Metallica were easily the best, most influential heavy metal band of the ’80s and ’90s. Responsible for bringing the genre back to Earth, the bandmates looked and talked like they were from the street, shunning the usual rock star games of metal musicians during the mid-’80s pop-metal renaissance. Metallica also expanded the limits of thrash, using speed and volume not for their own sake, but to enhance their intricately structured compositions. The release of 1983’s Kill ‘Em All marked the beginning of the legitimization of heavy metal’s underground, bringing new complexity and depth to thrash metal. With each album, the band’s playing and writing improved; James Hetfield developed a signature rhythm playing that matched his growl, while lead guitarist Kirk Hammett became one of the most copied guitarists in metal. To complete the package, Lars Ulrich’s thunderous (yet complex) drumming clicked in perfectly with Cliff Burton’s innovative bass playing.
After releasing their masterpiece Master of Puppets in 1986, tragedy struck the band when their tour bus crashed while traveling in Sweden. Burton died in the accident. When the band decided to continue, Jason Newsted was chosen to replace Burton; two years later, the band released the conceptually ambitious …And Justice for All, which hit the Top Ten without any radio play and very little support from MTV. But Metallica completely crossed over into the mainstream with 1991’s Metallica, a self-titled effort that found the band trading in its long compositions for more concise song structures. Peppered with hits like “Wherever I May Roam” and “Enter Sandman,” it resulted in a number one album that sold over seven million copies in the U.S. alone. To support the record, Metallica launched a long tour that kept the musicians on the road for nearly two years.
By the ’90s, Metallica had changed the rules for all heavy metal bands; they were the leaders of the genre, respected not only by headbangers, but by mainstream record buyers and critics. No other heavy metal band has ever been able to pull off such a feat. However, the group lost a portion of its core audience with its long-awaited follow-up to Metallica, 1996’s Load. The album moved the band toward alternative rock in terms of image — the bandmembers cut their hair and had their picture taken by Anton Corbijn. Although the album was a hit upon its summer release, entering the charts at number one and selling three million copies within two months, certain members of the Metallica fan base complained about the shift in image, as well as the group’s decision to headline the sixth Lollapalooza. Re-Load, which combined new material with songs left off the original Load record, appeared in 1997; despite poor reviews, it sold at a typically brisk pace and spun off several successful singles, including “Fuel” and “The Memory Remains.” Garage Inc., a double-disc collection of B-sides, rarities, and newly recorded covers, followed in 1998. Metallica’s take on Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” helped maintain their presence in the charts, and the band continued its flood of product with 1999’s S&M, which documented a live concert with the San Francisco Symphony. It debuted at number two, reconfirming the group’s immense popularity,