US rockers Metallica. Image Credit: Supplied photo

DUBAI: The current generation of youth was not even born when Metallica released their first album Kill 'Em All and unleashed a sound that changed heavy metal music forever. The year was 1983.

Barely three years earlier, Led Zeppelin, the biggest rock band up to that point, had to disband following the death of its drummer John Bonham. Deep Purple had yet to re-group after their 1976 break-up. And Black Sabbath's ambitious revival with vocalist Ronnie Dio James - after Ozzy Osbourne's exit in 1979 - proved short-lived, with Dio walking out in 1982.

It was a time when the pioneers of heavy metal music - which emerged a little over a decade earlier - were going through a tumultuous phase. It was left to the second generation outfits like Judas Priest, Motorhead and Iron Maiden to keep the metal flame aloft amid the mainstream rock soundscape. The moment Metallica burst into the scene the flame became a raging blaze.

The intro riff of Hit The Lights, the opening track of Kill 'Em All, had everyone in the rock world turning their ears to this thunderous blast of power chords, played at such speed and with such precise abandon, one knew rock music, or heavy metal to be exact, was taking a new direction.

By the time Metallica released their fourth album …And Justice For All in 1988, the band had scaled a creative height where no band had gone before. In doing so they pushed the frontiers of rock music even further and stamped their mark as one of the greatest bands of all time.

However, the mainstream rock fans found their music too hot to handle. It was too loud, too fast and too furious, while for the hardcore metal followers, it was the perfect diet. Helping the metal cause along were Metallica's great contemporaries: Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer.

Thrash VS mainstream

In fact, it would be wrong to assume that Metallica were every metalhead's favourite. Throughout the '80s, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax were massive in their own right with their own army of loyal fans, but Metallica always enjoyed an edge over their rivals in overall popularity. The four - now regarded as the Big Four - were collectively responsible for creating thrash metal, a subgenre of heavy metal (which further spawned other subgenres such as death metal and black metal, characterised by even faster speed and darker lyrics.)

Meanwhile, the mainstream rock fans in the '80s who couldn't digest thrash metal stayed in the pop-metal camps such as Van Halen, and Bon Jovi and hard rock Guns N' Roses, and the like, while an increasing number of traditional listeners cocooned themselves in the comfort zone called ‘Classic Rock'. Together they outnumbered the metal army, but the latter were more than happy to be a minority and, in fact, shunned anything mainstream or overly commercial.

But as the '90s began, Metallica came out with a game-changer and a surprise package that upset their followers - the landmark 1991 eponymous album, also known as The Black Album. Fans felt their idols had sold out, had gone mainstream and radio-friendly… that the band had gone soft and simple as against the complex ‘thrash' structure of the earlier songs. It was reminiscent of the fans' ire Bob Dylan faced in the '60s when the acoustic folk hero went electric - he was booed.

Metallica's defence was that they wanted to avoid getting stale. But if the new sound annoyed the long-time fan base, it was winning over new listeners by the millions worldwide. After The Black Album, Metallica were no longer mere metal cult heroes, they had become global superstars.

Musically, they continued exploring new territories in the two subsequent albums, Load (1996) and Reload (1997) which, despite both debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, further alienated their thrash fans. But for every disgruntled fan who disowned Load or Reload as the band's worst album ever, you came across someone who felt it was Metallica's best. The divide among the two camps of fans became all the more evident.

Then after a gap of five years - in 2003 - the band came out with their eighth studio album, St Anger. It was historic - it was a heavy metal album with no guitar solos. And for once, both the veteran fans and the new lot concurred on one thing - it was the worst Metallica album ever. Start-up bands have been booed off stage for covering St Anger tracks and fans held CD-burning parties to show their disappointment. In the 20 years since Kill 'Em All, this was Metallica's lowest point. They survived the '90s' alternative invasion, they saw off Nirvana, only to be threatened with self-annihilation in the new millennium.

It took the band another five long years to have a go at redemption. The result was Death Magnetic (September, 2008) and it was a moment of judgment: Would Metallica be relegated to the list of has-been superstars or would they reclaim their relevance?

The answer came quick. To the relief of all who had been following Metallica's journey, the album delivered - loud and fast. It was hailed as Metallica's renaissance.

The band then set out on a world tour, titled World Magnetic, in October 2008 to support the album.

This has been no ordinary tour. Despite the global economic crisis, the tour, which has seen the band perform at venues in North America, Europe, South America, Asia and Oceania, has become the band's most successful outing, and the 17th highest-grossing concert tour of all-time, grossing over $217.2 million (Dh797 million).

Now they are set to touch down on UAE shores. And for rock lovers in the region, including those who were not yet born when Metallica first started out, the concert at Yas Island on October 25 will be the mother of all gigs.

Metallica thrash

  • Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett is half-Filipino. His mother, Chefela, is from Cebu province
  • The track Enter Sandman was reportedly used by the US army as a torture device, blasting it at high volume to disorientate Iraqi prisoners
  • James Hetfield, one of heavy metal's most recognisable voices, had no interest in singing: the vocalist's job was first offered to John Bush, who declined and later joined Anthrax
  • At one concert James had "Kill Bon Jovi" written on his guitar
  • Metallica's next album, Lulu, a collaboration with Lou Reed, will be released on October 31


Just go

  • WHEN: October 25
  • WHERE: Yas Arena
  • TICKETS: Dh295 (General admission), Dh595 (Fan pit - Sold out) Call: 02-509 8000