be as remarkable. The things you see wouldn’t have the same impact if Bruce and I were just two independent newsmen who dug up some dirt on the band and shoved it into a movie. Metallica could have told us to take out anything that they decided they didn’t want the public to see, but they treated us as if we had final cut. There’s absolutely nothing that they kept out of the film.”
“I’ll tell you,” adds Sinofsky, “if I were Lars, James or Kirk, there are certainly moments in the film that I would’ve demanded to have deleted. That art auction scene? Lars was pressured to take it out by many people in the band’s inner circle—from wives to managers to lawyers—who all told him that it’s no good for his image. And to Lars’ credit, he was like, ‘Fuck it! This is who I am.’ And you have to have respect for that.”
While Metallica and the filmmakers say they weren’t interested in having Some Kind of Monster function merely as a promotional tool for St. Anger, in some indirect ways it does just that. Upon the album’s release last year, many fans put off by its minimalist song structures and raw production accused the band of lacking the passion and commitment that had always characterized its best work. But it’s evident in the film that, for Metallica, creating St. Anger was more than a labor of love—it was literally hard labor, requiring more dedication and determination than perhaps any record in their career.
Throughout the film, the band members—in particular Ulrich and Hetfield—battle over riffs, drum beats and lyrics, and break out of their strictly defined musical roles to help one another with their parts. (The lyrical hook “My lifestyle determines my death style” from “Frantic” is revealed to be not a Hetfield-composed rehab mantra but rather one of Hammett’s Zen-like axioms.) Furthermore, the first section of the film is littered with recorded attempts at songs that didn’t make the final cut of St.Anger. One tune, in which Hetfield repeatedly sings the word “temptation,” is built on a slow, doomy riff and a tom-heavy drumbeat that sounds like nothing else in Metallica’s recorded history.
“If we didn’t go through those songs, we wouldn’t have made it to the ones on St. Anger,” says Hetfield. “They were like stepping stones. There’s some pretty diverse music in there, just a mix of a lot of different things we tried. We wanted to explore every possibility.”
Some Kind of Monster also lends greater insight to the album’s lyrics, which typically have been interpreted in terms of Hetfield’ rehab experience. Many of the songs do address issues the singer dealt with during that period, but it’s not the only subject confronted. The film reveals that “Shoot Me Again”—with its refrain, “All the shots I take/I spit back at you”—is about Ulrich’s fight with Napster and the criticism he endured over it, while the opening line of “Sweet Amber”—“Wash your back so you won’t stab mine”—is a phrase uttered by a disgusted Hetfield after he’s informed that Metallica’s refusal to record the radio promo spot could result in their being blacklisted by the large conglomerate that owns the station.
And then there’s “My World,” a song that could almost be a group catharsis. In one of the documentary’s final scenes, the band is shown jamming the song, whose lyrics deal with regaining control over one’s own life. St. Anger has been completed, new bassist Robert Trujillo has joined the fold, and Metallica, once again functioning as a complete unit, are preparing to go out on tour. It’s at this point the group decides to give Towle his walking papers. The therapist has become too close to the group; he’s even attempted to contribute lyrics to St. Anger’s songs. (Earlier in the film Hetfield remarks that Towle is “under the impression that he’s, like, in the band.”) The band meets with Towle and effectively ends their working relationship. Afterward, Hetfield is shown singing the opening line to “My World,” “Who’s in charge of my head today?”
“When I came out of rehab I was like raw hamburger,” Hetfield explains. “Anyone could have shaped me into anything they wanted. So when Phil started doing things like handing me lyrics to sing, it was like, ‘Well, this feels weird, but am I being too rigid? Maybe I need to accept things and open up more.’ I didn’t know where the boundaries were. At some point it became obvious to me that I was totally confused as to where the business part ended and the friendship began. And it seemed to fluctuate whenever Phil needed it to.”
“But,” adds Hammett, “he also really helped us accomplish what we needed to get done. It was just that, toward the end, things started to go a little haywire.”
“I believe that the band is together today because of Phil,” says Berlinger. “And yeah, he got a little too close, but I don’t think that was a bad thing, because for Metallica the final stage of the program was to push him away. Part of the growth process is that children need to flee the coop.”
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