Do Metallica still matter?

Can metal’s biggest band still make a lasting impression with their next album? And will we still care?

Game Over?
It’s the hope that keeps you hanging on, desperately craving one more fix. Even after St. Anger, Lulu and the cash-spunking cinematic omnishambles that was Through The Never, we want to believe that Metallica still matter, that Metallica still care. But holy fuck, they haven’t half tested our patience, and 2016 might just be the year that our reservoirs of goodwill finally run dry.

Creative Chaos
Let’s be perfectly clear about this: Metallica owe us nothing. They’re the biggest, most successful heavy metal band on the planet and, with their first five albums, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich’s group created a body of work so inspired, visceral and utterly electrifying that only Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden can lay claim to having had a greater influence on our world. And whatever your opinions on the merits of the quartet’s output in the past quarter-century, only an idiot would seek to deny that the San Franciscan band have displayed an admirable capacity for fearless leaps into the unknown, whether collaborating with an orchestra (1999’s S&M), letting documentary filmmakers expose their deepest neuroses (2004’s Some Kind Of Monster) or setting up their own music festival (Orion Music + More in 2012 and 2013). Even at their most misguided – the aforementioned Lulu – the most vitriolic haters have to acknowledge that the band’s brazen chutzpah was entirely in keeping with the ‘Fuck everyone’ mentality that propelled them from LA garages in the first place. There’s something horribly ironic about the fact that the band’s best-received artistic statement in recent years stands as the one occasion when Hetfield and Ulrich misplaced their restless creative urges and self-consciously conformed to expectations. As fine an album as 2008’s Death Magnetic is, it was designed to consolidate, rather than confront – a carefully crafted reaffirmation of brand values, and one of the very few moments in Metallica’s 35-year career where the band purposefully played safe. And really, who could blame them? Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. It’s no wonder they’re in no hurry to release new music.

Low Expectations
Eight years on, however, we’re told that a new Metallica album will finally see the light of day this year… maybe. Expectations, it’s fair to say, have never been lower. Can anyone even remember what Lords Of Summer, the sole new studio track to emerge this decade, sounds like? It says something about the climate in which Metallica now operate that Kirk Hammett’s admission, last year, that he’d ‘lost’ 250 riff ideas for the new album on a misplaced iPhone barely registered a shrug of indifference among even the most loyal ‘Family’ members.

A New Hope
And yet, we cannot help but hope. The metal scene may have moved on immeasurably since Metallica rewrote the genre’s blueprints, but because we’ve invested so heavily in them, because Metallica are an intrinsic part of our DNA, we’re simply not ready to put the old gods out to pasture. Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo have remained admirably up to date with new developments in metal – as evidenced by their friendship with and vocal support of the likes of Mastodon, Ghost and Baroness – and while no one expects a wholesale revision of their trademark sound, the quartet need only listen to The Book Of Souls, Anthrax’s forthcoming For All Kings, or Megadeth’s Dystopia to hear evidence of veteran acts incorporating new inspirations, and writing and playing with passion, verve and genuine heart as if this will be their last chance to carve their name among the all-time greats. Metallica’s place in history is assured, their legacy undeniable, but if they’re to exist in the present tense, the pressure upon them to produce has never been greater. ‘Now’s the time to let it rip, to let it fuckin’ loose…’ a youthful James Hetfield sang in 1983 on Metallica’s original declaration of independence, Whiplash. Whether the men in black still have the capacity to let their inner fires rage in 2016, we can only wait to hear.

2016 Is Shaping Up To Be A Busy Year For Many Of Metal’s Greats

Black Sabbath
As they detailed in our November issue, the Sabbs will be bowing out in style with a farewell tour that’ll take in Download in June. Expect tears. And riffs.

Guns N’ Roses
For the first time in recent memory, rumours of a classic GN’R lineup reunion look to be gathering real momentum. Don’t be surprised to see Axl and Slash share a stage this year.

Judas Priest
“We’re definitely talking about a new record,” Rob Halford tells us. “We want to strike while the iron’s hot.” Another new Priest album this year? We’ll take it.

MegaDave and co’s ace, and definitely way-better-than-Super-Collider new album, Dystopia, will be backed up by a world tour that’ll include a stop-off at Download. Should be alright…

Iron Maiden
The metal legends will be kicking off their Book Of Souls tour in Florida next month, taking in the US, South America, Australia, Africa and Europe before they hit Download festival. Oof!

Undoubtedly back on their best form since their turbulent lineup changes, Slayer will be laying waste to Bloodstock in August. Oh, fuck yeah!

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.