I have written often over the years about Metallica, and how much their music has meant to me over the years. Since I first heard them in the mid-Eighties, they sat untouched at the top of my music must have list and remained unchallenged for more than a decade. Their early music was the ultimate hybrid of devastating power and intricate melody…joined with a clear but powerful voice. I truly feel nobody else was as good as they were in their peak. It’s possible nobody else will ever be as good either…
But sadly all good things must come to an end, and Metallica struggled, and didn’t really thrill me with Load, and hardly did it for me at all with Reload. Then came what almost amounted to a comeback album, ST. ANGER which I sort of falsely praised in a failed attempt to fool myself that Metallica was back in a big way and were still the best ever. Well, they’re not, and the long and tumultuous story behind the making of St. Anger is well documented in the eerily intrusive film, Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster.
This documentary by acclaimed filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky captures the long roller coaster ride from right after the time that Jason Newsted, the bassist who replaced the late Cliff Burton back in 1986, quits Metallica, through the recording sessions for what eventually became St. Anger, which of course includes an almost year long unscheduled break while lead singer / guitarist James Hetfield went into rehab for alcohol and other undisclosed vices. The film, which has been out in limited release for about a month already as I write this, has been hailed by many critics as being a wonderful film, and one that can be appreciated even if you’re not a fan of the music or if you even know the music.
And I’m here to say that that is bullshit.
I liked this documentary, but if I didn’t know this band, and their history, I wouldn’t care it all. It would be like watching complete strangers in a therapy session, because that’s what most of Monster is, the three remaining members of Metallica: Hetfield, the ubiquitous drummer Lars Ulrich, and the Zen-Buddhist like lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, along with long time producer (and fill in bass player) Bob Rock in group therapy with Phil, a therapist / performance coach. It is compelling to a point, but even a long time fan like me felt that it dragged on quite a bit. James Hetfield comes a cross as a bit of a control freak turned victim, and that was quite disconcerting to me because for years he was my true musicalICON. I’ve always liked his voice and his authoritative command of the driving guitar riffs that drove Metallica’s music. Lars Ulrich has always rubbed me the wrong way, but there’s no denying he’s a powerful drummer. Still, seeing his antics kind of annoyed me…BUT, there is one scene where he sort of puts Hetfield in his place, and that was pretty powerful. Hammett comes out as the good guy here. The quiet guy that pretty much goes along with the status quo, and is pretty happy to do so. Unfortunately the one time he does vocalize his frustration, it’s pretty much skimmed over in the film…St. Anger is the first (and only, so far) Metallica CD with no guitar solos at all, and to a lead guitarist that should be a big deal, but I think it got less than five minutes onscreen.
Also not getting much screen time was the audition process for a new bassist towards the very end of the recording sessions. Many tried out, including some I’ve heard of like the former Twiggy Ramirez, late of Marilyn Manson’s band and Pepper Keenan of Corrosion Of Conformity. Also auditioning was one Robert Trujillo, who’s played with Ozzy and Suicidal Tendencies. He eventually got the gig, onscreen, and I kinda feel for him to be so quickly and harshly dragged into the limelight. But he definitely came across as humble and ecstatic to be invited to join the band.
The filmmakers were given a scary amount of leeway here, and if I feel this film drags a bit, I could only imagine what a true “Director’s Cut” of this Monster could be like, being that they basically filmed for the better part of two (or is three???) years. I also don’t like the fact that they show a bitter meeting between Ulrich and Dave Mustaine, the founder of Megadeth and original Metallica lead guitarist who still seems to be holding a grudge 20 years later. I’ve read comments from Mustaine on his website where he makes it clear that much more stuff was filmed, but that what ended up on screen just makes him look like a whiny little bitch…and I believe it.
But what really makes this movie kind of disappointing to me is the fact that we see all the struggle that came with the creation of St. Anger the CD, and while I sit here listening to same CD as inspiration, I can’t help but feel that sadly, maybe it just wasn’t worth it.