Lars Ulrich’s infamous confrontation with James Hetfield during St. Anger sessions was ‘scary but necessary’

(Image credit: Paramount)

Lars Ulrich’s infamous expletive-filled confrontation with James Hetfield during the making of Metallica’s St. Anger album was “scary, but necessary” says the band’s former psychotherapist and ‘performance enhancement coach’ Phil Towle.

“Lars was not being an asshole,” Towle insists in an exclusive new interview in Metal Hammer‘s special ‘Metallica 40’ celebration issue

Having halted the recording of the band’s eighth studio album in order to attend rehab, James Hetfield returned to the group with some proposals for new ground rules to be signed off on collectively before he could re-commit to the project. The often-heated band discussions which followed, captured vividly in the 2003 documentary Some Kind Of Monster, culminated in a frustrated Lars Ulrich screaming the word ‘Fuck!’ directly into Hetfield’s face, is described as by co-director Joe Berlinger as “pure gold” in cinematic terms.

Offering context on the iconic scene in a new interview with Metal Hammer, Phil Towle says the confrontation between the band’s co-founders stemmed from “years of frustration.”

“These guys are waiting for James,” says Towle, setting the scene. “Waiting, waiting, waiting… not only waiting, but wondering whether James was ever going to come back. They were scared it was over. And when James comes marching back and says, ‘I can’t work between certain hours and certain hours’, Lars was really pissed off. Like, ‘What the fuck? We’ve been waiting for you, and you’ve controlled us for 10 months. And he probably felt that James had controlled them for more than 10 months, right? So this was the collision of years of frustration.”

“Lars was not being an asshole, ” Towle insists, “he was just someone who was expressing the pent-up anger he had felt. And James was saying, ‘Look guys, I have to work with my family, maintain my sobriety and maintain my composure.’ So that collision was scary, but it was necessary.”

For his part, Joe Berlinger credits Phil Towle as being integral to the bands survival, a view not necessarily shared by viewers when the film was initially releaed.

““I think the misperception is that  he had his hooks in the band for fees  and he was just looking to milk the  situation,” says Berlinger. “I don’t think  that’s the case at all. I think he’s a caring human being who wears his  heart on his sleeve, and did great work  in the band, and it got to the point  where his job was done, and he had  a hard time saying goodbye. But in  having a hard time saying goodbye,  he unwittingly gave Metallica the  tools they needed once again to come  together as a brotherhood.” 

The new issue of Metal Hammer not only includes previously unpublished material with Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett, but brand new interviews about Metallica's amazing history with the likes of Jason Newsted, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, Kerry King, Geezer Butler, Bob Rock, Joe Satriani, Scott Reeder, Gary Holt, Scott Ian, Pepper Keenan, Flemming Rasmussen, Cronos, Emily Eavis, Doyle, Matt Heafy, Adam 'Edge' Copeland and many, many more. 

Order your copy now.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.