American heavy metal group Metallica was formed. The band, which has spent the majority of its career in San Francisco, was founded in Los Angeles in 1981 by drummer Lars Ulrich and singer and guitarist James Hetfield. Together with Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer, the band formed one of the original “big four” bands of thrash metal with their fast tempos, instrumentals, and aggressive musicianship. The current lineup of Metallica consists of bassist Robert Trujillo, longtime lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, and founding members and principal songwriters Hetfield and Ulrich. Former members of the band include bassists Ron McGovney, Cliff Burton, and Jason Newsted; guitarist Dave Mustaine founded Megadeth after being fired from Metallica.
With the release of Master of Puppets (1986), the band’s third album, which is regarded as one of the heaviest metal albums and their best work, Metallica first experienced commercial success. With 1988’s…And Justice for All, the group’s follow-up album, Metallica received its first Grammy Award nomination. With the release of Metallica (1991), the band broke away from their thrash roots and entered a more mainstream market. The album achieved significant commercial success, selling over 16 million copies in the US to date, making it the best-selling album of the SoundScan era. With their ninth album, Death Magnetic (2008), Metallica returned to their thrash metal roots after experimenting with different genres and directions in later releases. The album received similar praise to that of the band’s previous albums. In 2023, 72 Seasons, the band’s eleventh and most recent album, was released.
Eleven studio albums, four live albums, two extended plays, one cover album, twelve video albums, thirty-seven singles, and thirty-nine music videos have all been released by Metallica. They have also performed with the San Francisco Symphony twice. The group debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 for six consecutive studio albums (from Metallica through Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016)), and they have won nine Grammy Awards out of twenty-three nominations. With over 125 million albums sold globally as of 2018, Metallica is among the most commercially successful bands of all time. Numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, which placed the band in 61st place on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time, have named Metallica as one of the greatest artists of all time. With 58 million albums sold in the US as of 2017, Metallica is the third-best-selling musician since Nielsen SoundScan started recording sales in 1991.
Hard rock, thrash metal, speed metal, and heavy metal have all been used to characterize Metallica’s sound. Early hard rock and heavy metal acts and bands like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Rush, Aerosmith, and Aerosmith, as well as European bands like Scorpions, Accept, and Mercyful Fate, as well as new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) bands Raven, Venom, Motörhead, Saxon, Diamond Head, Blitzkrieg, and Iron Maiden, all had an impact on Metallica. Hardcore punk acts Discharge, GBH, and Suicidal Tendencies, as well as post-punk band Killing Joke and early punk rock bands Ramones, Sex Pistols, and the Misfits, also had an influence on Metallica’s style. According to Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s greatest career influence was most likely Iron Maiden. Early releases from the band featured nine-minute instrumental tracks, fast tempos, and harmonized leads. “Extended, progressive epics; tight, concise groove-rockers” were among the songs on Ride the Lightning, according to Steve Huey of AllMusic. Additionally, he said that in later releases, Metallica took on a more aggressive approach to composition and expression, and that the band’s lyrics addressed both socially and personally relevant topics. The show Master of Puppets examined a variety of themes, including drugs, fury, insanity, monsters, and religious and military leaders.
Huey claimed in 1991 that Metallica had streamlined and simplified their music for a more commercial approach in an effort to appeal to a wider audience after hiring Bob Rock as a new producer. According to Rolling Stone’s Robert Palmer, the band eschewed its fast, aggressive tempos in order to broaden the scope of its expressive repertoire. The band’s first album to peak at number one on the Billboard 200, Metallica, was a commercial success indicating that the direction change was worthwhile. Metallica observed shifts in the rock landscape brought about by the early 1990s grunge movement. With their album Load, which has been called “an almost alternative rock” record, the band once more shifted their focus from metal to non-metal influences. With their new lyrical direction, Metallica abandoned drugs and monsters in favor of themes of rage, grief, and revenge. This move, which included hairstyles, the cover art for Load, and playing the main act at the Lollapalooza festival in 1996, did not sit well with some fans and critics. Rolling Stone’s David Fricke hailed the move as a “goodbye to the moldy stricture and dead-end Puritanism of no-frills thrash” and referred to Load as the heaviest record of 1996. The band showed influences from early hard rock and the blues with the 1997 release of ReLoad, adding more rhythm and harmony to their song structures.
St. Anger signaled yet another significant shift in the band’s sound. The lack of guitar solos on the album resulted in a “raw and unpolished sound”. The group was tuning in drop C; Ulrich’s snare drum was criticized in particular. Ethan Brown of New York Magazine stated that it “reverberates with a thwong”. The album’s lyrics, which discuss Hetfield’s drug recovery, make reference to the devil, anti-drug sentiments, claustrophobia, impending catastrophe, and hypocrisy in religion. For their ninth studio album, Death Magnetic, the band went back to standard tuning and guitar solos, per producer Rick Rubin’s recommendation. Death Magnetic was a riff-focused album with powerful guitar solos and subdued lyrics about redemption and suicide that represented a return to Metallica’s thrash roots.
Along with Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth, Metallica is considered one of the “big four” of thrash metal and has grown to become one of the most influential heavy metal bands of all time. With over 125 million records sold globally, including 66 million certified by the RIAA and 58 million reported by Nielsen SoundScan in the US, Metallica stands as one of the all-time greatest bands in terms of record sales. Heavy metal was given “a much-needed charge” by Metallica, according to the authors of The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine and Greg Prato described Metallica as a band that “easily the best, most influential heavy metal band of the ’80s, responsible for bringing the music back to Earth” and that the group “expanded the limits of thrash, using speed and volume not for their own sake, but to enhance their intricately structured compositions”.
Korn’s Jonathan Davis stated that Metallica is his favorite band and that he admires the way the band has persevered over the years, done things their own way, and remained relevant. They rank among the best bands of all time, in my opinion.” Metallica has had the greatest influence on Godsmack, according to drummer Shannon Larkin, who said, “They really changed my life when I was 16 years old—I’d never heard anything that heavy”. In addition, Chuck Billy of Testament has described Hetfield as “an inspiration with clever lyrics” and Metallica as an influence on the group. He also said that “when I first started hearing Metallica it was something new to me the way his cadence of vocal styles sang to the music.” Machine Head’s guitarist and vocalist Robb Flynn stated, “What we mean is an album that has the power, influence and epic grandeur of that album Master of Puppets—and the staying power—a timeless record like that,” while recording the band’s 2007 album The Blackening. According to lead guitarist Christian Andreu of Gojira, “we find on the album ‘Fade to Black’, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, emblematic pieces” that he first began writing music while listening to Ride the Lightning. The guitarists for Trivium, Corey Beaulieu and Matt Heafy, stated that they were inspired to pick up a guitar after hearing Metallica. The band’s greatest moment, according to M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold, was touring with Metallica. He added, “Meeting your idols Metallica will never compare to selling tons of records and playing huge shows.” God Forbid, the band’s bassist John Outcalt thinks highly of Burton as a “rocker,” and guitarists Doc and Dallas Coyle were raised on Metallica. Dave Chavarri, the drummer for Ill Niño, stated that he thinks the early Metallica records are “heavy, raw, rebellious.” It said, “fuck you,” and Kris Kohls, the drummer for Adema, said Metallica is an influence on the group.
Metallica was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 4, 2009. In their second year of eligibility and their first year of nomination, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Along with current members James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo, and Lars Ulrich, the group also inducted former members Jason Newsted and Cliff Burton into the Hall of Fame.
Metallica is the third-ranked “Greatest Heavy Metal Band in History” according to MTV. Metallica was number one on VH1’s “20 Greatest Metal Bands” list, fifth on VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock” list, and 42nd on VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list. The band was ranked 61st by Rolling Stone in their list of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time”; on the magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Master of Puppets and Metallica came in at numbers 167 and 252, respectively. Master of Puppets was listed as one of the “50 Heaviest Albums of All Time” by Q Magazine. It also held the top spot on lists of the “Top 25 Metal Albums” by IGN, the “Top 100 Heavy Metal Albums” by Metal-rules.com, and many other lists. “Enter Sandman” was placed 399th out of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” by Rolling Stone.
In honor of Master of Puppets’ 20th anniversary, Kerrang! released a tribute album called Master of Puppets: Remastered along with the April 8, 2006, issue of the magazine. Machine Head, Bullet for My Valentine, Chimaira, Mastodon, Mendeed, and Trivium—all of whom are influenced by Metallica—all had cover versions of Metallica songs on the album. There have been at least fifteen Metallica tribute albums released. Metallica made a cameo appearance in “The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer,” the 18th season premiere of The Simpsons, on September 10, 2006. The animated television series Metalocalypse featured three episodes featuring the voices of Hammett and Hetfield. Eight Metallica songs are performed on cellos on the Plays Metallica by Four Cellos tribute album, which was released by the Finnish cello metal band Apocalyptica. Metallica and The Beatles songs are combined in the music of a parody band called Beatallica. When Sony, the company that owns The Beatles’ catalog, issued a cease and desist order, claiming “substantial and irreparable injury” and requiring the band to pay damages, Beatallica was put in legal hot water. Ulrich, a Beatallica fan, asked Peter Paterno, the attorney for Metallica, to mediate the dispute.
Metallica was inducted into the San Francisco Walk of Fame on March 7, 1999. “Official Metallica Day” was declared by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. In 2003, the band received the MTV Icon award, and a concert honoring the band featured musicians playing its songs. A medley of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Enter Sandman,” and “Master of Puppets” was performed, along with Sum 41. Korn played “One,” Limp Bizkit performed “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg performed “Sad but True,” Avril Lavigne performed “Fuel,” and Staind covered “Nothing Else Matters.”
A number of Metallica songs were featured in the Guitar Hero video game series. Guitar Hero III made use of “One”. Later on, the album Death Magnetic became available as downloadable, buyable content for the game. The song “Trapped Under Ice” was included in the Guitar Hero World Tour sequel. Metallica and the game developers worked together in 2009 to create Guitar Hero: Metallica, which featured several of Metallica’s songs. “Enter Sandman” and “Battery” were included in Harmonix’s video game series Rock Band; “Ride the Lightning,” “Blackened,” and “…And Justice for All” were made available for download. In 2013, “Ride the Lightning,” “Blackened,” and “…And Justice for All” were taken down from the download list due to expiring content licenses.
A cover version of “Nothing Else Matters” featuring Elton John on piano, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma was recorded, Miley Cyrus announced on January 7, 2021, following her announcement in October 2020 that she was recording a Metallica covers album. Andrew Watt produced the song.