In the beginning, it was meant to be a promotional video, but by the end, it had become much more.
When Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, creators of Paradise Lost and Brother's Keeper, began filming Metallica in 2001, they had no idea what they were in for: a tumultuous two-year period of paradigm change, beginning with the loss of Jason Newsted, the band's bassist of 15 years, who left Metallica to form the band Echobrain. His defection left its remaining members, Jason Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, and Kirk Hammett, in an emotional quandary in the midst of production on their next album.
The result: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, a full-length documentary culled from thousands of hours of footage from 2001 to 2003 which intimately captures the trials and tribulations of Metallica and deconstructs the overwhelming façade of a band long-hailed for its influential music and rock-hard mentality.
"As we were shooting, we had no idea it would become a full-length documentary - it kind of just ended up that way," 41-year-old guitarist Kirk Hammett said in retrospect. "I think that's why it's so intimate, and it has so much honesty. We had no idea it was heading in the direction it was heading, so we were just very casual with it."
At the suggestion of their management, Metallica sought the aide of performance enhancement coach Phil Towle, who encouraged the group to confront their issues with each other and themselves during group therapy sessions. The band battled with the idea that after 22 years of working together, the same men they had worked with and performed with were strangers - therapy involved learning about each other. 40-year-old lead singer James Hetfield in particular, experienced an epiphany. Hetfield, who in the past battled a deep-rooted problem with alcohol, made the decision to enter rehab.
The cameras, which captured every waking moment of the band, did not follow Hetfield during this period.
"Maybe I couldn't recover with the cameras around," says Hetfield. "I had to unplug from the band, I had to unplug from my family - everything. It was difficult for me. In the past, I used the excuse of my celebrity to not get the help I needed. I thought, 'I don't need to check in somewhere. I just need go to therapy for a couple more years or so.' My wife was really strong about that [rehab]. She pushed me. I probably did it for her and my kids, but eventually ended up doing it for myself."
When asked about the actual experience, a much-mellowed Hetfield grins.
"They stripped me down. They took the tapes in my head, erased them, got some new ones recorded on them. I see how it was difficult it was for the guys, not knowing what was going on in there. It might've seemed selfish, but for it to happen, that's what had to happen. I had to really do this for me."
Hetfield's departure was difficult for his band mates, especially for 40-year-old drummer Lars Ulrich.
"Where I come from - the values and the upbringing in Denmark -- it's about being respectful to other people," remarks Ulrich. "James, it's fine that you're away. It's fine if you're doing your thing, just let us know what the f*ck. just let us know what you're thinking. I didn't have a conversation with him for four months. That's kind of difficult for a guy like me. It was just so weird. He literally showed up one day at the studio, just walked into the room just like I did, sat us down for five minutes, said, 'I'm going away to rehab. I'll be back in five weeks.' And then he walked back out the door. It was just a little odd."
With two members left, it not only seemed the future of their unfinished album was in question, but the future of the band as well. Hammett and Ulrich were sent further down a spiral of emotional confusion and disarray. Was Metallica - arguably the most successful heavy metal band of all time -- finished?
"We realized after there were problems with James and our whole future was in jeopardy, that at the very least, we would have a film about the demise of Metallica," Hammett says. "If anything, we'd have a great film about us breaking up, but I guess at that point, the Napster stuff was in there, the post-Jason stuff was in there, the point up to James leaving for rehab was there - that stuff goes a little bit deeper than your average TV reality show, which is what the record company wanted to turn it into. We kind of realized that this had a little more substance. We just had to trust Joe and Bruce and see where it all went."
Hetfield's return to the fold was far from easy. Metallica had to accommodate the rather restrictive demand that accompanied his rehabilitation process -- no work after 4 p.m. - leading to a tense moment caught on film among the band members when Hetfield discovers the band has been listening to rough cuts without him.
Despite these setbacks, Metallica set to work on completing what would become St. Anger, a number one album that polarized both critics and fans. Some hailed it as a return to classic Metallica pre-Black Album, or as critic Jibran Mirza of Erudition Online called it, a "return to the gory, gothic, almost scary but classical Master of Puppets sound." Others cried wolf, declaring it a complete departure from the Metallica sound fans were familiar with.
But regardless of criticism, Metallica is satisfied with the final product. Even more importantly, Metallica is satisfied with where they are as a band now, including the recent addition of bassist Robert Trujillo in 2003. Trujillo, once part of the metal band Suicidal Tendencies, exuded a skill and passion during auditions Metallica hadn't seen since the days of Cliff Burton, the beloved bassist who died in a bus accident in 1986.
"We loved him [Robert] right off the bat," Hammett says. "His personality fit with our personalities and he's just very, very dependable on a musical level."
In seeing Some Kind of Monster, Hetfield, Ulrich, and Hammett agree it's a very truthful, if at times painful, portrayal of a dark period for the band.
"This movie is a very truthful depiction of who we are," Hammett comments. "I don't think you can dispute that. It's who we truly are. I just really feel that if anyone has a problem with that, then they're just chasing some mythology or some fantasy of who they want us to be."
"I think this film shows us in another extreme," Hetfield agrees. "People know us as the crazy rock idols and this is like the broken-down, struggling humans - and somewhere in the middle is us. And in the touring - you know, we're not sitting around a table every morning saying, 'how are you feeling?' - that would drive anyone insane! But it's good to check in with each other. We never did that before."
Knowing what they do now, seeing it on the big screen, does Metallica have any regrets? Ulrich casually laughs and shrugs.
"If I could do it all over again, I probably still would have leapt, but I would have maybe taken a parachute with me or something, you know what I mean?
- J.P. Mangalindan
Dont't forget to also check out: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster