Movie Review : Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)
Metallica is a band that released five great albums. Not good, great. Legacy-defining shit and whatnot. But it’s been one long free fall ever since. Although their initial music defined an era and will remain relevant for generations, they have struggled to record any relevant music ever since. Fans, haters and music critics alike have their theories as to what the fuck happened to them. Unbeknownst to whoever refused to put themselves through its crippling 141 minutes, the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster provides an answer to pretty much all the Metallica mysteries.
I can’t believe this movie doesn’t have a bigger place in their legacy.
Some Kind of Monster was filmed over the two years it took to record Metallica’s worst album St. Anger. It mostly chronicles frontman James Hetfield’s struggles with anxiety and alcoholism and his winding road out of rehab to finish the album. Hetfield’s focus on his own well-being and improvement sparked numerous confrontations with drummer Lars Ulrich, who seemed like the only member of Metallica interested in playing music then. It’s both extremely difficult to take seriously and earnestly enlightening as to why Metallica have become who they have become.
Here’s what happened to Metallica: Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, ...And Justice for All and the black album were written by a younger, angry, alienated and hard-partying version of themselves. And like any successful human beings in the history of anything, the members of Metallica have changed. They saw no value into being sex, drugs and rock n’ roll stereotypes anymore because their fans would love them even if they weren’t *. This way of life was especially hard on James Hetfield who’s marriage was floundering due to his repeated absences and alcohol abuse.
And what James Hetfield wants is 100% fair. The only problem is that it should’ve been the end of Metallica. Finish one chapter of your life and start another, you know? Leave what you’ve done best untouched and move on. But the money was too good. The band featured on Some Kind of Monster had no business recording an album. James and Lars could barely talk to each other without the conversation veering to James’ feelings of vulnerability and frustration, which turned St. Anger into rehab: the album. The album is inexcusably bad because the driving force behind it was profoundly confused when writing it.
There were amazing moments of unintentional comedy in Some Kind of Monster. It’s what happens when you’re filthy rich, but unhappy: you’re not credible. At one point, James is driving this modified vintage car with painted flames on it and says: “this is me, trying not to be famous.” Or after a tense argument James storms out on his six-figures chopper awkwardly backing it up through the Presidio’s parking lot. Sure, money doesn’t solve all problems, but when you’re having an identity crisis like this, it allows you to take the necessary time to handle the situation properly.
Metallica could’ve scrapped St. Anger altogether and written a better album. They chose not to because they thought what they were going through had creative value and that’s at the heart of the disconnect between the good Metallica and the bad Metallica. The band somehow things their fans give a shit about their personal lives, but they had their biggest success when they wrote in metaphors so dense that really anyone could relate to. In that sense, their covers of Bob Seger’s Turn the Page and Whiskey in the Jar are better, most heartfelt songs about rehab that anything on St. Anger will ever be.
I was thoroughly entertained by Some Kind of Monster, but I suspect it’s because I don’t take Metallica all that seriously. If it resulted in the band splitting up instead of St. Anger, I would’ve probably called it tragic. But like a married couple staying together for the kids, nobody in Metallica was interested in starting over. They bent and twisted their purpose in order to make it fit what they were trying to do at the moment. Treasure their first five albums for their are unassailable, but let me clear this argument once and for all: Megadeth clearly aged better and with more integrity than Metallica. If you ever doubt that, watch Some Kind of Monster.
* Metallica broke the record concert attendance for the city of Spokane this very week. So, to say they’re still beloved would be an understatement. Previous record holder was Neil Diamond. Take that for data.