photo & text by nacrowe
i should start by stating that BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH (DA CAPO, 2014) by PAUL BRANNIGAN and IAN WINWOOD is far from a perfect book. its BRITISH authors have an unfortunate GEOGRAPHIC BIAS towards the supposed importance of their native island in the role of METALLICA's career trajectory and an even more misplaced PROXIMITY BIAS to the role of KERRANG! magazine, of which the both have written for in the past. the authors also tend to be a bit verbose to the point of obfuscation, almost as if this book was written with a word limit in mind. there are also numerous grammatical mistakes (which is hard for me, a former ENGLISH teacher, to forgive).
all that being said, BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH does an alright job of relating the narrative of METALLICA and their massive cultural impact on the world of METAL and beyond. being familiar with their many documentaries (CLIFF 'EM ALL, A YEAR AND A HALF IN THE LIFE OF METALLICA I and II, SOME KIND OF MONSTER, etc.), most of this information i was already familiar with. i assume that fans much more... well, fanatic, than me would probably concede that much of this book is rather basic boilerplate knowledge of the band.
i think where this book succeeds is in how the authors reveal the interpersonal relationships between band members and those close to the bands orbit including family, managers and, of course, fans. JAMES HETFIELD and KIRK HAMMETT in particular grew up in broken households where music was a respite from conflict and the unfair and undue hardship of being a child dealing with adult problems. in LARS ULRICH you have an only son with a unique upbringing in that he was raised in a progressive, loving family with a wealthy, sophisticated father figure whose profession as a DANISH tennis pro allowed his son access to world travel and an education in the arts that was second to none. original bassist CLIFF BURTON likewise came from a loving family, albeit one that was working-class with no inclination for musicianship. this triumvirate (of HETFIELD, ULRICH and BURTON) after the ouster of original lead guitarist DAVE MUSTAINE, was fairly stable and artistically cohesive. its only after BURTON's untimely passing while on tour in EUROPE that these the new power struggle between HETFIELD and ULRICH is on full display and the victim of such is JASON NEWSTED.
its very interesting that the book makes clear that despite lyrics dealing with rebellion and standing up to the man, that when confronted with issues surrounding any semblance of EMPATHY, COMPASSION and basic DECENCY the leadership of the band failed miserably. HETFIELD, ULRICH and HAMMETT come across as victims of a deep trauma that is sublimated onto NEWSTED. they come off very much like small men indeed. and for all the flowery, sentimentalization carried throughout BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH, i thought such was quite a statement of fact. no doubt in the wake of his eventual departure in the early 2000s, which is beyond the scope of this book (which ends after their fifth album at the beginning of the 1990s), there very much is an emotional awakening that traces its painful roots back to the chronology of events examined in this book.
the book also makes clear that the band in all its lineup variations was in control of its destiny for better or worse. this goes with major decisions regarding personnel, management, booking agents, record labels, touring packages and so on. the notion that somehow the band was pushed to work with BOB ROCK and construct a more streamlined commercial record at the dawn of the 1990s is absolute garbage. the band (and by that i mean HETFIELD and ULRICH) were already there. despite their internal frailties and inherent weakness in acknowledging their own pain to each other in the face of a major trauma, in terms of creative decision-making, METALLICA was their own general.
no doubt the METALLICA of today is a very different animal than this period. and kudos to them for having the courage to progress as humans by admitting and vulnerability, and doing so very publicly. its the less celebrated late-career METALLICA that i feel are truly COURAGEOUS and undeniably AUTHENTIC in a genre filled to the brim with pretenders and charlatans. this book only makes that trajectory come into sharp focus and for that i appreciate it despite its many flaws.