Other than a mega pre-Super Bowl show last month, Metallica have been lying low so far this year. Nevertheless, they're anticipating a very busy 2016. Although they have no tour dates on the books as of right now, Lars Ulrich tells Rolling Stone that will change once they get past one big hurdle.
"I think it will be a pretty in-your-face year, at least the back half of it," the drummer says. "Obviously, we've gotta finish the new record now. But thankfully we're quite far along. Hopefully we should be able to knock that on the head this spring, I would guess. So we will be gearing up and playing shows and doing all that fun stuff again soon."
Progress on the record is moving steadily, as the group fine-tunes the nearly 20 song ideas they were working with last spring. Kirk Hammett told Rolling Stone last month that the band had "a bunch of songs, more than enough songs" in the works, and that at that point in time he was beginning to zero in on his guitar sound using his own brand of guitar effects pedals. "We're slogging away," he said. "But you know, it's metal. It's heavy."
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They've also teased some new music by posting one video of James Hetfield playing a crushing riff and another, for which you have to be a Metallica fan club member to see, that finds Hetfield playing a Pro Tools session containing a sample of what sounds like a finished song with vocals.
In a recent interview concerning the 30th anniversary of Master of Puppets, Ulrich said he marveled at the way the group wrote a record in what he remembers to be eight weeks. He estimates the band spent about nine months working on the music for the new record. "Nowadays, we sit and go, 'That's a great piece of music,' and 'That's really cool,' and then we'll play it faster, then slower, then half a step down, exploring all these options," he says. "There are 75 different ways to play something, and you end up fucking driving yourself nutty."
As the group has been keeping an eye toward the future with the new LP, the band members have also been keenly aware of the records that got them to this point in time. In addition to writing and recording the LP, Metallica have also been prepping deluxe reissues of their debut, 1983's Kill 'Em All, and its follow-up, 1984's Ride the Lightning, in time for Record Store Day, when they'll also put out a live album they recorded at Paris' Bataclan to benefit charity. They've also worked with author Matt Taylor on his book, Back to the Front, which covers the making of 1986's Master of Puppets and is due out later this year.
"There's been this dichotomy between the new record, moving the band forward, and all this great stuff that's happening in the future, and then really seeing the Matt Taylor book and reissues," Ulrich says. "We've had one foot in the past, sifting through old photos and old memorabilia and listening to old songs, and another in the new album. It's been a confluence of all these different energies, and I'm not even sure exactly what to make of all of it."
One thing Ulrich does know for sure is what he feels when Metallica's members get together to play. "What am I, 52?" he says. "So I'm usually taking care of my kids, being a husband, hanging out with my friends, doing my thing and making a record, all this type of stuff. It's awesome to feel my age. But when the four of us are together, it's like the median age of all of us just drops and drops.
"We get very silly, very childlike," he continues with a laugh. "There's a lot of adolescent humor. This is a bunch of 52-year-olds trying to make sense of all of it. David Lee Roth or somebody once said, 'The more people you put in a room together, the lower the IQ gets,' and there's definitely a sense of that when all of us get together. It's kind of nice to a degree that you can still feel young and spunky and vibrant. I still think that we feel kind of young and like we have something left to prove. We're still sort of trying to figure it all out."