Years of heavy drinking, internalising or avoiding grief, moving a mile a minute and making music that requires huge physical exertion must have eventually caught up with the band? “If you see the documentary that came,” Ulrich says (referring to the very intimate 2004 documentary, Some Kind of Monster, that enters into a world in which Metallica appear to be crumbling due to internal conflict), “I think that is an indirect result of us not really taking the time to process any of this stuff along the way. So we had about two years of pretty chaotic internal dynamics, which I think you could argue in a bigger picture was a result of just going and going and going, and never taking time to self-reflect or check in with each other and take the temperature of the band, internally.”
Being a founding member of the band since 1981, this is the only time where Ulrich felt like the future of the band was something he gave thought to. “The only time I’ve felt like it could stop was when Hetfield went away to go and deal with his issues in 2001,” he says, in regards to Hetfield checking himself into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen on the other side of that. For about six months it was a little uncertain. Other than that, I would say the idea of stopping has never been a part of our outlook.”
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Even during the boom period of the band, when they were selling millions, Ulrich says they didn’t really have time to sit back and soak it in but, more importantly, he feels that was antithetical of the nature of the band. “We’ve never been very comfortable acknowledging our accomplishments,” he says. “The culture we grew up in was not one of ‘look how cool we are, look how many records we’ve sold.’ We were always shying away from that and just getting on with it, so we would never really sit there and bask in it because that wasn’t really the culture of the scene that we were a part of.”
As Metallica have gone on, releasing 10 studio albums, they have managed to seemingly create a new generation of young fans with every passing decade. Think of a person in a Metallica hoodie and the image associated with it is just as much a14 year old as it is a goateed man in his 50s. So what is it about the endless thrash of Metallica that continues to resonate with young people? “I think it’s our good looks,” jokes Ulrich before going on to become the most animated he has been during our conversation. “It’s fucking crazy, dude. Every night half of these kids riding the rails down in the front row are like 15 – it’s fucking insane. Every show. At least half the audience for each show are usually experiencing Metallica for the first time.
“I think Metallica and hard rock are about connecting – it’s about connecting to something greater than yourself, it’s a place where you can go and feel accepted and welcome and I think especially in those crazy years of puberty, and when all sorts of nutty stuff is happening, that a hard rock show, a hard rock record or a hard rock band is a place where you can find safety and comfort and feel that you’re with likeminded people who are going through the same things.”
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