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Every site has a band history, so we took it a step further by making is as concise as possible and by adding era pictures.  Divided by eras as defined by the making of and promoting of each album, the history focuses on the highs and lows that depicts the band's success story.  Take a trip down the memory lane that celebrates Metallica's history and enjoy the story about a small garage band that conquered the world!


The Beginning (1981 - 1983)

Metallica. Legendary. Phenomenal. A household name. Metallica, achieving what every boy (or girl) who has plucked a guitar or twirled a drum stick only achieves in their rock n' roll fantasies, is acclaimed to be the 7th biggest selling act in American history. The band’s history dates back to 1981 with an ad placed in a local paper seeking band mates. Little did Lars Ulrich, the band’s founder, know that by placing that ad resulting in James Hetfield, the band’s front man, joining his band, that he had started the ball rolling down the road to fame, accomplishment and notoriety that very few ever see.

The success wasn't instant; in fact one of their first gigs had the notoriety of being “not very good” according to John Bush of Armored Saint and Anthrax fame. Bush saw the band play as the opening act for Saxon at The Whiskey-A-Go-Go in Hollywood, California with James fronting the band sporting leopard skin-tight pants. Nor was the band’s road to success smooth as the band’s lineup underwent many changes before settling into the magical mix that lead to their fame.

In 1981, when James and Lars first formed the band it was just the two of them laying down tracks on a cheap recorder with Lars on Drums and James on Vocals, guitar and bass. The song, "Hit the Lights" appeared as a track on the Metal Blade compilation Metal Massacre. The duo tried out several lead guitarists before they finally settled upon Dave Mustaine. They convinced James’ friend and housemate, Ron McGovney to pick up the bass. On March 14, 1982, the band played their first live show at Radio City in Anaheim, California as Metallica, a name “stolen” from Lars’ friend Ron Quintana, who was brainstorming names for a fanzine. Among Quintana's proposed names were "Metal Mania" and "Metallica." Lars convinced Ron to name the fanzine Metal Mania in order to use the name "Metallica" for his band.


With the lineup of Hetfield, Ulrich, Mustaine and McGovney, the band recorded an early demo known as “Power Metal”, a name inspired by the band's early business cards, printed by Ron McGovney. In June 1982, Metallica recorded its first full fledged demo, “No Life ‘till Leather” which quickly became a hot commodity, and was heavily traded in the underground bootleg community most notably in California and New York. The band began to play several gigs in Los Angeles, but found the San Francisco metal scene more receptive to their music. This factor and the discovery of bassist, Cliff Burton, who refused to move to Los Angeles to join the band, prompted the band to move to San Francisco. Ron McGovney had left the band after Dave Mustaine, who was drinking and causing problems for the band, poured beer on his bass.

It was with Cliff on bass that the band went to New York, at the prompting of Jon Zazula, a local record store owner, to play some gigs and to record their first album. However, Dave Mustaine, continued to be a problem for the band, so they gave him the boot. It was on the suggestion of roadie, Mark Whitakker, that Kirk Hammett was invited to join the band. Kirk had seen Metallica play when another band, Exodus, was opening for Metallica, the night of Cliff’s first gig with the band at The Stone in San Francisco, California. Kirk was impressed with the band but thought their guitarist was not very good and that he should be replaced with himself. Thus, when the invitation was extended, Kirk was on the next plane to New York and on April 1, 1983 Kirk joined the band.    

Top     No Life 'Till Leather

The Kill 'Em All Era (1983 - 1984)

With the lineup of Hetfield, Ulrich, Burton and Hammett, the band finally hit that magical combination that formed the band that would become the household name, the phenomenon and the legend that Metallica came to be. But again this success was neither instant nor overnight. The first album, “Kill ‘Em All” was recorded at Music America in Rochester, NY, produced by Paul Curcio on the Megaforce Records label and and Music For Nations in Europe.


The album was originally going to be called “Metal Up Your Ass” with the cover art being a toilet with a fist holding a knife protruding from it. This didn’t fly with the record label executives, so the name “Kill ‘Em All” was decided upon as an “in your face” stab at the executives. The album was not an initial success financially despite selling 17,000 copies by the end of the year —an unheard-of figure for an independent release. The album and the subsequent tour earned them a growing fan base in the underground metal scene and the bands reputation began to soar in both America and Europe.  

Kill 'Em All

The Ride the Lightning Era (1984 - 1985)

In 1984 they went to work with producer Flemming Rassmussen in Copenhagen at the Sweet Silence Studios on their second album, “Ride the Lightning”. The band had captured the attention of a major record label resulting in “Ride the Lightning” being released on Elektra Records. The album's inclusion of a slower, more introspective song, “Fade to Black”, set Metallica apart from most other thrash bands, illustrating a growth, maturity and intensity in the band’s song writing.


The tour to follow included Metallica’s first appearance at the famous Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington, England. Metallica was squeezed in-between two “poser” bands, Ratt and Bon Jovi, on the bill. James decided to tell the 70,000 fans in attendance what to expect: "If you came here to see spandex, eye makeup, and the words 'Oh baby' in every fuckin' song, this ain't the fuckin' band."

  Ride the Lightning

The Master of Puppets Era (1985 - 1986)

Metallica returned to Copenhagen and Sweet Silence Studios in 1985 to record “Master of Puppets”. Although it was recorded in Copenhagen, it was mixed in Los Angeles, California with Michael Wagner and was released in early 1986. “Master of Puppets” served as Metallica’s breakthrough success, gaining mainstream attention, radio play, a quantum increase in the band’s fan base and moving the band closer to what few bands hope to achieve: world domination.


Despite the fact that no singles were released from the album, the band received some minor airplay from album tracks "Master of Puppets" and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)." The band gained even more exposure when they were asked to open for Ozzy Osbourne (being the last tour Metallica would be billed as a supporting act), and “Master of Puppets” climbed to number 29 on the Billboard Top Album Charts, becoming the band’s first “gold record”. To this day, some critics consider the album to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. In 2006, the band celebrated the albums continued infamy by playing the album in its entirety, including the never before performed live, “Orion”, during its summer “Escape from the Studio ’06” tour.


This pinnacle of success was greatly marred and tarnished by tragedy when on September 27, 1986, during the middle of their European tour, Metallica's tour bus skidded off an icy road and flipped over, resulting in the death of bassist, Cliff Burton. Cliff's funeral took place on October 7, 1986.  His ashes were scattered on the Maxwell Ranch, where he had spend much of his free time, and other various locations in the Bay Area, which Cliff loved.

Cliff is considered by many to be one of the greatest metal bassists of all time. Along with Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, he was one of the first metal bass players to play complex bass lines. He also liked to play loud and often soloed (with distortion, and sometimes wah). Because of this, some people have referred to him as a "lead bassist". Cliff’s influence on the musical growth of the band was enormous. Burton combined the DIY philosophies of jamming and experimenting with an acute knowledge of musical theory, and Hetfield in particular found a lot in his playing and personality. It was impossible to imagine Metallica without him. Yet Cliff would equally not have cared for people throwing in the towel because he wasn't around. And so it was that after a brief yet intense mourning period, Lars, James and Kirk decided to fight on. 

Top    Master of Puppets

  The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited Era (1987)

The band returned to America and with the Burton family's blessings the band sought a replacement and began auditions almost immediately. After auditioning numerous bassists, the band decided to add Jason Newsted, who had learned Metallica’s entire set list for the first audition. Jason, formerly of Arizona's Flotsam and Jetsam, officially joined Metallica on October 28, 1986, three weeks after Burton's funeral. Jason's first show with Metallica is at the Country Club in Reseda, California. His second gig was the very next night, at Jezebell's in Anaheim. The band, with Jason on bass, then finished their tour in the late in 1986 and into early months of 1987. Following the tour, Metallica quickly recorded “The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited” in July 1987 as a way to test a new studio they had constructed and to test the talents of Newsted.


December 1987 was the release of Metallica's first home video, “Cliff 'Em All”; a homage to Cliff Burton. They didn't have any footage from the old shows, so bootleg videos taped by fans were added to the home video. Whilst ostensibly the film focuses on Burton, it also has given fans a rare glimpse of Metallica's less-documented early career. This is what the band had to say about the video: “Well we finally went and did what we always talked about not doing, releasing a vid!! Before you throw up in disgust let us tell you the idea behind this. First of all this is not your typical shit home video (it's worse) done with high-tech 10-camera production and sound. It's a compilation of booting footage shot by Sneaky Metallifux, stuff shot for T.V. that was never used, but we've held onto, home footage, personal photos & us drunk. But most important, it's really a look back at the 3 1/2 years that Cliff was with us and includes his best bass solos and the home footage & pix, that we feel capture his unique personality and style.”

The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited

The Justice for All Era (1988 - 1989) 

Metallica’s acclamation, notoriety and fame continued to abound. In 1988 Master of Puppets went “platinum”. That same year “…and Justice for All”, Metallica’s 4th studio album, was released, resulting in the “explosion” that had been threatening for sometime finally happening. It was the first Metallica record to enter the Billboard top 10. The song composing and structures was much more sophisticated than on the previous albums. Acoustic harmony and raw metal mixed in a wondrous fashion made this album one of the most musically advanced in the history of heavy rock - and certainly one of the greatest. Although the song-writing was praised, the production of this album was heavily criticized as Lars Ulrich's drums clicked more than thudded and the guitars had a thin sound. In spite of the criticism, the album was a huge success. On Halloween of 1988, the album is certified “gold” and “platinum” simultaneously and received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal/Hard Rock album. The album features a song that Cliff Burton helped write, titled "To Live Is to Die." It was during this time the band embraced the mainstream music world with their first ever music video, for the song "One."


The “Damaged Justice” tour which began on September 11, 1988 in Budapest, Hungary, continued taking Metallica into the far corners of the earth. They toured through Japan, New Zealand, Australia, North and South America and Europe where Metallica finally ended their 19 months and 270 gigs long tour in October 1989. Many fans of the band believe that this was Metallica's best tour, before catapulting into the mainstream with “The Black Album”. There is some validity to this argument, although by tour's end in October 1989 “...And Justice For All” was triple platinum and Metallica had made the jump from an upstart heavy metal group capable of playing theaters to a well-oiled touring machine that headlined arenas in major, secondary and tertiary North American markets.


...and Justice for All

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