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METALLICA – Bang ’Em Hard
Bernard Doe
Metal Forces, Issue 3 (1984)

Lars Ulrich

Metallica are to my mind one of the most important bands to appear on the heavy metal scene since Iron Maiden. Already, with their unique style of frenzied energy and speed, they have completely changed the style and direction of many of the new up-and-coming metal bands with the release of their excellent Kill ’Em All debut album last year.

Now, Metallica are on the eve of a European onslaught throughout 1984 in which they hope to establish the band as a major metal force throughout the world.

The tour hasn’t exactly got off to a great start, with $40,000 of the band’s equipment being stolen in Boston just a week before they were due to depart for Europe. So, drummer Lars Ulrich flew into London a couple of days ahead of schedule to sort out the hiring of some new equipment. It also gave me a chance to talk to Lars about the band’s early days and the phenomenal underground following that they have acquired in such a short space of time.

The first real line-up of Metallica consisted of James Hetfield (vocals), Dave Mustaine (guitar), Ron McGovney (bass) and Lars Ulrich (drums). But ever since they started out, they have wanted to become a five-piece band. During the spring of 1982 they were on the look-out for a rhythm guitarist, and although they did play one gig as a five-piece, things didn’t really work out. So, James Hetfield eventually took over rhythm and the search switched to a lead vocalist. But again, no luck. So, rather than just sit around idly, the band decided to carry on with James singing as well as playing rhythm. A situation that still exists today, although the search for a frontman has never stopped, as Lars explains: “Since that day in April ’82 we’ve probably auditioned over 50 vocalists and listened to hundreds of demos from others, but we still haven’t found anyone to fit in with what we were doing. The only person that we thought may fit in was John Bush of Armored Saint, but he apparently doesn’t want to do it.”

How about Jess Cox? It’s been reported that the former Tygers Of Pan Tang man and now solo artist had applied for the job? “Yeah, that’s funny, because when me and James were first putting the band together, one of the people we intended enquiring about was Jess Cox. But now I think our requirements have gone above a Jess Cox, in terms of a voice or even just the way he looks nowadays.”

Metallica’s first appearance on vinyl was with the track ‘Hit The Lights’, which appeared on Metal Blade’s first Metal Massacre compilation album in 1982. To be honest, I didn’t think the poor production really did justice to the track, and far more impressive were the band’s two demos that were going around at the time. Both of those tapes did more than anything to gain the band such a large underground following. But how aware was Lars of this vast cult following that Metallica were getting all around the world on the strength of those demos? “Well, before I’d got the band together I’d been into underground metal myself, and I’d moved to America from Denmark just about the time when things were really happening in Europe… back in 1979/80. In LA at that time there were very few people into underground metal, so I got to know all the right people, like Ron Quintana, Brian Slagel and John Kornarens. So, when Metallica first started making all these tapes, like No Life ’Til Leather, I knew that by sending them to all the principal tape traders – like K.J. Doughton, Patrick Scott and yourself – that they would send them to 10 or 20 more people and it would just kind of spread out into an underground following. It’s strange, because there’s still a lot of bands around today who are not aware of this underground metal following that exists. I guess I was just lucky because I used to be a headbanger and was a part of that scene.”

Cliff Burton and James Hetfield

Although Metallica’s popularity was spreading like wildfire across the metal world, the band themselves were not happy being stuck in Los Angeles, so on February 12th, 1983, they finally left to set up base in San Francisco. “We never really got on with the LA audiences too well; we had a loyal 200 or so people, but it never really spread beyond that. In the early days, LA was still very much poser and glam and we were really the first band to do something different from all the Mötley Crüe, Ratt and Steeler sounding bands. Me and James were interested in all the British metal, and that’s how we were naturally playing. We started going up the coast to San Francisco in the fall of ’82 to play a few gigs, just to get the hell away from LA. It was great up there, we were drawing something like 600 or so at every gig and making money out of it, which was something we had never done in LA. So we thought maybe we should look into relocating up there.

“Another thing that played a big role in Metallica moving to San Francisco was getting our bass player Cliff Burton, who lived there, to join the band. We had wanted Cliff in the band ever since we saw him playing in this band called Trauma. At first he was a little hesitant, but he finally decided to join us in December 1982, although a part of the agreement was that we moved up to San Francisco since he wanted nothing to do with LA. So, after we had kicked out Ron (McGovney), we spent five weeks or so getting our stuff together and off we went.

“I’d like to make it quite clear that we are now 100% based in San Francisco. There have been conflicting reports about where we are from, and sometimes we feel like we are shitting on the Metallica fans in San Francisco – who are very, very loyal – when they read we’re based in New York or wherever in Kerrang!. We are definitely San Francisco-based, and I can’t see that situation ever changing.”

Metallica of course are now signed to Megaforce Records in New York, but could quite easily have now been on Rocshire Records; the label that now has Alcatrazz and Tony Carey. “Yeah, Rocshire brought us in to record an EP during the summer of ’82 (a tape which is now circulating as No Life ’Til Leather), but, just two days before we were about to sign the contract to release the EP we changed our minds, because we had been playing that tape to some different people and the response we had got was so overwhelming that we decided to wait and see what would happen. Anyway, the people at Rocshire didn’t really know too much about what was going on with heavy metal. So, we shopped around and talked to Firesign, the people that handle Riot, Mike Varney at Shrapnel and Brian Slagel’s Metal Blade. Then we got a call from Jonny Z at Megaforce, and off we went.

“Jonny Z also runs a management company that could help us with tours, something that we wouldn’t have got with Shrapnel or Metal Blade, and next to a major label it is definitely the best situation we could be in.”

But what about all those rumours about the band being ripped off in New York? “Just rumours. You’ve got to understand that when we signed to Megaforce there was a lot of hope and a lot of enthusiasm in getting the project off the ground, but there wasn’t a lot of cash involved. So, in the beginning there were a few sacrifices here and there, and okay they were hard times, but right now I feel that our working relationship with Jonny Z is the best it’s ever been.”

Soon after Metallica had arrived in New York, they parted company with lead guitarist Dave Mustaine. But as Lars explains, it’s a split that had been on the cards for quite some time. “I think James and I always thought that the initial line-up of Ron on bass and Dave on lead guitar wasn’t people who we were going to take all the way. We always knew that when someone better came along then Ron and Dave would have to leave. So when Cliff came around, out went Ron. And with Dave, we never really thought that he was as good a lead guitar player as we wanted for the band. Also, he had a problem, as when he had had a few to drink he would become extremely obnoxious and very hard to control, and a few times he put us in some very embarrassing situations.

“We knew of Kirk (Hammett) through Mark (Whitaker), our sound man who shared a house with us when we first moved to San Francisco. At that time Mark was manager of Exodus (Kirk’s old band).

Kirk Hammett

“Then, after we had left San Francisco to join Jonny Z on the East Coast, we encountered a lot of problems with what we like to refer to now as ‘the road test’. We had to fire a few roadies who couldn’t take life on the road, and neither could Dave. So unfortunately, after about a week and a half, we wanted to kick him out, but we had such a heavy schedule with gigs and recording the album that we didn’t know when to send him home? Jonny Z suggested we did it as quickly as possible. So, we played a gig on the Saturday night with The Rods, and after spending all day Sunday sobering up Dave left on the Monday morning, and that afternoon Kirk came in. On that Friday night of the same week we were onstage with Kirk, which shows how much ability he’s got – he had learnt the whole set in just four days.”

So, onto the Kill ’Em All album. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the best and most important heavy metal albums of all time, but was Lars happy with the final outcome? “I guess I should be, but… As a band, we feel that we are pretty confident in what we want and how we want to sound, incorporating our own ideas and stuff. But during six or seven weeks of recording the album, we were dealing with these two guys at the studio who were treating us like kids and thought that we didn’t know what we were talking about. So we had a lot of problems. It came to a point when they wouldn’t allow us into the studio when they were mixing our songs. So there’s a lot of things that we are really dissatisfied with on the way the album sounds. On the other hand, everyone seems to like it, so… I remember when I was a kid, I used to read interviews with people like Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) who would say things like, ‘I can’t stand listening to myself play’. And I used to wanna yell that this guy’s fucking crazy… what’s he talking about?! If I was in one of the greatest bands in the world then I’d wanna listen to myself all the time. But now I think I can understand what he was talking about.”

So what about the new Metallica album? Will it be much of a progression from Kill ’Em All? “Yeah, but in what progression we’re going will be up to the fans to decide themselves. But there’s definitely some changes happening, and we all feel that it’s for the better. The songs will still have the Metallica feel, the Metallica energy, but maybe they will appeal to a few more people without losing the fans we already have. I’m not saying we’re wimping out or anything, it’s just something that’s happening naturally. We’re growing up and our songwriting is maturing a lot. We are also a little more technical, which is something Cliff has brought into the band.

“The album will probably be called Ride The Lightning, which is the name of a song we do about capital punishment and dying in the electric chair. The opening track, ‘Fight Fire With Fire’, will definitely be one of the best, fastest, heaviest songs ever. We will be producing the album ourselves and recording it at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark – where Rainbow and Mercyful Fate have recorded – and we’re really confident that we will get the sound we want there.”

What is Lars’ opinion of all the Metallica-sounding bands like Slayer that are now appearing on the scene? “About a year and a half ago in LA, we were headlining and Slayer were at the bottom of a four band bill. They played all cover versions, like Judas Priest, Deep Purple and Iron Maiden songs, and the story is that after seeing us play they decided not to do covers anymore and write their own fast, heavy metal songs. So, enough said about Slayer!

“There’s a lot of new US bands in San Francisco, Chicago and Cleveland that just make you wonder what they would have sounded like if Kill ’Em All had never been released. Which in one way is quite satisfactory, because if you look at the AC/DC-sound with bands like Krokus, Starfighters and Angel City, it is AC/DC who are ten times as big as the others, because they were the first to do it. So really, the bands that go furthest are the bands that have the most original sound, and with so many people copying the Metallica-sound I guess it means we must be doing something different, and hopefully we will go as far as we wanna go.”

Metallica (l-r): Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, Cliff Burton and James Hetfield

Well, Metallica have already come a long way in a relatively short period time. Has Metallica’s success surprised Lars? “I never in a blue fuckin’ moon believed that two and a half years after I was last here, trying to find out where Motörhead were hanging out so I could look at Lemmy for two minutes, that I would be back in England playing with my own band. It really gives you a feeling that you’re doing something right. I mean, right now back in America there’s probably a million bands trying to do what we’re doing.

“I remember when we first started playing, people in LA were saying, ‘Aargh, Metallica. These guys are almost like punk’. All these LA poser bands would just look at us and laugh. But right now I’m doing a lot of laughing, because those guys are still playing the same clubs on Tuesday nights back in LA and we’re playing the Aardschok Festival in front of 6,000 people. I’ll be sending a lot of postcards back to those people while I’m in Europe. I think we will be having the last laugh!”

Metallica have already been slaying ’em dead in Europe supporting Venom, and are currently in Denmark recording their new album. However, first reports from Copenhagen suggest that the band are having severe trouble getting the sound they want in Sweet Silence Studios, but let’s just hope that this is a minor setback and that Ride The Lightning turns out to be a highly acclaimed successor to the superb Kill ’Em All. The new album is scheduled to be released in the second week of June, but before that, in May, a single will be released featuring a track from the album plus one other non-album track.

The band are planning to return to Europe around the time of the summer festivals in August, with an appearance at Reading a strong possibility. This will be followed by a tour of Japan, probably in November.

At the time of reading this, Metallica will be about to embark on the Hell On Earth UK tour with Exciter and The Rods. Be there for the headbang of your life and remember to ‘bang that head that doesn’t bang!’

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 3 (1984)