My interest in Metallica was not as one of their earliest fans, but someone who started with Master Of Puppets. I had seen their name in a number of magazines I was reading and in time I got the album. I loved it and had to buy what they had released, which up to that point was just two albums and an EP (and the 12″ for “Creeping Death” which I’d get later). I bought the VHS comps, the documentary on the making of their Black Album and kept my interest in the early 1990’s but then I just got bored with them. While Metallica would remain one of my favorite bands, I didn’t like the fact they had become superstars, they were no longer “my favorite band”. When I was made aware of this book on Metallica by Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood, I wasn’t sure if I would be into it but since the subtitle stated it was The Inside Story Of Metallica 1991 – 2014 (Da Capo), I was intrigued. What I wasn’t aware of was that this was part two of a book Brannigan and Winwood had done before, which made me reconsider. I would’ve preferred the first part of the group’s history between 1981 to 1991, so would I want to read the years I felt I hated? I then reconsidered again: this would would have to cover what the group would become and everything that happened to them in the last 24 years. In other words, I assumed I would be reading about their “inevitable downfall”, and I say this despite the fact I know the group are still together. Just the idea of reading about their downfall was enthusing in an odd way, although I knew it would be a good read anyway, so I went in.
Into The Black begins in 1991 where Metallica (a/k/a The Black Album) is released, and we get to find out what happened when James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and Jason Newsted discover themselves to be within a storm of unexpected popularity. They were receiving attention with Master Of Puppets, The $5.98 EP/Garage Days Re-Revisiited and …And Justice For All, which was heavily pushed by their debut video for “One”, but what happened with The Black Album was totally unexpected, thus we get a chance to read about the live shows, the radio and TV airplay, and the media blitz that came from writers who weren’t aware The Black Album was not their debut. The book is pulled from interviews done with the band members plus managers and others close to the group, although this is not considered an official autobiography. Branningan and Winwood also don’t get too technical so don’t expect to read about the recording studio, effects they used or the kind of gear they brought on tour, but just perspectives from the men who lived the experiences personally.
It is great to read on the excitement of popularity, massive album sales and fantastic royalties and ticket sales. Reading on the lengthy touring Metallica did to support The Black Album is insane but once the tour is over, the group begin new chapters that find the group going through its share of troubled times, not only musically but amongst one another. It seems the group were more than happy to reach a level of success never expected by anyone, especially themselves, but now they must challenge themselves for a mixture of reasons. The interesting thing is that while not every project they’d do post-1991 receives press, the criticism those projects do receive here is a blend of critical views and public perception, and a part of me was taken aback by it, even though at times I may have felt the same way. In other words, I expected a book like this to be about praise and yet there enough digs within Into The Black that made me wonder if they were fans or just too happy to remove their critic hats.
The guys in Metallica start families, deal with substance abuse, all of which leads to the point when Newsted decides to leave the group. These moments in the group’s history have been documented in articles and of course documentary videos and a film, but it’s nice to read it in a way that captures what went on in their minds and whether or not their views and decisions have changed since then. During the first half of the book, Ulrich and Hammett were the most talkative of the group with Hetfield usually being reserved if not silent, but once he goes through rehab and a bit of therapy, Hetfield is no longer afraid to remain silent, thus adds a voice to the story that is much more than the lyrics in their songs.
Into The Black covers the making and release of Death Magnetic, the Big Four tours and the Lulu project with Lou Reed and while some praised or were skeptical about them, one is able to look back and perhaps listen to or watch again what these things were about to perhaps experience it differently. In between these stories is a sense of pride and honor from a bunch of guys who love what they do for the sake of friendships and music. It doesn’t avoid the fact they became multimillionaires and the effect the cash has had on their lives, which is described on not so much how they travel from venue to venue (which is covered), but also how they have treated employees and former band members during their projects and tours. Overall, Into The Black is a great book about one of the most influential bands, heavy metal or otherwise, in my lifetime, and I am glad to live during their existence, even during the periods I passed on. While the only parts of the book I looked at negatively were those where the writers spoke about other bands in a not-so-elegant manner (I would have written it in a different way), the book is written and edited quite well. One of the few errors I came across was the reference to Rick Rubin producing Death Magnetic and mentioning that Run-DMC was a part of the Def Jam family, which is false. Otherwise, a worthy book for those who like and love Metallica.