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 UCR.com, 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.
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.