Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)

MetallicaMetallica were the first band I ever saw live; I got free tickets to see them at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in 1993, and it now seems increasingly obvious I caught them near the end of their peak. Fashionable shorter hair, covers album, James Hetfield’s voice dropping an octave, working with symphony orchestras, then the Napster bullshit… no, the years after 1993 were not hugely kind to them, nor were they to each other, and the film opens with Jason Newsted finally walking out on the band. Things could only go downhill from there, and they did…

I’d always been a bit iffy about this documentary; I thought it was OK, but not as good as a lot of other people seemed to think it was, and frankly I left it unconvinced that the band—especially little Lars Ulrich—had really learned much from the experience, or that the album that finally emerged had been worth all the trauma. Watching it again last night, though, gave me a different feeling for it. I still think it’s unnecessarily long and Lars still comes out of looking pretty bad (he really doesn’t seem to get it, especially in the confontation with Dave Mustaine, and even more so when he accuses post-rehab Hetfield of being self-absorbed as if he himself weren’t. And least of all with the whole Napster debacle), but in a way I think I feel more sorry for him now than I did six years ago. Cos it struck me that they were trapped by Metallica. Kirk Hammett had obviously attained some degree of equanimity within himself, and Hetfield obviously realised he had to try and do the same thing, but they were still trapped by the band, and Ulrich was more trapped by it than any of them.

Newsted says something near the start of the film about psychologists being brought in to try and prop up failing organisations so the money keeps rolling in. Watching the film, his point has to be well taken. Ulrich seems terrified by the prospect of the band coming to an end, and by the idea that Hetfield might’ve found there’s actually more to life than Metallica, that he might place his own individual well-being above that of the band. I think I always felt a bit sorry for Kirk Hammett trying to keep out of trouble’s way, but now I’m not sure that I don’t feel more sorry for Lars; he’s really let himself become identified with the band and become trapped by “Lars Ulrich the drummer from Metallica”. Really, the saddest scene in the film is the one where he and Hetfield finally admit to not being comfortable playing with each other; you get the sense that they know somewhere deep down the most sensible thing to do would be to end the band, but clearly they’re too scared to actually do it. Newsted, ultimately, is the only one who escapes the Metallica trap; the others just get sucked into it. I presume they’re still trapped by having to be “Metallica” rather than themselves. Still, at least Death Magnetic (which I’ve been listening to while writing this) would eventually justify the bullshit they went through if St. Anger couldn’t… just hope they did eventually learn something from the experience.

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