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What’s the first thing you think of when someone says Metallica? Is it drumming Dane Lars Ulrich, hard case vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield or even the dandy highwayman of metal guitarists Kirk Hammett? Nah, go on, admit it, it’s suing people isn’t it? Online retailer N2K, distributor Dutch East India Trading Co., British-label Outlaw Records (over the sale of an unauthorized live album), Pierre Cardin, Victoria's Secret (who used the name Metallica on lip pencils), French perfume maker Guerlain, the Neiman-Marcus and Bergdorf-Goodman department stores...

...and that’s without mentioning their extremely high profile run in with Napster, portrayed in some circles, rather unfairly as it happens, as suing their own fans. Drummer Lars Ulrich in particular found himself on the receiving end of a great deal of flak...
Lars Ulrich: “We have always stood up for protecting what is ours, and I’m proud of the fact it became a very public debate, no matter which side of the issue you were on there was an awareness of it.” And the way it was perceived as punishing your own fans? “In retrospect we should have seen that coming, yes. Did we? No.”
James Hetfield: “Lars has always been a bit of a talking head for Metallica and I know it was difficult, ‘cos he was taking all the shots.”
Lars Ulrich: “I still say that if we wanna give away our music for free it should be our choice.”

And the debate will doubtless continue to rage until someone gets to grips with the real possibilities offered by the internet, but regardless of their high profile battles nothing should undermine the fact that Metallica, the seventh best selling act in US history, more or less invented thrash metal fusing the no nonsense heads down steam train pummelling of Deep Purple and Iron Maiden with the raw ferocity of punk. Hell, debut album Kill ‘Em All, which made much of the overblown flaccid rock of the era sound positively pedestrian, and the slightly less bug eyed, but no less thunderous, sixth album Metallica (known amongst fans as the ‘Black Album’) both still rank amongst the best rock albums ever made.

Patti SmithNo strangers to tragedy – their initial bass player Cliff Burton was killed on a tour bus crash in Sweden in 1986 - the band (who also once featured Megadeath front man Dave Mustaine), have also never shied away from a possible critical kicking, hence their numerous court-room crusades or when they promptly followed their tour supporting 1996s Load (complete with an astonishing stage-set which actually appeared to collapse at one point in the show, throwing lighting engineers - actually stunt men - crashing to the floor amidst chaos, explosions, and a fair few petrified punters) with an orchestral link up with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Kamen (‘classical rock’ being right up there with ‘deafening silence’ and ‘military intelligence’ in the oxymoron premier league) and promptly pulled it off, as evidenced on the live album S&M

James Hetfield: “We need to invade places where we don’t belong, it’s like you have to leave to find out where home is. There might be a bit of ‘let’s do it just because we can’, but we needed to explore some of those parts of us that hadn’t been explored.” Having pushed Metallica in so many directions it was perhaps not surprising when one of the wheels came off with the departure of Cliff Burton’s replacement bass player Jason Newsted in 2001 (later replaced by ex-Suicidal Tendencies bass monster Robert Trujillo), a departure which, initially at least almost spelled the end of a twenty year relationship and prompted Hetfield to put some space between himself and the band.
James Hetfield: “Jason needing to find happiness elsewhere made us question if the three [remaining members] were really happy. For me there was a realisation that my lifestyle wasn’t working for me [and] I had no idea what was going to happen. I didn’t care about Metallica.
”Ulrich: “I began preparing myself for the possibility that the ride was over." Fortunately for all concerned the time out allowed Hetfield to rediscover his love of music and as Kirk Hammett vividly recalls “When he came back he definitely wanted to start making music and Lars and I were so happy to have him back.”

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