“When you take a lot of punches, you just want to punch back,” says Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett. “We have that fighting spirit, and it’s coming through in the songs.” After a hellish 2001 in which bassist Jason Newsted quit and singer James Hetfield checked into rehab, Metallica are working peacefully in the Bay Area on their ninth studio album. “Usually when we’re in the studio, there’s a bad vibe and a lot of one-upmanship,” says Hammett. “This time we’re saying fuck you to all that. We’re being friends and family first.”
The band is also taking a new approach to recording. Whereas in the past Metallica have meticulously crafted individual instrumental and vocal tracks, they are now essentially working out song parts live, without any pre-existing material. “No one brings in anything they have written,” says drummer Lars Ulrich. “Now, the only music that comes in is played by the four of us on the floor.” With longtime Metallica producer Bob Rock filling in on bass, the band has amassed nearly thirty “blueprints” for songs, centered around improvisational studio-recorded sessions that, with the help of Pro Tools, will soon be edited into finished tracks.
“We’re going to record these moments,” says Ulrich, “and then we’ll pick the moments that we want to share.” Stepping out of their usual roles, all the band members have also been singing and contributing lyrics. One song, “Dead Kennedy Rolls,” is an example of what Hammett calls the band’s “darker and very reflective” sound. Says Ulrich, “It’s three minutes of total fuck-you attitude.” Although Metallica hope to release the album later this year or early next year, they have no deadline and are relatively unconcerned about hiring a permanent bass player anytime soon. “We just wanna take it easy,” says Ulrich. “That’s what we’re doing post-Jason and after what James has been through. Right now, there’s a sense of rebirth. It’s not forced. It’s just so fucking natural.”