Rather than methodically building a dozen songs up, the group would work on three or so tracks, take a break to play a festival or attend to the deluxe Blackened reissue of an early album like 1984’s Ride the Lightning, and then come back to work on a few more songs. Having immersed themselves so deep and for such long stretches when making records like The Black Album, they wanted to ensure they would have better life balance. Fidelman says their aversion to long stretches in the studio stems from something “like PTSD.”
Metallica generally worked from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in its rehearsal space that the group calls “the jam room.” The quartet set up in a circle, with everyone facing Ulrich. The band members didn’t arrive with much in the way of finished songs, but what they did have were more than 1,000 riffs that they had cooked up in “the tuning room,” where they play together backstage before starting a live show. On tour, the tuning room might be the first place the members see each other all day.
“The tuning room is pretty much our couch therapy session,” says Hetfield. “You can tell where everyone’s at. Sometimes we’ll goof around — I love playing drums, and I’ll hit the kit while Rob comes up with some funky thing that we’ll never use.” One tradition, insisted upon by Ulrich: They always finish up by playing the song that will start the show. “Lars is ritualistic to a fault,” says Hetfield, “but he knows what works for him.”
The dynamic in Metallica was at one point dysfunctional enough that the band made a movie, 2004’s Some Kind of Monster, about its power struggles and its employment of a group therapist. “We’re more forgiving to differences of opinion now,” says Ulrich. “Twenty years ago, we’d go in there and battle for everything, whether it was creative ideas or personal preferences or whatever. Now, it’s just not worth it. We prioritize getting along and having a functioning entity — that’s more important than winning an argument.”
“We know so much about each other and we know which buttons not to push,” adds Hetfield. “I don’t have to be like Lars, and he doesn’t have to be like me. We try not to step on each other’s toes but guide each other. He’s great at set lists and arranging songs and business. I’m good at melodies and visuals and logos.” And the members outside the core duo? “Kirk, now that he has stepped out of his referee role, brings a wackiness that is very needed, because Lars and I can get so wound and serious. And live, obviously his guitar playing is unbelievable,” says Hetfield. “And Rob is so happy to be alive, it makes us want to do things so he’ll come along.”
Hardwired... to Self Destruct has a dozen songs, split between two CDs (for reasons of pacing — it could have fit on one). “Spit Out the Bone” is a relentless seven-minute fusillade inspired by the dangers of virtual-reality technology. “Dream No More” is a grinding nightmare that reaches back to the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft. The moral of “Now That We’re Dead” is that love endures, but only in the grave. You can guess the answer to the title of “Am I Savage?” The overall impact is bleak — the band even rejected a triumphant song that had become a live staple, “Lords of Summer,” because it didn’t fit the mood. Asked if he’s in a good place personally, Hetfield says, “Definitely not.” Then he laughs. “I’m in both places all the time, you know? But once I start thinking, it can get dark. The last song we wrote, ‘Hardwired,’ which is the opening track and the fastest one, sums it up lyrically: We’ve always been f—ed, but we survive. Every generation says ‘I feel sorry for the next generation,’ but there is a faith that you have in mankind. Most of the time.”