Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

Metallica - Some Kind of MonsterSynopsis: The film that New York Times describes as “Entertaining, Moving and historically significant” is an intensely intimate look at one of the biggest rock bands of all time. Some Kind of Monster takes you inside the studio and into the psyches of Metallica as they record their Grammy – winning album St. Anger while battling their way through communication breakdowns, addictions, a band member’s defection, fatherhood, domestic chaos and near-total disintegration during the most turbulent period of their twenty-year history. This rock ‘n’ roll psychodrama is unlike anything you’ve ever seen!
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Metallica: Some Kind of Monster 8.0

eyelights: the band’s therapy sessions. Robert Trujillo’s audition. the fan appreciation jam.
eyesores: the music. the therapist.

In the early 2000s, after over a decade as the international flag-bearers for heavy music, Metallica began to disintegrate – legal problems, clashing egos and an unforgiving lifestyle sought to destroy this once-indestructible band. After the departure of bassist Jason Newsted, the remaining members decided to seek group therapy, in the hope to better their communication and repair the rifts.

‘Some Kind of Monster’ documents these years.

Released in 2004, the film was met with critical acclaim and commercial success (at least on home video, moving enough copies of the DVD to hit the stratosphere of sales charts around the globe). Fans and non-fans alike appreciated this intimate behind-the-scenes look at a group trying to survive their most turbulent period and struggling to remain relevant in the face of changing fortunes.

I had long wanted my girlfriend to see ‘Some Kind of Monster’. While she is hardly a fan of heavy music, let alone metal, as a therapist, I thought that she would find the process that these musicians go through endlessly fascinating. I know that I do, and even after having watched this film three times I still find it wholly engrossing. So I wanted to see what she thought of it; musicians are a different lot, after all.

‘Some Kind of Monster’ chronicles the band’s journey in a chronological fashion, from the moment that they entered the studio to try to record a new studio album (their first in many years – their last album of original songs had been released in 1997) all the way through to the release of ‘St. Anger’ in June of 2005.  It would see them halt the sessions more than once, lose their frontman for a year, hire a new bassist, as well as unveil a bevy of personal issues.

The film is basically a “fly on the wall” concept, interspersed with a few notable interviews, as are many behind-the-scenes documentaries of rock bands. It was originally conceived as a reality series much like ‘The Osbournes’, but the project was later scrapped when the band watched the footage and realized that they didn’t want to be seen in this light. Thankfully, the editing helps the picture transcend its original concept.

In a little over two hour, we truly get a sense of the most momentous aspects of the band’s life during those years, including the recording of the album with producer Bob Rock on bass (in lieu of a proper bassist), James’ alcohol and drug rehab (and subsequent dramatic return), Lars’ selling of his precious and priceless art collection, the release of Jason Newsted (their former bassist)’s latest album,  amongst other things.

But what matters most is watching the band try to keep it together, with the help Phil Towle, a “Performance Enhancement Coach” – not be confused with an actual therapist (which, it turns out, he isn’t). With his help, they learn to rephrase their comments, express their emotions and involve each other more.  If anything, it’s this process that makes the picture a fascinating watch, just as it’s frustrating to see long-time friends get along so poorly.

But they try:

Lars makes such efforts to play it cool, to listen, and he seems like the one trying to be part of the process the most. But there’s simmering frustration just below the surface most of the time; it’s clear that he’s not happy with the way things are headed, with the band and with the sessions. It all bubbles up at one dramatic point: seeing him scream “FUCK!!!” right into James’ stolid face was both comical and dramatic.

Still, he was clearly the most involved in the process, and you have to give him props for effort. He went so far as to meeting up with Dave Mustaine, their former lead guitarist (and now mastermind of Megadeth), with whom a lot of bad blood has been spilt over the years. It was a short but poignant moment, with Mustaine trying to express to him the pain’s he’s felt over the years: “Do you know what I went through?”

Meanwhile, James annoyed the !@#$ out of me with his controlled, sedate, polite way of talking. I’ve seen him in his heydays and this James was a pod person: his delivery felt contrived and unnatural. But let’s face it, trying to be diplomatic and being in touch with his emotions was a new notion for him, so it’s normal that it comes off as unnatural, alien, and that he’s slightly detached. Problem is that it also seemed to soften him up, strip him of fire.

It’s weird… he’s more content, happier, but it just doesn’t translate well in the form of the frontman of one of metal’s biggest bands ever. In fact, from that perspective, it’s not necessarily better (case-in-point, he now screams “Metallica loves you” to concert-goers. More on that in coming Metallica-related blurbs). I’m thrilled that he seems to have licked his personal demons, but I still miss the old James’ presence. I just wish that one didn’t exclude the other, is all.

Then there’s Kirk and Bob Rock. Sweet, demure Kirk basically spends most of the time trying to keep the peace between James and Lars. He’s the nice guy, who’s just sitting back and trying to get through it – but you can see his exasperation at times. Bob, astonishingly, is so close to the band that he’s considered a part of the group for therapy. He goes along with everything, seems to appreciate the process, but one gets the impression that he could do without it, too.

Phil Towle, bizarrely enough, is hardly ever seen doing anything constructive; he’s often just sitting there, sometimes offering platitudes. The film didn’t help shed light into what made him so great at his job. Sometimes it feels like he’s just a hanger-on, making the most out of this very lucrative gig. If anything, the dialogues between the band members is what made it work on-screen; he had almost nothing to bring to the table (which, let’s face it, could just be a function of the editing).

One of my favourite moments in the picture is the fan jam that had fans play bass with Metallica. It was annoying at first, because most of them were insipid morons who couldn’t play, and even purposely goofed around. Losers. But there was this one woman who could keep up so she was picked to jam with them for real at the end. That was really awesome. I almost wish they had picked a woman as their permanent bassist; it really changed up the vibe..

Speaking of which, another of my favourite moments is when Metallica start looking for a new bassist and hold auditions. A bunch of well-known names are shown playing with them, such as Eric Avery (Jane’s Addiction), Mike Inez (Alice In Chains), Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity),  Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails), Scott Reeder (Kyuss),  Jeordie White (Marilyn Manson, under his stage name Twiggy Ramirez) and Chris Wyse (The Cult). That was fun to watch.

But mostly, it’s because Robert Trujillo also came in to audition.

I admit it: I have a man-crush on Robert Trujillo. I knew him from his days in Suicidal Tendencies and Infectious Grooves, so when I’d heard he was picked for Metallica, I was super-excited. Watching the audition and seeing how he smoked everybody out of the water, watching the band discussing him, with Lars saying he was the only one who truly kept up and James saying that he made them play better was goosebumps-inducing.

And then the clincher: when they actually offer him the gig.

Honestly, I get a kick each time I see this scene: the band are sitting around a table and they bring Trujillo in to sit with them. They tell him that they want him to join the band, but not just as a hired-hand, as a full-core member of the Metallica, with all the advantages benefits that come along with it. Plus which they’ll give him a signing bonus of a million dollars. Snap! The look on Trujillo’s face is awesome: there’s a mixture of glee and awe that’s unforgettable.

It’s the best career decision Metallica has made in decades, quite frankly. This guy can PLAY. Too bad the recording sessions were done by then – he would have added much-needed heft to them.

The film pretty much ends with the release of ‘St. Anger’, the resulting album. To me, it will always be the chronicle of Metallica’s therapeutic process. It’s not an good album, but it was probably good for them to make it, all things considered. I wish I could say the same for me: to this day, I can’t listen to it and really savour it. And I tried, I really did. Even if I imagine it as another band’s album, I can barely stand it.

The movie, however, is another thing: it’s a must-see for fans of the band, of metal, of rock groups and even for those interested in relationships, dynamics between people. ‘Some Kind of Monster’, for good or bad, changed the way that I see Metallica, and likely will have the same effect on anyone who thought they knew them. But it’s a journey well-worth taking: if you think relationships are hard, imagine being in a band with the same people for decades.

Especially a beast like Metallica. Now that’s some kind of monster.

Date of viewing: October 5, 2013

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2 responses to “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

  1. Great Blog.
    It brought back awesome memories of the documentary as I was reading through it.
    It’s true that the therapist seemed lame throughout the proceedings but as you said, was his good deeds/words edited out?

    • We may never know. But he does come off as a dweeb here, posting notes everywhere and trying to get involved in the recording process.

      I love that tense moment when Lars asks him: “Is today the first day you’re gonna play drums?”

      Priceless!!! 😛

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