Metallica: from metal royalty to rehab

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2019 has been a monumental year for metal titans Metallica. Their WorldWired tour promoting the 2016 Album ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct’ continued through a sizzling run of Europe’s biggest stadiums, attracting audiences of over 80,000 per show. WorldWired has just become the ninth highest grossing tour of all time, raking in $414.4 million from 139 concerts so far. A Metallica concert is a tremendous affair: public transport is suspended, roads are closed, and 230 crew members work on a single show each night (including a stage over 206 feet wide), all in preparation for the Four Horsemen to rip through a blistering set of thrash metal, much to the delight of the, affectionately named, ‘Metallica family.’

Therefore, it came as an incredible surprise to fans and critics alike when the band announced that their upcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand would be postponed due to lead singer and rhythm guitarist, James Hetfield, entering a recovery program for the first time in 18 years. At this early stage, it is unclear to what extent Hetfield’s addiction issues have developed, whether he is in crisis or pre-empting signs before they develop into issues. Either way, the overall reaction has been extremely positive given the eight shows postponed because of his condition, ranging from fans on social media to the masked members of Slipknot, who earned the highly sought-after position of being the support act for an entire continent’s worth of shows.

The band has gone through 38 years of success, however there are always highs and lows. In 1986, their ferocious bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a tour bus accident and after his replacement, Jason Newstead, quit the band in 2001, lead singer James Hetfield finally admitted his addiction problems to the band and went into rehab. This experience was captured and released in the rockumentary ‘Some Kind of Monster’ in 2004. The film captured three metal icons finally releasing twenty years of repressed hurt and anger in various group therapy sessions. It scored 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and was praised for its grit and revealing the reality of being in a touring band.

Despite their lows, Metallica’s highs include feats such as performing in front of an estimated crowd of 500,000 at the ‘Monsters of Rock’ festival, Moscow 1991, and their album sales are in excess of 125 million worldwide. As previously stated, the band have been together for 38 years and are still touring, something that cannot be said for most hard rock/ metal giants in the 21st century- Black Sabbath performed their career ending concert, ‘The End.’ in 2017. The band put this down to two things: firstly, still loving touring and performing in front of fans, and secondly, giving each other space. 2019’s tour has been operated on a strict two week on, two week off policy, and in between shows, the band actually spend very little time together at all. The first time they’ll meet on the day of a gig is about 20 minutes before the show in the ‘tuning room’, a space the band use to warm up and rehearse draped in banners given by fans over the various years.

The news of Hetfield’s upcoming stint in rehab is more surprising still when looking at another impressive event in Metallica’s 2019 calendar, ‘S&M2’. The prestigious concert was selected to mark the opening of the brand-new Chase Center in San Francisco and featured the usual four members of the band accompanied by a slight twist: 79 members of the San Francisco symphony orchestra. The event was incredibly anticipated given the success of the original S&M album in 1999, complete with the same orchestra twenty years earlier. The immense scale of this event along with its significance in the world of both metal and classical music makes the upcoming rehab stay even more surprising: 2019 has, on paper, been one of the most successful and consistent years of Metallica’s career.

Overall, the news of Hetfield’s rehab is hard on all involved with the group, be it fans or his band members. Metallica has been a genre-defining staple of metal since the early 80s and has managed to defy the ever changing taste of music and continue to fill stadiums across the globe. We can only wait and see if the frontman will be in a fit state to finish the WorldWired tour in April 2020, lighting up the Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile.