The Biggest Scandals To Ever Hit Metallica

Founded in October 1981, Metallica defied the odds. At the time of their formation, glam rock was on the rise as bands like Mötley Crüe and Twisted Sister were lighting up the Sunset Strip. Yet, the Bay Area thrash movement, which featured heavy hitters like Metallica, Slayer, and Exodus, according to Louder, provided an alternative for music fans who wanted something harder and faster. Even with the positive word of mouth doing the rounds among the music community, no one could have predicted that Metallica would have climbed out of those sweaty, packed shows to become one of the greatest artists of all time (via Rolling Stone).

With that being said, their career hasn't been smooth sailing all the way. For every success, there has been a scandal that has threatened to derail all their hard work. Some of these controversies were self-inflicted, while others were out of their control. From the shocking Napster lawsuit to the unexpected firing of popular bandmates, here are some of the biggest scandals that rocked Metallica and had fans banging their heads (against a wall).

Metallica vs. Napster

There's a lot of debate about when Metallica went from being heavy metal darlings to becoming a world-renowned franchise. Many fans point to the mind-blowing sales of "Metallica," while others suggest it was their song "I Disappear" that appeared on 2000's "Mission: Impossible 2" soundtrack and peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's mainstream charts (via Blabbermouth). The reality is, it was their fight against Napster over the legalities of P2P file sharing that brought them to the forefront of international news and labeled sellouts by fans, along with any other artist that supported them in this controversial crusade and justice for all (via Wired).

As per The Washington Post, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and his lawyers appeared at Napster's offices in May 2000 with the names of over 335,000 Internet users who had used the service to exchange the band's music. After much media attention and scrutiny from both sides of the argument, Napster settled the landmark dispute with the group in 2001, according to Kerrang; however, the scandal has hung like a black cloud over Metallica since then. In a 2013 interview with Huffpost, Ulrich acknowledged that it was the one incident that the band has become notorious for. "It'll be in the first five sentences of my obituary, and I sort of accept that for better or worse," he stated, while also admitting no regret over the lawsuit.

The ticket scalping fiasco

As a music fan, there's nothing quite as disappointing as trying to find tickets for a show and seeing they're all sold out. What's even worse is discovering a scalper pushing for more than double the original price because they know there's a desperate audience. While most people frown upon ticket scalping in general, it's actually an act that can do serious harm to the music industry, as reported by DJ Mag. Naturally, one would think that artists and their management teams would be against it out of sheer principle, right? According to a Billboard report, some of them, including Metallica, were actually getting in on the action.

The scandalous Billboard discovery found that Live Nation assisted artists to sell tickets on scalping sites for larger profit margins. As per Vox, a recorded phone call featured Tony DiCioccio — an associate of Metallica — asking Live Nation's Bob Roux for help in selling 88,000 tickets for Metallica concerts on scalping sites. It wasn't a good look for anyone involved. However, band members claimed they were unaware that any of this was taking place.

The symphony of Dave Mustaine's destruction

Dave Mustaine is a shredding guitar god of heavy metal with iconic riffs dripping from his fingertips. In fact, he was awarded the number one spot in seminal music journalist Joel McIver's book, "The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists," in 2008. The accolade meant a lot to Mustaine, who revealed to Classic Rock that he was particularly happy to finish above James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, his successor in Metallica. While Mustaine claimed that he's on better terms with Metallica nowadays, he didn't miss a beat in taking a potshot at Lars Ulrich in 2018 (via NME), proving that the bad blood still boils over on occasion.

Mustaine's firing from the band on April 11, 1983, as per Kerrang, is still a sore point of contention for both he and fans. Reportedly, Metallica found Mustaine's alcohol abuse to be too extreme and parted ways with him in an abrupt manner. The band packed his bags, woke him up, and gave him a one-way bus ticket out of town. It also didn't help matters much that Metallica had already lined up Hammett as his replacement 10 days earlier. After his bitter departure, Mustaine went on to form the successful thrash outfit Megadeth, which actually holds the distinction for having "the first official website for a band on the Internet," according to Megadeth.

The time Metallica sued a cover band

Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. However, if we're talking about music, it's legal grounds for copyright infringement and a lengthy lawsuit. In the case of Metallica, as per Louder, they received some serious bad press in 2016 because of a lawyer's letter sent to a cover band.

The Canadian band named Sandman received a cease-and-desist letter from Metallica's attorney, demanding they stop using anything related to the name of Metallica in what they were doing as a group. Vocalist Joe Di Taranto posted the letter on Facebook where it received a lot of attention from both fans and the music community. Eventually, the incident came to the ears of the band, with the band giving a statement to Rolling Stone: "Sandman should file the letter in the trash. Keep doing what you're doing. We totally support you." The band also hinted in the statement that the lawyer who'd sent the letter in question had since been fired.

Did Metallica copy Excel?

Metallica has never been afraid to cite their influences. Whether they cover The Misfits' "Die, Die My Darling" on "Garage Inc." or Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" on the B-side of "Creeping Death," the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band proudly salutes those who have had a helping hand in shaping their sound. However, as per The Los Angeles Times, there was one incident in the early '90s where a Californian thrash band named Excel noticed a certain song named "Enter Sandman" that sounded eerily similar to their track "Tapping Into the Emotional Void" from their 1989 album, "The Joke's On You."

Excel decided to not drag the matter in front of the courts at the time, though. "A lawsuit, unfortunately, sucks everything else out of your life," the group's manager Jane Hoffman told The LA Times. "Every day you're dealing with it. Instead of dealing with positives, you're dealing with negatives, and nothing is proceeding." Metallica's co-manager Cliff Burnstein admitted that he was aware of Excel as a musical outfit, but he'd never heard the song in question.

Jason Newsted's unceremonious departure

The 1986 passing of Cliff Burton in a tragic bus accident (via Ultimate Classic Rock) devastated the band. While Burton has never been forgotten by his bandmates, the show needed to go on, and a replacement was sorely needed. As per Metallica's official biography, they auditioned over 40 bassists before settling on Jason Newsted. Newsted's run with the band was equally remarkable, as he formed a part of the fearsome quartet for 15 years before finally departing in 2001.

Newsted left Metallica after feeling frustrated over his lack of creative input and also to recover from neck and back injuries he'd sustained, according to Loudwire. Lars Ulrich admitted in an interview with Apple Music (via NME) that Metallica didn't handle his exit well. "Jason is the only member of Metallica who has ever left willingly," he said. "And that in itself is a statistic. And the resentment from James and I was just so ... You can't do that. You can only leave if we want you to leave. And then we weren't equipped at the time to do a deep dive into why he was leaving."

While there was animosity between the parties, it was all resolved by the time Metallica, including Newsted, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "I talked to Lars, and it's all good," Newsted told Rolling Stone about receiving the call about the induction. "I was happy to hear from him."

The reviews debacle

It's tough being a musician. No artist walks into a studio with the intention of creating a mediocre single or album, but they'll often suffer the wrath of critics and fans if it isn't what was expected. While negative reviews might annoy the musicians, at least they aren't reacting with violence like author Richard Brittain did in England. Alternatively, they should do what Metallica did and prevent early reviews of their album, as per Wired.

In 2008, before the release of "Death Magnetic," Metallica invited a few journalists to an early listening session of the album in London, England. The journalists were not asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, so a few writers presumed it was fair game and published their thoughts on the album afterwards. Not too long after the reviews appeared online, Metallica's team asked for the publications to take them down, claiming what they'd heard was an early mix of the album and not the final product. Ironically, this is the same album that had a fan petition to be remixed afterwards, as per Blabbermouth.

Metallica's music being used to torture prisoners

There are numerous songs that music fans might consider the worst ever. Some might even go as far as saying it's pure torture to listen to them. It turns out that's exactly what the military did when it wanted to break down prisoners, per The Guardian, as it pumped up the volume and let the music do its worst. Now, while some of us might have expected an annoying song like the Vengaboys' "We Like to Party!" to be blaring on repeat over the speakers, it was actually Metallica's "Enter Sandman" being blasted at Guantánamo Bay and a detention camp at the border of Iraq and Syria.

"We've been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music for ever," Hetfield joked when he was told about Metallica being the torture device of choice. "Why should the Iraqis be any different?" However, it does seem like that behind the scenes Metallica wasn't too ecstatic with all the publicity it brought them, since the band requested for the military to stop using their music, as revealed by Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill to Esquire.

The petition to remix Death Magnetic

After "St. Anger" failed to capture the critics' thumbs-up and the fans' cash, as The Guardian pointed out, Metallica took some time out to plan their next effort. Five years to be exact. Without a shadow of a doubt, 2008's "Death Magnetic" was better received than its predecessor, with AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine hailing it as "Metallica sound like Metallica again." Yet, as the BBC reported, this didn't stop approximately 16,000 fans from signing a petition to demand that the album be remixed because of a perceived poor sound quality. Once again, a Metallica record was in the news for all the wrong reasons.

In an interview with Blender (via MusicRader), Lars Ulrich addressed the criticisms of the album's sound. "There's nothing up with the audio quality," he said. "It's 2008, and that's how we make records. [Producer] Rick Rubin's whole thing is to try and get it to sound lively, to get it to sound loud, to get it to sound exciting, to get it to jump out of the speakers." Ulrich added that "the Internet gives everybody a voice, and the Internet has a tendency to give the complainers a louder voice." Despite the initial complaints, "Death Magnetic" was certified double platinum, having sold over two million copies, in 2010 (per Louder).

Kylie and Kendall Jenner's Metallica shirt

While Kylie Jenner is known for being a socialite and the space she takes up in the gossip columns, she's also a businesswoman at heart. However, there was one venture that she undertook with her sister Kendall Jenner that didn't turn out quite as anticipated. In 2017 the Jenner sisters released a range of T-shirts that featured their faces over images and album covers of famous musicians, but they quickly pulled the line after significant backlash from the music community (via The Guardian).

Metallica's "Kill 'Em All" was one of the vintage covers desecrated by the Jenners, as per Racked. James Hetfield wasn't too impressed by this unauthorized collaboration, either, telling ET Canada: "I guess what they were thinking is, we can do whatever we want. To me, it's disrespectful. We've spent 36 years working hard, doing our best to keep a really close connection with people, [making] every note count, and someone just throws something up over something that we feel ... Not that it's sacred or anything, but show some respect." The Jenner sisters posted a public apology on social media for the shirts, stating the "designs were not well thought out."

The riot at the Olympic Stadium

While the Grammy Award-nominated "Fuel" might be one of the most recognizable singles off 1997's "Reload" album, it also comes across as the unwanted soundtrack to what happened to James Hetfield at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. 

On August 8, 1992, Metallica and Guns N' Roses were deep into their co-headlining tour, but, as per Loudwire's retrospective report, it wasn't without incident as there had been a few hiccups along the way, including Axl Rose's inability to read the time on his watch. On this fateful evening, Metallica played first, but their set ended much sooner than anticipated as Hetfield accidentally found himself trapped in a shower of pyro, causing him to be rushed to the hospital to be treated for second- and third-degree burns. 

Instead of Guns N' Roses doing Metallica and the audience a solid by playing a longer set, the band showed up late onstage, then Rose cut short his band's performance after less than a hour due to alleged voice issues. This act incensed the audience, per The New York Times, as the 53,000 fans rioted and rampaged, causing significant damage to the venue. Needless to say, this isn't a moment that's fondly remembered in either band's glittering career.

Metallica's controversial change in appearance

Fun fact: How do you anger a metalhead? Cut their hair. While it might sound like a cheesy joke, there's a certain truth to it. Just ask Metallica. Despite 1990's "Metallica" sitting as the number one album on the Billboard 200 for four weeks straight and being listed as one of Rolling Stone's greatest albums of all time, a new genre climbed out of the gutters of Seattle and exploded onto the music scene in the early '90s. Grunge music brought with it a new sound and aesthetic. Gone were the long hair and sleeveless band shirts of the past, making way for musicians who had shorter hairstyles and an unhealthy obsession with plaid.

In the lead-up to 1996's "Load," Metallica experienced a grunge-approved makeover. When they reappeared in the public eye, the group looked more like Sugar Ray than Slayer. "We didn't think it was that big of a deal," Kirk Hammett told Deseret News. "And it really surprised us that everyone else made such a fuss. But it's cool, because we like controversy." The band's style continued to evolve over the years, but nothing was ever quite as drastic or controversial as the look from the '90s.