Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett look back on 30 years of The Black Album: "It really was the master key to everything"

(Image credit: Future / Jimmy Hubbard)

By the end of the 1980s, heavy metal – and, in particular, thrash metal – had become something of a musical arms race. “It was all about impressing the other bands with your heaviness, with your speed, with your technical prowess,” Metallica frontman James Hetfield recalls to Guitar World. “Everyone wanted to come up with the heaviest riff on earth or the fastest song possible.” 

Given that Metallica had already spent most of the decade gleefully pushing the boundaries of heaviness, speed and technicality on each of their first four recordings – 1983’s Kill ’Em All, the following year’s Ride the Lightning, 1986’s Master of Puppets and 1988’s …And Justice for All – they decided that, for their fifth release, they’d try something a little different. “The next album,” guitarist Kirk Hammett says, “was going to be shorter, simpler songs.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.