The band James Hetfield called “everything [I] didn’t like”

With a name like Metallica, no one would question which side of rock and roll James Hetfield and his band catered to. Throughout their time playing throughout the Bay Area, the thrash movement was about taking the extremes of every genre and pushing them together, marrying the hard sounds of heavy metal and combining them with the speed and intensity of the punk movement. Although Hetfield loved the idea of listening to all things heavy, there was one band that he thought was their polar opposites.

At the beginning of the band’s career, though, it’s easy to see them wearing their influences on their sleeve. Across their debut, Kill Em All, Hetfield’s riffs are indebted to the work of members of the new wave of British heavy metal, all while delivering in a bark reminiscent of what Lemmy Kilmister had been doing for years.

As the band started to take over the studio environment, they began experimenting with where they could take their music, using songs as exercises to create epics like ‘Fade to Black’ and ‘Master of Puppets’. Around the same time Metallica had started, though, another movement emerged from the Los Angeles club scene.

In the wake of the glam movement from the late 1970s, acts like Van Halen helped usher in the sounds of glam metal, with acts like Quiet Riot and Poison becoming legends on the local circuit. While Metallica had gotten their start in Los Angeles, they knew they needed to move to where their music could be appreciated, electing to move to San Francisco to find their own scene.

By the time the band had created their masterpiece Master of Puppets, another band was slowly making inroads into the glam metal scene. While never identifying with the glamorous lifestyle, Guns N’ Roses modelled themselves on the old-school of rock and roll, playing songs that made the rest of the glam scene look like pampered rockstars.

Although Lars Ulrich took a liking to the band and even offered their producer Mike Clink to oversee And Justice for All, things quickly went haywire when both bands decided to tour together. After a horrifying pyrotechnic malfunction left Hetfield badly burned, Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose indirectly incited a riot after refusing to play more than four songs of their intended setlist.

While the groups continued to tour together, Hetfield left with a negative opinion of Guns N’ Roses. Outside of their music, Hetfield felt that Rose’s habit of jeopardising the lives of fans was everything that Hetfield didn’t want to see himself become.

Later, speaking with Howard Stern, Hetfield talked about the differences between what Metallica and Guns N’ Roses were all about, saying, “I think they pretty much stood for everything that we didn’t like. It was about LA, glam, everything that we were trying to escape in the early days”. For all of his gripes with the musical side of things, Hetfield did eventually talk about the tour as being a learning experience for him.

Recalling the infamous show where he got burned, Hetfield could look back and laugh at what he was taught by Rose indirectly, telling Behind the Music, “I go and light myself on fire, and he upstages me. We can relate a lot to Axl and his attitude, so we learned very much what not to do”.

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