Lars Ulrich is the drummer and co-founder of heavy metal titans Metallica. In addition to being the drummer of one of the world’s biggest bands, he is a songwriter in his own right, and a record producer to complete the package.
Born in Denmark, he is the son and grandson respectively of tennis players Torben and Einer Ulrich. He moved to Los Angeles aged 16 to follow in his father’s footsteps and train as a professional tennis player. However, rather than doing so, he started playing the drums. This decision would change his life and the landscape of heavy metal forever. Subsequently, the young Ulrich would publish an advertisement in The Recycler, looking for people to start a band with, and a respondent would be James Hetfield, with whom he would form Metallica. The rest was history.
Ulrich has since become iconic for his aggressive thrash beats, double bass technique, the face he pulls while drumming, and yes, that snare sound on ‘St. Anger’.
Since forming in 1981, Metallica have released ten albums to widespread commercial and critical acclaim. The band’s fast tempos, instrumentals and aggressive musicianship made them one of the founding “big four” bands of thrash metal – along with Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer. Surviving various line-up changes, and the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton in 1986, Metallica have been a mainstay of the heavy metal scene, giving us monsters such as ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Master of Puppets‘ and ‘One’.
The band’s third album Master of Puppets, released in 1986, is a landmark in the thrash genre and is considered one of the heaviest and most influential metal albums. Furthermore, their fifth album Metallica (1991), saw the band garner wide mainstream attention by rooting itself in a more radio-friendly sound – it has sold over 16 million copies to date. The band’s most recent album Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, came in 2016 and shows that even in their 50s, they still have it. In fact, Ulrich even claimed this to be his favourite album.
Given that Metallica have been so consistent, paving the way for thrash, soundtracking Mission Impossible: II, collaborating with Lou Reed on 2011’s Lulu and even covering ‘Whiskey in the Jar’, it is hard for any fan to pick a favourite of theirs, let alone a band member. With this being said, Ulrich has made that break and has been kind enough to disclose his personal favourite.
When reflecting on how ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘One’ represent the band best, Ulrich revealed to GQ that the first Metallica song that comes to mind as his favourite is ‘Sad But True’. This comes as somewhat of a surprise, as the drums on this classic are not as complex as a lot of his other work. However, Ulrich explained why he loves playing the final single from Metallica: “I just love playing that song. I play it a little differently each time. I love the tempo and giving it a different interpretation every time I play it.”
Regardless of what purists may think of the drums on ‘Sad But True’, Ulrich makes his case strongly. On the contrary, it is understandable that Ulrich has a least favourite Metallica song. This unlucky number is ‘Eye of the Beholder’ from their seminal 1988 album …And Justice For All. Ulrich told Kerrang: “Wherever I hear that song, it sounds kind of like — I guess we don’t want to be super-disrespectful to it — but it sounds really forced. It sounds like you put a square peg in a round hole.”
“It sounds like it’s got two different tempos,” he continues. “There’s kind of a 4/4 feel in the intro and on the verses, and then I think the choruses are more like in a waltz tempo. It literally sounds like two different worlds rubbing up against each other. It sounds very awkward to me. I’m not a huge fan of that song.”
This somewhat harsh self-critique should come as no surprise. Metallica have always pushed boundaries and taken risks since their inception. Their latest live album S&M2 shows that they are still doing this four decades later. Ulrich maintained: “Doing projects like this makes it fun to be in Metallica.”
Adding: “There’s always a moment where you sit and wonder if it might not work, but that’s kind of part of the dare. And you can’t help yourself – you have to fuckin’ look at it and turn over those rocks and see what happens. We’re just so curious and I’m very proud of the fact that we always respect that curiosity and protect it from ourselves or talking ourselves out of it. All these things help us as musicians and makes Metallica more interesting to us and to other people also. But you never really know, but you learn to trust along the way.”
There can be no doubt that self-awareness has played a key role in ensuring Metallica’s constant success throughout the years. Ulrich has shown the band to be acutely aware of how to stay on the pulse, and how not to get too carried away with themselves, something that other musicians of their stature could learn a thing or two from: “It inspires you to keep going, it inspires you to continue to want to connect and create music,” he said. “Doing all these things – movies, S&M, whiskey, doing this, doing a collaboration with someone – this all just fuels you to stay creatively connected and inspired and just want to be in a band. All these deviations from the path forward are super fun, and it makes you come to a more traditional Metallica thing like writing and recording an album with new spunk and recharged batteries.”
Given what we know and love about Lars Ulrich, it is only fitting that his favourite song is ‘Sad But True’. The ability and willingness to mess with the rhythm and change it up each time, are a testament to his skill, something that has no doubt come from testing himself, as shown here. This embodies the nature of him and the band. Inherent to their philosophy is the desire to not get complacent. This is perfectly mirrored by his negative feelings towards ‘Eye of the Beholder’. Ulrich has shown that for something to feel right and to be a success you just have to go with it, rather than forcing it, an unusually pertinent take from one of music’s titans.