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Band History

Metallica is an American heavy metal band. The band was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles, California by drummer Lars Ulrich and vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield, and has been based in San Francisco, California for most of its career. The group’s fast tempos, instrumentals and aggressive musicianship made them one of the founding “big four” bands of thrash metal, alongside Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer. Metallica’s current lineup comprises founding members Hetfield and Ulrich, longtime lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo. Guitarist Dave Mustaine (who went on to form Megadeth) and bassists Ron McGovney, Cliff Burton and Jason Newsted are former members of the band.

Metallica earned a growing fan base in the underground music community and won critical acclaim with its first five albums. The band’s third album, Master of Puppets (1986), was described as one of the heaviest and most influential thrash metal albums; its eponymous fifth album, Metallica (1991), the band’s first to root predominantly in heavy metal, appealed to a more mainstream audience, achieving substantial commercial success and selling over 16 million copies in the United States to date, making it the best-selling album of the SoundScan era. After experimenting with different genres and directions in subsequent releases, the band returned to its thrash metal roots with the release of its ninth album, Death Magnetic (2008), which drew similar praise to that of the band’s earlier albums.

In 2000, Metallica led the case against the peer-to-peer file sharing service Napster, in which the band and several other artists filed lawsuits against the service for sharing their copyright-protected material without consent; after reaching a settlement, Napster became a pay-to-use service in 2003. Metallica was the subject of the acclaimed 2004 documentary film Some Kind of Monster, which documented the troubled production of the band’s eighth album, St. Anger (2003), and the internal struggles within the band at the time. In 2009, Metallica was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band wrote the screenplay for and starred in the 2013 IMAX concert film Metallica: Through the Never, in which the band performed live against a fictional thriller storyline.

Metallica has released ten studio albums, four live albums, a cover album, five extended plays, 37 singles and 39 music videos. The band has won nine Grammy Awards from 23 nominations, and its last six studio albums (beginning with Metallica) have consecutively debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. Metallica ranks as one of the most commercially successful bands of all time, having sold over 125 million albums worldwide as of 2018. Metallica has been listed as one of the greatest artists of all time by magazines such as Rolling Stone, which ranked them at no. 61 on its 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list. As of 2017, Metallica is the third best-selling music artist since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991, selling a total of 66 million albums in the United States.

Formation and early years

Metallica was formed in Los Angeles, California, in late 1981 when Danish-born drummer Lars Ulrich placed an advertisement in a Los Angeles newspaper, The Recycler, which read, “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden.” Guitarists James Hetfield and Hugh Tanner of Leather Charm answered the advertisement. Although he had not formed a band, Ulrich asked Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel if he could record a song for the label’s upcoming compilation album, Metal Massacre. Slagel accepted, and Ulrich recruited Hetfield to sing and play rhythm guitar. The band was officially formed on October 28, 1981, five months after Ulrich and Hetfield first met.

The bandname came from Ulrich’s friend Ron Quintana, who was brainstorming names for a fanzine and was considering MetalMania or Metallica. Dave Mustaine replied to an advert for a lead guitarist; Ulrich and Hetfield recruited him after seeing his expensive guitar equipment. In early 1982, Metallica recorded its first original song, “Hit the Lights”, for the Metal Massacre I compilation. Hetfield played bass, and Lloyd Grant was credited with a guitar solo. Metal Massacre I was released on June 14, 1982; early pressings listed the band incorrectly as “Mettallica”, angering the band. The song generated word of mouth and the band played its first live performance on March 14, 1982, at Radio City in Anaheim, California, with newly recruited bassist Ron McGovney. Their first live success came early; they were chosen to open for British heavy metal band Saxon at one gig of their 1982 US tour. This was Metallica’s second gig. Metallica recorded its first demo, Power Metal, whose name was inspired by Quintana’s early business cards in early 1982.

The term “thrash metal” was coined in February 1984 by Kerrang! journalist Malcolm Dome in reference to Anthrax’s song “Metal Thrashing Mad”. Prior to this, Hetfield referred to Metallica’s sound as “power metal”. In late 1982, Ulrich and Hetfield attended a show at the West Hollywood nightclub Whisky a Go Go, which featured bassist Cliff Burton in the band Trauma. The two were “blown away” by Burton’s use of a wah-wah pedal and asked him to join Metallica. Hetfield and Mustaine wanted McGovney to leave because they thought he “didn’t contribute anything, he just followed”. Although Burton initially declined the offer, by the end of the year, he had accepted on the condition the band move to El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area. Metallica’s first live performance with Burton was at the nightclub The Stone in March 1983, and the first recording to feature Burton was the Megaforce demo (1983).

Metallica was ready to record their debut album, but when Metal Blade was unable to cover the cost, they began looking for other options. Concert promoter Johny “Z” Zazula, who had heard the demo No Life ’til Leather (1982), offered to broker a record deal between Metallica and New York City-based record labels. After those record labels showed no interest, Zazula borrowed enough money to cover the recording budget and signed Metallica to his own label, Megaforce Records.