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Credit: Ralph Averson

Music

Watch Metallica's bassist Robert Trujillo play flamenco

Metallica were never as sexy as Megadeth, never as uncompromising as Pantera, or as ridiculously entertaining as Van Halen. In terms of metal fodder, Metallica were the safest bet, the type you might introduce your grandmother to if she was the type of grandparent who was interested in listening to music beneath her years.

But wait…It’s not necessarily a bad thing that Metallica were more accessible than Pantera, or more refined than Van Halen. And they were certainly better at songwriting than Dave Mustaine was, who has been guilty of recycling the same tune over and over the last 40 years. They avoided the AC/DC trap of pandering to one fanbase by broadening their horizons to incorporate genres as left field as country and jazz. If my grandmother wanted to listen to Metallica, I would be very happy to join her!

And so it came to pass that bassist Robert Trujillo joined flamenco-progenitors Rodrigo y Gabriela onstage in 2014. He sat in with them for a medley that included ‘Orion,’ ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls,’ ‘The Frayed Ends of Sanity,’ and ‘Battery,’ rockers played at break-neck speed on acoustic guitars.

Metallica’s most popular number is in fact an acoustic ballad, which disappointed hard-core fans when it was unveiled in 1991. But ‘Nothing Else Matters’ opened the band up to a broader fan base, who could then return to the earlier material if they wished to. Vocalist James Hetfield had his concerns over the track: “At first I didn’t even want to play it for the guys. I thought that Metallica could only be the four of us. These are songs about destroying things, head banging, bleeding for the crowd, whatever it is, as long as it wasn’t about chicks and fast cars, even though that’s what we liked. The song was about a girlfriend at the time. It turned out to be a pretty big song.”

Naturally, it showed the breadth of their horizons, which is why Trujillo’s guest spot at a Rodrigo y Gabriela show is less surprising than if, say, Dave Mustaine popped up at one. Rodrigo y Gabriela certainly does justice to the material, plunging into the shifting tempos, with only an electric bass for support.

Trujillo, arguably Metallica’s most accomplished bassist, has the experience to back up his credentials as a chameleonic bassist. He toured with rock favourite Ozzy Osbourne, before shifting gears into grunge with Jerry Cantrell. And then he joined Metallica at a time when they were eager to cast off the shackles of heavy metal in order to throw themselves into more alien genres. Besides Hetfield, the band holds another mainstay in drummer Lars Ulrich. In a strange twist of fate, Dave Mustaine played lead guitar for Metallica, before he was unceremoniously replaced by Kirk Hammett. Mustaine was not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, because he never actually played on a Metallica album.

“With these guys when they’re really gelling you’ve got to let them go with it and that’s where a lot of the magic comes from,” the bassist admits.”Spontaneity is key in this band. James plugs in his guitar and flicks the tone knob and in five seconds he’s playing a riff so Lars is always like, ‘We’ve got to capture every moment we can.’”

Inspired by jazz fusion bassist Jaco Pastorius, Trujillo brought groove to the band and unlike the more pedestrian Jason Newsted, he wasn’t afraid to bend with the formula and put his own spin on classic Metallica work. He acquits himself quite nicely into the realm of flamenco, where balance and discipline are as important as the notes he presses.

Backstage footage has shown how well Trujillo can play flamenco guitar, leading Hetfield to label it “flamingo”. Trujillo is not tied down to Metallica either, and he recently contributed to Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album.

“There’s a bunch of people involved,” producer Andrew Watt told a magazine. “I can’t say for sure until the end, but I started doing a bunch of basic tracks with Chad and Robert Trujillo, who used to play in Ozzy’s band. And Taylor Hawkins [FOO FIGHTERS] also came in and played a bunch on the record as well, which adds a different flair — it kind of harkened back to Ozzy’s ’80s era, in a great way. And I think it’s so cool for a rock fan to be able to listen to half an album with Chad Smith on drums, and then you flip it over and you get to hear Taylor Hawkins. And you know, the last album was really special for everyone involved. And so there was no point in Ozzy or me doing this again unless we thought we could bring something new to the table. And I feel like we’re achieving that.”

Stream the live flamenco medley below.