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Lars Ulrich interview: lockdown, missing live music, and the future of Metallica

Lars Ulrich onstage in 2019
(Image credit: Gina Wetzler / Getty Images)

This year, like every other band Metallica have been offthe road. Lars Ulrich tells Classic Rock that in all that downtime he’s kept up his chops by playing along to their last studio record, Hardwired… To Self Destruct

“Another record I’ve played along to is Rage Against The Machine, that first album [’92],” he says.“That has been the soundtrack to this pandemic for me. I’m just blasting those songs, and they sound more relevant and more contemporary than they ever have."

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At least you have an outlet for all that frustration

Ha ha. That’s right. And I guess Rage Against The Machine is perfect for that. I remember the last time I saw them, at the LA Coliseum in 2011. It was a hot, sweaty night, with that energy that you get in LA when you have those big concerts, and seeing seventy thousand people yell: “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!” was one of the most insane concert moments I’ve ever experienced. 

How much have you missed that in the past year – the thrill of being at a great gig? 

I just think of how lucky I’ve been in the past, all the great shows I’ve seen. I saw Thin Lizzy multiple times between ’76 and ’80 – incredible. I saw Motörhead multiple times, ’79 to ’81 – insane. I saw AC/DC open for Black Sabbath in 1976. And I saw AC/DC headline in Copenhagen in ’77, and Bon Scott was so great, you couldn’t takes your eyes off him. 

That was Bon in his heyday, with the tight jeans, the tennis shoes, the shirt off. And I loved the way he would hold the mic with the cord rolled up two or three times, and he would stand out there at the very edge of the stage when he wasn’t singing, stand over on Malcolm’s side and let Angus bounce around in front of him… 

You also saw Ritchie Blackmore in his prime, with both Deep Purple and Rainbow. 

I saw the first show Deep Purple played with David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes, and Rainbow played in Copenhagen a lot. It wasn’t just Ritchie’s guitar playing that was so impressive, it was also his personality – the Man In Black. He was always saying what was on his mind, even if it was a little contrary. Or he was winding people up – he was known as a bit of a prankster. 

And then there were times when he would be a bit aloof. But there was what I would call an honesty to him. It always felt like he was true to whatever mood and the moment. There was something very authentic about Blackmore, and I guess I’ve always been kind of attracted to rock’n’roll when it has elements of danger and unpredictability. That to me is the spirit of rock’n’roll, and he was the guy for me. Bon Scott, Jim Morrison, Axl Rose, the Gallagher brothers, they all had elements of this.

When you think about getting on stage again with Metallica, are you ever reminded of the excitement you felt back in 1982 when the band played live for the first time? 

Well, the interesting thing about that first gig was it was just Metallica, on a Sunday night at Radio City in Anaheim, California. And on the very first song, Hit The Lights, Dave Mustaine broke a guitar string, and so the space between the first song and the second song seemed like a never-ending eternity. It felt like my whole life! 

I was just sitting up there trying to hide behind these drums. It was the strangest thing. But Dave got the guitar back together and we ended up playing the rest of the set. But there was a significant lull there. Trust me, I start shivering just talking about it now. 

There was a new Metallica album out this year, S&M2, recorded live with the San Francisco Symphony. How does it stack up against the band’s previous albums? 

I don’t think like that at all. Each record to me is a picture of a time period. 1988, …And Justice For All, that was what we did and we made all those choices, and I’m happy accepting it. Sometimes I think why did we do that and what were we thinking, without necessarily wanting to change it. But of the ones that we’ve done, it’s with Hardwired that I have the fewest bewildered questions about the choices we made. 

Have you started thinking about the next album yet? 

It’s going to be the best album we’ve ever done! Insert the rest of the clichés – it’s the heaviest thing, the coolest… But all kidding aside, if it wasn’t because we thought that the best record was still ahead of us, then why keep doing it? In Metallica we love the creative process, and it’s hard for me to imagine that we’ll ever stop making records.