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METALLICA – Lightning Raiders
Bernard Doe
Metal Forces, Issue 8 (1984)

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

The first Metal Forces poll was more or less dominated by one band: Metallica. Being voted number one band, album (Kill ’Em All) and guitarist (Kirk Hammett), proved without a doubt that the band had had the biggest impact on the world’s underground metal scene since Iron Maiden in the heydays of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement.

1984 has seen the band follow-up the success of Kill ’Em All with another ten-star classic album in Ride The Lightning, as well as acquiring major new management and recording deals.

Europe has seen a lot of the San Franciscan metallists during 1984 through touring and recording their album in Copenhagen, and now as the year comes to an end Metallica are back, undertaking their first European headlining tour.

London was once again port of call for the band before kicking off the tour in Belgium, so it gave me a chance to talk to drummer Lars Ulrich and catch up on events since we last spoke at the beginning of the year.

Lars Ulrich
Pic: Fin Costello

Firstly, I asked about Ride The Lightning. Were the band happy with the end result? After all, first reports suggested that the band were having problems achieving the sound they wanted whilst recording the album? “Yeah, I think we were as happy as we could be,” reveals Lars. “A few of the songs were only written just before we had to do the album, so I think we might have arranged them a little differently if we had had the opportunity to put them down on tape first, and then gone away and listened to them before doing the album.

“The initial sound problems you spoke about was really due to all our gear getting ripped off just three weeks before we got to Copenhagen. For instance, James (Hetfield) had this one in a million Marshall head that he lost, and he had problems getting the rhythm sound he was looking for and the sound that Metallica are known for. We probably went through every Marshall in Denmark, including all of Mercyful Fate’s gear, before finding one that was right.”

How has the album been received then, particularly in the States where I’ve heard claims from hardcore bangers that Metallica have sold out! “The difference with Ride The Lightning, compared with Kill ’Em All, is that it’s not like just one complete track like Kill ’Em All was, and the way it’s different is because not all the tracks are played at ‘Metal Militia’ speed. You see, the one thing we realised between making Kill ’Em All and Ride The Lightning, was that you don’t have to depend on speed to be powerful and heavy. I think songs like ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ and ‘Ride The Lightning’ reflect that sort of attitude.

James Hetfield

“I think generally most people have received it favourably and certainly a lot better than I think anyone in the band thought it would. Okay, there’s always the odd letter or comment like, ‘If you don’t play ten ‘Metal Militia’’s on every album then it’s not Metallica and it’s not good’, but we’re doing what we’re doing the way we feel at a certain time. The band has matured and we’re still learning. If people think we’re wimping out then fuck ’em, we don’t need that kinda shit.”

Too true. It all seems to boil down to the attitude of many underground metal fans who, to keep face with their hardcore tag, think that as soon as a band starts gaining a bit of major success – no matter if the music changes or not – then they’re selling out or wimping out. Lars agrees: “Yeah, we even get letters from fans who ask Metallica not to get big because it would take the fun out of liking us!”

As I said earlier, Metallica have spent much of 1984 in Europe. I suggested to Lars that maybe the US fans thought they were being ignored? “In Europe you can build yourself to some sort of level on an independent label. But in the States, it’s hard to get beyond a certain level until you have a major deal. So we concentrated most of ’84 on trying to establish ourselves as a major band throughout Europe, and I think that has worked and it will be confirmed after the Ride The Lightning tour has finished.

“Touring in the States is just fucking great and we all really miss it, so the first six months of 1985 have been put aside for touring there. We’ve only done about one and a half gigs in the US during ’84. But there’s been such a lot of shit with legal hassles in the US with the change of management, record companies etc, so really under those circumstances for much of that time the only place we could work was in Europe.”

So how did the deal with Elektra Records come about? It had been reported earlier in the year that Metallica were about to sign to Bronze Records in the UK? “Well, we were offered a deal by Bronze. But after looking through the deal and at the company for a few weeks we said ‘No thank you’. At the end of the day, we decided that maybe we would be better off in the long run if we waited to see what else would happen.

Cliff Burton

“Then we went back to the States in the summer to do a one-off gig with Raven, where a lot of things happened. We came away with a new label (Elektra), new management (Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch at Q-Prime) and a new booking agency (ATI). It was really funny, because as soon as we got off stage we all agreed that it was probably one of the worst gigs we’ve ever done.

“One thing I would like to say, is that the year and a half we were with Jonny Z. at Megaforce and Crazed Management were real good. It was he who pushed us into this direction and no matter what people hear, the rumours and whatever, we still appreciate what he did. But in the end we just outgrew each other.”

The new deal with Elektra in the States is for eight albums – the first of which was, as Lars put it, “the official release” of Ride The Lightning. In the UK the band are contracted with Music For Nations for the third album, but after that Metallica, as yet, don’t have any commitments in Europe.

To coincide with their European tour, Music For Nations have released ‘Creeping Death’ (my favourite track on Ride The Lightning) as a 12” EP, as well as a limited edition picture disc. On the B-side are cover versions of Diamond Head’s ‘Am I Evil?’ and Blitzkrieg’s ‘Blitzkrieg’. I asked Lars the reasons behind those choice of B-sides? “Well, heavy metal record companies in Europe prefer to have ‘unavailable anywhere else’ type shit on the B-side of singles. Now, we’re not a band who likes to submit our own songs solely for B-sides because we like to have them on albums, so we just went into the studio and knocked out a couple of cover songs. It’s the only two cover songs that we still play at rehearsals, or live for the seventh encore!”

Kirk Hammett

Metallica’s new booking agency in the States, ATI, handle such rock giants as Iron Maiden, Kiss, Def Leppard etc, and there are moves to get the band a support tour in the US with one of the major acts – Kiss I believe are a strong possibility. This will surely be the ultimate test as to whether or not Metallica, and the whole power metal trend in general, will be accepted at a major level.

What were Lars’ views? “Well, Cliff Burnstein who signed us to our new management deal in the States, has this big belief that what we are doing will be the next big thing in heavy metal – especially in the States which is something like 80% of the market – and this whole Ratt, Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot, Black ’N Blue thing will get kinda old and die out, and that Metallica will lead the way in a sort of new ‘true metal’ trend. One step further out than say Iron Maiden, who are at the moment the most extreme metal band with major success.

“I honestly believe that the kids who are into the Priest, Maiden, Kiss, Sister thing will take onto what we’re doing. I’m not saying it’s something that’s going to happen overnight, but it could gradually start developing and Metallica could be the front runners of a new branch of heavy metal. Also, we haven’t had to change to do it.”

Well, as I’ve often said before, Metallica have already extended the barriers of the underground metal movement no end and I’m sure I speak for all true metal fans, dedicated to the cause, when I wish Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton even further success in their bid for world domination.

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 8 (1984)