My ex-wife is among the smartest people I know.

She introduced me to her unwavering policy of never meeting people she admired outside a professional or work context. The risk, she argued, was that once you know they’re pricks, it irrevocably ruins your image of them and the genie can’t be put back in the lamp.

It’s this theory that is foremost in my mind after reading ‘Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica’ (Omnibus Press, 2006) by journalist and author, Joel McIver. While the book has been out for over six years, I picked up a copy from my local library last week and loved it!

I grew up in my teens listening to Metallica and I have two friends to thank for getting me hooked on them: Simon Schuliga and Richard Luttick. Between them, Simon and Richard were my conduits to a musical world of distorted guitars, speed-fuelled drums, long hair and denim. I wasn’t a headbanger as such (you had to own a battle jacket for that), but I cherished my copies of Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning and the legendary Master of Puppets. My tape collection (we didn’t have a turntable that played vinyl with the comparable quality of tapes) included Iron Maiden, D.R.I, Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Van Halen, S.O.D, Manowar (yes, I know! Manowar!), the Sex Pistols, Descendents, Slayer and Kiss (I actually had Kiss’ Unmasked album on vinyl, given to me as a First Communion present. More on that another time).

2013 is Metallica’s 31st year as a band (depending on when you subscribe to Metallica being formed). Countless awards, bulging bank balances, sold-out tours and the ability to never have to work again for the rest of their lives – if they so wished – indicate that they’ve done a lot more right than wrong over the journey.

I figured that it was my inability to adapt and accept Metallica’s musical evolution that had me wincing in disagreement with the majority of releases since 1990’s Metallica. I always felt somewhat lazy for never having seen Metallica in the five visits they’ve made to Australia, instead of reminding myself that the majority of their set contains some of the more being-cardigan efforts off Load, Reload and St Anger and that there’s so much more that I could do with $100 than pay to listen to those songs. After reading ‘Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica’ I realise that my drifting away from Metallica is a feeling shared by many Metallica fans from the early days.

McIver’s book took me back to my teen years and reminded me of the revelation that hearing early Metallica and the burgeoning thrash/punk metal genre was to me.

Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica is a fantastic analysis of Metallica’s body of work and the development of Metallica as a band. It includes invaluable input from the nine* people who have been in the band at one time or another (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Ron McGoveny, Dave Mustaine, Lloyd Grant, Cliff Burton, Jason Newstead and Robert Trujillo) and provides insights in equal parts chilling (an in-depth account of the fateful night of Cliff Burton’s death in Sweden) informative (the almost Machiavellian way in which James and Lars edit Jason Newstead’s bass playing out of 1988’s …And Justice For All, not to mention that terrible sound of that album and 2003’s St Anger) and genuinely entertaining.

McIver recounts the infamous Metallica V Napster stoush in 2000-2001 with remarkable balance, given the PR train wreck that Lars’ spokesperson role is universally acknowledged as being during the litigation and the alienation of a large chunk of their then fan-base. Also in the camp of liking-their-old-stuff-better-than-their-new-stuff, McIver’s role as author is remarkably professional; at times ‘Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica’ is so far removed from a management-approved paean to the band, that you wonder how an outfit so litigiously inclined as Metallica haven’t seen fit to take him to task on his reviews of albums like Load, Reload and St Anger.

And it’s this unwavering honesty of McIver’s that brings me to my opening statement. Having liked James and Lars from afar for so may years, ‘Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica’ paints the creative forces behind the band as rolled-gold pricks in a somewhat unflattering light to this reader. For many years, I would have loved to meet the band in person and, save for Kirk Hammett, I am glad that opportunity never came my way – however remote the possibility of it ever occurring was.

You don’t have to like post Metallica (Black Album) Metallica, but given the juggernaut that Metallica Inc. is, you have to respect their longevity in an industry as cut-throat and unforgiving as rock’n roll. They are a long, long way removed from the hungry, brash and extreme thrash-metal outfit of the Cliff Burton years, to the MTV-friendly, introspective blues-riffing hard rockers they are at present, but there’s no doubt it’s working for them.

And their millions of fans.

Visit Joel McIver’s site here.

Purchase Joel McIver’s works here.

So, how about you? Is there aband from your youth or another period of your life still cranking out material that you just haven’t been able to get excited about? 

*Lloyd Grant is included given that he played lead guitar on an early recording of Hit The Lights on the seminal 1982 Metal Massacre compilation.


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