Metallica's James Hetfield: "Plenty of Places to Die On That Stage"
After selling more than 100 million records and decimating virtually every arena, stadium and amphitheater on the planet, there's little doubt at this point that Metallica is the biggest heavy-metal band in history. More than three decades into a career that has seen both unprecedented triumph and intense tragedy, the band is still managing to find new and unexpected worlds to thrash into submission.
James Hetfield shreds in Metallica: Through the Never
A little more than two years after the release of the frankly bizarre Lulu, Metallica's ill-advised album collaboration with Lou Reed, the band is back with Through the Never, a big-budget 3D IMAX spectacular that weaves a violent, hallucinogenic narrative into the most laser-studded, animatronic Metallica concert ever staged. With the film, the group is stepping into a 3D universe more typically populated by the likes of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, albeit armed with a great deal more double-bass licks.
How did Metallica find themselves in such a place in 2013, working with Hollywood directors and attending IMAX film premieres? To find out, we spoke with James Hetfield, the band's voice and driving creative force, about how Metallica: Through the Never came to be.
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"I think it was over ten years ago, maybe 12 years ago, IMAX came to us, wanting to capture the intensity of a Metallica live show," says Hetfield, checking in from Metallica's Bay Area warehouse HQ. "They were back in the days of doing their Climbing Everest or Finding the Titanic films or whatever; more nature stuff. Whatever energy that happens there between us and the audience, I think they found it very interesting.
"For us, there were kind of three dreams that culminated with this movie," he continues. "One was the IMAX thing, obviously, and doing a 3D movie; then the third one was capturing the best of Metallica's live stage. We wanted to have 30 years of theatrical props brought into one stage so the people that didn't see the crosses of Master of Puppets or Ride the Lightning, things like that, were able to see it live."
That mind-boggling stage is perhaps the film's biggest star. Stretching across the entire arena floor, it features more smoke, flames and lights than can be believed, in addition to a multitude of moving parts and explosive props that at times threaten to crush the the band under the weight of their own awesomeness. Simply figuring out how to perform on it without getting maimed was no quick task, says Hetfield.
"It is the most dangerous stage in rock and roll; I'm going out on a limb and saying that," says the singer, with his disarming laugh. "There's plenty of places to die on that stage. There's plenty of little warning signs, little skull-and-crossbone drawings, 'Do not cross this line during this song!'
"Of course when you're up there during the moment, crazy with the fervor of living the music through you, you're not reading little signs," he added. "So it took a lot of practice to not get killed on that stage."
That's not to say there's no death in the movie. The film's narrative component, conceived by Predators director Nimrod Antal, tells the story of a young Metallica roadie appropriately named "Trip" who is sent out on a mission by the band that descends into a hellish nightmare of police riots, evil puppets and masked horsemen of the apocalypse. Like all of life's most intense trips, it doesn't always make sense, but it's certainly fucking memorable.
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