Interview with James Hetfield

FISH GRIWKOWSKY -- Special to Sun Media

, Last Updated: 5:11 AM ET

James Hetfield, lead singer of Metallica since the band's inception in 1981 in L.A., can't have possibly predicted any of this.

Millions of metal records sold, a worldwide audience, the eventual hiring of the same photographer as U2 and Depeche Mode ... then a bogeyman role when record companies decided to sue music fans over illegal downloading, a documentary about the band's emotional problems - it's actually crazier than Spinal Tap. But Death Magnetic is a revival - getting back on Metallica's deafening original course that even holdout early fans love. Here's what he had to say last night in an interview just before the concert:

Fish: "How do you react to the fact fans are saying this is the best album in years, maybe decades? You're not taking it as an insult?"

James: "It's kinda good. No, there's plenty of other things to consider as insults. We feel good about every record, but this one seems to be getting extra good response. With (2003's) St. Anger, time will tell. Not to consider us like Led Zeppelin or anything, but the third Zep album they were talking smack about, but now it's one of my favourite. Time will tell. It has to erase all the other stuff attached to it. Like Load and the (semen and blood) photos. And St. Anger and the whole movie about the collapse of Metallica. This one, right out the gate. Pretty amazed."

Fish: "How much did Rick Rubin as a producer have to do with that, bringing back the solos and long songs?"

James: "He had a lot to do with making us feel like it was OK. A lot of our fears about not progressing as a band were showing. Don't look back, because that's the sign of failure. Resting on your laurels, sitting fat on the couch. Along the way we forgot some of the essential tools that make us unique. He helped us embrace our past. Lars (Ulrich) and I have always been battling. I'd rather have a shorter song, say the same amount in a shorter sentence. If an eight-minute song sounds like it's 10 minutes, there's a problem."

Fish: "I like All Nightmare Long the most of the new batch. Who are you hunting in it?"

James: "I like to keep it as vague as possible, so it can plug into your life. It almost didn't make it. The chorus is a leftover from St. Anger. It was an attempt to get back to the H.P. Lovecraft mythos with Thing that Should not Be, Call of Cthulu. This was about the hounds of Tindalos, which was another crazy mindf--- about these wolves that hunt through their nightmares and the only way you can get away from them is stay with angels. You can't even escape through sleep."

Fish: "People still name '83's Kill 'em All as the cornerstone. Is it frustrating?"

James: "Not at all. It's part of us. We get to go play that and own it! As long as we're not the nostalgia act - 'Tom Jones, play Pussycat!' You have to play Sandman, Seek & Destroy, Nothing Else Matters. If you don't play them live ... If you're a young teen (today), Kill 'em All makes a lot of sense."

Fish: "We've seen the movie - is the therapy done?"

James: "Yeah, we're cured (laughs). We're less cautious and more conscious."

Fish: "It must suck to watch the movie."

James: "I've seen it a few times. When you're an actor and you walk into a theatre where your movie is playing, you're kinda proud. 'Look at my skill!' But that was us. Naked. Ugly. And raw."

Fish: "Do you think people forget that you are an artist, down deep. You have something to say."

James: "We're a big, easy target. Cuz of Napster. Cuz of the movie. Things people can easily throw darts at. I'll sit and talk about the feeling of going onstage and what a high it is for me, the new high, and the respect people pay you by coming out to see us live, in weather like this. And you get a kid on his deathbed and his one thing is he wants to meet Metallica - and you go 'F---, yeah.' We do this because we feel it. People always complain about something. If you face yourself and stand up strong, you're OK. You can't go wrong."

Fish: "How many more Unforgivens are you going to write?"

James: (Laughs) "That depends if I ever forgive myself. So maybe a few more."


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