Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster

220px-Some_kind_of_minster_(film)Metallica Week… Hmmmm… How do I, lover of Queen, Kylie and Billy Joel, contribute to a week dedicated to a Heavy Metal rock band of such legendary status that I can’t name a single song or album that they are famous for? Great start huh? In fact if my friends over at musicscramble had asked me to review ‘One Direction: This Is Us’ I would have been coming from a stronger starting place of musical knowledge. But apparently that is what they want for this review so away we go.

Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster is a documentary covering the 3 year period from 2001 to 2003, that follows the band’s creative process (and differences), ultimately resulting in the release of their St. Anger album. I can’t say that this is a warts and all documentary, and it certainly isn’t as revealing as something like ‘Tantrums and Tiaras’, but I definitely feel I got a very good insight about who the three members (they had lost bassist Jason Newsted at this point) of Metallica actually are.

NB I have promised myself that I won’t dive straight onto wikipedia to find out what happened next, until after I finish this article because I don’t want other peoples’ writing or facts to influence the feelings I got from the three of them.

From the start it is clear that the band consists of two alpha males and a guy who is just along for the ride. However it is also clear that all three of them are really scared about what their future together actually means and how to perpetuate themselves into the ‘naughties’.  The fear being written off as has-beens or receiving criticism about being either stagnant or bending to the musical trends of the times dominates early on. In fact the machismo of hiding and then revealing their feelings is a theme that progresses through the whole documentary.

Front man James Hetfield comes across very strongly as a man on the edge, who then falls off and after a year of rehab comes back terrified of falling off again. You can see he desperately doesn’t want to lose what Metallica means to him but also that he has to do it on his own terms, which puts hims strongly at odds with drummer Lars Ulrich.

The post-rehab Hetfield comes across as a really nice guy and (as a singer myself) I was really touched when he talked about his warm up exercises and how he initially feared his vocal coach would try to make him sing opera. He clearly dotes on his family and I can understand how setting limits of the side of his life that was so destructive to him in the past is a real struggle as music is his raison d’etre. In fact he tells an audience of inmates at San Quentin that if it wasn’t for music he would either be in here with them or dead.Hetfield and Ulrich

Lars Ulrich starts out as the most open and sympathetic member of the band, but once Hetfield leaves the scene for a year, you see his insecurities building to the point that when Hetfield comes back he is frantic to get back to making music. This puts him at odds with the strict ‘4 hours a day’ limit that Hetfield feels he needs to impose of the creative process.

From here you get to see a really selfish man and I won’t be surprised if my later viewing of wikipedia tells me he spent a significant amount of time in rehab not long after the making of this film. Watching him and his wife getting trashed at an art auction where they must have made well over $10 million, along with the constant can of beer in his hand as they came closer to finalising the song list, painted a picture of a man who knows how to drink to excess.

Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett is the man in the middle. He speaks openly about what it is like to go through rehab and it has clearly done him the world of good. He comes across as well-balanced and yet even he occasionally allows his ego to break through as he tries to involve himself more in the creative process previously dominated by the other two.

Acting as the glue through the whole process is ‘Performance Coach’ Phil Towle who was hired by Metallica’s management company Q-Prime. I spent the whole 140 minutes waiting for Hetfield or Ulrich to take a swing at him… Sadly they don’t, but by the end they clearly are looking forward to get rid of him. He comes across as an absolute weasel of a man and when he came out with the line “We’ve still got some trust issues that I think we need to sort out” I would have smacked him in the teeth had I been in the room!

Ex-band member Jason Newsted (bass player who left the band in 2001 as Hetfield wouldn’t let him do other projects outside of Metallica) came over pretty favourably in the sections he was featured, however the emotional confrontation between Ulrich and David Mustaine made me cringe.

Mustaine was Metallica’s lead guitar player in the early 80’s but was kicked out in 1983 for being repeatedly violent through alcohol abuse. The scandal at the time led to Mustaine being vilified by the Metallica fans. When meeting with Ulrich, Mustaine complains about the abuse he gets from Metallica fans and I have to say that I had no sympathy for him at all as he comes across as an absolute cry-baby! (PS Get a Haircut… Ginger mullets were well out of fashion by 2002!)

I really enjoyed the section where they auditioned for a new bass player… The guy they chose (Robert Trujillo) was truly mesmerizing to watch and I hope he is still going strong with the band. It was great to see the three of them actually coming together and agreeing with what they were looking for and how stoked they were on agreeing to bring Trujillo into the fold.  To quote Ulrich, “You make us play better”.

In the end St. Anger is made, released to Grammy Award-winning praise and the subsequent tour looks certain to be a roaring success… This documentary has certainly made me appreciate the amount of hard work that goes into producing an album of this magnitude and I am fairly certain that One Direction don’t get quite as involved in the creative process! Hats of to the guys of Metallica though. It is clear they love what they do and they need what Metallica brings to them and hence they end up valuing the need to be cohesive and working as a team. This documentary film is worth a watch just for that alone.

From my point of view though this hasn’t made me want to go out and buy a Metallica album as I have no desire to listen to music of that ilk over and over again… However if anyone has a spare concert ticket lying around give me a ring as I am certain that the live experience would be simply stunning!

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3 thoughts on “Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster

  1. There is a single over arching problem that dwells within this band and many bands of the heavy rock genre and in my experience it is this. The desire to be recognized by the musical establishment as real musicians. They found a formula that was derived from the new wave of British heavy metal and meshed it with the power of punk rock. I can tell you that this kind of music requires genuine virtuosity. They are one of the biggest selling rock bands of all time but this pales in comparison to the mainstream. James Hettfield has long wished to be seen as an artist with skill and depth, unfortunately this will never be possible within rock music. The biggest proof of this desire can be seen in the Metallica S&M concert where the band perform with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Micheal Kamen. This was in my view a disaster, the virtuosity of the band is obvious, the performance of all involved is sublime but the Juxtaposition of Orchestra meets Rock and Roll is cringe making. The drinking drug fueled image of rock overshadows the inherent skill required to make it, ironically this is also the appeal of the music. The idea of anti establishment and danger. Some kind of Monster is the result of this internal war that the band and many rock musicians fight. The desire to be rebellious and dangerous, being the drug fueled road warrior but desperately needing to be taken seriously.
    They are to me part of my youth an audible outlet for anger and an inspiration in my own development as a musician.

    • Nicely put, and some excellent points but I have to admit I disagree on two things.

      You say that their rock band sales pale in comparison to mainstream. Really? I would argue their sales outstrip most ‘mainstream’ acts. I feel that similar to the likes of AC/DC or Iron Maiden they are one of the few artist who can boast a similar healthy competition compared to pop or mainstream.

      Soundscan claim 110 Million worldwide for Metallica. Bruce Springsteen (120 Million), Britney Spears (100 Million), Madonna (300 Million), U2 (150 Million) and Elton John (300 Million). In my view I think it’s pretty similar rather than pales really.

      The other one was S&M. Was it really disastrous? Deep Purple, KISS, and so many others have trod down the orchestral path. I don’t think they ever sounded any heavier. They came out the other side looking no worse off than they ever did beforehand and picked up a few fans on the way.

      Anyway it is a small point, and I think Some Kind of Monster deals more with their fear of staying relevant and feeling part of something that the buying public will want to keep involved in. For me this stems amongst other things the fact hat Load and Reload were poorly received (hair and makeup), S&M had virtually no new material, neither did Garage Inc. (self-penned). Not forgetting Lars’ ill-advised Napster and MP3 download stance which alienated them from many.

  2. Pingback: Boxset: Metallica – Part 2 | Musicscramble

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