Metallica's Robert Trujillo on the art of simplicity

(Image credit: Andrew Chin/Getty Images)

Robert Trujillo is calling from Guatemala City, Guatemala, the latest stop on Metallica’s current South American tour. Between gigs he’s doing press and answering questions about songs from Hardwired … to Self Destruct, the band’s latest CD. That isn’t so unusual—but this is Metallica, and Trujillo hasn’t even heard some of the final mixes yet. “I’m discovering the songs now,” he admits. “Some of the vocal stuff is different from when I last heard it. Right up until the last day of mixing, things are happening.” It may seem like a strange position to be in, but new material is a closely guarded secret for arguably the most successful heavy metal band of all time—even if you’ve been playing bass for them since 2003.

Metallica formed in 1981 and spearheaded the thrash-metal movement with classics Kill ’Em All [1983, Elektra] and Ride the Lightning [1984, Elektra]. The band’s third album, Master of Puppets [1986, Elektra], is one of the most successful and influential pure thrash-metal albums of all time. Unfortunately, original bassist Cliff Burton—famous for his bell-bottom jeans, fuzzed-out-wah-infused bass solos, and virtuosic technique—was killed in a bus accident while on tour in Sweden in 1986. That same year, he was replaced by Jason Newsted. Newsted’s style was more fundamental, but his root-note-heavy aesthetic is one of the ingredients that enabled Metallica to streamline its sound and achieve even greater commercial success. Metallica, often referred to as the “Black Album,” debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 in 1991 and has since sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Songs like “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven,” and “Nothing Else Matters” appealed to a wider audience, and Newsted’s chunky, Spector-driven tone is prevalent throughout. He left the band in 2001, citing private and personal reasons.

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