“I did not like being around them when they were on that stuff,” says Hetfield. “ I resented the closeness that they had through their drug use.”
Ulrich counters that the frontman was often too drunk to care about what his bandmates were doing, and points out that Hetfield frequently asked if he could tag along when they went off to take drugs, simply to feel included.
Women, though, were a diversion that the whole band enjoyed. When promoting Ride The Lightning in 1985, the band’s codeword for a groupie was an “Edna” and their bus had been christened “The Edna Express”. Now the carnal debauchery was ratcheted up in line with Metallica’s elevated status. Ulrich reputedly refused to leave venues until he had been fellated (“That’s not true but it was rare that it didn’t happen,” he says). After performing, the band would be greeted by “tub tarts”, naked local girls gathered in the shower waiting to soap them up.
“Those guys really went for it,” recalls Jason Newsted. “James and Lars especially. Lars would probably be the king as far as that crazy promiscuity goes. Blowjobs under the stage during the bass solo, that kind of stuff”.
This indulgence extended beyond their recreational habits to their music. Work began on their fifth record, known universally as The Black Album, in October ’90 with producer Bob Rock . “They wanted to be the biggest band in the world,” Rock tells Q.
Recording at Los Angeles’ One On One studios for nine months, Ulrich spent his evenings carousing with Guns N’ Roses, whose debut album, Appetite For Destruction, had put them squarely in the superstar bracket. This was a source of irritation to Hetfield. “He wants to be the centre of attention and that bothers me because I’m the same, but in a different way,” says the frontman. “He’s out there charming people and I’ll be intimidating so people will respect me. I’ve learned to turn that off.”
Released in August 1991, The Black Album sold 600,000 copies in its first week. To date it has sold 14 million copies in America, more than 20 million worldwide. As Ulrich says with a smile, “It keeps the pool heated.”
The cost of the record has been put at one million dollars and three marriages. “For a good soundbite, I’ll go along with that,” says Ulrich. The drummer had met an English girl, Debbie Jones, at a London club shortly before Burton was killed. She supported Ulrich through these difficult times and the drummer duly proposed, but by 1990 it had run its course. Newsted and Hammett also returned to bachelorhood as the strain of perfectionism and hedonism took its toll.
This mammoth endeavour included a three-month co-headlining US tour with Guns N’ Roses, starting in July 1992. Ulrich revelled in the attendant circus. Hetfield isolated himself from the decadence and shared a dressing room with Newsted. Ulrich and Hammett were left to have their fun together.
In Montreal in August 1992, Hetfield was rushed to hospital mid-set when part of the band’s pyrotechnic stage show exploded underneath him. He received second- and third-degree burns to his arms. He would be back onstage 17 days later.
Kirk Hammett and I sit down to talk on a sofa in Trujillo’s cluttered office. Though his bohemian sensibilities seem closer to Ulrich’s European mind-set, his early life echoes the confusion that Hetfield experienced. “I thought I had a normal childhood until I spoke to other people,” he says.
Kirk Lee Hammett was born in San Francisco on 18 November 1962, the middle child of three. His father, a merchant seaman, was often away; his mother worked for the government. As a child, Hammett would make his own breakfast before walking to school. When he was 11, he returned home one day and couldn’t find his dog, Tippy. “I went to a neighbour’s going, Have you seen my dog?” His neighbour shouted back that the dog was with him in his front room. Hammett, relieved, entered the house.
“The guy took down his pants and started having sex with the dog,” he recalls. “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. When he got up, I just took the dog and left. She was still wagging her tail.”
The Hammetts moved 20 miles north to El Sobrante when Kirk was 13. He was glad to leave the old neighbourhood, and its attendant horrors, behind but life was far from peaceful. “My dad was somewhat of an alcoholic. I’ll never forget my 16th birthday because my dad beat the hell out of my mom.” Three months later he left the house.
After The Black Album excursion, Hammett would revisit San Francisco’s infamous Mission District to buy heroin. “I was divorced and out for adventure,” he says. “I smoked it a few times but it was not for me. It just turned me into a grumpy old man and loud music did not sound good.”
As the band’s diplomat and peacemaker, Hammett is well placed to comment on the bond between Ulrich and Hetfield.