The 2018 Polar Music Prize is awarded to the American band Metallica. Not since Wagner’s emotional turmoil and Tchaikovsky’s cannons has anyone created music that is so physical and furious, and yet still so accessible. Through virtuoso ensemble playing and its use of extremely accelerated tempos, Metallica has taken rock music to places it had never been before. In Metallica’s world, both a teenage bedroom and a concert hall can be transformed into a Valhalla. The strength of the band’s uncompromising albums has helped millions of listeners to transform their sense of alienation into a superpower.
We’re doing our own thing, pushing boundaries, never accept the way things were supposed to be...
Lars Ulrich, drummer and co-founder of Metallica , 2018“
Metallica started out in Los Angeles in 1981 when drummer Lars Ulrich and guitar player/singer James Hetfield got together via Ulrich’s LA Recycler newspaper ad. They soon recruited Hetfield’s friend Ron McGovney to play bass, Dave Mustaine to play lead guitar, and taken the name Metallica after a suggestion from Bay Area metal scene friend Ron Quintana. They then convinced Cliff Burton to replace Ron McGovney and relocated to the Bay Area.
In 1983 they travelled to New York, in a stolen car, to record their first album. Shortly after arriving in New York in April 1983, Mustaine was replaced by Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett and Lars, James, Cliff and Kirk hit the studio for the first time. Mustaine went on and founded Megadeth, that would also later become one of the so called “Big Four” within metal besides Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax.
Kill 'Em All
The debut album, Kill ‘Em All, exploded onto the scene later in 1983 brandishing punk-encrusted, crunchy metal riffery, the likes of “The Four Horsemen,” “Whiplash” and “Seek and Destroy” that became instant classics. The instant success in the metal community allowed them to quickly make their second album Ride The Lightning with producer Flemming Rassmussen in Copenhagen, Denmark, at Sweet Silence Studios during the summer of 1984.
Rise in the 80s
In 1986, the succesfull collaboration with Rassmussen in the Sweet Silence studio also resulted in Master Of Puppets, the band’s third album. “Battery,” the title track and epic instrumental “Orion” were among the astounding compositions, and having secured a support slot with Ozzy Osbourne, Master of Puppets hit the top 30 album charts and expanded their fan base beyond comprehension. Later, in 2015, Master of Puppets would become the first metal album to be added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
But a tragic challenge was to be thrown at the band in September 1986. On tour in Sweden, during an overnight drive the bands’ tour bus skidded out of control and flipped, killing Cliff Burton. His influence on the musical growth of the band had been enormous, combining the DIY philosophies of jamming and experimenting with an great knowledge of musical theory.
After more than 40 auditions the band finally tapped Jason Newsted from Flotsam & Jetsam to take over bass duties. The quartet immediately jumped into a tour and then quickly recorded an EP of cover tunes titled The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited.
Jason Newsted would play with Metallica until 2001. He then moved on to play with his own band Echobrain, as well as with Voivod and Ozzy Osbourne, among others. He was though present at the induction in the Rock n roll Hall of Fame in 2009 and also joined Metallica during all four of their 30th anniversary shows where he performed several songs with the band.
...And justice for all
The band recorded their fourth full-length album, …And Justice For All, first with Rassmussen again taking the helm, this time in Los Angeles. Released in August 1988, the album reached #6 on the US charts, while the band first toured with Van Halen during the Monsters Of Rock tour before embarking upon their first headline worldwide arena tour. Metallica also made their very first music video for “One,” a dark, monochromatic, violent, emotional piece which underscored Metallica’s thorough uniqueness.
Tha Black album
In 1991, Metallica released their self-titled album – better known by fans as The Black Album. New producer Bob Rock focused the band on a fuller sound with simpler arrangements, and it went straight to number one all over the world…and didn’t really leave for a couple of years, selling in excess of 16 million copies worldwide, spawning several legitimate singles, and earning various industry accolades, including a Grammy, MTV and American Music Awards. “Enter Sandman” remains one of their signature anthems, whilst their first full foray into something more balladic, “Nothing Else Matters,” empathized with the heartstrings of millions.
The tour that accompanied it was equally gargantuan, close to 300 shows in three years, and pushing the band to limits they didn’t know they could reach. It also featured the famous joint-headline stadium tour with Guns N’ Roses and yielded the first-ever official live album Live Shit: Binge & Purge, a road-case-shaped box-set containing all manner of intimate tour ephemera from riders to faxes.
Musical lives and loves
1998 saw the band collect their covers from the two previous Garage Days sessions and various b-sides as well as slamming down 11 brand new covers with the subsequent Garage, Inc. double disc release a reminder of their musical lives and loves. That insatiable search for new pastures led them to 1999’s San Francisco Symphony project with conductor/composer Michael Kamen pulling the metaphoric strings, resulting in the release later that same year of the double disc S&M.
Recorded over two nights at the Berkeley Community Theater, the live shows and album saw Metallica further adding to their musical legacy and reputation for always seeking new challenges and refusing to rest on past creative achievements.
Some Kind of monster
In 2001, Jason Newsted left the band. The remaining three members worked on new music with producer Bob Rock filing in on bass until in the middle of 2001 when Hetfield arrived at a crossroads in his life, which meant he needed to step away and rehabilitate on several levels. When the band reconvened in the spring of 2002, a new energy and verve was in place as communications were re-established on all levels, and with Rock on bass as well as producing, St. Anger was the first album made at their new HQ studio. Released in June 2003, the band excitedly took to the road with new bassist Robert Trujillo (Suicidal Tendencies/Infectious Grooves/Ozzy Osbourne), his easy-going demeanor and ferocious finger-plucking style giving him the edge in auditions.
A film team followed the band during the long period of writing and recording St Anger.The project had started as a marketing piece, but ended up being one of the most important, revealing documentations of artistic (and personal) struggle-to-redemption ever committed to film.The small matter of their soon-to-be ground-breaking documentary Some Kind Of Monster, the documentary film made by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky between 2001 and 2003. Some Kind of Monster saw its theatrical release in 2004.
In early 2006 they decided to make the new album with a new producer, Rick Rubin, who encouraged the band to go back to their early roots. Live shows continued to offer both release and building blocks for the writing process, with new territories such as South Africa being visited. Death Magnetic was released on September 12, 2008. A more organically made album, it was the perfect fusion of Metallica’s early past and their increasingly experimental future, and the popular response was huge, the album smashing album charts at number one everywhere.
2011 saw them seduced into a collaboration with one of the legendary Godfathers of punk and alternative music, Lou Reed on an album project based around writing by Frank Wedekind about a 19th century French prostitute named Lulu, which was then reinterpreted by Reed. The subsequent album, Lulu, was released on October 31, 2011. While not well received, it once again served notice that Metallica always keeps exploring beyond the boundaries of their usual musical environments.
At the same time, the band celebrated their 30th anniversary with four nights at The Fillmore in december 2011, where guests from Diamond Head to Danzig to Rob Halford to Dave Mustaine and Jason Newsted, and plenty in between, were invited.
To complete their touring map, one continent was left to visit: Antarctica. Un-played by any band. Until December 8, 2013, when the band performed at the Carlini Base under a custom-built Geo-dome in front of a small group of fans and the community scientists.
As yet a new collaboration, Metallica performed “One” with Chinese pianist Lang Lang at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, and they also accepted an invitation to play the world famous Glastonbury Festival for the first time in 2014.
From Hardwired...to Gaga
Metallicas’s 10th album was released in the USA on November 18th, 2016. Produced by Greg Fieldman, it was received with enormous acclaim, both from fans and critics. It was number one in 57 countries and was the third biggest album of 2016 in the US behind only Drake and Beyoncé. The band also teamed up with Lady Gaga to perform at the Grammy Awards in 2017.