They promised they’d return to the UAE, and they stuck to their word. Metallica are jetting back to the capital for their eagerly awaited second show in the Gulf, following their sold-out gig at du Arena, Abu Dhabi, in 2011.
Two years on, the American foursome, comprising frontman James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, drummer Lars Ulrich and bassist Rob Trujillo, have a better understanding of what to expect from Middle Eastern fans.
Hammett tells tabloid!: “I had no idea [how important the show was]. But once we got to Abu Dhabi, we realised that we were playing to a fan base that was untapped — there were people from Lebanon, people there from Iraq, people from Iran… from all over the Middle East. Places we never expected we’d go to — ever.
“It was important for us to bring our music to these people who have probably waited all their lives for us to come. We were quick to jump on the opportunity to come again, and bring the music back here.”
San Francisco-born Hammett, 50, really needs no introduction. Having been part of Metallica since 1983, his solos are some of the most recognised in music. He has repeatedly been named one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
Speaking of his first time in the region, he reveals that he just did what any visitor would do.
“I was a total tourist. We had a couple of days off, and we spent it doing pretty cool things, including going to the desert and riding a camel. I didn’t get the chance to see as much of the city as I wanted to, but I am really hoping to do so when we’re back. I was very impressed by it though,” he says.
Metallica is one of those groups that have stood the test of time. They’ve had their fair share of ups and downs since 1981 — medical emergencies, band member departures, and stints in rehab to name a few — but experience has taught them to make time for themselves.
Referring to their first show for 2013 in February in Brisbane, Hammett says: “It was great to be back. I really enjoy playing live shows; anyone that asks me what the best aspect of being a musician is, I tell them it’s playing live. It is enormously satisfying writing songs, and not so fun for me in the studio, because I am bit ADD. But playing live is where I thrive.
“I get the most satisfaction playing in front of the audience; really locking in with the power and energy of the band. Looking back at one of the last shows we played in 2012, I wasn’t in a really good head space, and I don’t think I delivered the type of show that I wanted to deliver — but I wanted to prove to myself that I still had it in me in 2013. So I put 120 per cent into the performance, and it was a great. I had a great time and the Brisbane audience was fantastic.”
“It is always good to have a few months off and recharge the batteries and spend time with the family and re-prioritise,” he continues. “In my time off, I took a few steps away from the band and from my career and just thought about my priorities. It’s important for me to do that from time to time, as I have been guilty of not doing that in the past.
“For us to do the things we set out to do, it’s important that we find a balance, so that we do not feel strained or out of balance. It’s really important to re-charge that energy, and recharge that fulfilment factor.”
And that’s probably the key to Metallica’s longevity in the business. That, and the strong relationship between all four members. While other legendary groups have crashed and burned, they have been able to continue recording and remain highly relevant, not to mention influential, in a flailing industry.
“With us, chemistry is everything,” Hammett explains. “And there’s certain chemistry in the band that allows us to function, at a certain frequency. That frequency is a lot more unique than the frequency a lot of other bands have.
“We’re very lucky that we’re in a position where we have complete creative control over all of the things that come in and go out of Metallica. It’s a very, very special sort of thing in that other bands do not have what we have. There’s a chemistry that allows us to focus on everything as a group; all four of us are expected to input.”
Cementing the fact that they’ve been so adamant on taking complete control of their projects was when Metallica left Warner Bros. Records last November to launch their own independent label, Blackened Recordings. They even went as far to acquire the rights to their entire past studio albums, which will be reissued through Blackened.
Asked whether he is happy with the move, Hammett responds: “We’re only about two or three months into it, but so far so good. Ask me in a year and we might have a different opinion. But so far it’s been okay.”
While this launch may indicate that the band will release new material soon, fans are going to have to wait a little longer for the follow up to 2008’s Death Magnetic. If recent US reports are to go by, Metallica won’t be releasing a new album until 2014.
“That’s what we’re hoping would happen,” Hammett responds when we ask about the release year. “Whether that’s a reality, we’ll see. We’re recording stuff here and there, but it’s a pretty slow process.”
Perhaps taking up the majority of their time at the moment is not only preparations for upcoming shows, but also work on their very first cinema release — a full-length 3D movie. Directed by Nimrod Antal, the film will feature the band’s live show in Vancouver, Canada, and is scheduled to go on general release this summer. There is no word yet as to whether it will make it to UAE cinemas.
“That’s kind of taking precedent over anything else at the moment. We want to make sure that this movie gets our full attention and it turns out the way we want it to turn out,” Hammett says.
So why in 3D?
“There’s going to be a point when most movies are going to be released in 3D. The genre is just beginning, and we feel that it’s going to be the future. There’s very little behind-the-scenes footage, and there are no interviews with the band. It’s a concert performance and there’s a story narrative that weaves in and out with the footage. It’s interconnected in a way. It’s very unique in that you don’t have duality in it — it’s intertwined that it becomes one entity. We’re very excited about it, because we feel nothing like it has been done before.”
Asking about how he feels seeing himself in 3D, the guitarist laughs.
“From the footage we’ve seen, it looks pretty amazing. It is a trip seeing yourself in 3D that’s for sure! Actually, it’s a trip seeing yourself on a 25-feet cinema screen to begin with. The 3D aspect makes it all that much intense.”
“Making a movie is such a different journey to making an album,” he adds. “With the movie there are a lot more cooks in the kitchen so to speak. With the music, you can just let in the cooks, close the door, and no one else can come in. With the movie, you cannot lock that door. It’s a revolving door; there are people coming in and people going out. So we’re adjusting to that.”
The yet-to-be-titled movie will no doubt be another successful project in Metallica’s books. While it’s no secret that music sales have declined over the past decade, Hetfield, Hammett and co. have been able to stay on top of their business game with a number of other ventures including a big money maker: official merchandise.
This month, it was announced that they are set to release their own pinball machine, which will feature classic tracks, such as Creeping Death, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Master Of Puppets. As for fashion, not only does Metallica have a huge collection of T-shirts, hoodies, baseball shirts and even underwear for sale on their official website, the guys recently teamed up with skate shoemaker Vans to release four limited edition sneakers and slip-ons, inspired by debut album, Kill ‘em All.
“I’ve been a big fan of Vans for a long time, so when they came to us to see if we were interested in collaborating, it was a very obvious, unanimous ‘Hell yeah!’,” Hammett reveals. “I am very happy with my own shoe, because for the longest time I complained that Vans never made an all-black shoe; they only had ones with white lines on it. My shoe is completely black, and it looks good.
“Doing that [Vans promo] video with Nathan Fletcher was pretty special for me too, because it is no secret that I am very passionate about surfing. So to be able to hang out with Nathan, who is an exceptional surfer, and talk about music and surfing was a great experience for me.”
And over the years, are there any pieces of merchandise he’d rather forget they released?
“Not really,” he laughs. “I do have a lot of memorable ones though, like the Metallica Monopoly board.”
Obviously, music remains the group’s number one priority. And coming to a region where there was no official music distribution in the 80s and 90s, Hammett is aware that a lot of Middle Eastern fans struggled to get their hands on Metallica’s music.
“It’s important for people to get to the music; whether people pay for the music, or they hear music free on the radio or whatever, it’s important to hear our music and hear our art,” he says, his tone sounding more serious. “We’re obviously not pleased with a lot of piracy that goes on, because it directly affects us as artists and as musicians. And people would argue with us on that point until the cows come home, but at the end of the day, we are the ones that are directly affected by it.
“No one has the right to tell us that it doesn’t affect us. But at the end of the day, it’s important for people to listen to our music and experience our art. If they find out that they like what they do, then they’ll come see us or spread the word of the Metallica.”
And they have. With one sold-out show in the UAE, and another that’s on its way, fans have a great evening to look forward to, he says.
“Expect two hours of high-energy, heavy metal music, courtesy of your favourite heavy metal band,” he smiles. “It should be good. We’re going to play a different set list, and hopefully with a different production. You’re going to get a Metallica that’s two years older and wiser.
“We’re all very psyched to be coming back. Abu Dhabi is something that we’re looking forward to. You’re going to see four guys up there being very happy doing what they’re doing.”