It's been nearly six years since Metallica last released a studio album, but as they gear up for a run of summer festivals in Europe, the band is also putting together material for a new LP. "We're going through the grind," says Lars Ulrich. "We're in there doing riffs and putting them into songs. We don't really write one song and then show up the next day and do another one. We just work on riffs and sections, connecting riffs and tempos and moods."
There's no timeline for the release of the album, but Ulrich says they've made much progress. "We've been doing this, off and on, for the better part of a year," he says. "We're going to do these dates this summer and then really hone down. I'd say that right now, we're in the fourth inning."
The four members of Metallica took breaks earlier this month to travel with their kids during spring break, but they plan on getting back together before the beginning of May. "We're going to start talking about who is going to produce the album," says Ulrich. "We haven't started recording yet. But we are deep into the songwriting part of it."
In the meantime, they're also plotting out their summer tour of Europe. "We haven't done the festival run in Europe in two summers," says Ulrich. "We had our own festival [Orion] for the past couple of years, but because of scheduling issues and so on we decided to sit this year out."
In a Metallica first, fans will have complete control over the group's setlist. "We're calling it 'Metallica by Request,'" says Ulrich. "Ticket holders can go on a website and vote for any song Metallica ever recorded. There's 145 or something. We play the top 17 vote getters. It's really fun."
They did a trial run of the show in South America in March. Some rarities were dragged out, but mostly the fans picked hits like "One," "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman." "To be totally honest with you," says Ulrich, "sometimes I wish they would vote on some of the really obscure songs. We love playing crazy stuff."
The voting process is completely transparent, and fans can see a constantly updated list of winning songs in each city. "It looks like when we play Helsinki in May we'll be playing a song called 'The Frayed Ends of Sanity' from …And Justice For All," says Ulrich. "We're really excited about that. Also, St. Anger was really big in Germany, so we'll get to play some of the songs there. That's going to be really fun. We want to mix it up as much as possible."
Voting closes about a week before showtime, giving the group time to learn any obscure songs the fans might request. "We've never played 'The Frayed Ends of Sanity' before," says Ulrich. "We're going to have sit down and spin that one around for an hour or two. We carry a rehearsal room with us wherever we go. Give us an hour and we can learn any song in our catalog. We like to make the setlist real wacky and change it up as much as possible, but in 2014 the fans are picking the songs."
Will American fans have the opportunity to see a "Live by Request" show sometime in the near future? "The main thing this year after Europe is just trying to make a record," says Ulrich. "Then we can come home and do a bunch of stuff in America. If that's not next year, then in 2016."