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Metallica and Bob Rock

I ended up re-watching the Metallica documentary around the making of the “Black” album.

The album is what it is because of Bob Rock. He drove it, he knew from the start exactly what every song needed, he pushed Metallica to the limit and I can understand why Metallica invested so much trust in the direction of the band with him.

Hell, the Producer role should be expanded to state, dealing with egos and arguments.

The demo of “Sad But True” (I had a drummer who always thought it was called “Sad Patrol”) was heaps quicker. Bob heard a “Kashmir” feel and asked James to slow it down and make it crunchy.

Rock kept on telling James to re-write lyrics to songs. He told him to use fewer words in the choruses and to use stronger words. He questioned James on what the song is about. He asked him how the verse lyrics referenced the song message. James didn’t like this line of questioning. If James couldn’t explain it simply, it means he hasn’t nailed the lyric.

Rock told Lars to take drum lessons and he told James to take singing lessons. In my view, Metallica needed that kick up the butt and the amount of physical product the “Black” album has moved is a pretty good indication of that butt kick.

Personally, I would have loved to have seen a doco on the making of the “Load” album just to see the influence Bob Rock had on that album and how those studio sessions went.

Rock’s mentor was another Canadian called Bruce Fairbairn. Most of the records Bob engineered, Bruce was the producer. Fairbairn produced “Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey”. Total sales of over 30 million for both albums and Bob Rock engineered both of these albums.

Without Bob Rock, Metallica wouldn’t be as big as they are today and without Metallica, metal music would not have become as mainstream as it is today.

However, having said that, Metallica’s demise music wise (my opinion) during the following years is also attributable to Bob Rock and the reasoning comes from this;

  • The songs designed for the “Black” album were originally designed following the process of good old fashioned Metallica songs.
  • The style of the “Black” album songs weren’t too far apart from the old Metallica songs that appeared on “Justice”, “Master” and “Lightning”, heavy with thrash elements.
  • The song writing process was that James and Lars would take all the riff ideas they accumulated in between albums and go away and listen to all of the ideas. They would make notes as to what riffs where good and take the good ideas and start to turn them into songs. The returned to this songwriting process with the “Hardwired” album.
  • So when Bob Rock came in after the songs were written and added his influence, changing the songs tempo and asking for better lyrics and melodies, he created what I call the “gap” between the earlier albums and the “Black” album. But because the songwriting process was the same as the earlier albums, the songs still are Metallica.
  • However following the “Black” album, when Metallica designed the songs for “Load/Reload”, they didn’t follow the original good old Metallica song writing process. Rather they wrote songs from the place I call the “gap” which is now influenced by commercial expectations.
  • So when Bob Rock gets involved this time around, he amends the sound and feel of the songs even further, creating a greater divide from their original sound then the “Black” album. In other words, the “gap” got bigger.
  • Coming into “Load”, Metallica has never written 30 demos for an album. They always wrote enough songs for the album. For the “Black” album, they had 12 songs, nothing more. For “Justice”, all the songs they wrote for that album are on the album, no leftovers, same for “Master” and “Ride The Lightning”. So when a band writes 30 songs for an album they are writing for a hit.
  • I also think there were other motivators behind the influence of the sound of “Load” and “Reload” as well, and that had more to do with the longevity of the band, I remember seeing an interview with Lars years ago which gave this impression on me, basically following the “Black” album, Metallica became one of those all-time great bands like the Rolling Stones and potentially they can be riding the waves of this success in their 60’s. BUT, when they are 60 years old, how are they going to tour playing thrash all the time? The songs the Stones produced are not that hard to pull off when your 60+, but how is Lars going to cope drumming “Battery” every night on tour when he is 60+? How is Hetfield going to growl every night when he is 60+?

It’s very rare I play any songs from “Load” or “Reload”, and I’d say that would be the same for the majority of Metallica fans, whether they are hardcore or new, the album sonically might sound awesome but the songs would be ranked at the bottom of their entire inventory, other than 5 or 6 songs.

I think James summed it up with the following comments about the whole Load and Reload era…

“Lars and Kirk drove on those records. The whole ‘We need to reinvent ourselves’ topic was getting discussed.  Image is not an evil thing for me, but if the image is not you, then it doesn’t make much sense.  I think they were really after a U2 kind of vibe, Bono doing his alter ego. I couldn’t get into it. The whole, ‘Okay, now in this photoshoot we’re going to be ’70s glam rockers.’ Like, what? I would say half — at least half — the pictures that were to be in the booklet, I yanked out. The whole cover thing, it went against what I was feeling.  Lars and Kirk were very into abstract art, pretending they were gay. I think they knew it bugged me. It was a statement around all that. I love art, but not for the sake of shocking others. I think the cover of Load was just a piss-take around all that. I just went along with the make-up and all of this crazy, stupid shit that they felt they needed to do.” James Hetfield

Is Hetfield passing the buck with his comments?

He recorded the songs, wrote the riffs, he did the vocals and so on. Whether he lost interest or passed the controlling influence to Lars, regardless he was on board with the direction, it’s his band, regardless of who’s pulling the strings in the background. Without James, there is no Metallica, all the rest can be replaced in my mind.

I also watched “Get Him To The Greek”, Lar’s gets told off by Russel Brand. “Go sue Napster and your fans”, and that is the stigma that will forever stick with Metallica. They got so out of touch with reality that they sued their own fans for sharing their music. Nicko McBrain sums up piracy in Flight 666 “We sold out in Costa Rica but haven’t sold an album in this country…“


7 thoughts on “Metallica and Bob Rock

  1. Speaking of Fairbairn. The Making of Pump is a real good doc as well. You say how tight Tyler is wound up when Bruce and Perry kick him out of the studio…
    Wish more bands did these…
    Love how Rock busts Hammetts balls on some of the solos….

    • Yeah I really enjoyed those bits.. Hammet spent the whole weekend working out the solo for Unforgiven, plays it and Rock tells him it’s crap… After a week of yes and no the solo that eventually made it to tape was ready for recording and it’s brilliant.
      Need to check out the Pump doco.

      • Pump doc is on youtube. I owned it years ago on VHS…
        The opening scene is classic as you see Tyler sitting a this keyboard in there jam space and you only hear Perry Pissing and a a toilet flushing…
        When perry enters into the picture and begins to speak Tyler drowns him out with his keyboard…

  2. This will be an age old questions some day…Metallica did become a Supergroup with the Black Album! As good as it is I have always felt the change from thrash to hard rock metal vibe as a departure and cant listen to virtually anything after Black Album outside a few songs. Recent tunes a little better. I lost total respect for them after seeing Some Kind of Monster. They came off as crybaby ego maniacs and the music especially with Hammet seemed to be a burden. As a struggling musician seeing a huge money making machine gripe and bitch about having to come up with solos and write songs is totally F’d up! The only album I each for is Master of Puppets. If any of the first four plus garage daycare played at parties etc. those are great to listen too as well.

    • Totally agree with the whole doco.. while it was cool to watch, the unfortunate thing is James is a great songwriter and he went missing on St Anger and what we got was the mess. How many songs from that album would they play live these days? Or even from the Load series of albums?

  3. Shalem says:

    I think load and reload have some of their best and worst. Bleeding me, outlaw torn, fixxxer are really incredible songs I think are highly underrated. If you’re not into hard rock it’s understandable, but if you view it as a side project by metallica it’s pretty good. I think a lot of other stuff from that period gets in the way of people enjoying it. The change of the musicl scene, their new haircuts and fashion stuff, the 5 year wait for an album and the vast genre change between those albums. Combine all of that and it’s no surprise many people didn’t like it. But 20 years on I think if you view the songs more objectively there really isn’t anything wrong with them. They aren’t all masterpieces, and some are a bit bland, but there isn’t a song on there I’d think is bad, they are just very different.

    Anyway, the sound of TBA, load and reload were fantastic. but I just don’t get why bob rock would be okay with something sounding like st anger? It doesn’t make much sense. Personally I liked st anger a lot, but it goes against a lot of what bob rock did on previous albums. The album didn’t have a clear sound, the songs were unnecessarily long, certain vocal lines were weird, and you can hear that they copy pasted drum parts. it sort of feels very unfinished. If he was such a perfectionist on the black album why would he release something like st anger?

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