Metallica Are Back in Action with a Festival and 3D Movie

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Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs at The Fillmore in San Francisco.
Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs at The Fillmore in San Francisco.
Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage

Lars Ulrich

Whose idea was it to play the Black Album in reverse?
If you like the idea, it was mine. If you don't, it was James' [grins]. For better or worse, I'm the set-list guy. This is all subject to change if it doesn't work. But the idea of starting off with the lesser-known songs buried down there and ending up with "Sad but True" and "Enter Sandman" seems like a winner. You finish with the money shot, which is the first song.

That album's shift away from speed metal to shorter, simpler songs set the tone for the rest of Metallica's career – a willingness to experiment that still confounds even people who like you.
I'm a big believer that the records all thread together. That straighter, four-on-the-floor thing was present on earlier records, in "Harvester of Sorrow" and "Ride the Lightning." But we went all-out because there was nowhere else to go. Where do you go after "Dyer's Eve"? You can't get faster. You can't get more pissed off than Hetfield barking at his parents. That was the end of the Eighties for us.

We played a show in Toronto with Aerosmith in the summer of 1990, right at the time we started writing the Black Album. I remember sitting under the grandstand with [co-manager] Cliff Burnstein. He said, "The Misfits are a huge part of your influence – 'Last Caress' is a minute and a half long. [The Rolling Stones'] 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' is part of who you are. You just haven't released it yet."

I went back to San Francisco, and there was a riff on Kirk's riff tape [hums the "Enter Sandman" lick]. The whole song is just that riff. "Enter Sandman" was the blueprint. The rest of the record appeared over two months.

How much will playing that album live affect your next album?
I've been sitting with these songs for a month now, listening to them while I'm driving, immersing myself before we play them: "Why did we go one key up there? Why did we repeat that thing four times instead of two?" I was thinking about it again today. There was a moment in "Sad but True" with that half-chorus in the middle. Then it went back to the guitar solo, and there was that little break before it goes into the third verse.

I couldn't help thinking, "Why was it put together like that? Maybe we can slightly borrow that?" If you can't rip yourself off, what's the point? It will be interesting to see, once we take this album out to people in different countries, what we'll come back with for the writing sessions in the fall.

You do have a lot of projects that get in the way of making new music.
I don't want to be that band that just does record, tour; record, tour. I will say to my dying day, "Who wouldn't want to make a record with Lou Reed?" They are adventures, uncharted territory, places where you do more than just use muscle memory. I want to get away from that model, that the sole reason for a band to exist is to just make another record.

You don't have on or off years now. They're all working years.
I have an adverse reaction to the word "work." Coming down to HQ, playing music and sweating – this is fun. We love this too much. We survived all of the pitfalls and traps we were in, all that nutty stuff you see in Some Kind of Monster. This whole thing seems to have found a rhythm. It's not like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They make their record, they tour, then go away for three or four years. That's not our destiny.

What parts of the Orion festival can you take credit for?
I came up with the name [laughs]. For me, having the Arctic Monkeys on there is big. I think they're a heavy-metal band disguised as an indie band. If you listen to a song like "Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But...," there's almost a Rush element in there. Avenged Sevenfold are near and dear to me. They were on the fence about it. They were taking the summer off. I called one of the guys and said, "It would really mean a lot to us." The Black Angels are just cool. A friend of mine said, "Check them out," and I was like, "Wow, it's the Doors meets something else in 2011."

Were there any bands you invited who said, "No way, we'll get killed by your fans."
The issue isn't with the bands. It's more if this type of festival can exist from the fans' point of view. Because we're doing it, it gets branded as a particular thing. We have to work harder. If Radiohead does it, it's cool. If we do it, it's not.

I'm stunned that people are stunned by us doing these things. It's our DNA.

The 3D movie is a weird leap, even for you. It has elements of documentary, fiction and live performance, on this crazy stage.
This has been circling for two years. It's time to life-size it, get it out of our minds and on the screen. And if it's done right, it can be sensational. You're not watching Metallica onstage. You're onstage with Metallica. In IMAX, James Hetfield is 38 feet tall, snotting on you, spitting on you. It's 2,000 decibels. If there is an earthquake outside, you wouldn't notice.

But you can't do that for 100 minutes. It loses its appeal. There is another element in there – intimate, small, a story that takes place over the same trajectory as the concert. The question is, "Where do they weave in and out of each other?" But you have to cut away from the concert to enjoy the concert.

Even at a Metallica show, you gotta take a break for a beer or a leak.
This idea goes back to the Nineties, when IMAX movies started coming out. We were in talks with them. That's when an IMAX camera was the size of a house, and they only had 12 minutes of film. You had to stop to reload. But seeing Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in IMAX, which I did the week it came out, and then when we broadcast the Big 4 show [with Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth] from Sofia, Bulgaria, to movie theaters in 2010 – that's what sealed the deal.

How do you look at your long-term future? You just celebrated your 30th anniversary. Another 30 years might be optimistic. I still don't feel we've challenged ourselves enough. We still talk about "the next album." We can do whatever we want with our music. "We've hidden a new Metallica CD in each ZIP code in America. Go find it!" There's nothing but options.

Just don't mention the word "work." The a.m. grind, getting my three kids ready for school – that is the work part of my day. When I come in here, that's when the fun starts.

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