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Death Magnetic: the Metallica Interview

2008-09-26 19:20
You had various titles for the album before you chose Death Magnetic. What was your favourite working title?
James Hetfield: We had a whole wall of possible titles that obviously turned into the joke wall. I think one of the titles was Van Halen 11. It didn’t make much sense! Rick Rubin was on this organic kick. Everything was organic. ‘Turn the computer off, it’s not organic!’ So we played along with that and we found a little organic stickers and put them all over the desktop. And we came up with album titles around that. One was War-ganic!
Lars Ulrich: "Suicide & Redemption" is the album’s instrumental track, and the title, we were toying with that as the title for the record, because all of the songs had that dark and abstract feel. That was the first album title I liked. It certainly fits the song. As we were sorting through the riffs and putting ideas together, the idea of doing an old-school Metallica instrumental track came up. It has that kind of epic hugeness to it.

Now that Death Magnetic is completed, how do you feel about the album?
James: Death Magnetic feels really good. It’s old-school essence with new sonics. And it’s the most band-like I can remember us being. We’ve gone through lots of growing up after St. Anger – as much as we can say we’re grown-up! I think the main part is realizing friction is a part of it all. And we need each other more than we hate each other, simple as that!
Lars: My head is still kind of spinning about the whole process, the last couple of years. But everybody who’s heard the album says it sounds great, so I’ll go along with that! It certainly has a lot of energy, it sounds very lively. One of the key things Rick Rubin wanted to do is to get Metallica to sound really live in the studio. Some of the previous records we made in the ‘90s, I think, got a little over-laboured, got a little too anal and detail-oriented. Rick wanted to preserve that wall of sound that happens when we play live, and I’m 100% sure that it’s retained all that liveliness, that it’s loud and in your face. My friends who’ve heard the album all like it, so I’ll take that as a good thing!

Kirk Hammett: When we started writing songs for Death Magnetic we were a band again because we’d gotten Rob. That was tremendous. We started playing like a band again, started sounding like a band, started creating like a band, and that was an obvious step up from our starting place last time with St. Anger. I’m really proud of this album. It’s too early to tell how it fits into the overall picture, but I really believe that this album is one of our finer moments.
Robert Trujillo: This being my first Metallica album, I feel like it’s great. The creative environment can be a bit intimidating because it’s so intense. With Lars and James, it’s like going to the best school of songwriting. But they were really open to suggestion and they wanted to hear what I had to say.
Was it a conscious decision for Metallica to reconnect with their past on Death Magnetic?
James: People have said it’s Master Of Puppets II. That turns me off… and scares me a little bit. Death Magnetic is Rick Rubin and us trying to capture the essence, the hunger, the simplicity, the skeleton of Metallica. And that’s what I think we captured. It really is very clear and obvious to me, and hopefully I can make this clear to the fans, that we write these songs for ourselves. You can’t please everyone. There’s always going to be someone who feels victimised by the way you’ve done something, and I totally get that. There are lots of bands I can’t listen to after a certain album, and so be it. It’s perfectly normal. But we are explorers, we have to move forward and keep going, we’re artists, we’re hungry for the best. The best has not been achieved yet, so on we go.
Kirk: One of the main concepts that Rick Rubin brought to the table when we were initially talking to him was that he knew, in his head, what the ultimate Metallica album should sound like. He said to us, ‘Whatever you guys were doing, whatever you were thinking, what you were listening to, what you were eating, drinking… try to put your minds in that spot. Because whatever you guys were doing in the early ‘80s, mid ‘80s, you guys turned out some incredible music back then.’ We listened to that and agreed. The attitude we had back then was a lot different to the attitude we have now. We were young, eager to prove ourselves – eager to prove that we were one of the heaviest bands around – and we wrote accordingly. So Rick said, ‘Just put yourselves in that spot.’ And it totally worked. It worked across the board: in the writing, the lyrics, the guitar solos, the attitude.

I remember when it came time to put down guitar solos, I listened to all the stuff that I used to listen to as a teenager: a lot of UFO, Deep Purple and Rainbow, Van Halen’s first album, Pat Travers. Initially I was shocked, because I found myself being re-inspired by all this stuff that influenced me back in the day, and it opened up my playing all over again. When I applied that attitude and brought that inspiration to the new songs I got some incredible results right off the bat. The self-referencing was working, and we weren’t just copying ourselves. I really felt that we were going somewhere fresh and new.

Lars: It's been interesting. Rick would suggest, ‘Listen to the same records that you listened to in the ‘80s, or try and write the same way.’ It was never, ‘Copy what you were doing musically.’ It was, ‘Put yourself in that headspace.’ And it felt really good to do that, finally. We avoided going there for so long, but when we finally went back, it was like, ‘Yeah, we can hang out here – we can be inspired by those records and feel good about it.’

[NEXT: Pt. 2: Some Kind of Monster] [page 1 of 2]

In this interview, recorded in August 2008 in Dublin, the four members of Metallica talk about the making of Death Magnetic, about working with Rick Rubin, about the 'cathartic' experiences of St. Anger and Some Kind Of Monster, and more.

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