Classic Tracks: Metallica's "Enter Sandman"

Oct 25, 2010 4:28 PM, By Sarah Benzuly


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Metallica, circa 1990, from left: Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted

Metallica, circa 1990, from left: Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted

Today, San Francisco Bay Area–based band Metallica are aptly called “The Monsters of Metal.” But that wasn’t always the case. After finding their hometown not as receptive to their brand of metal, the then-current line-up (James Hetfield, rhythm guitar/lead vocals; Lars Ulrich, drums; Ron McGovney, bass; and Dave Mustaine, lead guitar) headed down to L.A. in the early ’80s to make their way into the burgeoning metal scene. They amassed a following but found themselves battling the ever-rising hair-club bands for true dominance. So they headed back to the Bay Area, where they caught a gig by metal band Trauma, whose bassist, Cliff Burton, joined Metallica shortly after, replacing McGovney. Meanwhile, in New York, a copy of No Life Til Leather (their 1981 demo) made its way to Jon Zazula’s record shop, the aptly named Metal Heaven. Zazula quickly had Metallica coming out east to play some shows and record an album.

Rumors abound on the actual reason why Mustaine was kicked out of the band after a few weeks in the Big Apple, but the guitarist was sent packing and replaced by guitarist Kirk Hammett. Metallica released Kill ’Em All and Ride the Lighting, and in 1986 Master of Puppets (produced by Michael Wagener) helped land them a choice opening slot on Ozzy Osbourne’s tour. But that high was soon crushed when a freak tour bus accident killed Burton. Still, the band trudged on, enlisting Jason Newsted to fill the role. They quickly released an EP and then their fourth full-length, …And Justice for All. It is at this point where we find the band on the verge of metal stardom.

In 1989, the band called on producer Bob Rock, with whom they hadn’t worked before, to help sculpt their next masterpiece. Rock had just finished producing Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood, and the members of Metallica wanted to mimic that album’s bottom end. Rock brought along engineer Randy Staub to One on One in North Hollywood to begin the long and arduous process of recording The Black Album and its first single, and this month’s “Classic Track,” “Enter Sandman.”

Not only was the band working with new creative types, but Rock and Staub brought along a new way of recording an album. “The process was very different from any other record I’ve worked on—or since—in that the way they had recorded their previous albums is that they would construct a click track because there was a lot of different tempo changes in their song structure back then,” Staub says. “James would go in and play a rough guitar part, and then Lars would go in and play the drums to that, but he wouldn’t play from start to finish; he would play the first verse until he got it right and then stop and punch in and then do the chorus and stop and punch in until eventually they got a drum track. And then they would do what are called ‘air cuts’: You physically remove a slice of tape in front of a beat, a kick drum, and that moves the kick drum up in time. So after Lars got the drums done, James would go in and play all his rhythm guitar parts, then he would sing, then they would put the bass on last. Everybody doing it separately; nobody playing together.”

But for The Black Album, Rock and Staub wanted to have all four members playing together in the same room. “They thought it was a lot of work,” Rock says, “and they didn’t understand it. This was the only way I knew how to make a record. To me it was about capturing the feel that they wanted. I thought there was just this weight and size and heaviness in them that I never caught on their other records; not saying it wasn’t there. I think Kirk had the hardest time with it because he had to play solos for each take, but as it turned out, when it came time to do the solos, we listened to everything off the floor, and he got a lot of his ideas for his solos off of those.”

“It was pretty unusual for them to be sitting in a room and playing together,” Staub adds. “But the way they record songs, it’s a form of construction. They never play a song start to finish. The guys would play their parts and Lars would play the feel for the verse. We’d do that for two or three reels of tape [on a Studer 2-inch] and then do the chorus and then drum fills. Eventually, we’d have all the individual pieces recorded and then Bob and Lars would go listen to them all and make a chart of the parts they wanted. I would go in and tape them together—physically cut the tape and put them together to make what is almost the final drum track.

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