Formation and early workMetallica was formed in Los Angeles, California in 1981 by drummer and former tennis protegé Lars Ulrich, and guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield, who met after each had separately placed classified advertisements in the American publication The Recycler. Bassist Ron McGovney was also an original member, and the band used a few transient guitar players, such as Brad Parker and Jef Warner, in the course of settling on a four-person lineup. Metallica got its name when drummer Lars Ulrich was helping San Francisco-area metal promoter Ron Quintana pick out a name for a new magazine to promote metal and the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) bands. Quintana came up with a suggestion "Metallica," but Lars quickly suggested another and decided to use that name for the band he and James Hetfield had just started.
In early 1982, Metallica -- now with Dave Mustaine on lead guitar -- recorded "Hit the Lights" for the first Metal Massacre compilation. Guitarist Lloyd Grant was brought in to do the lead guitar solos on the track but was never a full member of the band. A few months later the band recorded a full demo, No Life Till Leather, which quickly drew attention on the underground tape trading circuit. By this point bassist Cliff Burton had also joined Metallica, lured from his band Trauma in exchange for the other members of Metallica relocating to the San Francisco area. Burton remained a member until his untimely death in 1986 when a bus coach accident left Metallica with only 3 members.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, the group quickly built a healthy local following via word-of-mouth and live performance bootlegs which, somewhat ironically in light of later events, were encouraged by the band. Metallica then travelled to New York in 1983 at the urging of local promoters Jon and Marsha Zazula, and the band signed with the Zazulas' brand new label, Megaforce Records. Megaforce released Metallica's first two albums. Shortly after arriving in New York, Mustaine was asked to leave and Kirk Hammett was drafted out of Exodus to join Metallica just before the band recorded its first album in the spring of 1983. That album, Kill 'Em All, set the template that they would follow throughout the 1980s, strongly featuring the heavy vocals and rhythm guitar of James Hetfield. A year later, the next album, Ride the Lightning, expanded and improved their form with longer songs featuring both instrumental pyrotechnics and lyrics which rose above some of the more puerile songs on Kill 'Em All. Perhaps the most significant feature of Ride the Lightning was the inclusion of "Fade to Black," a slower, more interior song that mused on the thoughts of someone contemplating suicide. Indeed "Fade to Black" is the first such song in a tradition of these kinds of songs that would come to include "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" and the band's first single to receive a video, "One." The inclusion of these songs distinguished Metallica from other speed metal bands such as Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth.
Metallica's formation was seen by some fans as a direct reaction to the prevalent rock and roll music of the early 1980s. Inspired by bands such as Diamond Head and Saxon, the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal, as well as hardcore punk like the Misfits and Discharge, Metallica were single-minded in their desire to break the grip of soft metal on heavy metal fans.
Popular successSigning to a major label Elektra Records in 1986, Metallica went on to produce another album, Master of Puppets, regarded by some of their fans as their best work. The same year the band's bassist Cliff Burton perished in a coach-accident during a tour. The band eventually found a new bassist in Jason Newsted. As a preliminary effort with their new bassist, Metallica produced in 1987 The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited. This album continued the band's interest in recording obscure songs by relatively obscure (to American audiences) British metal and hardcore bands. In 1988 they recorded ...And Justice for All, an album full of some of the band's most structurally complex music. Critics regarded ...And Justice for All as a milestone in the history of metal, noting its intense focus on topics related to personal control and independence. Importantly, many writers also celebrated this album (and, by extension, Metallica itself) for the way it appeared to divorce hard rock from the blues in ways bands such as Mötley Crüe or Poison resisted.
In 1991, their self-titled album, Metallica (popularly known as "The Black Album") broadened the band's horizon again. The record was co-produced with Bob Rock to create a more commercially viable product, and featured a black cover that evoked humorous comparisons to Spinal Tap. The album featured the hits "Enter Sandman", which exemplified the radically pared-down style of songwriting across the album, and "Nothing Else Matters", a more plaintive, acoustic ballad that outraged some of their more hardcore fans. The album was a massive crossover hit, bringing Metallica firmly into the mainstream, and it was with this album that band first encountered significant accusations of having "sold out." Charges of selling out would follow Metallica throughout the 1990s.
Burnt out from almost three years of touring upon the Black Album's success, Metallica took a respite until late 1995, when they came back into the studio with a new zest for recording. Ulrich and Hetfield, both of whom were very strict on Hammett and Newsted in previous endeavours, claimed to have loosened the reins somewhat. Some have said the companion albums, Load (1996) and Reload (1997) were alternative rock-influnced, but others disagree, citing the band's hard touring, hard knocks, and hard liquor as factors in the relative bluesy-ness of these albums. In addition to the musical changes on Load and Reload, Metallica also reinvented their visual image by cutting their hair. The CD booklet for Load also showed a very different Metallica, as the band was photographed wearing pimp suits, smoking cigars, and sipping brandy. Mascara also made an appearance in the promotional photos. Needless to say, many in the band's conservative fanbase were repulsed by these changes, and read them as "proof" that Metallica had sold out.
In 1998 Metallica compiled a double CD called Garage, Inc.. The first CD contained the newly recorded tracks, ranging from obvious Metallica influences such as Danzig and Sabbath to more unexpected choices such as Bob Seger and Nick Cave. The second CD gathered together previously released covers, including the complete Garage Days Re-Revisited EP, which had at that point become a hard to find collectors item, as well as a collection of b-sides going as far back as 1984. While many fans appreciated the chance to get ahold of rare Metallica recordings, others saw this as a cyncical method of releasing an album without having to write any new material.
On April 21 and 22, 1999 Metallica recorded two performances with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, then led by Michael Kamen. Kamen, who had previously worked with the band on the black album, (specifically the track "Nothing Else Matters"), had approached the band shortly after that collaboration with the idea of pairing Metallica's music with a symphony orchestra. Kamen and his staff wrote additional orchestral material for a number of Metallica songs, and the concerts featured a collection of tracks dating as far back as Ride the Lightning. Metallica also wrote (and Kamen scored) two brand new songs for the event, "No Leaf Clover" and "- Human." The recording was eventually released as the album S&M (a word play on Symphony and Metallica, as well as being the common abbreviation for Sadism and Masochism) in November 1999 on both CD and VHS/DVD.
Jason leavesBefore they went into the studio to record their next album in 2001, Jason Newsted left the band due ostensibly to "the physical damage I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love." However, subsequent interviews with Jason and the remaining members revealed that Jason's intent to release his Echobrain side-project was a primary cause of friction.
This began a low-point in recent Metallica history, as Hetfield soon entered rehab due to "alcoholism and other addictions" in July, 2001. Upon Hetfield's return, the band continued as an incomplete 3-piece throughout the recording of their next album. Longtime producer Bob Rock handled bass duties for the recording sessions. Metallica eventually found a new member, journeyman bassist Rob Trujillo (ex-Suicidal Tendencies), who was then playing with Ozzy Osbourne's band. In an interesting turn of events, Jason Newsted, who had joined Canadian heavy metal band Voivod, filled Rob's shoes playing bass for Ozzy during the Ozzfest 2003 tour (which Voivod also supported).
In 2003, Metallica released their ninth studio album, St. Anger. The album debuted at number one on the album charts but also received harsh criticism for its underproduced sound (notably the sound of the drum snare), overwrought songs, and lack of guitar solos. Nevertheless, Metallica won a Grammy in 2004 for St. Anger.
The band has, to date, received 6 Grammy Awards.