It's the fall of 1986 and journalist Mick Wall finds himself the Hammersmith Odeon in London when Lars Ulrich, drummer for Metallica, comes hobbling towards him on crutches. In the weeks leading up to this moment, Wall had unexpectedly lost his mother and Metallica's long time bassist Cliff Burton was tragically killed in a bus accident; but Wall was unaware of this. Ulrich explains the crutches are a result of "the crash" but it doesn't register with Wall whose personal loss was so immense he had shut out the outside world. As he parts ways with the ever charismatic drummer of Metallica, Wall thinks to himself "what crash?" This is the spooky and incredible opening to the first chapter to Wall's latest book, Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica, a 564-page history on metal's most influential and best selling artist ever. This chronological tome is nothing short of gripping from page-1 to page-564. Interlaced with Wall's own personal recollections, insights and interviews, Enter Night is unlike any other Metallica biography to date and may very well be the definitive book on the band until the members choose to do one themselves.
Mick Wall is more than a journalist who has done methodical research, but also a fan and someone who has had first hand contact with every member over their storied career. It's a monumental task to try and summarize over thirty years of history in a few hundred pages, but Wall has a firm grasp on the Metallica story without missing any key moments or stories. One of the challenges any writer faces on a biography is uncovering information and stories previously not told before. While Wall doesn't pull a rabbit out of his hat, those he did interview seemed to provide greater depth than they ever have before. Jonny Zazula and his wife Marsha provide more to Wall than any other interviewer to date. What they've given in the past proves to be mere sound bytes optimal for Behind the Music whereas here their stories are more philosophical, carry more weight and pull at your heart. Former tour manager Bobby Schneider opens up here extensively as well putting the reader in a time machine back to a time before the band performed in front of sold-out arenas. Some of these stories are uncovered for the first time. It's hard to imagine such a rag tag group of guys who literally started out in a garage and would one day ascent to heights unforeseen by any metal before or since.
Anyone can quote interviews at length and create a chronological history of the band, but very few can add dramatic weight the way Wall does with his pen/typewriter/PC. The book, and to an extent Metallica's career, can be split into two defining eras; Pre-Cliff Burton and Post-Cliff Burton. While much has been documented about Burton's brief four years in the band (including the spectacular To Live Is To Die biography by Joel McIver), but the way Wall builds the story arc leading up to the recording and release of Master of Puppets is masterfully cinematic. The reader is provided a front row seat to an overpowering human drama which culminates in a devastating operatic crescendo in September of 1986. Wall doesn't rush the reader through the writing and recording of Master of Puppets and page-by-page we turn in anticipation of the horror that lies ahead, but you hang on every last word and story almost believing that everything we know that will happen really is nothing more than a nightmare, but there's no waking up from this one. A quarter of a century later, Puppets remains a cornerstone and defining moment for the metal genre and is widely considered one of the greatest of all records from the last few decades and his detailed stories of what occurred before and after the album's release are the center point of the book.
The early years are what most fans will find most engrossing about Enter Night, even if much of the material is familiar. There is enough material here for even the most die hard of Metallica fans to be awed by. It's hard to imagine the band that became stadium giants were hesitant musicians to begin with, not to mention that even after their first album, they were still essentially on the outlook for a lead singer. Dave Mustaine is given great credit with helping the band while simultaneously haunting Mustaine despite his great success as the leader of Megadeth. There's also the looming shadow and spirit of Cliff Burton who hovered above the band since the day he died. Most surprising was how close Jason Newsted came to being replaced in early 1987. Wall doesn't overlook certain sensitive areas of their history, but steers away from being vicious or mean spirited, something far too many biographies fall into the trap of doing. He flavors the prose with his own wit and wisdom, but respects the band as people. While there are some stories that are no doubt controversial (such as the one about Lars Ulrich almost being fired in 1986) and some personal stories the band most likely don't want shared (you will have to read the book to discover these), Wall does something miraculous; he maintains journalistic credibility and yet provides the fans with knowledge they won't find elsewhere but above all else, he pays tribute to Metallica through it all.
Any true biography worth its weight in platinum should always devote a large portion of its text to what matters most of all; the music. Wall deep dives into each Metallica record with a distinctive viewpoint of both journalist and fan. I can't say his opinion swayed me one way or another on most of the band's early recordings, but he provides great astuteness into the Load era; a period that has largely been scorned by everyone, including some band members. Wall gives the Load album it's deepest dissection to date. There is significant growth and maturity exemplified on the record most refused to see due to the image associated with it. Wall pinpoints many of the album's themes and lyrics as the seed of rehabilitation that the band would embark on a half decade later. James Hetfield was writing his most personal lyrics to date. Under the guidance of Bob Rock, the band flourished during these initial sessions and Wall's writing style made me look at the record in a way I had not previously. Sadly Load is often deemed less than essential simply because of guilt by association with ReLoad. I've always been a firm believer that if the band had taken the twelve best songs from both records they would have created something as daunting as Justice, as appealing as Black and ultimately a statement of exploration; this wasn't a band will to rest on previous glories. However, this was not to be, as Wall documents beautifully in his book. The band had just renegotiated their contract to a substantially higher royalty rate (rumored to be around $4 per CD) however; it was not retroactive and would only apply to sales going forward. Therefore, the drive new album and catalog sales, the band basically began a five year campaign where they toured relentlessly and had a steady stream of product for purchase each of those years. It was a brilliant and shrewd business move, but one that stifled the band artistically culminating with the Napster debacle in 2000 and the leaving of Jason Newsted in January of 2001. Once again, Wall doesn't hold back on these two shadowy eras of the band. He isn't afraid to speak his mind, but also defends the band to an extent. Many biographies tend to put an acute focus on artists most celebrated works and simply drift over less celebrated periods and albums. Wall doesn't shy away from reporting the mid-1990's in Enter Night and in fact, confronts it head on. This is welcomed since so many Metallica biographers have done minimal reporting on this era since their hearts weren't in it, yet Wall weaves this period masterfully with what came before and what follows. Despite what he may feel about their look or even some of the music and marketing decisions, he reports dutifully and masterfully weaves his story through this most difficult time. Especially poignant is the time he spends on Hetfield's lyrics which were pointing to what was brewing inside but wouldn't erupt for another half decade. Even when his enthusiasm wanes for ReLoad he states his case as to why. His comprehension of the Load record is revelatory. His thoughts on St. Anger will probably surprise many. Often derided by the masses, he captures the essence of the album and even if you may think it's unlistenable, Wall surrounds the album like a tornado ripping off a roof giving us a peek inside. Even if you can't imagine enjoying the recording, his prose is effective to the point that I revisited it as a result.
Each chapter is introduced by Wall's personal recollections of the band. Some introductions are more revealing and humorous than others but all give the chapter a nice bit of personalization. One aspect of Wall's writing that is always superb is that he manages to discuss music and certain decision from a journalistic perspective without losing the weight of his own stance. Interviews conducted by Wall and an assortment of other journalists are quoted at length. Even other writers such as Joel McIver and Alexander Milas share their thoughts, opinions and arguments strengthening Wall's stance and giving perspective to certain eras and albums, all the while as Wall peppers the pages with his own estimations. You never once turn a page with the impression that anything is done in an amateurish manner. So much weight is placed on the early years of the band, many tend to overlook the last decade, which may be the band's most fascinating. Reading about James Hetfield's as a human being may be the greatest of all Metallica's stories. He is one of the few in this world to have such a disadvantaged upbringing only to overcome it and become better through it all. He wrangled with his past to come out a changed man and that is possibly the greatest story of all within Enter Night.
Mick Wall's job as a journalist is to get inside the minds of these musicians and as a writer for Kerrang! he finds a way to unleash fury while making you love certain albums even more and standing from a distance trying to understand detours and different perspectives. Enter Night is the strongest and most compelling Metallica biography to date. From the vivid chaos of merely losing themselves earlier in the decade to the inner contentment of the late 90's to the severe artistic statements of Master of Puppets and Black, this story demonstrates while Metallica always has been and probably always will be at the top of the heap. Finally there is a book that hails not just their legacy but their growth as individuals as well.
To win a copy of he book, either email Tony or follow him on Twitter (@thescreendoor) for details. Three winners will be chosen at random.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter