Metallica’s Scandal and Conflict History
Kirk Hammett with Metallica live in 2017 - Killer insaan / Youtube
Rock stalwarts Metallica defied everyone’s expectations when they formed in October 1981. Glam rock, as represented by groups like Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe, was becoming more and more popular on the Sunset Strip at that time.
Nevertheless, Louder pointed out that for listeners looking for a faster and tougher musical experience, the Bay Area thrash movement—which included significant artists like Metallica, Slayer, and Exodus—offered an alternative.
No one could have predicted Metallica’s rise from sweaty, crowded gigs to become one of the greatest performers of all time, even with positive word of mouth circulating among the music scene, according to Rolling Stone. But there have been difficulties along the way to their achievement.
Every victory has been accompanied by a scandal that threatened their well-deserved rise to prominence. They created some of these controversies, but others were out of their control. Here are some of the main scandals that rocked Metallica and had fans beating their heads against walls, ranging from the highly publicized Napster case to the sudden firing of well-known bandmates.
The infamous (and embarrassing) Napster dispute
There’s a lot of discussion about how Metallica went from being the heavy metal epitome to becoming a well-known brand worldwide. While some fans credit the band’s incredible sales for this change, others point to the band’s song “I Disappear”, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard mainstream charts and was featured on the soundtrack of Mission: Impossible 2.
But as Wired noted, their legal struggle with Napster over P2P file sharing was the turning point that catapulted them into global headlines and sparked accusations of selling out from fans and other musicians.
The Washington Post claims that drummer Lars Ulrich of Metallica and his legal team visited Napster’s offices in May 2000 with a list of more than 335,000 Internet users who had shared the band’s music on the service. Following intense media coverage and scrutiny from both parties, Napster ultimately resolved the historic legal issue with the group in 2001.
Even after it was resolved, Metallica is still plagued by the issue. Ulrich admitted that this episode has become the band’s infamous reputation in a 2013 interview with HuffPost. He said, “It’ll be in the first five sentences of my obituary, and I sort of accept that for better or worse,” without seeming to be sorry about the legal action.
Metallica scalped tickets for more money
Nothing is more disheartening for music fans than trying to get tickets for a performance only to discover that it’s entirely sold out. When scalpers take advantage of the strong demand and sell tickets to a desperate audience for more than twice the original price, the issue gets worse.
DJ Mag reports that ticket scalping can seriously affect the music industry, even if it is generally disliked. You would think that musicians and their managers would vehemently object to this kind of thing, yet some, like Metallica, were reportedly taking part in it, according to a Billboard article.
Billboard exposed the shocking information that Live Nation, a major event promoter, was allegedly helping musicians sell tickets on scalping websites in order to make as much money as possible.
According to Vox, in a phone conversation that was recorded, Tony DiCioccio, a Metallica collaborator, asked Live Nation’s Bob Roux for help in selling 88,000 tickets for Metallica shows on scalping websites. Even though the band members said they were not aware of these actions, the discovery painted a poor picture of everyone involved.
The ghost of Dave Mustaine’s success
Dave Mustaine is a heavy metal legend who plays the guitar with unmatched dexterity and creates memorable riffs with ease. His prominence in the genre was cemented in 2008 when he secured the top spot in Joel McIver’s book, The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists.
This was especially meaningful for Mustaine, who told Classic Rock that he felt a special sense of accomplishment from surpassing both James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, his eventual successors in Metallica.
According to Kerrang, Mustaine was fired from Metallica on April 11, 1983. This incident is still a source of contention for him and the band’s supporters. It’s said that Metallica broke up with Mustaine suddenly because they thought his problems with alcohol were too serious. The band got him out of bed, packed his things, and gave him a bus ticket out of town.
The fact that Metallica had already signed Hammett to replace him ten days earlier made things worse. After this contentious split, Mustaine founded the enormously popular thrash band Megadeth, which is notable for having “the first official website for a band on the Internet”, according to them.
Metallica’s lawyer chased after a cover band for some reason
Imitation, although sometimes seen as the greatest compliment, can have negative legal consequences in the music industry, including copyright violations and drawn-out legal disputes. As noted by Louder, Metallica was the target of bad press in 2016 after a lawyer’s letter was sent to a cover band.
The Canadian outfit Sandman received a cease-and-desist letter from Metallica’s legal representative, ordering them to stop using any name related to Metallica in their promotional endeavors.
When vocalist Joe Di Taranto posted the letter on Facebook, it garnered a lot of interest from music industry insiders as well as fans. When Metallica finally learned about the incident, they released a statement to Rolling Stone that said, among other things, “Sandman should file the letter in the trash. Keep doing what you’re doing. We totally support you.”
The statement also implied that the lawyer who handed the threatening 41-page letter had been fired. Months after the silly legal scandal, Metallica was seen hanging out with Sandman and they even posted it on their official Instagram.
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They said Metallica stole “Enter Sandman” from a Canadian thrash band
The legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famers has always paid tribute to people who have influenced their unique sound, whether it’s by covering The Misfits’ “Die, Die My Darling” on Garage Inc. or Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” on the B-side of “Creeping Death”.
But in the early 1990s, a Californian thrash band called Excel recognized a startling similarity between Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and their own single “Tapping Into the Emotional Void” from the 1989 album The Joke’s On You.
Excel made the decision not to file a lawsuit at that point. Cliff Burnstein, co-manager of Metallica, acknowledged that Excel was a band, but he said he had not heard the particular song in question.
The Canadian band’s manager, Jane Hoffman, on the other hand, told The LA Times, “A lawsuit, unfortunately, sucks everything else out of your life. Every day you’re dealing with it. Instead of dealing with positives, you’re dealing with negatives, and nothing is proceeding.”
Jason Newsted’s sudden departure
The band was profoundly impacted by bassist Cliff Burton’s terrible 1986 bus accident death. Though his bandmates would always remember Burton, the show had to go on, therefore someone had to be found to take his place.
The official biography of Metallica states that the band auditioned around forty bassists before deciding on Jason Newsted. Newsted’s fifteen years with the band were notable since he was a key member of the heavy metal quartet for fifteen of those years before leaving in 2001.
According to Loudwire, Newsted’s departure was prompted by his inability to contribute much creatively and his desire to recuperate from back and neck issues. Lars Ulrich said in an Apple Music interview that Metallica did not manage Newsted’s departure properly.
He said, “Jason is the only member of Metallica who has ever left willingly. And that in itself is a statistic. And the resentment from James and I was just so … You can’t do that. You can only leave if we want you to leave. And then we weren’t equipped at the time to do a deep dive into why he was leaving.” Despite early hostility, by the time Metallica—including Newsted—was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, all disputes had been settled.
Metallica wanted journalists to take down their bad reviews on Death Magnetic
Being a musician is a difficult job. Nobody goes into a recording studio with the intention of making a substandard single or album, but if their work falls short of expectations, they frequently receive criticism from both fans and critics.
Although artists may find bad reviews annoying, at least they rarely result in violent reactions. Alternatively, they can follow Metallica’s lead and stop the record from being reviewed early.
Before the album Death Magnetic was released in 2008, Metallica invited a few journalists to an advance listening party in London, England. Some journalists believed it was OK to share their opinions about the album after it was released, as they were not obligated to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Metallica’s crew asked the magazines to take down the reviews as soon as they went viral, claiming that the journalists had only heard an early mix of the album and not the finished version. Paradoxically, according to Blabbermouth, this is the same record that eventually spurred a fan petition for a remix.
They didn’t like it when their songs were used for torture (Who does, though?)
There are a few songs that some music lovers may consider to be the worst of all time; in fact, some may even say that listening to them is like torture. Remarkably, The Guardian reports, this opinion is in line with the military’s method of psychologically torturing detainees—they turned up the music and let them endure its negative consequences.
The song “Enter Sandman” by Metallica was actually playing at Guantánamo Bay and a prison center along the border of Iraq and Syria, instead of other irritating songs that anyone can easily think of.
James Hetfield joked, “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music forever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?” Despite the joke, Metallica wasn’t completely happy with the attention this brought them.
At least not in the backroom. Esquire was informed by Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill that the band had asked the military to stop using their music for such purposes.
Fans really didn’t like Death Magnetic and petitioned Metallica to remix it
Yes, the fuss was so bad it earned its own scandal. After St. Anger received little praise from reviewers or fans, Metallica decided to take a sabbatical in order to plan their next move, and that break lasted for a good five years. After much anticipation, Death Magnetic, which was released in 2008, performed better than its predecessor.
AllMusic writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine praised the album, calling it a return to Metallica’s hallmark sound. However, the BBC reports that over 16,000 fans signed a petition calling for a remix of the album because they thought the sound quality was subpar. This puts a Metallica record in the news for reasons other than good.
In an interview with Blender, Ulrich responded to complaints over the album’s audio quality. “There’s nothing up with the audio quality. It’s 2008, and that’s how we make records. Rick Rubin’s whole thing is to try and get it to sound lively, to get it to sound loud, to get it to sound exciting, to get it to jump out of the speakers,” the drummer explained.
While acknowledging the rise in online complaints, he said, “the Internet gives everybody a voice, and the Internet has a tendency to give the complainers a louder voice.” Despite the initial complaints, Death Magnetic went on to receive double platinum certification, selling over two million copies by 2010.
That one time Kylie and Kendall angered the music industry
At her core, the famous TV personality Kylie Jenner is a businesswoman, despite her widespread recognition as a socialite and frequent appearance in gossip columns. But not all of her endeavors—particularly the one she did with her sister Kendall Jenner—went as planned.
The Jenner sisters introduced a range of T-shirts with their faces overlaying pictures and album covers of well-known singers in 2017. But they quickly pulled the line after receiving strong criticism from the music industry.
Kylie and Kendall changed several old covers, including Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All. They publicly apologized on social media in response to the controversy, saying that the “designs were not well thought out.”
Hetfield expressed his displeasure with this unapproved collaboration in an interview with ET Canada, saying, “I guess what they were thinking is, we can do whatever we want. To me, it’s disrespectful. We’ve spent 36 years working hard, doing our best to keep a really close connection with people, [making] every note count, and someone just throws something up over something that we feel… Not that it’s sacred or anything, but show some respect.”
The disaster that was the 1992 Metallica/Gun N’ Roses concert in Montreal
Though one of the most well-known singles from the 1997 Reload album, the Grammy Award-nominated “Fuel” unintentionally functions as the unwanted backdrop to a momentous occasion that took place with James Hetfield at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose’s difficulty reading his watch was one of several mishaps that happened on August 8, 1992, during their band’s co-headlining tour with Metallica. The thrash rockers was first on stage that night, but their performance ended abruptly when James Hetfield was caught up in a pyrotechnics accident that required immediate hospitalization for second- and third-degree burns.
Guns N’ Roses did not prolong their act to make up for Metallica’s shortened set; instead, the band was late to the stage. Then, citing supposed vocal problems, Rose cut short his band’s performance to less than an hour.
The 53,000 supporters were incensed by this decision, which sparked a riot and serious venue damage, according to The New York Times. Needless to say, neither band’s storied past will include this episode in a positive light.
Their fans hated it when they looked clean
Here’s an interesting tidbit: Want to upset a metalhead? Give them a haircut. Metallica can attest to the fact that, despite this joke’s cheesiness, there is some validity to it.
Though their album Metallica from 1990 topped the Billboard 200 chart for four weeks running and was listed as one of the greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone, in the early 1990s, a new musical genre arose from the streets of Seattle.
The long hair and sleeveless band shirts of the past gave way to performers with shorter hairstyles and a strong love of plaid, thanks to the new sound and aesthetic that grunge music offered.
Metallica had a grunge-approved facelift before Load was released in 1996. When the band resurfaced in the public eye, they looked more like Sugar Ray than Slayer. Although the band’s style changed over time, nothing was as radical or contentious as their ’90s look, Kirk Hammett told Deseret News, “We didn’t think it was that big of a deal, and it really surprised us that everyone else made such a fuss. But it’s cool because we like controversy.”
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