In an exclusive interview for BBC 6 Music, Metallica discuss their new album, Hardwired … to Self-Destruct.
Metallica unveiled their 11th studio album, Hardwired … to Self-Destruct, at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios in New York on Tuesday night.
Eight years in the making, the 12-track record stretches to nearly 80 minutes and includes a tribute to Motorhead legend Lemmy on the song Murder One.
"We're still up there, man," frontman James Hetfield tells the BBC.
"As far as our look and our health, we're doing our best. We got grey hair but we've earned this stuff."
After the playback, the band decamped to Webster Hall for an intimate (by their standards) charity concert, playing songs from throughout their 35-year career, alongside new tracks Moth Into Flame and Hardwired.
"I don't know, eight years went by fast," Hetfield told the crowd at one point. "But not for you, I guess."
The morning after the show, singer and guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Robert Trujillo sat down with BBC 6 Music's Matt Everitt to discuss the record.
What's different about this album?
Lars Ulrich: I'm still kind of tripping on the sonics. It just sounds really good and really rich and really full.
The last record (2008's Death Magnetic), as it went along, it kept getting bigger and bigger. The songs got longer endings and that type of stuff. This record was quite different. The songs got tighter and leaner and a little more concise.
So when I hear this, I feel this is Metallica at the leanest we've been for a while. Maybe even the leanest were capable of.
How do you still summon up such aggression?
Lars Ulrich: The old cliche is "turn it up to 11". I guess we turn it up to 12 or 13. But as I get a little older, I realise there's a slight element of getting into character. You're up on stage, you're in the moment, you're with your bandmates - and you turn into a little rock gnome or something. I'm not quite like that at 7:15 in the morning when I'm trying to get kid number three to finish his fruit bowl.
James Hetfield: I've come to terms with it [aggression] being a part of me. I'm able to identify it and use it. Sharpen it at times, use it in the right places and otherwise you just shut the box on it for a while and try to be normal.
Why did it take eight years?
James Hetfield: Well, anything worthwhile takes work. You know, a marriage is tough enough but being married to three other guys in a band for 30-odd years? We're guys and we all have our own agenda - and we can be cynical about each other's agendas. We're creative, too, so we make up tons of stuff in our heads if we don't communicate. So communication is pretty huge.
We love each other and we hate each other and sometimes it's really easy, sometimes it's really hard but it's always worth it.
What are you addressing lyrically?
James Hetfield: It's dealing with fame - and for everyone's that's their goal: "I want to be famous!"
And there's also the topic of, "Man, are we really doing this right?" In the timeline of history, man has been around for a nanosecond and [I'm asking]: "Are we done now? Have we had our time?" There's a lot of polarization going on in the States, and I see it other places as well. But it just seems like you have to get more extreme to balance out the other extreme. We've got to find some balance in the middle here somewhere.
We stay away from politics from religion. That just seems to polarize people even more. We all have our own beliefs but, at the end of the day, we're trying to connect with people and it seems like political views don't do that as much as music does.
What do you think people's worst preconceptions of Metallica are?
Lars Ulrich: That we live and breathe super heavy metal 24 hours a day, and that we have devil horns coming out of our foreheads. We're pretty chilled, normal dudes with a vast outlook on music from jazz to classical and pop to reggae. Metal is what we gravitate towards, and what we play. But most of us are borderline civilised people.
Kirk Hammett: That we're unlistenable! You take a take a name like Metallica and it automatically brings up all sorts of suggestions. What I always say is: "Give us a listen because we're not what you expect". We're not a one trick pony and we take chances. Sometimes we fail miserably, sometimes we come out sparkling clean. It's all about it's all about the experience, really.
How do you explain the band's longevity?
Robert Trujillo: Each album you make, each body of music you just never know how the world's going to relate to it. And it seems that, right now, people are ready for some new Metallica and old Metallica.
I mean, we're all over 50 - I'm 51 and I'm the young guy in the band - but I feel that when we put our instruments on we're like teenagers again. You know? There's this love for what we do.
James Hetfield: We're still blown away by the fact we're still going, and that people like what we do. That's bizarre to me!
Would you ever make an acoustic record?
James Hetfield: I never say never on anything. In this band, we've done lots of things that we had no clue we'd even want to do - movies, and playing Antarctica and making an album with Lou Reed. So I never say never. We've got no agenda than just to play and have a good time.
What does the future hold?
Kirk Hammett: It doesn't feel like we're in the twilight of our career. From what I can gather, collectively, we still have a lot to say, music that we want to create and everything that comes in the wake of that. If I was just to stop now it would it would feel like coitus interruptus or something. I'm not finished yet!
Finally, how hard are you rocking right now?
James Hetfield: Well, my neck's a little sore from last night! There's a lot of myths in rock and roll - you're not allowed to grow up, you're not supposed to age. Yes, we are boys trapped in men's bodies but we accept where we are now. We got grey hair but we've earned this stuff. I've earned my silver.
Robert Trujillo: I feel like we're rocking for the future. We haven't even played all these new songs but I'm already thinking of the next album.
You can listen to the full Metallica interview on the Shaun Keaveny Breakfast Show, via the BBC 6 Music Website. Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is released on November 18th.