In the brand new issue of Metal Hammer, we look back over the events of 2020 through the eyes of the bands who were in the thick of it. For Metallica, it was a banner year despite everything – they released their world-beating S&M2 live album, played a drive-in concert and an epic livestream (raising $1.3 million for charity), and even began working on music for the much-anticipated follow-up to Hardwired… To Self-Destruct. We sat down with Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo to look back over 12 tumultuous months – and forward to the future.
When you couple their unexpectedly turbulent end to 2019 – talismanic frontman James Hetfield re-entering rehab and the band having to postpone tours in Australia and New Zealand as a result – with, you know, that whole pandemic thing, you’d have definitely understood Metallica just downing tools and sacking 2020 off. But then, if you really thought that was an option, you don’t know Metallica.
“I’m not one to sit around and binge- watch TV shows for 12 hours a day,” laughs Lars Ulrich. “I like to do shit!”
The band would exclusively reveal in our August cover story that they had begun writing new material for the follow-up to 2016’s Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, with bassist Rob Trujillo going as far to suggest that this may be a more collaborative affair than the writing process last time around.
“It just sorta feels like there’s a united energy here,” he adds. “My role and my position is always to be there to help and do the best I can for the team. Who knows what happens a year from now, but I’m just happy that we’re taking this time to create and try new things, and be there for each other. It seems like there’s a lot of support.”
According to Rob, there’s nothing off the table when it comes to throwing in ideas for new Metallica music – and he’s been grateful to have the extra time to properly sink his teeth into new ideas.
“I feel like we’re in a position where we’ll at least try things to see how it plays out,” he notes. “With the time being ‘away’, if someone sends me a really simple idea I might try three or four different approaches to that one idea, as a bass player. I might try something melodic, might try something counterpoint.”
While it’ll almost certainly be some time yet before we see any concrete signs of a brand new Metallica studio album, that the band wasted no time in using the opportunity to work together bodes well for things to come.
It wouldn’t just be with each other that Metallica would try and keep connections going across the year, either. From the very earliest days of lockdown, they’d make sure that their fans had things to enjoy and look forward to, starting with the hugely successful ‘Metallica Mondays’ streaming events that would air free Metallica shows from the archives right across spring and summer.
“We’ll sign off for now by sending you our love during these trying times,” said the band in a statement released with the first stream on March 23. “Here’s to looking back on this period soon with a renewed appreciation for all the amazing times together with our extended Metallica Family around the world.”
The shows would often be prefaced with a message from Lars, who’d continue to offer messages of solidarity during these trying times.
“I feel for the Metallica fans that had expected concerts and appearances and so on here and there,” the drummer tells us. “There are people who’ve been hit really hard by this. Obviously, we find ways to stay engaged, and I think you’ve gotta adapt. Sitting there and going, ‘Oh, we’re supposed to do this, we’re supposed to be here in April, in February the world looked like this’… that’s not gonna get you anywhere. You have to adapt to new ways.”
“You gotta figure out how to adjust, and that’s what we’ve done,” agrees Rob. “I’m proud of that.”
Sure enough, adjust the band did – and in some style. On August 29, metal’s biggest band would find a new way to reach their fans, broadcasting a unique gig to outdoor, drive-in theatres across North America. The show, recorded three weeks prior, would be many metal fans’ first chance to attend anything approaching a ‘gig’ in months.
“This is an exciting first for us, as we continue to explore new ways to connect with you and keep playing live,” said the band ahead of the shows. “This definitely qualifies as a unique and memorable experience for us!”
In the same week, Metallica would finally release their S&M2 album, almost a year after the history-making shows took place in San Francisco. Kirk Hammett would admit to us that the two shows at the Chase Center provided some of his most challenging performances.
“I had a great time,” reflects the guitarist. “You can put any piece of music in front of a classical musician and they’ll be able to read it in real time, and that’s difficult to do. So I just felt like I had to at least try to meet them on that level of musicianship!”
Not content with all of that, Metallica would reinvent the wheel once again with a special, streamed acoustic show on November 14, using tickets sales to raise money for their All Within My Hands charity foundation (see p.98). One of the ticket bundles available enabled fans the chance to be featured on a huge screen behind the guys during the performance, creating another unique and memorable experience for fans and band alike. “[It’s] hard to comprehend we could have such an international event and still make it feel so intimate,” Lars would reflect after.
It speaks volumes that a band as big as Metallica would feel the drive to continue being active in such a unique year, let alone go to such lengths to make sure their fans felt part of every step of the journey. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, though: challenging themselves and moving ever-forwards is what Metallica have always been about.
“I worry about people that aren’t getting challenged culturally, aesthetically, artistically, creatively,” admits Kirk. “I think that when you surround yourself in a bubble, that’s where complacency comes in.”
“Metallica takes on all these different challenges,” offers Rob. “Some would say S&M1 was a challenge, you know, playing with an orchestra, recording with Lou Reed was a different kind of challenge… all these experiences make you stronger and better as a band.”
Thanks to Metallica, those challenges have also made this bumcrack of a year that little bit more bearable.
This interview appears in the latest issue of Metal Hammer, which features our epic round up of the year, a full rundown of the 50 Best Albums Of 2020 and new interviews with the likes of Metallica, Deftones, Trivium, Puscifer, Evanescence, Hatebreed, Ice T, Bury Tomorrow, Code Orange and many more of the bands who defined your year.
As if that wasn’t enough, it also come with a free 2021 calendar plus the world’s greatest heavy metal activity book.
The brand new issue of Metal Hammer is onsale now. But it in the shops or get it delivered to your house for Christmas and make Santa work for his mince pies.