Thrash Metal Wouldn't Exist Without Glam, Says Metallica Frontman James Hetfield

Singer/guitarist discusses the roots of thrash and his ongoing search for the "ultimate riff."

Ultimate Guitar

It might sound like a paradox, but according to Metallica's James Hetfield, thrash metal probably wouldn't exist without glam, the very thing most metalheads loathed back in the day.

As baffling as it may seem at first, the frontman also offered an explanation, saying that it was the immense hate towards the popular '80s glam rock that "fueled a lot of thrash." When asked by the MK Onderground on whether or not would thrash metal exist without glam, Hetfield answered:

"Probably not. There was a giant hatred for that that fueled a lot of thrash. Maybe some know the story - Metallica growing up in Los Angeles right in the heart of glam, right at the peak of glam and your Motley Crues, your Ratts, your Poisons, all that stuff was based in L.A. and we were the hated figure, but they were hated even more. We were thrown out of clubs because they thought we were punk rock."

The frontman then discussed the appeal thrash has and the "underground feeling" it gives the listeners, saying, "Whether it's packing our stadiums or being blasted in people's living rooms, it delivers a feeling, it delivers a connection to people who need it. It's that underground feeling. It's the black sheep of music. It's the thing that the misfits are attracted to."

At a certain point, the chat took a turn towards the so called Big Four of thrash metal, with the interviewer asking Hetfield which band he thinks would coin the Big Five. The singer/guitarist then singled out thrash pioneers Exodus, a band in which current Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett started out, as a personal favorite.

"The Big Four name was not coined by us. It's been in the press for a long, long time and way back. So there's no limit to the number of big thrash bands that were respected in those days. I would say, personally, I would say Exodus would be number five."

Finally, the frontman discussed the group's upcoming album and the inspiration for the new songs. In his own words, "the fuel will come from where it normally comes from: the will to do better, to do better than you've done before.

"Still searching for the ultimate riff, the ultimate guitar sound, the ultimate lyric, all of that stuff. It's a never-ending quest, you know, never satisfied," the singer said. "So that, as well as just enjoying and taking care of the life we have. We're pretty blessed."

As far as the new Metallica record goes, the latest info says that it could even take until 2015 before it's released. However, in the words of bassist Rob Trujillo, the riffs the band is working on sound "very, very exciting."

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75 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Metallica have written more "ultimate riffs" than any of us could ever dream of
    No matter how much I hear it, the chorus riff of Master of Puppets is still top 3. The song itself is getting to that overplayed status, like Bells, but that riff is still so fresh.
    We can't forget that Cliff Burton wrote some of those Riffs on the first three albums.
    They're especially proficient with riffs that involve playing the low E string open in different timings etc. 'Eye of the Beholder', 'One', 'Orion' and 'Holier Than Thou' for instance. So metal!
    Don't forget Disposable Heroes, I still have trouble with that one.
    James Hetfield is just so cool dude that words can't describe it. I just love that dude...
    Yeah, he's like a single very bright spot in the diarrhea filled toilet that is Metallica. Impossible to hate James
    except for the yeahs. I am a big metallica fan and play their music but the yeahs kinda get to me at times.
    Hetfield has always been a fan of Bowie, hence 'Leper Messiah'.
    In 2007, in an issue of Classic Rock magazine, which was dedicated to 1980s, was an article about Metallica, and Kirk Hammett claimed that the title "Leper Messiah" was his idea. Btw, I'd recommend to read that issue, pretty cool one (:
    I agree to an extent. Thrash was definitely popularized thanks to glam, as a rebellion against it.
    It's like when someone pisses off that one quiet guy after massing with him for a long time and he just tears them a new anus. Glam was so overblown that it just pushed some people over the edge and the reacted with equally your face material that came from a fundamentally opposite place.
    I agree, but the thing is, why is this a 'wtf' article....
    I once had an argument with the most idiotic metal head there is, he said that Thrash had nothing to do with glam at all and that he knows because he was there and has been listening to it for 30 years. Also I hate when people say *insert band here* should be in the big 4 instead of *insert band here*, what they don't seem to realize is they are called that because they were thrash bands that made the genre popular in the early too mid 80's but for some reason people say that Pantera or Machine Head should be in there when neither are thrash bands and neither had anything to do with thrash in the 80's.
    Actually, Rob Flynn and Phil Demmel do have a connection to 80's Thrash through their old band Vio-Lence before Machine Head was founded.
    That's not relevant, they still didn't make as much impact as the big 4.
    lol thrashers around here are all about Vio-Lence. Eternal Nightmare had it's impact, it was straight up thrash ****ing metal. Oppressing the Masses is also great, there's a lot of social criticism in the lyrics. I don't get the time stamp thing, I wasn't around in the 80's, why should I care what was hot and what was not back then? Good music is good music. Plenty of bands are having more impact today than back when they came out, more people has a chance to listen to it.
    The timestamp has everything to do with it seen as we're discussing the big 4 and as I have stated they were bands that made thrash popular in the early-mid 80's. Seen as Vio-lence were not around then and even if they did make an impact it wasn't as popular as the big 4's stuff whether the music was better or not. I'm just saying Machine Head cannot be in the big 4 even if some of the members were in Vio-lence.
    I was going to put something about that but I thought nah I've made it pretty clear what I mean, but there's always one. Vio-Lence first album was 88', this was a little past the time of when thrash was on the rise. Secondly I said Machine head, not Vio-lence and the fact that Flynn and Demmel were in Vio-lence doesn't mean Machine Head has anything more to do with 80's thrash.
    They should call it "THE BIG THRASH" and no number in its possible to tour with nearly an unlimited number of excellent thrashmetal bands R.I.P. Jeff Hanneman
    Yep, but for the 5th member of the big ones, I'd give tetament the honour. Today they make better music as any other thrash band. I'd even go as far as saying Dark Roots Of The Earth was the best album of 2012.
    A lot of material would not exist without a precursor so why do we even bother to read this?
    This is awesome. People have been saying for years that Exodus should be in the Big 4, and it looks like Hetfield agrees.
    Thrash (along with grunge) were originated as responses to the whole "glam/cock-rock" genre, so that makes sense. There wouldn't be shadows without light.
    Face R1pper
    Grunge hated thrash metal just as much as they hated glam metal, so they aren't really comparable in that way.
    Kurt Cobain was a huge fan of early Metallica. Soundgarden admitted to writing some thrash songs in the Guitar World magazine about their comeback. Alice in Chains toured with Megadeth and Slayer, and Layne Staley even started off in a glam band.
    Face R1pper
    It didn't necessarily have to be a personal hate. Just a professional hate to symbolize how they wanted to kick metal out of the music industry. Grunge's attitude toward metal was the same way punk rebelled against rock in the 70s.
    I recently heard that Kurt Cobain was a fan of Metallica, and was speaking to Kirk once in 1992, and he asked if Metallica will play Whiplash.
    I would say that grunge only "hated" mainstream glam metal, in fact they were influenced by classic metal and 70s hard rock. However, they killed thrash metal popularity too. Its hatred towards glam metal became hatred towards heavy metal in general (not in the bands, but in the fans; that conceived grunge as the new punk movement).
    no such thing as "grunge" just a commercial tool. underground bands in Seattle at the time didnt hate thrash they loved it they just mixed it up with all other shit that was floating around at the time ie hardcore punk crust punk punk punk black flag black sabbath and whatever else they liked. they didnt resent the mainstream there just wasnt much happening there at the time so the kids found something to do and it kept happening till people started to notice it could have been any indie band of the time but Nirvana just did the right thing at the right time
    Music is a constant cycle, really, because without Glam metal, grunge may not have come about along thrash metal as well, (as James says), so it is true that certain genres have helped shape the music we so largely listen to today.
    It might not have become as popular, but I have to disagree with the idea that it wouldn't exist. It was really inevitable since a bunch of teens were already interested in how the song Symptom of the Universe would sound if it was played faster.
    People still give a shit about stuff like this? Should have asked Hetfield about what his favorite bacon is instead.
    never knew that Diamond Head was a glam metal band.
    Nope. Diamond head never were glam. They were straight up classic Heavy metal(or as some would say - NWOBHM). They turned hard rock/art rock for some time later, though.
    Not that I care that much about what band should be the fifth in the Big Four, because I like a ton of thrash bands more than some of the Big Four, I would say that Testament takes the cake.
    I can only imagine how it must been back then. been to few modern day Glamparties, and i discovered i totally can't stand that genre. Its all so awfully cheesy... No wonder metalbands were pissed back then..
    Well, not all of them. It depends on the person. Some hardcore Thrashers totally hated it, some didn't care about it. And some liked it. I mean, if you think rationally, people are different, and metalheads are people too. Those who like some hardcore stuff can like some not-so-hardcore stuff.
    chuck berry . elvis .little Richard.buddy holly. and old blues guys .if it wasn't for them you'd be listening to perry como music ha ha
    Very good point, people hate so much one thing that they don't even notice how attached to that thing they actually become. Nice to see Hatfield talking some wise sober stuff.
    What do you mean? Do you mean that James has began to respect Glam metal as a music genre? Or even more than that?
    Whether we accept it or not, Glam Metal is a genre that had good practitioners and ideas that appealed to people. If you consider Twisted Sister, early Def Leppard, Van Halen (the pioneer, IMHO) and early Poison worse than Nicky Minaj's music, you need your ears checked. What made Glam bad is when it became overblown and sold out and when the looks mattered more than the music. That's when the fury started and Thrash was born in the early 80's. If I hear Hetfield say that he respected Glam, I will understand it for 2 reasons. 1. There we're good glam bands at the dawn of the genre; and 2. He would not have made timeless Thrash songs without his anger towards glam... It was a good fight.
    If you consider Van Halen or Judas Priest proto-glam, I would agree.
    Well, yeah you could say that they are. I mean, look at Van Halen in 70s. Look at the image of Judas Priest. These two bands have made their influence over Glam metal without a doubt.
    Van Halen is definitively proto-glam. They were known as a "teeth metal" band in the late seventies, they had happy and cheesy lyrics and colourful image. Priest have influenced almost every metal genre (specially the ones from the 80s), so they have influence on glam metal... but I wouldn´t call Priest proto-glam at all... their conexion with this "proto-genre" would be some songs from Killing Machine and British Steel (the "poppiest" ones) and in some ways their image (wich I think had influence on early glam bands, not on Bon Jovi or Poison at all). I think Judas Priest was more influential on thrash, power metal genres. Just look at their early seventies stuff and at the fastest British Steel/Screaming For Vengeance/DOTF songs; or compare the number of glam bands that claim Priest as a main influence, and then the number of power/thrash metal bands that do ... their most notable and distinctive contribution to metal was operatic high singing and fast palm muted riffs... not the party feeling or catchy songs. That was definetively popularized by Van Halen and Kiss.
    agree van halen may be called "proto glam" but i wouldnt directly put them in the 80s glam metal bracket.they kinda predated the whole sunset strip explosion. and if you asked me were far more unique and innovative. Def Leppard as well. I think it would be better to refer to these bands as pop Metal and even that wouldnt fully cut it. cuz I think their works cover more than one umbrella term. Def leppard,s first album dont sound very pop oriented to me. Judas priest would have been an inspiration to Metal bands in general cuz they pretty much got rid of the blues and started speeding it up with the twin lead guitar thing. thats the godfather of power metal right there
    I'm just glad they're not collaborating with Lulu on this one... right?
    OMG Lulu wasn't that bad... The View is pure genius
    Says the same man who claimed AC/DC was a bad band in a AC/DC article yesterday... I have this eerie suspicion that you might be looking for pissed responses... Hmm, What is it now those kind of people are called...?
    Yesterday was troll even if i don't like ACDC but here i'm serious bro... Some of their songs are amazing on this album => The View, Frustration, Pumping Blood... There's also bad songs like Mistress Dread (BAD BAD BAD) and Litlle Dog... It's my advice btw... Think what you want I don't care...
    In all fairness, AC/DC is cool, but they really do only have four or five songs. They don't really deviate from their formula very much. You just have to be in the mood for the specific thing that they do. Doesn't make the bad, but I hate it when people say that they are one of the greatest bands ever because I feel like you can't say that if they don't show more versatility. I know none of you said that here, but I have heard it said many times on this site.
    Personally I don't even think they're most popular stuff is their best. They have a ton of hidden gems.
    Face R1pper
    Why do people insist on talking about the Big Four as if it were a fluid tier? Its not based on opinion, influence, or skill. All the Big Four means is they are the four thrash metal bands that sold the most records.
    I think Motley Crue was actually one of the bands James was listening to in the beginnings of his metalhead "career" as well. Kind of ironic that the hate for them and the like later fueled his genre of choice.
    Well, who knows. But then again, i'm pretty sure that he had nothing in particular against Scorpions. In fact, Kirk Hammett has been influenced by some of Scorpions' work. I remember watching "That Metal Show" where he said that he totally digged the album "Fly To The Rainbow" and liked what Uli Jon Roth did on the album. I think it is safe to assume, that he thought "Lovedrive" was ok. And bythe way, I remember seeing a picture of James wearing a "Tygers Of Pan Tang" shirt. Tygers are not a glam band, but their logo looks kinda glammy, and i bet that some songs were like that too.
    James and Kirk were big admirers of Michael Schenker. He's the reason they played V's.
    I don't really get all this glam hate (metal purists hate glam even today - they must be the same guys who have these Megatallica wars). I mean, bands like Def Leppard, Scorpions, Kiss, Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, etc didn't really get hate. I consider them all as glam metal/rock. Actually I think thrash fans listened to them (at least many of the band members were inspired by them - and didn't some famous thrash band start by playing Def Leppard covers? Was it Slayer or what?). But then bands like Mtley Cre got all the hate, even though their music doesn't even differ that much from the bands I mentioned. I think glam metal really isn't even a musical style and nobody really admits that their music is glam metal. The genre has a very negative reputation. It was more about how the band members looked like than how the music sounded like. Then there are bands like Skid Row and Guns N' Roses that both IMO are glam metal. But they don't consider themselves as glam, they were like anti-glam. I know it must have been really annoying in the 80s when every new band played similar music and there were awful pop metal bands like Poison - glam was overplayed. And that's why glam metal has so bad reputation. But I like bands like Def Leppard, Mtley Cre, Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss and Whitesnake, no matter what genre they belong to. IMO they are glam but that's not a bad thing at all. I think every genre has good and bad bands (and usually most of the bands are bad). People must admit that they don't like all thrash music - usually it sounds pretty generic and boring and there are just some good thrash bands. Same goes with glam or any other (sub) genre. You need to look hard to find bands that don't sound generic.
    Scorpions weren´t considered a glam metal band at the time Metallica was born. That is a kind of prejudice that we modern-day metalheads have abot them. They only released some glam albums at the end of the 80s, and they had some poppie songs on their early albums. I remember Jeff Waters said in a interview that he used to listen to "early melodic metal stuff, like Maiden, Priest and Scorpions", so it was considered that the Scorps were closer to classic metal bands than glam.
    Yeah man.. 'Shout At the Devil' by Moelty Crue is a classic. This song 'Red Hot' has the thrash/speed vibe. Even Tom Araya listened to Motley Crue. I have seen couple of videos where he covers Motley Crue.
    it's hard to call.Overkill should at least be mentioned here though right? Exodus,Testament,"my personal pick"Overkill.All very good choices.If you went on album sales though-Testament,Practice What You Preach was everywhere.The Ballad-last call song at many keggers.One last thought-Metal Church..
    Face R1pper
    Yeah someone should get the statistics on the total album sales for each band. I know I'm too lazy to do it. But Metal Church was more power metal than thrash metal.
    true face.And I too am just a meatl fan,prone to throw named out there.Damn those were good times.Back in the days.
    Thrash Metal is Glam Metal sped up. It's not that different musically speaking. They have more in common than say, Scrap Metal (My word for "Numetal").