Some Kind of Monster: A Rock Band, Their Worst Album, and the Best Music Documentary Ever Made.

by Paul Deeter

There's an important rule of thumb about diving into a famous band's classic discography: listen to them in the right order. This can be recommended from a friend, it can be read and found on NME or Rolling Stone, but it has to be taken into consideration before plunging blindly into a randomized mix. When I was younger, maybe 13 or 14, I was dipping into the discography of a few heavy rock bands, thrash music like Alice in Chains and classic 90s rock bands like Soundgarden (RIP Chris Cornell). What spearheaded this obsession and overall interest in this unknown area of music was my desire to listen to 80s-90s music that didn't suck. In the same era that bands like Talking Heads and Depeche Mode were on the radio, existed Poison and Duran Duran and every corny presence that this decade birthed. Why else did I want to listen to Metallica? Well, with the freshmen and sophomore alternative scene at my school it was either the post 2000s emo/scene genre, or old school heavy rock bands. The wild side of adolescent teens beckoned these genres! So, then I discovered Metallica.

Again, my discovery of Metallica did not happen alone, but by the encouragement of a family friend of mine, who acted as an additional and perhaps, even cooler parent of mine. This friend of ours had a huge collection of physical media, both TV on DVD, movies and more than anything shelves upon shelves of CDs. This is where I got a lot of my music influence to this day, (endless thanks for Pearl Jam) and was where I dove headfirst into listening to Metallica. I remember clearly walking home with a stack of Metallica CDs starting with the undeniable classic Kill 'Em All, and including Ride The Lightning and ending around Load and Reload. So, all good stuff. I learned every little factoid about the band from the influence Cliff Burton's death had on the later work and its immediate fruition as ... And Justice for All. (And who could forget the rumors that the album Load was literally a picture of blood and semen mixed together?) I ate all that sh*t up. But I did it with a method. The chronological first to last listening method. Not always a tried and true recommendation for listening to a band, but one of the easiest ways to grow respect for them. In this process, I came across their eighth studio album St. Anger. And for who knows what reason, I liked it. Maybe it was because in 2003, my favorite TV show Smallville included the track "Frantic" in one of their opening scenes. Maybe, I was the target audience. After twenty years of consistent content for their aging fanbase it was time to turn to a younger crowd, like me! Or maybe it was Hetfield's return to music after his stint in rehab. Or maybe it was the switch to a new younger bassist. Or maybe this or maybe that or maybe who knows. The best lead we have on this inspired mess, is a film that was and is still considered one of the best music documentaries ever made: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

In my research for this article I spent some time diving back into the discography of Metallica, doing research on the band and digging up old details of production stories. While it was easy to find article coverage of the film and compiled stories from behind the scenes in archival YouTube footage and articles on, I was baffled that I could not find the film. Like, anywhere. To watch Some Kind of Monster you actually have to either have an iTunes account or access to Apple TV. I'm never unwilling to fork over a little PK money to watch a film for a rental or purchase something otherwise not available but I simply could not figure out a way to work around the streaming access of this film. So I'll use my memory of the first time I saw it in 2004 along with articles and coverage of the movie and its legacy for most of my reference.

When Metallica: Some Kind of Monster was released in 2004, it was received and distributed through the Sundance Film Festival, and sits at an 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact I distinctly recall the film's influence on best of lists at the end of the year. So despite my already present interest in watching a film about a band I was slowly becoming obsessed with, the young film lover in me was inclined to watch SKOM as well. Why would I skip a documentary that's sweeping lists of some of my favorite critics? After its release I think I watched the movie three times, most recently being in 2005 when I showed it to my father, who to the best of my knowledge is not and was not a fan of the band. It was my interest in knowing the effect the film had on non-hardcore or even disinterested listeners, and as the critics agreed, the film was almost audience-proof.

Jason Newsted, formerly the bassist of Metallica

There's a lot at work here. For one, the band is at a crossroads creatively and from an ownership stand-point. The band had suffered multiple creative and even fatal losses to its lineup, but the departure of bassist Jason Newsted, who had been with the band since 1986, seemed to hit the band with a stronger uncertainty than ever before. The movie was shot while a lot of the band was struggling with their private and public lives. A lot of the film actually features footage from the band's later to be ridiculed stint in therapy.

In the documentary, Newsted said his former bandmates' decision to hire a therapist to help solve their problems which he felt they could have solved on their own was "really fucking lame and weak". - Film Wiki

Not to mention Hetfield's struggle during the production of the film with addiction, in which he positively reached out to be rehabilitated and treated for, despite the interruption it caused in the filming. The film had gone through over a thousand hours of shooting and the two directors, Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger had spent approximately 715 days with the band to complete this project. That's a long time to make a movie, and an even more painfully long time to make a movie about the process of making an album. Even the film's running time at 141 minutes, doesn't even seem to cover the tip of the iceberg that was this journey.

Through this journey we watch the band meltdown emotionally and physically engage with other members in ways that almost seem too private for audience members to see. The scenes of pure conversation-based destruction are as excruciating as they are fascinating. Along with this are "therapeutic" exercises in forgiveness, one having to do with the brutal breakup of the band with its member Dave Mustaine, who would go on to form Megadeath, which to be fair, also rocked famously. The idea of twenty years of time passing and just now seeing a conversation between Ulrich and Mustaine is shocking to say the least. Again, should we be in the same room? I do recommend checking out this interview which peels back layers of memories Dave had of needing the band emotionally when they couldn't support him due to his alcoholism. It's heart-breaking.

And in the current (as of 2004) lineup of Metallica, things are almost worse. The fights about the creative direction for the band were constant, along with the already embarrassing controversies surrounding Ulrich and his Napster lawsuits. For the young ones reading: Napster was a music sharing platform that focused on "borrowing" music instead of selling it. These were the early days of the music sharing online, of the Internet in general, and multiple artists reacted quite poorly to the idea of the website stealing content from the artists that would have otherwise been released to promote albums, movies, etc. You can decide if Napster was in the wrong for how they handled these legal issues, or maybe you appreciate the way they might have pioneered music streaming in our current age. But nobody had a bigger Napster stick up their ass than Lars Ulrich, who spent over a year in court fighting legal cases against the company, and would vocally and commercially be considered their biggest critic.

Lars yells at James.

Let's get back to these fights amongst the band members. Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield are two men of a certain age, with years of talent and wisdom from said talent earning them the right to make big musical decisions for their band. We should hope for civilized debates between the two of them and instead witness shouting matches where Ulrich is literally shouting obscenities in the face of a surprisingly cool-headed Hetfield. It's like the Mustaine interview. It's wild and childish and all too private feeling. In Chuck Klosterman's article on the film he discusses this relationship between Lars and James:

Hetfield returns to the band from rehab as a completely changed man... Slowly, the deeper issue of ''Some Kind of Monster'' emerges: Hetfield and Ulrich have spent their entire adulthood intertwined, but they've never been close; they've never needed to have a real relationship with each other. And that is what you mostly see over the last hour of this film: two middle-aged men fighting through their neuroses and confusion, earnestly talking about intimacy and emotional betrayal and how they feel about each other. It is important to remember that these two men wrote a song called ''Seek and Destroy.'' - Chuck Klosterman

In 2004, Chuck Klosterman would call Metallica: Some Kind of Monster a very psychological film given the band's use of therapy as a modern approach to deep-rooted issues with the group. It is a breakdown of a band on the verge of destruction. The madness in the process of creating the album St. Anger was as challenging as it was for this band to see each other past their stage presences and come together in a really personal and empathetic way. This movie is fascinating not just for it's unbelievable moments of reconciliation and recovery, but for its optimism for the music scene. It doesn't shy away from the nastiness. It keeps the camera as steady as it needs to be. When the filmmakers committed as much of their time to this project, it recalls other cinematic achievements of struggle in front of and behind the camera. And then there's St. Anger.

Is St. Anger their worst album, or is it as bad as people say? It was successful on release, and even won the band a Grammy. But history does not shine back on the album, and it is considered critically and from some of their oldest fanbase as a failure, or a misstep. Again, they might not have been the target audience. But will the 14 year olds like me who are now nearing 30 look back at this album with the same appreciation as the discography that precedes it. Probably not, but I don't speak for everyone. What matters most, is the survival. The survival of the band is the big feat of Some Kind of Monster. The album was simply an afterword.

Fan of the band or not, it's some kind of spectacle.

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