If you are a Metallica fan you’ve probably plunked down for a few different biographies of the band; I know I have. If, like many fans, you were disappointed by many of the previous attempts to effectively capture their story, you would be forgiven. To be honest, I just gave up on the dream of anyone really nailing the story. If you are the type who’s easily satisfied by photos there have been numerous books published that did a very good job of putting you in the front row to Metallica’s rise to dominance but as far as actual narratives went, the market was definitely lacking.
Enter Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood. Respected U.K. rock journalists and longtime Metallica press insiders, these two are absolutely the right guys and this is absolutely the right book. Everyone involved in the band’s early years from future Metal Blade CEO Brian Slagel to ex-Metallica members like Ron McGovney and Dave Mustaine are involved and lend their voice to the story. Lots of books and book reviews lay claim to a “you are there” or “fly on the wall” style of storytelling but again, most just seem to disappoint me. “Birth, School, Metallica, Death” literally evolves and flows in such a way that you don’t need photo spreads (of course there is a fine one contained here) because the words themselves string together a Ken Burns quality documentary in your mind.
Only Metallica’s own documentary, “Some Kind Of Monster” could rival the direct style and intimacy of this book. You see that Mustaine’s exit from the band involved more than a simple fight over a pitbull; all of the details of Mustaine’s quirks (his fondness for awkward, horny teenage lyrics, early drug dealing and ego tripping) were clear early on. Anyone who’s ever met Lars or spent time hearing him obsess over metal in interviews will love his backstory as captured here as will anyone who’s still got questions about the difficult storm that created the personality of James Hetfield. The incredibly difficult loss of Cliff Burton is handled with near perfection by the authors and the transition and difficulty of moving on with Jason Newsted is examined. Having said that, the obvious storylines and personalities are hardly the only story here and Brannigan and Winwood GET that the music is of the utmost importance to the reader. Every single Metallica recording and many of the crucial shows are examined in great detail from their very first gig and homemade demos to their obviously monumental later undertakings.
The great thing about Metallica, the magic that still mesmerizes us all and unites band with fans, is the essential story of friendship and bonding over metal nerd-dom, fanzines, tape-trading and the outsider mentality. Metal kids putting together the metal band they always wanted to see. That’s what made the band’s rise so special and that story and the voices who tell it here are what makes this book so great. The timeline of Volume 1 follows the pre-Metallica years and backstory of all of the members, through the glory days of thrash to the monumental achievements of the early nineties ending at the listening party of the Black Album at Madison Square Garden in late 1991. While many fans will agree these years of the band are their favorite and most crucial, the argument could easily be made that Volume 2 of Winwood and Brannigan’s book will be even better than its predecessor. The big-business, the drama, the meltdowns and the righting of the ship that ensued post 1991 are certainly worthy of a stand-alone book and again, these guys are the trusted source for documenting it all. Five star book worth every bit of the twenty bucks Amazon has it for, take a bow guys.