Life in a multi-million-selling, multiple-Grammy-winning, globe-conquering band. It’s a life we’ve all pined after at least briefly at some point in our own mortal existences, but it’s a life that very few of us get to experience firsthand, or even anywhere verging on close-up. Therefore, any kind of exposé of the so-called ‘rockstar’ lifestyle is going to be appealing to a massive demographic of everyday folk for whom international recognition is well out of reach. But when Metallica released their landmark fly-on-the-wall documentary Some Kind Of Monster in 2004, no-one was truly prepared for the shockingly honest and often uncomfortable experience of watching one of the most commercially successful bands of all time all but tear themselves, their legacy and eachother apart onscreen. This seminal release documenting band therapy and the recording process of 2003’s St. Anger album painfully showcased that it’s not always rainbows and metallic butterflies in the lives of our musical heroes. Now the band have decided to revisit this painful period and re-release the whole thing.
The first half hour of Some Kind Of Monster paints a picture of Metallica as a happy, functional unit of three family men, all friends and all refreshed and ready to begin a new writing cycle. This in itself is surprising given that only three months prior to filming, bass player Jason Newstead had exited the fold, and not on the happiest of terms, leaving the core members of the band (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett) short of a brother and lacking in low frequencies. Unfazed, the band seem excited to get working with producer Bob Rock filling in on bass and a new, communal approach to writing; songs come together in the jam room, rather than the self-admitted joint dictatorship/power struggle of Hetfield and Ulrich that had produced Metallica’s previous albums. We get snippets of insight into the individual members’ interests outside of the band, too; Hetfield’s love of vintage motor cars; Kirk’s surfing skill; Lars’ weird painting collection. For a Metallica fan, seeing these hobbies humanises the gods of metal and brings their world into a sphere closer to our own, even if this is a display of some of the most expensive hobbies ever. A successful band are far more than an album and tour churning machine, they are a collective of individuals, and cheesy though it may be, often a close-knit family.
But families fight. Some Kind Of Monster isn’t famous for displaying the positives. Hetfield and Ulrich’s interpersonal dynamic is uncannily similar to that of a young married couple, with bursts of irritation and resentment towards eachother coming frequently, much to the obvious embarrassment of all others present. At several points in the film it seems that things are looking up, issues are becoming resolved and the album is getting recorded, but each time the band are forced to take a collective step backwards by a childish squabble between two men who have clearly spent far too much time in eachothers’ company, building an empire together which has put an immense strain on a brotherly relationship. A feeling that almost all Metallica fans can relate to is the desire to tell Lars to shut up, and in the watching of this documentary, it is nigh on impossible not to audibly do so, as the drummer so often says exactly the wrong thing to make an already awkward situation worse.
It is also very hard not to feel sorry for Kirk Hammett almost all the way through the film. Always caught in the crossfire of the fraught lovers’ relationship with nothing to do but literally put his head in his hands and offer weak and useless mediating words, the perpetually clueless-looking guitarist is a real victim here. When discussing James feeling left out when decisions are made without him, Kirk pipes up that that’s been his life for 20 years, and although he says it in jest, the worn-out look in his eyes says it all.
Ultimately, Some Kind Of Monster is a thoroughly engaging watch. The dreadful lows shown which very nearly caused the demise of the whole band only serve to make the victories and positives seem all the more important and majestic. The joy on Rob Trujilo’s face as he is rendered speechless when offered one million dollars to become Metallica’s bass player is incredibly touching, and the genuine passion and belief the band have in their new songs during the somewhat rare moments of rehearsal and recording when everyone is happy with the direction is truly uplifting. All the struggles laid bare in this film were put to use in creating a raw, angry album which acted as an exorcism for all the bands’ demons, and by the conclusion of the film when Metallica take to their stage, you get the sense that they are all in a much better place.
If watching Some Kind Of Monster was a legal prerequisite for listening to St. Anger, it is possible that the album might not be so universally hated. Yes, the snare drum sounds like a bin lid, there are no solos and some of the riffs verge on nu-metal, but with this documentary it is possible really get a sense of what they tried to achieve, not to mention what they went though doing it. Time has not looked kindly on the initially number one album, but Some Kind Of Monster will always be timeless.