The band James Hetfield called “everything I didn’t like”

James Hetfield

No one would question which side of rock and roll James Hetfield and his band catered to with a name like Metallica. Throughout their time playing in the Bay Area, the thrash movement focused on combining the extremes of each genre. It aimed to blend heavy metal’s hard sounds with punk’s speed and intensity, defining the thrash movement. Hetfield enjoyed heavy music but considered one band to be their polar opposite.

However, at the start of the band’s career, it’s easy to see them wearing their influences on their sleeve. Hetfield’s riffs on their debut album, “Kill Em All,” share similarities with the new wave of British heavy metal. However, they also possess a bark reminiscent of Lemmy Kilmister’s work from years ago.

Using songs as exercises to create epics like “Fade to Black” and “Master of Puppets,” the band started experimenting with where they could take their music as they started to take over the studio. But at about the same time that Metallica began, there was another movement coming out of the Los Angeles nightlife.

Acts like Van Halen contributed to the emergence of glam metal in the wake of the glam movement of the late 1970s, with local acts like Quiet Riot and Poison going on to become legendary. Despite starting out in Los Angeles, Metallica made the strategic decision to move to San Francisco. They aimed to establish their own scene, recognizing it as the place where their music should be heard.

As the band finished recording their magnum opus Master of Puppets, another band was gradually gaining traction in the glam metal scene. Guns N’ Roses modelled themselves after the classic rock and roll sound. They never identified with the glitzy lifestyle and playing songs that made the rest of the glam scene seem like spoilt rock stars.

After both bands decided to go on tour together, things quickly went awry, despite the fact that Lars Ulrich liked the band and even offered their producer, Mike Clink, the opportunity to oversee And Justice for All. Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose refused to perform more than four songs from their planned setlist. This choice led to chaos as a pyrotechnic issue left Hetfield severely burned, sparking a riot.

Even though the bands kept touring together, Hetfield had a bad impression of Guns N’ Roses when he left. Hetfield believed that Rose’s practice of endangering the lives of fans went against everything he wanted to see in himself. Even, outside of the music industry.

Hetfield later discussed the distinctions between Guns N’ Roses and Metallica in an interview with Howard Stern. He stated, “I think they pretty much stood for everything that we didn’t like”. It dealt with LA, glamour, and all of the things we were attempting to run away from in the beginning. Despite all of his complaints about the musical aspects of the tour, Hetfield did eventually discuss how the tour had taught him new things.

Hetfield could look back and laugh at what Rose indirectly taught him, recalling the infamous show where he got burned. He said to Behind the Music, “I go and light myself on fire, and he upstages me”. We can relate a lot to Axl and his attitude, so we learned very much what not to do”.

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