In 2003 AOL needed a new face for their Instant Messaging software: Metallica got the call

Lars Ulrich looking excited on the phone
(Image credit: AOL)

Remember when Metallica got involved with cutting edge internet technology? No, not that time. 

On  Aug 12, 2003, internet giants AOL released AOL 9.0 Optimized, the latest version of the the software that gave users access to the internet. For $23.90 a month, customers received an installation CD-ROM, and a promise that the company's fancy web page accelerator – known as "Velocity" – would see most web pages loading in less than 10 seconds. The future had arrived.

One of the key improvements to the AOL package were the new features packaged with AOL's Instant Messenger software. Previously, this had allowed users to chat online, but now they could also share photos and audio files through Instant Messenger windows, and use the Talk Phone feature to speak directly via voice-over-IP.

To capitalise on this revolutionary advance in technology, AOL needed an endorsement from someone with the ear of the youth, and Metallica had just released their St. Anger album. The band, meanwhile, were very likely looking for a degree of online rehabilitation after their 2000 lawsuit against Napster had done significant damage to the band's reputation. The AOL campaign allowed them to show they were at the cutting edge rather than behind the times.  

The advertisement finds two Metallica legends working remotely, but engaged in conversation online.  

"I'm madly in love with you," types James Hetfield, as romantic music plays.

"I'm madly in lust with you," a wistful Lars Ulrich writes back. 

"I'm madly in anger," responds the singer, before calling Ulrich directly. 

"'Anger' works better rhythmically!" he proclaims. "Check it out!" 

The pair then perform the recorded version of the 'I'm madly in anger with you' line from St. Anger, before Lars Ulrich pulls a funny face and millions of viewers across America immediately switch to AOL from Prodigy Communications or CompuServe or whatever else it was they were using to get online. Possibly.   

Advertising trade publication Adweek called the spot "honest and funny, with a dazzling build," and it wouldn't be the last time the band lent their brand to other brands, including deals that saw Metallica travelling to Antarctica to perform on the ice at the behest of Coca Cola, and hooking up with high-end Italian clothing brand Brioni for a Bohemian Rhapsody-inspired photoshoot. 

"You just sit there and get presented with a lot of options," Ulrich told a press conference at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2015. "I would say that we say yes to one out of 20 things. It’s about timing – who the brand is, what they’re offering. It’s pretty straight forward. Is it someone you want to get in bed with or not? Mostly it’s not.

"I think we’ve done pretty well," he added. "I sleep pretty well at night and I think we’ve kept the credibility well intact."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.