How did Metallica get so popular?

When you first think of the greatest heavy metal band then you always start the list with Metallica. Formed in 1981 by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, the band has made the heaviest impact on the metal genre to this day.

Due to their excessively fast tempos instrumental and unique musicianship, they stood out to be unique to most metal groups and became one of the founding bands of ‘Thrash Metal.’

Throughout their career, Metallica has sold over 125 million albums. They gained great fame and popularity over the years, but what is the reason behind this fame? Let’s take a look at the timeline of Metallica where they grasped success.

The Birth Of Metallica

The story of when Metallica was formed takes us back to 1981 in Los Angeles. The drummer, Lars Ulrich was looking to recruit some musicians after he failed to make a high school tennis career. He placed an ad on the article which read  “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with.” 

The article caught the eye of guitarists Hugh Tanner and James Hetfield. After looking at the skills of Ulrichm Hetfield believed that he had something in his arsenal.

A few months later, Metallica was born. The name ‘Metallica’ came from Ulrich’s friend the idea of Ron Quintana. Ron was seeking through names for his fanzine and he came across MelaMania and Metallica.

After hearing the name, Metallica took an interest in Lars and he suggested Ron take MelaMania and leave the Metallica for him. During an interview with NPR, Ulrich explained how he came up with the name for his band.

“Well, I came up here actually in the spring of 1981 and ended up at a kegger over on Strawberry Hill. And I met a bunch of really cool San Francisco kids. One of them was named Ron,” the drummer said.

He added, “And he told me he wanted to start his own fanzine, like a hard rock fanzine, where he wrote about all his favorite bands. And he wanted – he asked me whether he should call the fanzine Metallica or Metal Mania. So I suggested that he call it Metal Mania.” 

Dave Mustaine also approached Lars after looking at the advertisement and was instantly recruited without giving any audition. The first song of the band ‘Hit The Lights’ was recorded in 1982 for Metal Massacre I. 

After the release of their first song, the band made their first performance at Radio City Hall in California. The band then finally recruited their official bassist, Ron McGovney.

Metallica and Thrash Metal

The term ‘Thrash Metal’ was first told by Journalist Malcolm Dome in 1984. The term was used to describe ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’ by Anthrax. Eventually, Thrash Metal became a genre and Metallica joined it.

According to Hatfield, the band sounded like Power Metal but after discovering the wah-wah pedal used by Cliff Burton everything suddenly changed. After hearing the sound created by the pedal, Lars and Hetfield were astonished and their genre changed from ‘Power Metal’ to ‘Thrash Metal.’

When Hietfield was asked how he found Thrash Metal on Guitar World in 1992, he responded with, “Like Tony, we also played cover tunes when we first started. We were really influenced by the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, which included bands like Venom and Diamond Head – underground stuff.”

“We learned a bunch of their songs from a batch of obscure singles that Lars had collected. Most people thought we were performing originals because they had never heard any of the shit before – which was good for us! We took all the credit. You know: ‘Hey, you guys write good songs,’ ‘Yeah, I know’,” he added.

Hetfield even explained that they started to play faster because the crowd wasn’t paying attention and they were annoyed, “We certainly weren’t going to tell them the truth. Eventually, we started playing everything faster because, just like with Sabbath, the crowd wasn’t paying attention to us, and that pissed us off.” 

The other reason why the group started to play faster was because of ‘nervousness’. This takes us back to the time when Metallica was in LA where the crowd was captivated with socializing and nervousness, so they decided to “wake” everybody up.

“In LA, people were just there to drink and see who’s there and shit. We decided to try to wake everybody up by playing faster and louder than anybody else.”

Nervousness also contributed to our sound. Lars was always nervous on stage, so he’d play faster and faster. That was a huge challenge for us, but nobody wanted to wimp out and tell him that he was playing too fast. We just figured, ‘Hell, we’ll just play fast, too.’”

Metallica’s Greatest Albums

One thing that made Metallica known is because of their albums. Since their debut album, they have released 10 albums. Let’s take a look at some of their best albums which helped them gain a mass amount of fame.

Metal Up Your Ass

‘Metal Up Your Ass’ was the band’s debut album which was released in 1983. This was also the time when Mustaine left the band and Kirk Hammett replaced him. He was asked to leave because of his drinking habit and abusive behavior.

Interestingly enough, the distributors refused to release an album with the name ‘Metal Up Your Ass’ so the band came up with the new name ‘Kill ‘Em All.’ The album was a hit and it reached 155 on the Billboard 200 in 1986.

Ride The Lightning

Another successful album by Metallica was their second album, ‘Ride The Lightning.’ This was another taste of victory for the group since it peaked at No. 100 on the Billboard 200.

After the release of their second album, Cliff Burnstein, the co-founder of Q-Prime Management attended one of their concern and signed them shortly after in 1984. The group managed to sell 40,000 copies of their limited single ‘Creeping Death.’

Master of Puppets 

The band’s third album, ‘Master of Puppets’ was recorded in Denmark and released in March 1986. The album was another success it was placed at No. 29 on the Billboard 200 spent 72 weeks there, and was certified gold and platinum six times.

Justice For All

This album went through many obstacles. It was the first album after the death of Burton. This was a mark that stated Metallica had made their first commercial success since the album was placed at No. 6 on the Billboard 200.

The band released their album in 1988 and just a year later Metallica was nominated at the Frammyt for the album in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. It’s unfortunate that Cliff didn’t get to watch it.

The Black Album

The album ‘Metallica’ also known by the name ‘Black Album’ was released in 1990, and this might’ve been the album that changed the band completely.

Many feuds arose during the making of the album, their producer, Bob Rock wanted Metallica to work for their album including writing, so they had to delay the release by a year which cost them over $1 million.

Their hard work paid off well, it debuted as No. 1 in 10 different countries and they were officially renowned in every part of the world. To this day, Black Album is considered as their biggest work.

Furthermore, the band just started gaining more fame and became more popular as time passed. So, after looking at their short timeline, what made them famous?

How did Metallica get so popular?

It’s actually crazy when we think about the success that Metallica managed to grasp. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and they sold over 125 million albums which was more than Prince, Bob Dylan, and Britney Spears.

The band’s first five albums are ranked as ‘all-time classics’ by the world. Their fifth, ‘The Black Album’ solely managed to sell more than 30 million copies.

Suppose we’re on to talk about how Metallica got so popular. In that case, we have to thank the members, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Robert Trujillo, and vocalist-guitarist James Hetfield, and their bond with fans and bandmates.

Dennis McNally, author of “A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead” states why a bond between the fans and audience is important, If a band doesn’t stay close to its audience, it probably won’t have a very lengthy career. Metallica had a sterling example just down the street in that regard, namely the Grateful Dead,” he said.

“Lars Ulrich has acknowledged that they took some tips from the Dead in terms of trying to keep business in-house and in trusted hands,” adds Dennis.

The connection between Metallica and their fans has always remained strong even though the band was disrespected for shifting to hard rock in the early 90s and the war they had to face with Napster in the 2000s.

It was a hard phase for the group since they had to defend their image.

“There has always been the sense that they’re just like their fans, a little rough around the edges, without pretense or airs, unabashed and honest about their foibles, self-effacing and fond of airbrush art, surfing, comic books and hockey, they have always slapped a human face on being stars,” says music critic Jaan Uhelszki, who covers for Metallica since decades.

“They have done a lot to demystify fame, and to show that it might change you, but not in particularly good ways, I think most importantly, that while sometimes life knocks you down they show that it’s important to get back up. They have come back from addiction, death of a founding member, divorces and betrayals, yet are still standing tall,” he added.

Metallica has also done multiple charity works which has increased their fan base. The group also started their own charity, ‘All within My Hands.’

Metallica has always given back to the communities they’ve visited while on tour, it is something they did rather quietly since the early days, in 2017, they decided to form their foundation in order to have greater impact and encourage fan participation,” said Renee Richardson, associate director of All Within My hands.

He adds, “Feeding people was always at the core of their efforts but once formalized, the mission expanded to workforce education in the trades and disaster relief.”

Gregg Perloff, CEO of Another Planet Entertainment stated, “They’re the biggest band in the world.” He continued, A lot of bands can claim to be — and certainly, there are huge bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones.”

“But if you really think about it and know what they can do, Metallica is the biggest band in the world.  … And they are getting bigger. Think about it — after 40 years, they are getting bigger.” 

Metallica was already popular enough and they were getting more popular as time passed, thanks to their humbleness and kind behavior.

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