Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Back in the late sixties, a
bootleg started making the rounds of music insiders and fans. It was
called simply "The Troggs Tape" and still to this day is a prized collectors
item amongst rock fans. It is a tape of the band the Troggs, who had
recently become famous with their hit singles "Wild Thing" and "Love Is All
Around." During a recording session, while trying to get a song down,
the band erupts into a cursing, angry, childish full-out argument. The
bootleg taught the world two things. For the fans of popular bands, it
taught that just because a group plays together and has hits together
doesn't mean they like each other. For the members of those bands, it
taught them when you are having a fight, turn off the damned tape!
I don't know if Metallica is
familiar with the Troggs tape. They have acknowledged in the past that
they weren't all that up on sixties music (when it was suggested that the
speed-metal band have Marianne Faithfull do backing vocals on their single
"The Memory Remains," they agreed to, but admitted that they had no idea
who she was.). However, if Metallica does know about this
piece of rock lore, it did not scare them. Because, in certain ways,
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is a video age equivalent.
It is not quite so frenzied
and violent. However the rift in Metallica was even deeper and
potentially more damaging. The documentary begins with the leaving of
long-time band bassist Jason Newsted. It is quickly very obvious that
this was a bitter musical divorce, with simmering bad feelings boiling
below. For the first time in sixteen years, the band is a trio (with
bass covered by producer Bob Rock) as they rent out the Presidio in their
hometown of San Francisco to record their new album, which would become the
2003 set St. Anger.
It quickly becomes obvious
that Newsted was not the cause of all the tension in the band. Singer
James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich are clearly pulling violently in
different directions. Guitarist Kirk Hammett and producer Rock are
constantly walking on eggshells, trying to keep the peace. Due to hard
feelings amongst the band, the record label has hired a psychiatrist named
Phil Toyle to try to get the metal Gods in touch with their feelings.
This is an idea that is both touching and slightly surreal; quickly Toyle
has these hard rockers (particularly Hetfield) talking in psychobabble and
declaring their feelings.
When Hetfield checks himself
into alcohol rehab, the already tenuous band is thrown into a spin.
Will Hetfield come back? Will Ulrich stick around and wait for him?
Will the band be able to deal with their front man sober for the first time
in their career? As the time spent on the album balloons from days to
weeks to months to years, the band members start to wonder if it is worth it
to even try. When Hetfield gets out of rehab, the tug of war between
him and Ulrich becomes even nastier. Hetfield is trying to keep from
backsliding into the bottle, so he limits the time he can work from noon to
four daily. He, somewhat paranoidly, somewhat unreasonably, insists
that the rest of the band not work when he is not there... a request that is
not met well by Ulrich.
All of this tension is
captured by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the documentarians behind
Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost. We see every step and
misstep the band makes on the very long way to finishing the record (it ends
up taking three years).
During this time, Newsted starts a new band without them that is building a
buzz, Ulrich made the infamous anti-Napster appearance at a senate hearing
that had harmed the band's outlaw image and made them hated amongst the
We learn things about Metallica that you would never have imagined from seeing them on stage or
video. For example, drummer Ulrich is a huge art collector, with
a collection worth millions. Who knew? Of course, he has to sell
off his whole collection when he gets married and his wife wants them to
make a new start... which I will not even touch for fear of getting a rep as being anti-marriage. Let's just
say he makes the wrong choice.
The most fascinating part is
watching Hetfield, the prototypical tough rocker probing his psyche and
trying to overcome all of his fears. It is all fascinating, though it
does help that for the most part Hetfield is a likable, if more-than-occasionally
self-absorbed guy. Ulrich, too, is hard to dislike even though he
often does things that are not likable. The filmmakers also talk
to Newsted, who explains his reasons behind the split, and early band member
Dave Mustaine, who complains that his life was destroyed by losing the
Metallica gig, even though he had a pretty reasonable career himself as the
leader of Megadeth. You really feel for Hammett and Rock, who are
obviously good people that work harder to keep the band together than they
get credit for – in fact they are often the only islands of sanity in
You don't have to be a fan
of Metallica's music to enjoy Some Kind of Monster. (I really
am not all that into their sound.) Nor do you have to like St.
Anger, which most of their fans agree was one of their lesser
performances. The reason you should watch this film is to see a band
at the precipice of the abyss, much like the Beatles in Let It Be.
Unlike that film, however, here the band survived to see the film.
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Posted: April 24, 2005.