Once publicly challenged to a fight by Axl Rose, veteran UK journalist Mick Wall is an old hand at rock biographies.
There’s few more qualified to pen a tome about metal’s most successful act, Metallica – whom he has maintained an occasionally bizarre association with for the past 25 years.
Wall introduces each chapter with a personal memory of his encounters with Metallica. This presents numerous insights – particularly the progression of his complex relationship with drummer Lars Ulrich. Exhaustively compiled and meticulously researched, the author goes to great lengths to place the band’s formation in the proper context and features numerous interviews – including eminent rock reporters, former managers and musical peers. Metallica made a seemingly unlikely ascent to the top of the music industry ladder, transcending genres to become the “U2 of heavy metal” and surviving PR nightmares (Napster), a key member’s death and inner power struggles. Wall is equally at ease celebrating 1986’s Master of Puppets as he is dubbing 2008’s Death Magnetic “tokenistic” (and more controversially, mauling 1988’s …And Justice For All). He’s also not afraid to call them out on what he deems calculated career decisions, such as aesthetic concessions to the ‘90s grunge and alt-rock revolutions.
Wall’s insistence on dispelling distorted half-truths regurgitated so many times by band members even they’ve started to believe it hasn’t always endeared him to his subjects. However, questioning Metallica’s ancient party line that they soldiered on in the wake of bassist Cliff Burton’s death “because that’s what Cliff would have wanted” is fascinating. The sheer amount of detail ensures this won’t be for casual fans, but even the most dedicated fanboys will discover details they didn’t know beforehand.