“I didn’t stand up for the rest of the night!” The time Metallica’s James Hetfield punched Lars Ulrich

Metallica performing in 2023
(Image credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns)

Being in a band is the closest you can get to another person without being related to them. From sharing a cramped bus while you’re out on tour to jamming together at every available opportunity, you very quickly spend as much time in each other’s company as brothers. And, sometimes, brothers fight.

This is something that James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich learned the first time Metallica ever had to play an encore. As the band revealed during a 2021 interview on The Howard Stern Show (video below), a dispute over what to play as a finale got so out of hand that it led to the frontman throwing a punch at his drummer.

“We were playing at [legendary Los Angeles venue] the Troubadour,” Lars remembered, with James standing right beside him. “It was the first show where we ever, in our minds, got an encore – we were six, nine months into our career.

“We were standing offstage discussing what song to play,” the drummer continued, “and let’s just say there were differences of opinion. I suggested a song that started with drums, James suggested something else. We went back up onstage and I started the song that started with drums. So, when we came off, I got a slight punch in the stomach. I didn’t stand up for the rest of the night.”

Despite revisiting a decades-old squabble with his bandmate of 40 years, Lars then instantly leapt to James’ defence.

“However, I think for balance, I will say, throughout the rest of the ’80s, James helped me in many situations when I had a little bit of a big mouth. There were a couple times where the beer was flowing and I’d say the wrong things to the wrong people, but still they were really funny, [and] James was always there as my big brother. I would usually run, but James would clear it up for me.”

James and Lars co-founded Metallica in 1981, and although the pair have been through ups and downs since (see: Some Kind Of Monster), they’ve always been bandmates. Plus, this is the only time a fallout between them ever came to blows – we think.

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.