All of a sudden thrash’s heyday—it’s nascence—has inspired a bunch of books. Bazillion Points of Light’s Murder in the Front Row provided a photographic document of the California scene that started in L.A. with Metallica and Slayer and then blossomed into something amazing in the Bay Area shortly thereafter. Now UK author Neil Daniels offers up a written document of Metallica’s ascent from NWOBHM wannabes to arguably the biggest metal band ever.
Metallica: The Early Years and the Rise of Metal just covers the band’s genre-changing first four albums and features numerous exclusive interviews with everyone from NWOBHM musicians to the band’s early-’80s contemporaries. It will be published via Independent Music Press on April 26 (and also available via Amazon.com), but we recently shot off a handful of questions to Daniels via the Interhole so he could give us a little more info about his latest 200-plus-page tomb. And amuse us with the term “kipped.”
What was the most surprising thing you learned about Metallica while researching and writing this book?
I’m not sure what the most surprising thing is but certainly there are some very interesting facets about Metallica even during the pre-Kill ‘Em All days when Dave Mustaine was in the band. I mean, Lars Ulrich’s sheer determination for Metallica to succeed surely has to be admired even by people that really don’t like the guy. He had a plan/an agenda right from the get-go. His passion for rock and metal and his enthusiasm for playing metal helped make the band what they became and what they are today. I think the first three albums owe a great debt to the late Cliff Burton too. Without him, they would have sounded totally different. Just look at the albums after his death.
Who turned out to have some of the best stories?
I interviewed a few guys that worked with the band or hung out with them a lot during the first three albums: photographer Bill Hale—whose books on Metallica and Megadeth should be in the library of any metalhead— had some cool anecdotes as did my buddie Bob Nalbandian of Shockwaves; and Ron Quintana also shed some light on the very beginning of the band. Brian Tatler is another friend and he wrote an excellent foreword for me and also told me some great anecdotes about becoming friends with Metallica. Brian Slagel of Metal Blade Records and Brian Ross of the NWOBHM band Blitzkrieg also gave me some valuable insight. Jess Cox of Tygers Of Pan Tang and Bernard Doe of Metal Forces were also really cool too and gave me some killer stories.
As an English journalist, what did you make of Metallica–a band clearly influenced by the NWOBHM–when you first heard them?
It’s obvious that without Diamond Head they would never have existed or at least sounded the way they did back then. Even now they still play Diamond Head songs on tour so they’ve never forgotten the influence Brian Tatler, Sean Harris and cohorts had on them back in the day. Of course Saxon, Blitzkrieg and Maiden were huge influences too but other British bands like Priest and Sabbath and hard rockers Deep Purple also had a massive influence on Metallica. The NWOBHM was more Ulrich’s thing than Hetfield’s and without that short-lived period of metal in the UK, Metallica would have been an entirely different band.
Why focus on the band’s early years? After all, it was their ’90s albums that went multi-platinum.
True. But seriously, how many fans when talking about Metallica name Load or Re-Load as their favorite albums? The impact those first four albums had on metal cannot be overstated. Sure, the biggest jump in sound and style came with Metallica—and I’ve written about that (and all the other albums, including Lulu) as a sort of potted chronology for the postscript—but those first four albums are undoubtedly thrash metal while the latter day stuff has more of a commercial bent.
What’s your take on the band’s “later years”? Are you still a fan?
Yes, I am but I rarely put, Load or Re-Load, into my CD player (though I do like them) and I never play St. Anger. They just don’t have the innovative style of the first four albums. I listen to Metallica a lot though. I think it’s time they brought out a killer live album too. For the record, I really liked Death Magnetic and the recent EP is a stomper too but let’s not talk about Lulu. I suppose it’s good they got it out of their systems but I’d really love to see these guys going back to super-quick and sharp three to four minute thrash songs rather than the six minute yawn-fests they’ve subjected to us in the past 20 years.
What’s your own favorite Metallica anecdote or memory?
I don’t really have any; I’m just a geeky metal fan. I think they’re an amazing live band and when I saw them last time in Manchester here in England they were insane. I’ve spoken to a lot of guys that knew the band back in the ’80s and it’s their stories that form the basis of the book. The story of Lars Ulrich flying to England to see his favorite band Diamond Head perform is a pretty cool story. He had nowhere to stay so he kipped at Brian Tatler’s house.
Has some of the ridiculous shit that Metallica’s done in the last decade-plus tarnished their legacy, or made people better appreciate how amazing those first four albums are?
Yes, I think it has made people appreciate and turn back to the first four albums which is why I think they need to make their next album as fast and loud as possible and also make the songs shorter just like the old days. It’s no surprise that after Lulu they’ve gone right back into the studio with Rick Rubin and they’re doing all this anniversary stuff for Metallica, and to celebrate 30 years of the band, etc. There’s a lot of activity this year; much of it focused on past work.
Have you ever encountered any NWOBHM musicians who are bitter that Metallica didn’t cover any of their songs?
No, I haven’t. Not yet anyway. I know from speaking to some of the NWOBHM musicians whose music has been covered that they’re very happy to receive royalty checks every now and again! I think it was a really cool thing for Metallica to do though; a lot of the NWOBHM bands didn’t make much money either because of rubbish contracts or simply because the scene fizzled and they didn’t have the luck Maiden had or whatever. So for them to get royalty checks from Metallica must be pretty heart-warming…and something of a relief.