The Album That Nearly Broke Up Metallica

Metallica seems to have been around almost as long as heavy metal itself. The band got their start in 1981 when frontman James Hatfield and drummer Lars Ulrich joined forces. Since then, between tours and studio albums, the band has been working virtually nonstop. They've been famous for everything from their musical hits to suing Napster back in 2000. They're one of the few metal bands that can be found on both new rock and oldies stations alike, since they're released songs over a span of nearly 40 years. To date, the band has at least ten studio albums and eight live albums. And one of those albums nearly brought the band to a permanent end.

It wasn't the St. Anger album itself that nearly put an end to Metallica, but rather the personal and interpersonal troubles of the bandmates. St. Anger was released in June 2003 and looked like it might be Metallica's final album. Rolling Stone reported that the band's then-bassist, Jason Newsted, left the group before the album's production, saying the reasoning was "private and personal reasons and the physical damage I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love." Following the band's loss of Newsted, Metallica picked up Rob Trujillo on bass and proceeded with St. Anger. They made it about three months into producing the album before Hatfield announced that he was heading for rehab, which he did in 2004 after the album was released.

It all fell to hell while making St. Anger

Even though Hatfield openly admitted wanting to better himself, that didn't mean the band was out of the water. According to Revolver, the band was getting along so poorly that they had to hire a "performance enhancement coach" to help them all get along, including group therapy, while they worked on the album. The troubles the band was going through were enough to warrant a documentary, Some Kind of Monster.

Things weren't much better when Hatfield returned from rehab. The band toured to promote St. Anger, and though they returned from the road in one piece, they were chewed up and spit out. They'd been hovering on the brink for a few years now and things weren't exactly looking up. For roughly a year after the tour, the band was on a break. Drummer Lars Ulrich called the year "some much-needed chill time" in an interview with The Sun in 2019.

"That was the last time we had a real break," Ulrich says, referring to after the St. Anger tour, "We haven't shut down the band in 14 years, but we disappeared then for about a year." Ulrich also says it was The Rolling Stones who pulled their band from the brink of destruction when they had Metallica open for them on tour. "It gave us the way to start it back up again.

Breaking up is always a threat to the band

"Whether you're a team in an office or a bunch of dudes in a rock and roll band, at some point people have to figure out how to get along and work as a team," he said of the tour. "Fortunately we cared enough about Metallica on behalf of ourselves and the fans to figure out a way to make it function."

Since St. Anger, Hatfield has been in rehab twice, the documentary has exposed many of the band's troubles, and Metallica has powered through — for now, anyway. An interview with Rolling Stone showed that Hatfield and Ulrich still occasionally butt heads. Ulrich, during the interview, was playing an odd rhythm to one of the band's old songs, and Hatfield responds to it with agitation. But that's not the real issue.

The band is always under threat of breaking up — "The band can still pretty much fall apart at any moment," said Hatfield. He goes on: "But we don't want that. We know too much now. It's come with time and growing up together, going through tons of shit together and possibly maturing. I know that's a strange word in this business, but we care too much. We know where all the nuclear buttons are with each other, but we don't push 'em. We love what we do, and we want to keep it going." The threat will always be there, but they seem pretty determined to pull through.