The band Metallica poses during a photo shoot in West Hollywood, California, in 1991. From left are guitarist Kirk Hammett, lead vocalist James Hetfield, bassist Jason Newsted and drummer Lars Ulrich.
It was 1988 when photographer Ross Halfin first got an inkling that there was something special, something different about Metallica.
“They were on this tour called Monsters of Rock with Van Halen, the Scorpions, Dokken, and Metallica was way down the bill,” he remembers. “And I started to notice — particularly at Giants Stadium in New York and the L.A. Coliseum — that after Metallica played, half the audience was starting to leave. And I was like, ‘Wow.’ Then you started to think they mean more than you realize.”
The heavy metal band had released three critically acclaimed albums by then and was just months away from releasing a fourth, “…And Justice For All.”
But it was their fifth album that changed everything.
Metallica frontman James Hetfield engages a crowd in Werchter, Belgium, in 1993.
“For all his on-stage persona, you know, the aggression and the power, (Hetfield) is actually quite a shy person,” photographer Ross Halfin said. “He’s also very nice once you know him.”
Hetfield performs in Melbourne in the early 1990s.
On August 12, 1991, the band released the self-titled “Metallica.” Fans today know it simply as the Black Album because of its cover.
It has become one of the best-selling albums of all time, selling more than 30 million copies over the last 30 years. It contains some of Metallica’s most iconic songs, including “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven,” “Sad but True” and “Nothing Else Matters.”
The album also marked a shift in the band’s style, featuring slower tempos than the thrash metal it had mostly played until then.
“Their performance on the album is far more controlled, I think, and more polished and more radio-friendly,” Halfin said.
Guitarist Kirk Hammett kisses Lars Ulrich’s finger after the drummer had smashed it on a snare drum while performing in Moscow. They were on a plane at the time heading to London. “This was the first time they’d ever been on a private jet,” Halfin recalled. Hammett plays in Milton Keynes, England. Halfin, who has photographed Metallica on and off for decades, was working closely with the band when the Black Album was recorded and released.
His new book, “Metallica: The Black Album in Black & White,” documents this historic time in the band’s evolution.
“By the time the Black Album was coming out, they were starting to explode into being a big band,” Halfin said. “And what the book sort of charts is how they went really from a regular band to a stadium act.”
The book features classic and previously unpublished photos of Metallica in the studio and on tour. The band performed close to 300 shows as they toured between August 1991 and July 1993.
Metallica all started with Ulrich, who in 1981 placed a classified ad in a Los Angeles newspaper that said, “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with. Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden.”
“Occasionally Lars seems a bit aloof and detached,” Halfin said, “but he is the best person I’ve ever seen dealing with a fan. … Lars is always nice to the fan base, to anyone who comes up. And he interacts and makes an effort, and I’ve got to give him 10 out of 10 for that.”
Ulrich rests on his drums during a show in the early ’90s. Halfin has worked with many legendary musicians during his career, including Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Van Halen and The Who, and he was already well-est
What it was like touring with Metallica in the ’90s
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