Sure, it’s common knowledge that Metallica accidentally set their frontman on fire at a Montreal show, but were you aware that, after helping shut down illegal downloading websites like Napster, the band probably saved you from picking up some pretty intense porn viruses? Or that Lars Ulrich has just signed on as a radio DJ with a worldwide show? After 36 years, the band continues to make headlines, and—as the crowd that will pack out B.C. Place on Monday (August 14) can testify—fill stadiums with more testosterone than an NFL locker room.
Unloading. Ever wondered what the cover art for Metallica’s seminal album Load really is? Brace yourselves—it’s even grosser than you imagine. The artwork is officially titled “Semen and Blood III”, and is one of three photographic studies that artist Andres Serrano created by mingling cow blood and his own sperm between two sheet of Plexiglas. For real. While drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett were enthused by the concept, frontman James Hetfield was less impressed. “I love art, but not for the sake of shocking others,” he told Classic Rock magazine. “I think the cover of Load was a piss-take around all that. I just went along with the make-up and all of this crazy, stupid crap that they felt they needed to do.”
Some folks smell funny. The two longest-serving members of Metallica weren’t exactly what anyone would call instant friends. In May of 1981 singer-guitarist James Hetfield responded to a wanted ad in a Los Angeles paper called The Recycler that read: “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with. Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden.” Along with friend (guitarist and former bandmate in the short-lived Leather Charm, in case you’re looking for bonus trivia points), Hetfield soon found himself in a Newport Beach practice space with Lars Ulrich. According to excerpts from Mick Wall’s Metallica biography Enter Night, the Danish-born drummer reeked of herring: “Neither James nor Hugh had anything good to say about him. The kid was ‘weird’ and ‘smelled funny’ and he couldn’t even really play drums.” Perhaps because of a combination of general musical ineptitude and olfactory offensiveness, nothing came of the meeting. Obsessed with what was then dubbed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Ulrich spent the summer of ’81 soaking up music on the European festival circuit. Upon returning to California he started hounding Hetfield until he finally agreed to come over and go through his lovingly curated collection of underground metal albums. The two would slowly bond not only over music, but also over a dislike of, well, people. “I spent a lot of time by myself immersed in the music world,” Ulrich recounts in Enter Night. “And James spent a lot of time by himself, so the one thing we share, even though we come from different worlds, is we are both loners. It was very difficult for me to find anything that I could relate to in Southern California. That’s why James and I became such good friends—because we both had social issues.”
When the bough breaks. “Enter Sandman” is one of Metallica’s most recognizable and commercially successful singles—but it nearly didn’t turn out that way. Realizing that, as Ulrich puts it, “the 10-minute, fucking progressive, 12-tempo-change” epics of …And Justice for All had run their course, the band were ready to enter a more audience-friendly phase on Metallica’s self-titled fifth album. The group’s management quickly recognized that the guitar riff on “Enter Sandman” was the perfect hook to launch the next stage of the band’s career—but they were less keen on Hetfield’s original lyrics. Initially envisioning the song as being about infant crib death, the frontman was strongly requested by his management that he tone down the language. Hetfield obliged, turning an ode to S.I.D.S into a poetic rendering of a child’s nightmare.
"Seek & Destroy". Just like your grandma, it turns out that the Taliban hate Metallica—so much so that U.S. Special Forces used the band’s music as a weapon during the war in Afghanistan. Modifying one of their armoured vehicles to have speakers loud enough to be heard up to two kilometers away, the troops decided that instead of shooting back, they’d blast out some tracks. Creating a tactical playlist that lasted several hours, the American soldiers attempted to “push [the locals] to choose [sides]”, and “motivate Marines as well”, as one sergeant told the Associated Press. Unfortunately the scheme didn’t last too long, with the commander of the U.S. platoon in Marjah shutting down the project when the troops went public. Would the war be over if the Special Forces were allowed to play their music? We’ll never know.
The horror. The horror. Starting with comic collecting when he was a kid, guitarist Kirk Hammett has long been obsessed with horror memorabilia. So much so that in 2012 he gave the world a peak at his various treasures with a 224-page full-colour book titled Too Much Horror Business: The Kirk Hammett Collection. Among the most prized items in what he likes to call his crypt are Dr. Carl Hill’s severed head from Re-Animator, an outfit worn by Bela Lugosi in White Zombie, and the original 1922 poster for the German silent-movie classic Nosferatu. As evidenced by his slaving over Too Much Horror Business for a full three years, Hammett—who also answers to the name Kirk Von Hammett—isn’t one to keep his treasures to himself. He regularly puts parts of his collection on display to the public; starting today until November 26, his It’s Alive is on view at Boston’s Peabody Essex Museum, the exhibit featuring 135 monster masks, posters, guitars, sculptures, and more. So what’s the appeal for Hammett? That’s easy—sometimes it’s simpler to identify with those who are outcasts through no fault of their own. Watch in the video below where Hammett reveals that he first got hooked on horror shows on TV when he was a kid, explaining: “It was cathartic for me because ever since I can remember I’ve always had feelings of being a bit on the fringe, you know. A bit of an outcast. I’ve always felt like I never really quite fit in with a lot of thing. And so when I watched monster movies it was really easy for me to be able to relate to the monsters.”