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Metallica History – The 1980s

Metallica
Megaforce Records

When discussing the history of Metallica, is there any better decade than the 1980s? Without it, fans wouldn’t even have the band, let alone albums like ‘Kill ‘Em All,’ ‘Ride the Lightning,’ ‘Master of Puppets‘ and ‘…And Justice for All.’ However, with all the things to celebrate in this decade, and there were a lot of ups, there were also more downs than fans would have preferred, from the departure of musicians to the death of a beloved bandmate. Even with all of that, the Metallica that fans know and love today wouldn’t be what they are without the ’80s.

1981

This is the year that history was made. Lars Ulrich posted an advertisement in a local paper in Los Angeles, ‘The Recycler,’ that read: “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden.” Because of a simple newspaper ad, the world’s most successful metal band was born. Hetfield and his friend Hugh Tanner of the band Leather Charm answered the ad. On Oct. 28, 1981, the drummer made the offer to Hetfield – whom he first met in June of that year – to lead his band and help him record a track for Metal Blade’s ‘Metal Massacre I.’ After recruiting Hetfield, next up was to find a lead guitarist. Hoping for the same luck, the guys placed another ad in ‘The Recycler’ and recruited Dave Mustaine to pick up the axe duties.

1982

Metallica’s first live show occurred on March 14 at Radio City in Anaheim, Calif. Ron McGovney, a childhood friend and former bandmate of Hetfield’s, picked up the bass to play with the band. Recorded in April, the band first laid down the tracks to songs like ‘Hit the Lights’ and ‘Motorbreath’ on the unreleased demo ‘Power Metal.’ ‘Metal Massacre I,’ the compilation created by Metal Blade Records’ Brian Slagel, hit record shelves on June 14, marking Metallica’s first vinyl pressing of their career. Less than a month after that release, the band recorded its first official demo, known as ‘No Life ‘Til Leather.’ Riding the wave of support they received from this demo, Metallica played more and more live shows, making more and more fans. Unfortunately for McGovney, his time with the band ended on Dec. 10 after he made the decision to quit. Two weeks later, after being blown away by his chops, Metallica and bassist Cliff Burton had their first rehearsal together on Dec. 28.

1983

Now with Cliff Burton on board, Metallica decided to take the next step in their journey to rock stardom by moving and setting up shop in San Francisco. After living there for a month, on March 16 the band laid down the demos for the songs ‘Whiplash’ and ‘No Remorse.’

Metallica 'Kill 'Em All'
Megaforce Records

The next month, after dealing with his alcoholism and outbursts, the band decided to kick Mustaine out, and quickly tapped Exodus guitarist and co-founder Kirk Hammett to fill his spot. Hammett’s first live show with his new band took place at The Showlplace in Dover, N.J. on April 16. On May 3, Metallica signed with John Zazula’s personal record label Megaforce Records after Metal Blade informed them that they couldn’t foot the bill for their album. A week later, they started recording what would become ‘Kill ‘Em All.’ Less than three weeks after recording started in Rochester, N.Y., Metallica wrapped things up for their debut album. July 25 marked the day that metal would be changed for the rest of eternity when ‘Kill ‘Em All’ hit store shelves. Thanks to Megaforce Records and Zazula, Metallica hit the road with UK heavy metal band Raven for a tour in support of the record. In October, the band started working on demos for their next endeavor, and in fact began premiering the new songs live, including ‘Fight Fire with Fire’ and ‘Creeping Death.’ These were some of the first songs recorded with Hammett.

1984

After releasing their latest demo in October of the previous year, Metallica was quick to start recording their next album. Sessions for ‘Ride the Lightning’ began on Feb. 20 at the Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark and wrapped up on March 14. On July 30, just a shade over a year since ‘Kill ‘Em All’ dropped, Megaforce Records unleashed ‘Ride the Lightning’ onto the world of rock and roll. In September, the band signed with Elektra and officially became a client of Q-Prime Management, and two months later re-released ‘Ride the Lightning’ on their new label. That same month, Metallica’s European label Music for Nations released the 12″ single ‘Creeping Death/The Garage Days Revisited.’ That single, as an import in the United States, reportedly sold 40,000 copies.

1985

Much of the beginning of this year saw the band touring across the United States, with a few shows in Canada sprinkled throughout. From New York to Kansas to California – and even a stop in Germany for the Metal Hammer Festival on Sept. 14 – Metallica did everything they could to continue building their rabid, headbanging fan base. Just a couple of weeks before the Metal Hammer Festival, the band got in the studio to start work on what would become arguably their best album, ‘Master of Puppets.’ In fact, at the Metal Hammer Festival, in the midst of playing fan favorites from their first two records, Metallica unveiled a brand new track, ‘Disposable Heroes.’ After the Metal Hammer Festival, focus was turned solely on completing the new album, and on Dec. 27, Metallica wrapped up their work on ‘Master of Puppets.’ Never a band to slow down, two days after completing the record at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Metallica was back on the road, playing two shows in California to round out the year.

1986
Metallica
Elektra

Feeling ready to try something new, Hetfield and Burton decided hop on a side project known as Spastik Children and played several shows in California. Featuring a punk sound, Hetfield dropped his frontman duties and focused on drums while Burton remained plucking the bass. More of a hobby than anything else, Spastik Children never kept the two members from focusing on the success of Metallica. On March 3, ‘Master of Puppets’ was released via Elektra Records, reminding everyone why Metallica was a force to be reckoned with. On a rigorous country-wide tour in support of the new album, it seemed like everything was going perfect for Metallica. On Sept. 10, the band jumped over the pond to England to start a string of European dates, having no idea their lives would be changed forever. Their show at Solnahallen in Stockholm, Sweden on Sept. 26 would be the last Metallica show to have Burton behind the bass guitar. The next morning, Burton died in a horrific tour bus accident. Burton’s funeral was held on Oct. 7; three weeks later, Jason Newsted joined Metallica as the new bassist. His first show with Metallica – and the band’s first since Burton’s death – took place at the Country Club in Reseda, Calif., on Nov. 8.

1987

Following Burton’s death, Hetfield continued the side project Spastik Children, recruiting Newsted to play guitar and Hammett to pick up the bass (Hetfield remained behind the drum kit). The new lineup – with regular singer Fred Cotton still fronting the group – played their first show together on Jan. 2 at The Rock in San Francisco. After that, Metallica packed their bags and headed to Europe to spend a couple of months playing in Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Poland and Sweden. After returning to the states, the band began work on its first release with Newsted, ‘The Garage Days Re-Revisited,’ in California. On Aug. 24, the EP was released; the cassette was titled ‘The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited’ while the compact-disc version replaced the price in the title with ‘$9.98.’ Nearly three months later, Metallica recorded the first demo for ‘One,’ and also released ‘The $19.98 Home Vid: Cliff ‘Em All,’ a compilation of video footage that showcased Burton’s time with Metallica prior to his death.

1988

Starting the year off on a good note, Elektra decided to re-release ‘Kill ‘Em All’ with two bonus tracks, ‘Am I Evil?’ and ‘Blitzkrieg.’ Ten days later, on Jan. 28, Metallica began work on ‘…And Justice For All’ at One On One Studios in Los Angeles. Finishing work on the album on May 1, the band spent much of the summer touring the United States. Once ‘…And Justice For All’ was released on Sept. 6, Metallica packed their bags to spent the next few months in Europe. Rounding the year out, the band teamed up with Michael Salomon on Dec. 6 to shoot the music video for ‘One.’ This was Metallica’s first music video.

1989
Metallica
YouTube

On January 22, ‘One’ made its music video debut on MTV in the United States. Exactly a month later, Metallica received its first Grammy Award nomination for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance for ‘…And Justice for All,’ but lost out to Jethro Tull’s album ‘Crest of a Knave.’ In the summer, Elektra released the video album ’2 of One,’ which featured two versions of the music video for ‘One.’ The video also included an interview with Lars Ulrich. For the rest of the year, Metallica spent most of their time on the road, mainly in the states with a few live shows in Brazil in October.

Next: The 1990s

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