Here's every single band every single member of Metallica was in before they were in Metallica

Various members of Metallica through the years
(Image credit: Getty)

James Hetfield says that Metallica’s 2023 album, 72 Seasons, is about “the first 18 years of our lives that form our true or false selves”. Three quarters of the band – the frontman, drummer Lars Ulrich and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett – were mere teenagers when they joined the mightiest metal force in the world. So, much like Metallica's new music, let’s explore those early, formative years. Below, Hammer details every single band that every member past and present was in, before they became one of thrash’s Four Horsemen.

Metal Hammer line break

James Hetfield: Obsession, Syrinx, Phantom Lord and Leather Charm

Papa Het was only a pup when he co-founded Metallica. However, he’d already racked up quite the CV of high school bands. His first was hard rock tribute act Obsession. James was in a short-lived Rush cover band called Syrinx after that, then he formed Phantom Lord (familiar name, right?) with school chum Hugh Tanner. The duo didn’t do much, but Hugh has a spot in Metallica history: he’s an uncredited co-writer of Kill ’Em All cut Motorbreath. Phantom Lord morphed into Leather Charm when future Metallica bassist Ron McGovney joined. That band quickly split, but then James saw an ad from some Danish kid called Lars Ulrich in the newspaper and… well, you know.

Lars Ulrich: ???

Lars Ulrich is living every teenage metalhead’s dream right now. Not only is he the drummer of arguably the biggest rock band on the planet, but he did it on his very first try! Metallica are the only band the Dane has ever played in, since he originally felt his calling was in tennis, following in the footsteps of his championship-winning dad, Torben Ulrich. Seeing California rockers Y&T made him fancy music, though. Then, discovering Diamond Head in 1981 affirmed that he’d play metal. Later that year, Lars put an ad in L.A. paper The Recycler looking for similarly influenced bandmates, and he received a reply from one James Hetfield.

Dave Mustaine: Panic

The man who’d become MegaDave has described his sole pre-Metallica band, Panic, as being “plagued by death and destruction”. The five-piece, for whom Dave was lead guitarist, only ever played one gig. Driving home from that show, drummer Mike Leftwyche died after falling asleep at the wheel, and the tragedy instantly dissolved the band. If that wasn’t horrid enough, rhythm guitarist Tom Quecke also died in a car crash very shortly afterwards. Panic live on in the heavy metal annals though, since Dave wrote Mechanix while playing for them: it’d later get reinvented as Metallica classic The Four Horsemen, before becoming a Megadeth mainstay in its original form.

Ron McGovney: Leather Charm

The first of Metallica’s four bassists, Ron McGovney was a classmate of James Hetfield who met the future Papa Het when they were just 11 years old. Some sources say that he manned the low end for Obsession but, according to Hetfield biography So Let It Be Written, he was merely a close bud of the band. The duo definitely played together in Leather Charm, though, and jammed early versions of what would become Kill ’Em All’s Motorbreath and Hit The Lights. Since it was the exit of guitarist Hugh Tanner that forced Leather Charm to split, James tapped Ron to join the first lineup of Metallica in 1982.

Cliff Burton: EZ-Street, Agents Of Misfortune and Trauma

Amid personal conflicts with his colleagues, Ron McGovney left Metallica in 1982. Enter the red-haired dynamo, Cliff Burton. The bassist formed his first band, EZ-Street, in high school. His bandmates included Jim Martin and Mike Bordin, who’d later start Faith No More. After that came the possibly Blue Öyster Cult-inspired Agents Of Misfortune, for whom Cliff would write two of his signature bass leads: Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth) and the start of For Whom The Bell Tolls. Lastly was Trauma, who James and Lars saw him performing with at L.A.’s Whisky A Go Go in 1982 – the pair were so stunned by his prowess that they instantly poached him for Metallica.

Kirk Hammett: Exodus

When Metallica fired Dave Mustaine in April 1983, they were days away from recording Kill ’Em All and needed a fill-in fast! Fortunately, they knew Kirk Hammett, guitarist of fellow Bay Area thrashers Exodus, and quickly called him in for an audition. Kirk formed the speed demons in 1979, when he was just 16, and gave his all to his first-ever band. He wrote them a plethora of riffs – one of which, on Die By His Hand, would become the bridge of Creeping Death – but instantly felt more at home jamming with James, Lars and Cliff. Although he jumped ship, the band he started is thankfully still thrashing under different leadership.

Jason Newsted (Flotsam And Jetsam)

Before he was Metallica’s Newkid and screaming “Motherfucker, die!” into microphones every night, Jason Newsted was a teenage metal maniac in Battle Creek, Michigan. Despite being 2,300 miles away from the genre’s hotbed of San Francisco, he set about emulating his idols by joining Phoenix thrashers Flotsam And Jetsam in 1981. Jason quickly became their creative bedrock: on 1986 debut album Doomsday For The Deceiver, he was the only member to contribute music and lyrics to every song. However, when Metallica held auditions seeking a replacement for the universally missed Cliff Burton, he leapt at the opportunity. Flotsam resumed without Jasonic, although Doomsday… is still regarded as their magnum opus and an underrated speed metal classic.

Robert Trujillo: Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves, Mass Mental, Ozzy Osbourne, Glenn Tipton, Jerry Cantrell, Black Label Society and Fydolla Ho

By the time he replaced Jason Newsted in 2003, Robert Trujillo had more than a decade’s experience with major metal players. After spending his formative years in “backyard party bands”, he found his breakthrough in crossover thrashers Suicidal Tendencies. He became part of side-project Infectious Grooves at the same time. As Rob was playing with future Skindred singer Benji Webbe in Mass Mental, Ozzy Osbourne added the bassist to his solo band; Rob also recorded with Glenn Tipton, Jerry Cantrell and Black Label Society during this stint. When Rob joined Metallica, it led to an unintentional trade, as Jason started playing bass for Ozzy in 2003. The opportunity also saw Rob leave behind Fydolla Ho: alt-metal also-rans fronted by Saw actress Shawnee Smith. Wise choice.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.