METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich recently chatted with Vulture.com about the band’s latest release, “S&M2“. That live outing once again finds the thrash metal legends paired with the San Francisco Symphony and was recorded last fall. It saw a home release this past August.
The discussion also found Ulrich being asked to highlight some key tracks from the band’s catalog, including which song was written the most ‘classically’, which was the hardest to translate to “S&M2” and more. Some of the highlights from that include:
The ‘Geekiest Metallica song for drummers’:
“It’s gotta be around Puppets or Justice. At that time, I was really into experimentation, and I was really into coloring the sound with crazy drum patterns, crazy drum fills, and crazy-weird time signatures, and all kinds of super-sideways stuff. I guess the geekiest of those songs would probably be something like ‘… And Justice for All‘ a song like ‘Blackened‘ or ‘The Frayed Ends of Sanity.’
‘The Frayed Ends of Sanity,’ we never played live because it was just such a crazy undertaking. And then a few years ago we did a Metallica by Request tour. Every day we were playing like 18 songs that the fans voted on. We weren’t changing the votes or doing any of that crazy shit.
I think we were supposed to play in Helsinki and the fans had voted for ‘The Frayed Ends Of Sanity.’ We had like two weeks or something to learn this song. You kind of sit there, 20 years later, with the combination of bemusement and horror on your face and go like, ‘What the fuck were we thinking?’ the way we used to write these songs.
We didn’t know anything about time signatures. We didn’t know anything about counting. It was just the way the drum parts spoke to each other. Some of that stuff just became so headstrong and so cerebral, almost mathlike.
There would be probably two [drumming] phases. The first phase was really the first four albums. I was really interested in having the drums color the songs, having the drums be very much a lead instrument, and being aggressive and about all these crazy patterns and time signatures.
But then we felt like we sort of took that as far as we could. From [1991’s] The Black Album forward, it became more about trying to set up some grooves, put some swing and some bounce and that kind of stuff, trying to support the guitar riff rather than lead the guitar, so it’d be kind of a different thing.
And I think in the last 20 years, I’ve been just more interested in sort of having some balance and trying to put what I guess I would call ‘air drumming moments…’
As for which Metallica he would ‘never want to hear again’, he replied:
“There’s a song called ‘Eye Of The Beholder‘ on the Justice album. Wherever I hear that song, it sounds kind of like — I guess we don’t want to be super-disrespectful to it — but it sounds really forced. It sounds like you put a square peg in a round hole.
It sounds like it’s got two different tempos. There’s kind of a 4/4 feel in the intro and on the verses, and then I think the choruses are more like in a waltz tempo. It literally sounds like two different worlds rubbing up against each other. It sounds very awkward to me. I’m not a huge fan of that song.
I guess the asterisk is that, to me, we did the best we could each moment. So of course, sometimes you sit down and go ‘Huh?’ or ‘That could have been better’ or ‘That was a little awkward’ or ‘That feels a little silly or easy’ or ‘That feels over-thought-out’ or whatever.
It goes back to that whole thing about the past is the past, and I don’t spend a long time back there. And there’s not really much I can do about it [laughs] and honestly, I don’t listen to them. I don’t listen to a lot of Metallica music. Part of it is because I’m sort of overly analytical [about the details].
It’s basically almost impossible for me to listen to a Metallica song without going, ‘Okay, how are the sonics, how’s the mix, how does the guitar sound? The vocals are too loud, the bass is too boomy.’ It becomes this exercise in analytics. When you hear your favorite band — like if I listened to Rage Against the Machine or something, I just fucking let myself go. But when Metallica comes on it’s like, ‘Huh?’”
Later in the chat, Ulrich was asked which album he felt was most underrated from the band’s catalog, he opted for both 1996’s controversial “Load” & its 1997 follow-up “Reload“:
“…The most underrated records, i.e., the least appreciated records, are ‘Load‘ or ‘Reload‘, then I would say I’m fine with that because I think those are pretty decent records. When I hear songs from either of those records, I’m pretty happy with what I hear.
So that means that if the other stuff sits north of that, then that’s a good bar to have. I’m okay with that. I think the longer answer is, I’m pretty much okay with anything and any way people rate any of the things that we’ve done.
‘St. Anger‘, maybe, is more of a polarizing record. Some people had a hard time with the sound, the brutality of that record. If you have to kind of put them all into a sound bite: ‘Justice‘, the album without the bass on it. ‘St. Anger‘, the album without the snare. All this stuff, I’m very okay with any of that.
I’m proud of the fact that if nothing else, all these records represent the vision of the moment. We were protective of that vision and we fulfilled it.
Then 10 or 20 years later, you can kind of sit back and go ‘Huh?’ or ‘What were we thinking? What was that about? Why did we make that choice?’ or whatever. Generally, I don’t spend a lot of time being analytical.
I’m much more interested in what’s calming [laughs], and I’m much more interested in the next record or what the possibilities are for the future. I would say I spend more time in the future, maybe even to a fault, not enough time in the present, and definitely the least amount of time in the past.
I even have a standard answer when people go, ‘What’s your favorite Metallica?’ Before they finish that question, I would say, ‘The next one.’ If I’m not more excited about the next one, what’s the point of making it?”
Prior to his answers Ulrich admitted to giving his “truth of the moment”, conceding that his answers could change over time. You can find more over of his picks over at Vulture.com. If you missed it, Ulrich also revealed his all-time favorite Metallica track several weeks back, you can find his choice here.