Semi-sympathetic biography of a difficult band to like.
British music journalist Wall (When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin, 2009, etc.), who has also penned bios of Ozzy Osbourne, Bono and other major rock acts, has followed Metallica since they first broke across the Atlantic with their debut LP in 1983. For the most part, he tells a straightforward history most fans will know. Beginning with the tragedy that robbed them of their heart and soul just as they were poised to become one of the biggest bands in the world—the death of bassist Cliff Burton in a bizarre bus accident in Sweden in 1986—Wall returns to the Metallica’s birth in the hyperactive mind of drummer Lars Ulrich, the metal-obsessed scion of a Danish tennis dynasty. In Los Angeles, Ullrich met his polar opposite, the surly rhythm guitarist James Hetfield, product of a broken home of outsider Christian Scientists. This odd couple formed the backbone of Metallica and pioneered—along with Burton, a loose cannon of a guitarist named Dave Mustaine, who founded Megadeth, and his replacement Kirk Hammett—what became known as thrash metal, an amalgam of British heavy metal and West Coast punk rock. In the early days, the band was beloved for its anti-style style—no teased hair, spandex or mascara—and unusually honest subject matter for metal songs—death and violence rather than elves and devils. After the blockbuster success of their eponymous LP, which fans dubbed The Black Album, Wall argues (non-controversially) that the band lost their way. As square institutions like MTV, the Grammy Awards and even the U.S. Congress embraced them, Metallica practically threw it all away on an ill-conceived attack on their fan base over “theft” of their music on Napster’s revolutionary file-sharing platform. Nearly all of the material in the book will be familiar to most Metallica fans and readers who have seen the 2004 film Some Kind of Monster.
Wall’s tales of encounters with the band over the years all seem to make the point that he has never been a true Metallica fan. That would explain this lackluster treatment.