Before they were Class of '09 Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, Napster slayers and Bonnaroo headliners, Metallica were a heavy metal band from San Francisco that couldn't care less about topping the charts. "You think one day some fucker's gonna tell you, 'You have a Number One record in America,' and the whole world will ejaculate," Lars Ulrich said in the band's first Rolling Stone cover story on November 14th, 1991. "I stood there in my hotel room, and there was this fax that said, 'You're Number One.' And it was, like, 'Well, okay.' It was just another fucking fax from the office."
"It's just really difficult to get excited about it," Ulrich told RS's David Fricke after the self-titled LP known as The Black Album topped the charts. "We've never been really career-conscious. We never tried to be Number One. But now we're Number One and it's, like, okay." Fricke caught up James Hetfield and Co. when they were opening for AC/DC, three years after their breakout 1988 album ...And Justice For All, when fans were struggling with the group's more commercial sound:
"I've run into fans who think the album's crap," guitarist Kirk Hammett said irritably. "Friends of mine who are really hard-core fans have said, 'Well, the album's not as heavy. You guys aren't as heavy as you used to be.' I go, 'Man, you're trying to tell me "Sad but True" isn't heavy? "Holier Than Thou" isn't heavy? How do you define heavy?' "
Still, Hetfield had modest goals: "When someone says Led Zeppelin, people know what that is," he explained. "When someone says Metallica, hopefully they'd know what that is, what it means. That was the goal."
For more from the 1991 cover story, including the band's war of words with the Cult's Ian Astbury, Hetfield's failed attempt to wear a tie and their shocking admission that they'll never be as popular as the Scorpions (in Russia, anyway), check out the profile:
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