Once celebrated for his drum work on the early Metallica classics, Lars Ulrich is now the focus of almost universal enmity. Everywhere one looks tales of his irrational egoism are legion. The story which forms the heart of this narrative comes from the lips of industry stalwart engineer Steve Thompson.
Thompson, whose diversity of work bridges the gap from Celine Dion to Sepultura, recently gave an interview with UltimateGuitar.com, where the highly respected producer had some very revealing details about one of Metal's perennial mysteries; the absent bass on “And Justice For All”.
The album in question, Metallicas first after the untimely, tragic death of their original bassist Cliff Burton has always perplexed Metallica aficionados with its nearly bass-less mix. A feature which many presumed to be a tribute to the late musician.
As we shall see, the real reason behind it are not so honourable.
Here the interview with Mr Thompson takes up the tale.
Did the band know what kind of album they wanted to make and what they wanted it to sound like?
Lars knew exactly the sound and the parameters of everything he wanted on his drums. So he would actually bring his photos of a Klark Teknik's EQ [parametric equalizer] setup because he had a certain way he wanted the drums to sound. I said, "Michael [Barbiero], why don't you work with Lars and get the drum sound he's looking for? Call me when he's happy."
What did you think when you finally heard them?
They called me in and I listened to them and I said to myself, "These sound like a-s. Terrible sounding." I chased everybody out of the room and redesigned the drum sound and brought the guitars up. Jason [Newsted] killed it on bass. Perfect marriage with Hetfield's guitars.
Was James happy with what you were doing?
I'm putting all the other stuff up and everything like this and Hetfield gives a thumbs up. Lars comes walking in a couple minutes later and listens to about a minute of it and goes, "Turn that off" and I said, "What's the problem?" He said, "What happened to my drum sound?" I said, "You were serious?" or something like that.
Lars was not happy?
We had to get the drum sound up the way he had it. I wasn't a fan of it. So now he goes, "See the bass guitar?" and I said, "Yeah, great part, man. He killed it." He said, "I want you to bring down the bass where you can barely, audibly hear it in the mix." I said, "You're kidding. Right?"
He wasn't kidding?
He said, "No. Bring it down." I bring it down to that level and he says, "Now drop it down another 5 db." I turned around and looked at Hetfield and said, "He's serious?" It just blew me away……..I remember when Metallica got elected to the Hall of Fame, they flew us out and I'm sitting with Lars.
Did you talk to him?
He goes, "Hey, what happened to the bass in "… Justice?" He actually asked me that. I wanted to cold cock him right there. It was a shame because I'm the one getting the sh-t for the lack of bass.
Presumably this power-play/territorial pissing was all to assert a dominance over new-comer Newstead, who despite being in Metallica for over a decade has been quoted as saying he “never felt part of the band”. A situation that was probably intentional.
It is conceivable that Mr Ulrich's mind was clouded by grief generated by the loss of his band-mate, but what this possible miasma of despair fails to take account of, is the snide attempt at blame shifting he undertakes with Steve Thompson all those years later.
It is easy to pile hatred and opprobrium on Lars for his attitude because of this facility I didn't want this piece to become a litany of his misdeeds. But conducting research on the man is a uniquely depressing experience. By some astounding confluence of ego, ignorance, arrogance and talent Lars has managed to inspire thousands of articles full of vituperative prose, seeking to detail his behaviour and in some cases looking deeper for any facile reasoning behind his specious and ire inducing pronouncements.
No other figure in music inspires such collective and unanimous criticism. Even the clamour for the head of Justin Beiber is muted by the screams of his dedicated minions. But the only descenting voices for Anti-Ulrich sentiment are either blinkered Metallica fan-boys or entrepreneurial apologists who claim it's only valid to criticise Lars when you have matched his level of success. Both of which viewpoints can be negated by their forgiveable bias or a capitalistic lack of internal logic.
So what is it about this Homunculus Majora that twists the nipples of even the most apathetic metal scribe? Perhaps it is Metallica's place as Metal's ambassadors to the wider musical world and our sublimated embarrassment at the partially talented midget Uncle, trapped behind a drum-kit that at least one of his band-mates is better than him at playing.
Perhaps it is the stark and tragic reality he exudes; he's far from being a rock-star hero who blew through a fortune by being a genius musician but a moron with money. In fact he's the opposite; an arch-pragmatist who collected Post-Modernist art and made as much if not more money doing so than through his musical endeavours.
There is almost negative romance and artistry in the man. I'm not talking about his private life; he's not the dreamy genius that Kirk is, he's not a walkin', talkin', rootin', tootin', blue collar shotgun like James. Nor is he the utterly reliable professional that both replacement bassists have been. He's a vainglorious ego kept afloat by his faith in himself and his own opinion. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a system of thought so shallow, that "discovering" M.O.R Beatles copyists Oasis "Altered my perception of Music".
Don't believe that last one. Well check it out… HERE.
But, I digress…..
This is just one of so many "Mystery explained by revelation of Lars' input" stories out there that I have actually started feeling something akin to sympathy for the man. This peculiar sensation, similar in symptom to Flu and Dementia, lasts only until I read anything he has said about music and his place in it; which produces an instant reminder of the pervasive nature of his ego, which is more rampant than almost everyone in the history of the Music Business. Which might sound like obfuscation, but I didn't want to call him a hack, which despite this equivocation, he totally is.
– John Whitmore