In a recent interview with the official Metallica fanzine So What!, drummer Lars Ulrich reflected about the turbulent journey the band undertook while navigating the challenges of crafting new music and supporting their lead singer, James Hetfield, during and after his rehab stint.
Batting back a question about whether he considered that the band might be over in the wake of Hetfield‘s situation, Ulrich noted: “That falls into the ‘what-if’ questions, and I’m never a big proponent of the ‘what-if’ question. ‘What if this happened instead of that?’ Well, it didn’t. We moved forward with the situation that we’re in.”
The drummer went on to say that the band knew they needed to give Hetfield the space he needed to recover, and that they were willing to suspend everything else in the meantime. He also said that the pandemic, which hit shortly after Hetfield‘s return to rehab, gave the band even more time to focus on their inner dynamics and figure out how they wanted to move forward.
“What James went through at the tail end of ’19 into ’20 was something where it really felt like I – and the rest of the guys in the band – had to give him the space that he needed, had to really take a step back, and just suspend everything that was on the table. We needed to do that for our friend and for our bandmate and partner. Then, slowly, the pieces started coming back together in the spring of ’20, and then everything got side-swiped by the horrific [events] of Covid and the lockdown. So, as we were giving the inner-band dynamics the time that they needed, we realized that there was no need to rush anything. And at the same time, like I said before, [we were] trying to figure out: how does Metallica make a difference, how can music make a difference, what can we do?”
For Ulrich, the key to making sure Metallica emerged from that period intact and in a good place to kickstart their next chapter was to simply keep the band moving, however slowly or methodically.
“I still can’t get away from the analogy I’ve said a million times: you’re trying to keep the train on the tracks,” he explained. “You don’t want to necessarily 100% force its direction, but you want to ensure the train doesn’t derail. And when I think back on 2020, that’s kind of the overview. Obviously, there were a couple of things. There was the drive-in theater concert, and every time that we got back together, every time we would do Zoom calls or whatever, we would start understanding what headspace everybody was in and what everybody was capable of and willing to do. Also, where all the boundaries were as you were trying to move it forward.” Ulrich explained.
“But nothing radically different than other times that we’d been challenged in the past, so there’s a part of me that sort of just… you roll your sleeves up” Ulrich added. “You want to get back and get engaged. You accept the parameters that are put on it, and you try to make progress within those. Three years later, we have this incredible record. It’s hard to believe that a part of what lives in this record – the energy, the lyrics, the themes, production, all of it – is not somehow correlated to the challenges that were thrown our way.”
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