Metallica documentary reveals conflict behind most recent album

By Pat Brown

Metallica is undoubtedly the most successful heavy metal band of all time (unless you consider Led Zeppelin heavy metal, which I don’t). This documentary, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, follows Metallica as they attempt to record their eighth studio album, St. Anger.

Bursting onto the music scene in the early 1980s with their debut album, Kill ‘Em All, they played their well-structured compositions with a ferociousness that helped their music outlast that of their hair band counterparts. After moderate success throughout the ’80s, their 1991 Black Album sold 50 million copies worldwide. By 2001 they had released seven studio albums and sold 90 million copies of them.

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But all was not fine with the band. Bassist Jason Newsted, who had replaced original bassist Cliff Burton when he died 14 years earlier, quit the band, citing, as band members are prone to, “creative and personal differences.” Metallica began recording a new album with producer Bob Rock on bass and hired Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky to make what would eventually become this documentary.

In Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the band’s relations are so strained they have hire a counselor, Phil, to help them with their problems. This gives the movie a heightened sense of drama. In counseling sessions with Phil, we see the issues that will be raised and the egos that will clash in the recording sessions with Rock.

Some of these moments are so melodramatic they become comical. Dave Mustaine, the original guitarist, meets with drummer Lars Ulrich and Phil to discuss the effect of being kicked out of the band in 1982, soon after Kill ‘Em All was released. Mustaine went on to found the metal band Megadeath. Although Mustaine is certainly rich – Megadeath has sold 15 million albums worldwide – he is still almost brought to tears by his anger over getting kicked out of the band. I’m not sure if this moment in the movie was meant to be sincere or sarcastic, but I couldn’t help laughing at this 40-year-old, richer-than-I’ll-ever-be heavy metal rocker whine about people recognizing him as the guy who got kicked out of Metallica.

The real clash of egos, however, is between Ulrich and front man James Hetfield. As the only two remaining founding members of the band, they both want more control over the band’s creative output, even if they don’t admit it. They accuse each other of manipulation and “BS-ing,” and just when it seems one of them has a good point, he goes and does something really stupid and egotistical.

Lead guitarist Kirk Hammet, on the other hand, tries his best to remain modest, which in the end makes him seem like an onlooker to the real Metallica. Bob Rock makes a point of saying that the three of them are the backbone of Metallica, but it’s obvious that Hetfield and Ulrich are the real driving force – if one of them isn’t happy, no one’s happy.

The DVD is jam-packed with special features, including more than 40 minutes of deleted scenes. The movie is already long for a documentary (about two hours), and I couldn’t stomach another 40 minutes of Lars and James arguing, so I skipped most of these. It’s not that the movie was bad – quite the contrary, it was very good – but who needs two and a half hours of grown men bickering?

There are two main schools of Metallica fans: those who hate their new music and those who think it’s just as awesome and bone-crunching as their early stuff – if not more so. I am of the former school of thought, and for me, this movie proved my worst fears: Metallica should have disbanded years ago.

The constant bickering should have clued them in, and the decision to hire a group shrink should have been the nail in the coffin. Maybe others see this film as a depiction of Metallica conquering adversity (Hetfield goes to rehab in the middle of recording sessions), but I see it as Metallica making unsatisfactory music because they can’t conquer their demons.

For some, this movie is one of triumph. For me, it is one of defeat.