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Bong-Man

Long Live Metallica

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http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/artic...080377/1032/ENT

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Long live Metallica: New CD and tour revive band

Adam Graham / Detroit News Pop Music Writer

James Hetfield is late.

It's about 20 minutes after the Metallica frontman is supposed to call when the phone finally rings. The voice on the other end of the telephone is lighthearted but apologetic.

"Hey there, sorry we're a bit late," says Hetfield, in the car on his way to catch a plane to a Metallica show in Ontario, Calif., in mid-December. Laughing, he explains, "We're on Ulrich time," referring to the chronic lateness of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

In years past, this may have been cause for a massive blowout. The 2004 documentary "Some Kind of Monster" chronicled the near-demise of Metallica -- arguably the most successful heavy metal band of all time -- due to the bitterness and infighting that marred the recording of 2003's "St. Anger."

In truth, the problems went way back. Years of poor interpersonal relations, coupled with Hetfield's excessive drinking (the band was referred to in the early days as Alcoholica) had nearly ground Metallica to a halt. "Some Kind of Monster" unflinchingly showed the breakdown in excruciating detail, exposing the multi-platinum metal Gods as mere mortals who could barely stand to sit in the same room with one another.

That was then. Metallica currently has a new lease on life, thanks to 2008's rapturously received "Death Magnetic." The album is nominated for four Grammys -- including one for producer Rick Rubin, who is credited with returning the band to its celebrated metal roots -- and Metallica is a first-ballot nominee for entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame come April.

"A lot of good things are happening right now," says Hetfield, who is nearing seven years of sobriety. "We are all very happy. And I know 'happiness' is not the word most heavy-metal fans want to hear."

"Death Magnetic" is a big part of that happiness. Since 1991's "The Black Album," Metallica has experimented with the expertly crafted metal of renowned early works, such as 1986's "Master of Puppets" and 1988's "...And Justice for All." They presented a decidedly less-heavy version of themselves on mixed works, such as 1996 and 1997's "Load" and "ReLoad" albums. With the rise of Napster at the turn of the century, Metallica positioned itself as the enemy of the burgeoning digital music empire by suing fans who downloaded its albums illegally. And 2003's garbled "St. Anger" found the band unsure of its sound or its direction, and the band barely played anything from the album, even when touring behind it.

"Death Magnetic" is a return to form, however. It finds the band limber and well-oiled, showing off its remarkable musicianship while mercilessly keeping heads banging. It's the Metallica album fans have craved for 20 years, so why did it take so long to give it to them?

"We were running from our past, and it took the realization from Rick Rubin that we don't need to be afraid of our past," says Hetfield, 45. "That, yes, you are an artist, but you don't have to keep reinventing yourself every record just to feel satisfied as an artist."

The band began embracing rather than running from its past in 2006, when it toured behind the 20th anniversary of "Master of Puppets" and played the album in its entirety every night. And producer Rubin -- whose talent for coaxing the best out of artists runs the gambit from Johnny Cash to Neil Diamond to the Dixie Chicks -- encouraged Metallica to study "Master of Puppets" and other early works and see why they worked so well.

Fans, of course, have been telling Metallica to go back to basics for years. But with Rubin, "There is something magical that happens," Hetfield says. "It's not luck.

"It's like how your wife can tell you to do something for 10 years. And then one of your buddies says, 'Hey, why don't you try this?' And then you tell your wife, 'Hey, I'm gonna do this,' and she says, 'Well, I've been telling you this for 10 years!'" Hetfield explains. "You hear it differently from someone else, somehow. You're just ready for it."

Of course, nothing is ever entirely rosy in the world of Metallica, and fans have groused that "Death Magnetic" was poorly mixed, resulting in compressed, compromised sound quality. In addition, there have been complaints over a photograph that surfaced online of Hetfield and Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo shopping with their wives while holding decidedly non-metal Armani bags in their hands.

"I want to live my life the way I'd like, and I don't need judgment, or someone telling me how I should live it," Hetfield says. "I guess that fans have a perception of how you are, and they build a lot of their life around that perception. When it's different, it scares them, and it sends them to a fear place. Which I totally understand, and that's OK. There's always going to be something that people complain about, and I think that comes with the territory of the metal fan. So whether its total praise for a record, or looking for something to pick at, there is passion there. And wherever there's passion, there is aliveness. So we're OK with that."

Does such a fair, balanced and understanding response come from having gone through therapy?

"That, and shopping at Armani," Hetfield jokes.

With Metallica's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame looming, Hetfield is proud the band is not an oldies act coasting on its laurels. Going forward -- the band has plans to tour behind "Death Magnetic" through summer 2010 -- "Our goal is to still be a viable and alive band that is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Hetfield says.

Metallica has certainly earned its stripes in Detroit, where among the memorable gigs played were a 1999 into 2000 New Year's Eve show with Kid Rock and Ted Nugent at the Pontiac Silverdome and what now stands as the final concert at the Silverdome, on July 4, 2003.

Reminded of the heat in the building on that summer day due to the Silverdome's lack of air conditioning, Hetfield lets out a knowing chuckle.

"We're no stranger to sweatin'," he says.

You can reach Adam Graham at (313) 222-2284, or at agraham@detnews.com.

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In addition, there have been complaints over a photograph that surfaced online of Hetfield and Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo shopping with their wives while holding decidedly non-metal Armani bags in their hands.

"I want to live my life the way I'd like, and I don't need judgment, or someone telling me how I should live it," Hetfield says. "I guess that fans have a perception of how you are, and they build a lot of their life around that perception. When it's different, it scares them, and it sends them to a fear place.

:hysterical: Does it also make fans not want to buy their albums anymore? Does this mean that this band that created Master of Puppets are just doing it for the money now? These are serious questions. I'd like to hear what Metallica fans have to say about this. They did create Master of Puppets, after all. Should such things be overlooked?

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