Slaying Monsters - Metallica Naked

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This is Celia Hirschman with On The Beat for KCRW

Every genre of music has its own culture. The headbanging of heavy metal is no exception. Headbangers have always had a tribal, working class sensibility with a strong devil-may-care attitude. So what does the biggest heavy metal band in the world do when they just can t keep that together anymore?

They grow up. With 90 million records sold around the globe, Metallica, the world's most successful hard rock band ever, stunned audiences by doing the unthinkable. They went into group therapy. They got in touch with their feelings. Even more astonishing, they hired film makers to document the whole thing.

The film didn't start out that way. The band had planned to go into the studio to make a new record. They split with their longtime bass player, Jason Newstead, just before the recording began.

Elektra, their record label, hired top film makers to document the creative process.

When they got in the studio, the band found themselves blocked creatively and emotionally. They were trying to record the CD, differently than before, but with 20 years of history between the members, and a growing hostility, it was difficult.

Management, sensing the end was near, recommended that the band met with a professional coach to mine these roadblocks. A guru entered named Phil Towle . Whether - he was a coach, a therapist, or a hustler, the $40,000 a month facilitator did seemed to get Metallica to open up, though it took almost 2 years. On top of that, the lead singer, James Hetfield took a year off to recover from alcoholism, giving the band some quiet time to ponder their futures. When James returned from rehab, he wisely suggested they take things slowly, which only continued to inflamed an anxious band. In the end, they agreed on a few things their love of Metallica, their need for a bass player and their desire to limit Phil Towle's involvement.

If you haven't seen the newly released film Metallica: Some Kind of Monster yet, I recommend it. It is a fascinating portrait of a hugely successful rock band, who, when pushed between despair and middle age, finally became willing to be honest with each other at the risk of losing everything. And they do it all in front of cameras.

The focus of the film is spent far more on emotional and professional issues, than on the creative side. In fact, there s very little creativity revealed. I give Metallica a lot of credit for allowing this film to be released. It's not a particularly flattering view of them as a band, or as individuals. But in the end, they seemed to be more interested in being authentic than being loved.

The truth is, the rock and roll organism can be very twisted. There are a lot of power trips, unmet promises and symbiotic dependencies that litter the music business. Bands look to try and reinvent themselves with each successive album and after a lengthy career of spin doctoring, it s sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction.

Some Kind of Monster is really about something far more profound than an inside look at Metallica. It's about taking risks and making changes, without knowing where the outcome will take you. I've never been a big Metallica fan, but you can bet I'm curious to hear the next Metallica album now.

This is Celia Hirschman with On The Beat for KCRW