Metallica used their great volume and thrash speed not just to make lots of noise, but also to enhance their music. During the 1980s and 1990s they experimented and perfected their sound to the point where it became palatable to a large audience, even outside of the heavy metal fandom. Metallica's sound is best described as Motorhead meets Iron Maiden (two of their influences). Iron Maiden and the NWOBHM movement managed to standardize metal and turn it into a professional and respected musical art, but outside of its own fans and performers of metal, it received only modest respect; and this is where Metallica's legacy will be forever recorded into history. Metallica made the record industry and general populace outside of the genre respect the music, in fact they almost single handedly forced it into the popular culture in the early 1990s; a trick that had never been achieved by any other metal band!
It all started in California, USA. by Lars Ulrich (drums) and James Alan Hetfield (ex-Maxwell Ranchouse Band/ex-Spastik Children; guitar/vocals). They both met via ads in the musician's classifieds paper, The Recycler. Their No Life 'Till Leather demo release featured Lloyd Grand (guitar) who, in 1982, was replaced by David Mustaine; Grand went on to form the ill-fated Defcon operation. Jeff Warner (guitar) and Ron McGovney (bass) would also join but they, in turn, didn't last very long before Cliff Burton took over on bass. The relationship with Mustaine proved to be a stressful one as well and before long he was ejected (he would soon after form his own band Megadeth and be replaced by Kirk Hammett (ex-Exodus)).
Kill 'Em All (1983) was an excellent debut album release which featured this classic line-up. Aggressive and loud, with Metallica's characteristic chugging guitars, it was set apart from its peers. The album sleeve toted the slogan "Bang the head that doesn't bang", an anthemic statement summarizing the whole thrash movement. Ride The Lightning (1984) was an excellent follow-up, especially with the track For Whom The Bell Tolls, their anti-capital punishment stance; it was also their debut with 'Elektra'.
It would be Master Of Puppets (1986) that allowed the students to become the teachers. It is this release that is considered to be Metallica's best and most loved work. The album sold millions of copies, and its title track had a hidden message about drug abuse that only hinted about the depth and serious nature Metallica's lyrics could reach without sounding preachy or loosing the hard edge. The T-shirt supporting the accompanying Damage, Inc single and tour depicting a skull being bashed by two spiked clubs would be one of the most popular T-shirts ever made in the heavy metal genre and set a marketing trend: Anything with skulls sells in heavy metal. It was on this release that Cliff Burton would truly show his mastery of the electric guitar; his instrumental piece, Orion, was so well performed one could almost believe the guitar was speaking and telling the story itself. Unfortunately, Orion would be Burton's swan song, for during the wee night hours of September 27, 1987 Metallica's tour bus slipped on ice in Sweden and overturned crushing Burton when he was thrown through the window from his bunk; he died instantly.
As devastating as the death of Burton was, after considerable thought, they elected to march on and recruited Jason Newstead (ex-Flotsam And Jetsam) as Burton's replacement. Their first project with the new man would be the The $5.98 EP - Garage Days Revisited (1987), so named to stop greedy store owners from charging more - it didn't work... It included covers of Killing Joke, Diamond Head, The Misfits and Budgie, as well as a brief introduction to Iron Maiden's Run To The Hills; all of their influences. The release would become a valued collector's item in years to come.
The 1988 opus ...And Justice For All was a grandiose project which saw much of Metallica's creativity obscured by long guitar instrumental parts and other "frills"; the single notable exception being the track One, which was based on the novel/movie Johnny Got His Gun, a story about war and patriotism during the US Vietnam era - a book and movie so controversial that for many years it was banned. But One, also released as a single, was not alone in sensitive subject matters, for insanity, religion and relationships were present on the record as well, once again showing that Metallica would freely explore such subjects in their musical direction. 1991's Metallica (also known as The Black Album) continued this trend. It showed that Metallica had changed in the past 10 years from being a simple pound and grind thrash band to one with intellectual topics, melody and harmony - as well as pound and grind. Their change of attitude toward the media and music was also present; for the first time they started being featured in MTV videos, something they said they'd never do only a few years previous. Unlike other bands, however, they refused to mime the videos and elected to perform live, meaning that most of the videos feature them in concert. The track and single for Enter Sandman broke them into stadium performances and allowed them the use pyrotechnics, diamond and "8" shaped stages with rotating drum sets;a big league act in their own right. They were even now being nominated and winning Grammy awards, something rarely accomplished by metal acts. This album would set them on the mainstream course in popularity but would also alienate many of their past supporters who claim that this was their last great album. On the tour that ensued, James Hetfied was burned from a failed pyrotechnic stunt and was temporarily replaced by John Marshall (of Metal Church).
At this time, a huge box set collection of their "B" sides, outtakes and live shows was released as Live Shit: Binge And Purge in 1993. The follow-up, Load (1996), and its part two, Re-Load (1997), showed that Metallica were changing once again. The formula was altered ever so slightly from the previous releases but their trend to a more "softer style" was becoming noticeable and was meeting increasing resistance. Soon after, several EPs and promotional double packs including a new one titled Garage Inc. in 1998 featuring their renditions of other people's music emerged. Metallica would then launch S&M (2000), a title meaning (contrary to popular beliefs on the term S&M) "Symphony And Metallica". The album featured them live in concert performing with the San Francisco Philharmonic; breaking even more musical barriers by merging Classical music with metal.
In 2000, Metallica discovered that the demo for I Disappear, which was supposed to be released in combination with the Mission: Impossible II movie soundtrack, was receiving radio play. Tracing the source of the leak, the band found the file on the Napster peer-to-peer computer file-sharing network. What was more, they discovered their entire catalog was present and available for free download in MP3 format. Legal action was then called against Napster with a lawsuit at the US District Court, Central District of California, alleging that Napster violated three laws: copyright infringement, unlawful use of digital audio interface device, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt organizations Act (RICO) - an act used against organized crime syndicates such as the Mob and motorcycle gangs.
A settlement came when German media conglomerate and record company 'BMG' showed interest in purchasing the rights to Napster for $94 million. Under the terms of settlement, Napster agreed to block users who shared music by artists who do not want their music shared. But on June 3, 2002, Napster ate a poison pill and filed for 'Chapter 11' protection (US bankruptcy restructuring laws). On September 3, 2002, an American bankruptcy judge blocked the sale of Napster to 'BMG' and forced Napster to liquidate its assets according to 'Chapter 7' of the US bankruptcy laws (full bankruptcy and the end of the company).
Sure, Metallica, and the music industry as a whole, won the battle with music downloading, but not the war. Only a few short years later the technology that made Napster work was obsolete in favor of more powerful systems like Bit Torrents, a file sharing method that did not rely on being stored on any single machine - but spread amongst any number anywhere in the world; a network much wider than Napster ever could have conceived of. One of the biggest purveyors of this idea were Pirate Bay who floated barges into international waters, while others stored and distributed music files in countries where no copyright legislation existed making it far more difficult to catch and prosecute the participants. Now in seconds an artist's entire catalog could be downloaded from many sources around the world, and not just music... but books, and Hollywood movies started to feel the pinch as well!
Meanwhile, in 2001, Metallica were making headlines again when Newstead chose to leave; he later re-emerged working with Voivod on selected projects, and his own Echobrain band; he was eventually replaced with Robert Trujillo (ex-Ozzy Osbourne/ex-Suicidal Tendencies). Hetfield checked himself into rehab for alcohol and, as a further surprise, Dave Mustaine would make overtures to burying the hatchet between the two groups who had not spoken since his departure. Between 2001 & 2003 Metallica's personal membership problems between the members threatened to split the act, but the 2003 CD and DVD release of St. Anger with Bob Rock temporarily on bass. The subsequent Summer Sanitorium tour displayed a return to their more thrashy roots despite the album lacking that final polish of production that was expected by the fans. Death Magnetic would follow in 2008 offering a partial return to their roots with Robert Trujillo taking over bass; The Big 4 Live from Sofia, Bulgaria live album followed in 2010.
Metallica celebrated its 30th anniversary by playing four shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco in December 2011.
On February 7, 2012, Metallica announced that it would start a new music festival called Orion Music + More, which took place on June 23 and 24, 2012, in Atlantic City. The band also confirmed that it would headline the festival on both days and would perform two of its most critically acclaimed albums in their entirety: The Black Album on one night, and Ride the Lightning on the other.
At the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in January 2014, Metallica performed One with Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
The guitar Hero video game series included several of Metallica's songs. One was used in guitar Hero III. The album Death Magnetic was later released as purchasable, downloadable content for the game. Trapped Under Ice was featured in the sequel, guitar Hero World Tour. Back in 2009, the band had collaborated with the game's developers to make guitar Hero: Metallica, which included a number of their tracks. Harmonix' video game series Rock Band also included Enter Sandman, while Ride the Lightning, Blackened and ...And Justice for All were released as downloadable tracks. In 2013, due to expiring licenses, those last three became no longer available for download.
Hardwired... to Self-Destruct was their follow-up album in 2016.
Metallica would hit the news in July 2019, but not for their music. Dee Gallant, hiking in the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia, Canada would be confronted by a cougar during her adventure. She played Metallica's Don't Tread on Me in an effort to scare off the bear. It did! When it hit the news, James Hetfield would personally give her a call to congratulate her!
Also in July of 2019, Kirk Hammett, who has been a large collector of horror memorabilia, would display his collection at Toronto, Canada's Royal Ontario Museum.
In 2020, Metallica would launch "Blackened", their own brand of American whiskey, a collaboration from late Master Distiller Dave Pickerell and the band.
For all their accomplishments, Metallica are recorded into history as injecting popular culture into the more extreme forms of Metal and vice versa.
Footnote: Trivia buffs may note that there is a breed of tropical flower known as "Metalica" (with one "L"). No relation to the band or their name.