The argument that made James Hetfield walk out of Metallica

In the early 2000s, Metallica had begun to transcend every expectation that came with being a metal band. Having conquered the underground, their run of albums in the ‘90s catapulted them to mainstream success, streamlining their sound and bringing in new fans who couldn’t tell the difference between Megadeth and Slayer. While the band were riding high professionally, the shit was about to hit the fan in the next millennium.

Starting in 1999, Metallica had already started making various legacy projects. Instead of new studio material, their latest efforts had been wild experiments like the covers album Garage Inc and their live album S&M, featuring a slew of greatest hits played with a symphony orchestra. As work began on their next album, the group found themselves in therapy to get on the same page.

Amid the backlash from Lars Ulrich’s recent feud with Napster, the band had begun fracturing personally, leading to Phil Towle being brought in to moderate their behaviour. Not wanting to go along with the program, bassist Jason Newsted left the project and the band because of his poor treatment from his bandmates since he joined in 1986.

While producer Bob Rock was slated to play bass on the new album, James Hetfield started to crack under the pressure of a new Metallica product. Initially hating the therapy sessions, Hetfield was not as enthused as his bandmates and started masking his problems with alcohol, which got worse after a break when he went to Russia to hunt.

Detailed in the film Some Kind of Monster, Hetfield was unwilling to break from the standard procedures of most Metallica records, initially criticising Ulrich’s drums for being too haphazard in the mix of one of the songs. Towards the end of a session, Hetfield mentioned his problems with Ulrich, who fired back about wanting to do something different in the name of experimentation.

What happened next would change the course of the album’s history. As Kirk Hammett tries to control his bandmates, Hetfield and Ulrich divulge into a verbal sparring session, where Hetfield accuses Ulrich of picking at him the whole night. When Hammett suggests that they have better things to do, Hetfield goes to the door and loudly slams it behind him.

That would be the final time the rest of the band would see Hetfield for over a year. Following his outburst, Hetfield would go to rehab for alcoholism and not return to the band initially for fear of what would happen.

Once they were on the same page in the studio, Metallica began filtering their pain through their next album, St Anger. Though the album would become one of their most successful commercially, the passage of time has not been kind to the album, with fans calling to mind the horrendous production and blemishes in the vocal performances.

Granted, by the time Hetfield had come back into the fold, it was never about making an album that could compete with Master of Puppets. Metallica was practically being held together by duct tape and faith from their fans, and St Anger is the sound of them desperately trying to make some sort of music together.

Metallica’s M72 World Tour, live from AT&T Stadium in Arlington TX, comes to cinemas in the UK on 19th and 21st of August via Trafalgar Releasing. Tickets are on sale now at

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