The general consensus is that, by the mid-’90s, Metallica’s most dangerous days were over. No longer were they “Alcoholica”, or pushing the boundaries of what thrash metal can get away with. At this point they’d struck superstardom with the Black Album, cut their hair short, and embraced blues rock and country on Load.
However, anyone who’d assumed that the Four Horsemen had lost their edge got a rude awakening on November 14, 1996. That’s the day that James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich and Jason Newsted played the MTV Europe Music Awards at Alexandra Palace, London. It’s a date now ingrained in Metallica history.
Let’s set the scene. The awards show was not a metal or even rock affair. It was as mainstream as the mainstream could get. Robbie Williams hosted it. Awards were given out to such musicians as George Michael, Oasis and Alanis Morissette. Meanwhile, live performances came from the likes of Boyzone and Simply Red.
Then Metallica came out. Things weren’t as family-friendly anymore. The original plan was for them to play King Nothing, the radio-wooing lead single off the then-brand-new Load. Instead of the screeching guitar and groovy bass lick that start the song off though, we got Hetfield barking “I’ve got something to say!”
Oh dear. In true heavy metal form, the band had gone off-script and started barreling through a cover of Misfits’ Last Caress. Choice lyrics in the 80-second punk jam include “I raped your mother today” and “I killed your baby today”. Things then fell even more off the rails.
With two-and-a-half minutes of their allotted time left, Metallica got even less PC. Hetfield declared “So fucking what!”, somehow showing enough restraint to make that the first swear of the evening. It was also a call to commence Metallica’s cover of Anti-Nowhere League’s So What: a track that makes Last Caress look like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
On prime-time MTV, Papa Het sang the lyric “So what, so what, you boring little cunt!” And that’s just the first verse. “I’ve fucked the queen, I’ve fucked Bach! I’ve even sucked an old man’s cock!” comes a few lines later, quickly followed by “I’ve fucked a sheep, I’ve fucked a goat! I rammed my cock right down its throat!”
MTV weren’t thrilled. Metallica were banned from the channel for years, and their slot has been removed from every subsequent repeat of the show. Pissing off the biggest force in music TV isn’t normally on an artist’s to-do list, but when you’re as untouchable as Metallica, well… so fucking what?!