Yesterday I rewatched Metallica: Some Kind of Monster after listening to the episode of a podcast I listen to- 60 Songs That Explain the 90s– focused on “Enter Sandman”, reminded me of it.
The first time I watched it was 2005. I had recently landed in San Francisco… I was on Metallica’s turf… the world was different…. and I was about to start this website. I remember thinking the documentary was kinda shocking, disappointing, but ultimately interesting in that I-can’t-believe-they-shared-that kind of way. Then I pretty much forgot about it.
But you know who really wanted to forget about it? Hardcore Metallica fans. Seriously… don’t ever bring it up to them. It’s as if it has been Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wiped from their memories; an incongruent mechanism in Metallica lore that exists as an ugly mole removed by a plastic surgeon. There are probably other things that exist in this space for them, but maybe Some Kind of Monster is the crown jewel of that.
I’d have to say that watching it again, 15 years later, I think it’s time to reevaluate Some Kind of Monster’s place in rockumentary lore. Because maybe at its time, it was deemed one of the worst documentaries to come out about a band- especially a band like Metallica- but time has made it more interesting, and more relevant. Not only was is an unprecedented, realistic look behind the curtain, for better or for worse, but this was also a key time of change in the music industry that has now essentially evaporated.
The main takeaway I think most had from the doc was shock over the $40k/month band therapist. What many people don’t understand about bands is that it is essentially a marriage between the band members where they have to share, if they are successful, a shit ton of money, a fuck ton of responsibilities, and a crap load of time together. Add to this situation a band member leaves and they are trying to write an album in this Tower of Babel collaborative jam session way. These are recipes for disaster. Also, having sat in on writing sessions, or rehearsals for tours, or rehearsals for live TV…. this all sounds like it would be so fun but in reality it is monotonous and boring! I’ve been there! Notice the ticker of days past as the doc goes on? But what’s interesting in retrospect is this is an illuminating behind-the-scenes look right before we started getting this kind of material from EVERYONE. Back then, maybe we were like, “On no, Metallica is too much like us!” but now, with social media so integrated into everyone’s lives, we can look at this with a bit less cringe and more appreciation for the capturing of a moment in time.
Then there’s the archaic feeling things about the doc. Recording spots for a radio station network that Metallica needs to do so that they’ll get the album they’re recording played on the network. Appearing on MTV Icons. The Von Dutch logo. The general kind of vibe that the rock and metal genre was trying to come out of an almost decade-long rap metal coma that seeped into all of the music and fashion. Talking about the relevance of guitar solos. Talking about James Hetfield’s bear hunt without talking about the backlash.
And then there are the fights still ongoing to this day. Metallica stood up against Napster, which is covered in the doc, and many artists are still standing up to Spotify and streaming services for eating away at their key revenue source. Or how about Metallica always pursuing their interests with passionate fervor? Maybe nothing better exemplified this than Orion Fest– where each member had curated tents, such as Hetfield’s hot rods, as seen in the documentary. Sadly, as Hetfield entered rehab for a portion of the doc, he also was in rehab right before the coronavirus pandemic. These things show that this wasn’t just scripted reality TV.
Despite what I might have thought coming out of watching this documentary in 2005, especially since I followed that up by seeing them at the Bridge School Benefit in 2007 (an acoustic set)… I might have thought that Metallica were going to fade away. But that ended up not being the case at all. They remain relevant, willing to push boundaries, try new things, piss off fans, go to shows and be fans themselves. From the moment 10-year old me held the Black Album on CD, moving the cover around, contemplating the glossy snake, to now, it’s been a winding road. That’s what you want a band to offer, and in rewatching Some Kind of Monster, I was reminded, Metallica has offered me that, as long as I’m willing to challenge myself as a fan, alongside them.
Now, Murder In the Front Row… that’s the Metallica doc everyone wanted. But that’s for another time.