The rock band James Hetfield considered an “all-time favourite”

Around 90% of Metallica’s music usually comes from the world of heavy metal. When you love the genre so much that you’re willing to name your band after it, chances are you won’t be playing the kind of mellow show tunes next time you go out on tour. For all of the Black Sabbath worship that James Hetfield baked into every one of his songs, one of his first musical loves came from hard rockers Aerosmith.

When Aerosmith first got started, heavy metal didn’t really have a name yet. There were heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath who were tearing up the album charts, but whenever someone called a band ‘heavy metal’ in those days, it may have been more of a derogatory statement than most people let on.

By the time Hetfield started putting together his first riffs, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was in full swing, featuring bands like Diamond Head that would continue to get bigger and bigger, if only for Metallica covering their material. Hetfield still loved his American rock and roll, and Aerosmith was everything that the genre should have been.

Acting like a warped version of the British invasion, Aerosmith took the sounds of The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and put a healthy dose of blues back into the mix. They had their mainstream material, sure, but the majority of the band’s best material came from when they were soaking their songs in blues traditions, like the massive sting of a song like ‘Walk This Way’ or the groove of ‘Sweet Emotion’.

When talking about his influences, Hetfield still considered himself a major fan of their early work, telling Rolling Stone, “I wrote letters to Aerosmith. They were my all-time favourites back then. Because they were so personal to me. I could feel their music, they were my buddies”.

Listening back to the band’s back catalogue, Hetfield may have been getting some of his best material from their deep cuts. Songs like ‘Nobody’s Fault’ are certainly much heavier than the other rock at the time, and the massive tempo behind a song like ‘Rats in the Cellar’ feels like the testing grounds for what thrash could be doing years later.

Even on their acoustic material, Aerosmith laid the blueprint for the intricate arpeggios Hetfield would do later. On songs like ‘Seasons of Wither’ or the beginning of the song ‘No More No More’, you can hear the beginnings of something like ‘Fade to Black’ or ‘The Unforgiven’, especially when Hetfield decides to put in a few notes that aren’t necessarily in the scale.

While Aerosmith may have gone down a slightly poppier direction as the years went on, it didn’t take long before Metallica had done the same thing. When working on The Black Album, Hetfield would be working with producer Bob Rock, who had been known as one of the mixing engineers on Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation. Hetfield may have seen Aerosmith as one of his heroes, but if you stick around in the business long enough, you become a big enough presence to match what your heroes did.

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