Over the last 40 years, Metallica have become the collective face of heavy metal, developing into more than just a genre; it’s a way of life. Ever since the release of their game-changing debut, Kill ‘Em All, James Hetfield has become the undisputed leader of the world’s biggest cult, and he once named one album in their canon as his favourite.
From the moment that they emerged on the scene with an unimaginable level of ferocious anger – one that they used to fuel their devilish sound – the band tapped into the pent up and destructive rage that exists within all of ourselves. Hetfield has a menacing demeanour that has an irresistible allure to it that has helped the band sell out stadiums everywhere they go.
For large swaths of people, Hetfield created a blueprint that every other frontman should attempt to replicate. He parades around the stage with an air of dominance and leaves no question marks over who is in charge. Hetfield might lose points when it comes to technical vocal ability, but he more than makes up for his deficiencies in other spellbinding areas.
Their debut album in 1983 hinted at Metallica becoming the band they are today, and there’s innate raw energy to the record, which is mainly down to a lack of experience. While that carnivorous energy plays into its charm, for Hetfield, that album was just the start, and he knew he could do better. Furthermore, by the time the album rolled around, those songs belonged to a different Hetfield than the one who stood there on release day.
They didn’t waste time reuniting in the studio, and a year later, Metallica released Ride The Lightning, which Hetfield views as their magnum opus. “I like Ride The Lightning a lot because I think that was the first time we got to be part of it,” he told Newsweek in 2018. “Kill ‘Em All, obviously, we recorded and wrote all the songs for it, and they were basically songs from the first couple of years we had been playing in the clubs.”
Adding: “So we just went in and recorded them, but we weren’t allowed to be in there for the mix or anything. With Ride The Lightning, there was no manager telling us ‘Stay away from the studio’, we were really integrated into it, and we were able to help with the sounds, help with the ideas and all that stuff.”
When Hetfield got into the studio to record Ride The Lightning, he had fire swirling around his belly, experience as an artist, and Metallica felt comfortable enough to test the boundaries. They were brave, confident, and had unquestionably levelled up since their debut. More importantly, the album proved to be the moment people stood up and noticed that Metallica were not to be understated.