Here’s the question: Does Metallica deserve a two-volume biography? Biographer Peter Guralnick devoted two (Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love) to the life and times of Elvis Presley but, in all fairness, his subject was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Metallica rocking it out at one of their concerts. pic/afp
Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood probably believe Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield (the other members don’t seem to matter as much) deserve the same treatment, but not everyone may share that sentiment. Also, not everyone may have heard a Metallica album apart from its self-titled multi-million seller in 1991.
This isn’t to say, the story itself isn’t colourful. It is, in the way biographies of most Rock bands apart from Radiohead usually are. There are tales of alcoholism, a number of groupies, lurid anecdotes from life on the road, feuds, blowouts involving guitar players and, like a thread connecting them all, the rise of a band from obscurity to sold-out arenas.
Brannigan and Winwood rely on an enormous number of interviews with the band, but readers who have watched the 2004 documentary, Some Kind of Monster — an in-depth look at Metallica on the brink of implosion following James Hetfield’s alcoholism and the departure of bassist Jason Newsted — may find these written portraits of Hetfield and Ulrich underwhelming. Another downer is the tendency of the writers to hyperbolise what is, in all honesty, a heavy metal band with the ability to write ballads such as Nothing Else Matters.
Ultimately, a great biography ought to nudge a reader back to the music. This one doesn’t and is, therefore, recommended for devoted fans alone.