September 26, 2018

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Masters of metal

The Metallica live experience continues to inspire generations of Manitoba rockers

When the long-haired, loud L.A. teens of Metallica entered the game in the early ‘80s with their fresh and energized take on metal, most would not have expected them to become game-changers in the music industry.

But thanks to some unforgettable guitar riffs, lightning-fast tempos and a healthy dose of relatable youth aggression in their now-iconic first four albums, the thrash-metal band was able to expand their initial underground following into the highest level of mainstream success.

And, even more impressive, they’ve been able to maintain that success for the better part of 30 years, racking up Grammy Awards, multiple No. 1 albums and singles, and eventually becoming of one of the most commercially successful bands of all time, selling in excess of 125 million records worldwide.

“I would say Metallica is still considered to be iconic in the metal world,” says Cory Thomas, the man behind the annual Manitoba Metalfest and talent buyer at the Park Theatre.

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When the long-haired, loud L.A. teens of Metallica entered the game in the early ‘80s with their fresh and energized take on metal, most would not have expected them to become game-changers in the music industry.

But thanks to some unforgettable guitar riffs, lightning-fast tempos and a healthy dose of relatable youth aggression in their now-iconic first four albums, the thrash-metal band was able to expand their initial underground following into the highest level of mainstream success.

And, even more impressive, they’ve been able to maintain that success for the better part of 30 years, racking up Grammy Awards, multiple No. 1 albums and singles, and eventually becoming of one of the most commercially successful bands of all time, selling in excess of 125 million records worldwide.

James Hetfield (left) and Kirk Hammett have been playing together since Hammett joined Metallica in 1983. (Owen Sweeney / Invision files)

James Hetfield (left) and Kirk Hammett have been playing together since Hammett joined Metallica in 1983. (Owen Sweeney / Invision files)

"I would say Metallica is still considered to be iconic in the metal world," says Cory Thomas, the man behind the annual Manitoba Metalfest and talent buyer at the Park Theatre.

"Their first four albums are known as landmark metal masterpieces with massive influences on young and old. I’d say Metallica right now is probably the biggest they have ever been. They sell out everywhere they go and the crowds are young and older... I’m not sure if the new albums would be held in the same regard for influence as the old albums, but the old Metallica seems to be timeless and stretches among all age groups."

One of those sold-out shows is in Winnipeg, Thursday, Sept. 13 at Bell MTS Place, where more than 16,000 fans will pack the arena to soak up a 360-degree concert experience. According to a True North Sports and Entertainment spokesman, this show is expected surpass the arena’s previous highest attendance record, which Metallica set when they were last in town in 2009.

Metallica frontman James Hetfield is a big part of the group's high-energy live shows. (Marco Ugarte / The Associated Press files)

Metallica frontman James Hetfield is a big part of the group's high-energy live shows. (Marco Ugarte / The Associated Press files)

Winnipeg metal mainstay Chuck Labossiere, 46, won’t be at the show tonight — he says the hefty price tag for tickets was a big deterrent, with the cheapest ones going for $79 plus fees, but most running nearer to $200 or more — but still has a soft spot in his musical heart for Metallica as the band had big influence on him in the early days of his own musical career.

Labossiere has made his mark locally with bands such as Votov and Immortal Possession, among others, and says his performance style was largely inspired by Metallica frontman James Hetfield, who rips on guitar while also handling the vocals as Labossiere does for his bands.

"In my life there’s probably three or four main influences... and James Hetfield from Metallica is one. I wouldn’t be who I am without seeing Metallica and knowing who they are," says Labossiere.

"Me and my brother and our buddy went to the Master of Puppets show Dec. 13, 1986, at the Playhouse Theatre and it was unbelievable. I’m standing right in front of James Hetfield and it just blew my mind; the hair on my arms raises when I think of that feeling that I had, just going, ‘Holy crap, this is unreal.’ And I was like, ‘I’m going to be just like that guy when I grow up.’ I mean I was like 16-17 years old, so he has definitely influenced me."

The Metallica concert experience is something that came up a lot when asking local musicians how and when they first truly became lifelong fans of Metallica. For Mike Menza, member of both Endless Chaos and Solanum, Metallica was his first concert. He was 15 years old, had only recently discovered Metallica’s music, and decided he should go check them out live.

Kirk Hammett was a member of Bay Area thrash band Exodus before joining Metallica. (Amy Harris / Invision files)

Kirk Hammett was a member of Bay Area thrash band Exodus before joining Metallica. (Amy Harris / Invision files)

"The first concert I ever went to was Metallica at the Winnipeg Arena with Godsmack... I put aside some birthday money and mowed a couple lawns to pay for the ticket and it was incredible. I’d never seen that much pyro, it was a really cool experience," says Menza, 29, who, like Labossiere, says his live-playing style has been influenced by Metallica.

"Playing live, I was heavily inspired by the Live Shit: Binge and Purge (live concert) boxset that came out years ago, and I’ll still watch those concerts because they are exciting, they are super high-energy and the production on it is awesome. When I first watched those, my buddy and I must have watched it five times over the course of two days because it was just so awesome, they’re just crazy live."

Just as teens such as Labossiere were drawn to the ingenuity and sheer sonic force of Metallica in the ‘80s, millennials such as Menza, and now Gen Z teens are experiencing the same feeling of discovery and inspiration as they dig into Metallica’s catalogue decades later; their music has remained relevant and impactful.

Mike Menza of the groups Solanum and Endless Chaos got into metal after attending a Metallica show in Winnipeg. (Supplied)

Mike Menza of the groups Solanum and Endless Chaos got into metal after attending a Metallica show in Winnipeg. (Supplied)

"I mean they are just great musicians, and I don’t really care what kind of music it is, it could be metal, it could be jazz, but you recognize good musicians and... I just like their music, I like them as people, they’re interactive and just a good band all together. That’s why I keep going back," says Justin McCreary, a 17-year-old musician in punk band 40 Dollar Mic.

"I feel like if you can make material that teenagers, millennials, what have you, can relate to, you’re successful... that’s why people keep going back to it, the relevance is that they can relate to it."

Despite the generational gap, McCreary, too, credits Metallica with helping to spark his passion and desire for a career in music, saying Master of Puppets was the first song he and his bandmates bonded over, playing it together during one of their early jam sessions.

"I kind of feel like I owe Metallica a lot for what they’ve done; Metallica started a family for me, and if I didn’t meet these guys (in the band) I don’t know what I’d be doing right now," says McCreary.

"Without this outlet of music, I wouldn’t find 100 per cent satisfaction in my life."

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

Lars Ulrich has been with Metallica since the beginning. (Amy Harris / Invision files)

Lars Ulrich has been with Metallica since the beginning. (Amy Harris / Invision files)

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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