Metallica: "Not taking criticism personally is hard"

A photograph of Metallica on stage posing and throwing the horns
(Image: © Ross Halfin)

The world’s biggest metal band don’t do quiet years, but finally releasing their first studio album in getting on for a decade made 2016 a vitally important 12 months for Metallica.

While Hardwired…To Self-Destruct perhaps didn’t fully satiate the elitists (what would?), it certainly included enough great material to prove that Metallica are far from a spent force, with the tracks such as of Moth Into Flame, Spit Out The Bone and Atlas, Rise! some of the best the band have produced for 20 years.

For frontman James Hetfield it felt little less than euphoric to finally get new music out to the world again. And as we discovered when we flew to New York for a special audience with the band a few weeks back, it’s not something he’s taking lightly.

It’s been eight years. How does it feel being back in full album-promo mode again?

I’m excited by it. I’m not as tired as I thought I’d be, because I think we’re being smarter. We’re doing clumps of stuff – interviews and photo shoots – together now. And I’m telling ya, it’s easier. And it’s not like we’re trying to ‘sell a product’; we’re just talking about what we do. And with the twelve songs we have – thirteen including Lords Of Summer – there’s still seven hundred and eighty-something riffs sitting somewhere.

Why did the album take so long?

We didn’t mark it on the calendar – ‘Eight years from now we’re gonna have a record out.’ And things happen: families, Lulu’s, Through The Never’s, festivals. So much that all of a sudden time slips away, and you realise: “Oh, we can still be a band. Let’s put some new music out.’ Why does it take eight years? I don’t like that fact. I blame my kids [laughs]. But we’ve still got lots of material.

At times it seemed like you were almost trying to do anything but put an album out.

I hear that. “What are they gonna do next, play Antarctica?” “Uh, yup, they did that!” We definitely saw those kinda comments too. Someone takes a picture of something when we’re not in the studio and it’s like: “Great, now they’re not doing the record again. Why aren’t you in there?” I get it.

Do you make a habit of reading your fans’ Facebook comments?

Every once in a while I’ll do it. There’s some great ones, there’s some horrible ones. For every [band] there’s always more bad reviews written than good reviews. And that makes sense; if you like something, you’re gonna just enjoy it, but if you’re pissed about something, you’re gonna write it down. And sometimes there’s valid stuff said that makes me think, and other times where I’m just wasting my time.

It must get draining, though?

Yeah. Like: “Why am I absorbing any of this stuff? I know we’re doing the right thing, and the fact that he hates us for something that maybe happened ten years ago, and he’s venting it on this album? Why?” If you’re not a fan you’re not a fan. But they’re still around enough to comment, and that just tells me they’re unhappy and they’ve got some shit to get out. But not taking it personally is hard.

It’s hard, but have you always been able to shake off criticism?

No. I was always pretty serious about it. Maybe it’s our generation, but all of a sudden everyone has an opinion about you. Before, if someone wrote a bad review, we’d meet him and be like: “Come on! Really?” You’d kinda confront them, and they’d say: “Yeah, I was a little harsh,” and you’d work it out. Now, there’s just fucking bombs dropping all over the place. Social media, for me, is a dangerous ally to walk down – you start over-thinking.

Do you feel that Metallica get too hard a time of it in that respect?

I’m not in any other band, so it’d be a great question for some of my friends. I don’t sit around and talk about it too much, but I’m sure every band gets their fans full of nail-bombs, it’s not just your Justin Biebers and Nickelbacks that get it. But that just tells me that there’s passion there. And that’s good.

How do you spend your downtime these days?

I got a daughter off at college. We live in the mountains now, so lots of hiking, biking, skiing, rafting, fly-fishing, hunting, all the outdoor stuff that I love doing. My kids are going camping on their own with their own friends now, so I have to figure out what me and my wife have in common now that the kids are getting older [laughs].

You also enjoy posh suits, according to that recent fashion shoot.

[Laughing] That’s what I do in my spare time now. I wear tuxedos and just hang around. But hey, when I looked at those I said: “Man, he’s not too ugly. Wow! They fixed me up pretty good.” But yeah, they brought it to us, and the other guys really love that stuff. I can take it or leave it. But I was a team player, and it was something different and adventurous.

So could you be happy waiting another eight years for the next album?

I don’t wanna wait that long again. No doubt about it. I’m sure I said that last time too. But I don’t know what’s gonna happen as soon as we walk out that door. But I’m really excited to play this stuff live.

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