"Metallica loves to be hated," James Hetfield told Playboy in a 2001 interview. The group's detractors would argue that over the years, Hetfield and the boys have done a more than capable job of cultivating that hate.
There are young music fans, born around the mid-1990s, who only know a world where many people have become disgusted with Metallica. The feeling has become so ubiquitous that I wonder if one day standard registration forms will include a section akin to the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale in which applicants will be asked to select the facial expression that best describes their hatred for Metallica. I like to think that if hate for Metallica could be captured by some sort of voltaic cell, transferred to a semi-conductor, and then drawn off for external use, we could completely eliminate our country's dependence on foreign oil. As the band celebrates its 30th Anniversary this week, help us count down the band's top five most hate-inducing actions over the years.
5. Turning the bass down on ...And Justice for All
Poor Jason Newsted. Stepping in for deceased bassist Cliff Burton, the dude just wanted to be an integral part of the Metallica team. And all he got was shit: tricked into eating wasabi, forced to solo it during cab rides, victimized during autograph sessions. ("We'd have him go first so he'd write his name," explained Hetfield, "and in the beginning he'd write 'Jason, bass face.' That was his thing, and then as it got down to me I'd scratch the 'B' off so it would look like 'ass face.'") This was locker-room hazing at its most abusive and creative; all that was absent was the classic pee-in-the-shampoo-bottle stunt.
The most nefarious transgression may have been Newsted's bass going "poof" on the final mix for ... And Justice For All. In the December 2008 issue of Decibel, Kirk Hammett offered an alibi: "The bass frequencies in Jason's kinda tone interfered with the tone that James was trying to shoot for with his rhythm guitar sound, and every time the two blended together, it just wasn't happening. So the only thing left to do was turn the bass down in the mix." Newsted believed it was more about band members unfairly directing their anger and resentment over Burton's death toward him. Whatever the case, the phantom bass was just a precursor to an assortment of questionable studio decisions that cheesed off fans, from Ulrich's turned-off snare drum on St. Anger to the punchless, earbud-ready production of Death Magnetic.
4. Becoming more image conscious
The members of Metallica chopping off their hair wasn't the egregious sin everyone portrayed it to be. As any long-hair will tell you, caring for lengthy, loose locks is a total bitch, what with all them spray-on conditioners and detanglers and moisturizing masks.
No, the real offense was when the band added catwalk touches and flair to its overall look. The video for 1996's "Until it Sleeps" was the first clear indication that Metallica had added a stylist to its payroll, that dressing trendy, smelling nice, and keeping facial hair nattily trimmed were now top-level priorities. In the video, a well-coiffed Ulrich sports eyeliner, flaunts a pierced nipple, and poses with a feather boa. Airbrushed and gleaming, Hammett and Hetfield sport labret studs and choker necklaces. The guys look ready for a Vogue advertising insert, not a night of seeking and destroying.