Metallica’s Lars Ulrich on how the band still feel like outsiders as 11th studio album 72 Seasons is released

METALLICA’S Lars Ulrich is reflecting on the first 72 seasons of his life.

For it’s said that those 18 springs, 18 summers, 18 autumns and 18 winters shape who we are . . . for better or worse.

Despite massive global success across more than four decades, Lars Ulrich maintains that his childhood feeling of ‘never fitting in’ has not left him or MetallicaTim SaccentiTim SaccentiMetallica’s Lars Ulrich is reflecting on the first 72 seasons of his life, for it’s said that those 18 springs, 18 summers, 18 autumns and 18 winters shape who we are . . . for better or worse.[/caption]

Before talking to Ulrich, I listened to 72 Seasons straight through in one sitting and was overwhelmed by the power and white-knuckle immediacy of the 12 tracksTim Saccenti

Picking up on the concept behind the heavy-metal titans’ 11th studio album, called 72 Seasons, the charismatic drummer says: “I was an only child and a bit of a loner.

“I wasn’t super-awkward but had issues of abandonment and of never fitting in.

“That’s why I formed a band. I was seeking the solace of being in a gang — a sense of belonging.”

Despite massive global success across more than four decades, Ulrich maintains that his childhood feeling of “never fitting in” has not left him or Metallica.

“We’ve spent 40 years hovering on the edges and not being truly accepted,” he says. “We’re still outsiders.

“If I look at my formative years, my school experiences and my coming-of-age experiences, there are a lot of parallels between me and the other band members.”

Ulrich, 59, is speaking from his home on America’s West Coast and he greets me in typically animated fashion.

“What’s happening in London, Simon?” he enquires. “It’s wet and windy here,” I answer, imagining the sun-dappled, palm tree-lined boulevards of his stomping grounds.

“Sounds like a typical day!” continues the Anglophile whose chief inspirations include Deep Purple and Diamond Head, both from these shores.

“Sorry, I’m a couple of minutes late,” he says. “It’s one of those unexplainable black vortex phenomenon — I can’t dial the UK for some reason.

“I can call Germany, I can call Holland but when it’s a UK phone number, I have to get an assistant.”

Cue much merriment before I commend Ulrich and his bandmates James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo on their “immense” and “breathless” 77-minute 72 Seasons.

“Of all the things I’ve read, ‘immense’ is not among them, but I like it,” he decides.

“I honestly don’t have enough distance from it, the ink is hardly dry, but the word we’ve used is relentless. We used up a lot of energy.

“And ‘breathless’,” he muses. “I like that too.

“Excuse me while I cut the interview short and get back on my cardio bike — I don’t want to end up breathless!”

Ulrich strikes a more serious tone when he explores in more detail why he was so drawn to the 72 Seasons idea, brought to him by Metallica singer, lyricist, and rhythm guitarist Hetfield.

“That time of our lives gives us the foundation for everything we carry with us for the rest of our lives,” he says.

He recalls his solitary existence growing up in Gentofte, Denmark, where he was born into a family of professional tennis players on Boxing Day, 1963.

Ulrich was expected to follow his grandfather and father into the sport and even had some success at junior level.

In 1980, he moved to the more competitive environment of California but when, as he puts it, “the tennis thing dissipated”, he decided to concentrate on his real passion — music of the loud, fast and uncompromising variety.

Even then, the camaraderie he craved didn’t come immediately.

“I wasn’t part of the cool club and went through most of my first musical endeavours by myself,” he says.

Everything changed, however, in 1981 when Ulrich placed a classified ad in a local newspaper in search of musicians to start a band with.

It was answered by Hetfield and, arguably, the world’s pre-eminent hard-rock outfit was born.

I ask Ulrich if acceptance and adoration by Metallica’s vast army of devoted fans has changed his outsider mentality.

“In my mind, it’s still a community of outsiders,” he replies. “Of course, you can argue that a lot of edgier, alternative bands eventually became part of the mainstream.

“But the Seattle grunge bands, the Kurt Cobains, and the super- crazy hard-rock bands from our world started as disenfranchised kids and misfits.

‘Born in lockdown’

“To a degree, Metallica DID become mainstream later, though it has never felt like it.”

Ulrich concludes: “Being an outsider is a state of mind, not something dictated by chart position or concert attendance figures.”

We return to the unflinching new album, made on the band’s own terms, conceived during the pandemic and opening with the driving seven-minute title track.

“When James was sharing 72 Seasons as one of his lyric ideas, I went home and Googled it and, I kid you not, Japanese gardening techniques came up.

“Now when you Google it, this record comes up, which I find kind of funny.”

The album sees Metallica reunited with co-producer Greg Fidelman, who worked with them on 2011’s Lou Reed collaboration Lulu and 2016’s Hardwired . . . To Self-Destruct.

“This record was born in lockdown so the first few months of the project were very different,” says Ulrich.

“Whether it’s darker or lighter or faster or slower because of it, I’m not sure.”

The drummer describes a familiar scenario facing musicians during the tough years of 2020 and 2021: “We were all in separate spaces so it was a Zoom version of what we’d done for 40 years.

“We had a bunch of riffs recorded at soundchecks or studio camps or hotel rooms around the world.

“I went through them, taking 200 ideas down to 50 or whatever and then, very slowly, I would say, ‘This one could be a song’.”

Before talking to Ulrich, I listened to 72 Seasons straight through in one sitting and was overwhelmed by the power and white-knuckle immediacy of the 12 tracks.

He says: “When we finally got together in the same space, there was an urgency to maximise our time together. We really wanted to get on with it.”

Like most enduring bands, Metallica have had their bust-ups, most memorably uncovered in the 2004 documentary Some Kind Of Monster, but Ulrich confirms that the vibe has never been better than it is today. “As we continue on our merry way, we love what we have between us and we love each other,” he says.

“We can be in a room, we can make music, we can have conversations and there won’t be a tense, crazy, rolling boulders up hills atmosphere.

“Looking back, there were times when s*** got intense but this is the most friction-free record we’ve ever made.”

The sense of calm was further enhanced by Fidelman’s assured presence.

“Greg has been with us for every creative project we’ve done for the past 15 years,” says Ulrich. “I can’t fathom being in a situation where he’s not at the helm, steering the ship.”

Among the most jaw-dropping tracks is the ridiculously fast Lux Æterna (Latin for eternal light), by some distance the shortest song on the album at 3mins 22secs.

Ulrich says: “The breathing gets breathless on that one! It’s fun and the only new one we’ve played live. We’re aching to get out there and do it again.”

Is it the fastest ever Metallica song? I venture. “Well, Fight Fire With Fire from our second album [Ride The Lightning] is up there,” he replies after some consideration of “how muso” I want him to be.

‘None of this s*** gets any easier’

“Another one in the extreme category is Dyers Eve from the . . . And Justice For All record.

“Then there’s Master Of Puppets, which is really fast for Kirk and James but more mid-tempo for me on the drums.”

I’m intrigued by the enormous energy expended by Metallica, particularly when they play live, and ask Ulrich how he keeps in shape.

“Every day I’m in that gym, well at least 13 out of 14 days in a fortnight,” he affirms. “I do a lot of cardio and have some core workout routines.

“I grew up in an athletic family and have always appreciated sport, so keeping fit has become a way of life.”

Ulrich also watches his diet. “I’m vegetarian and eat a lot of plant-based food but get my protein from egg whites.”

And he adds: “Sleep is a much bigger thing than it used to be. None of this s*** gets any easier as you get older!

“When you get to my age, the effort you put into staying fit doesn’t make you fitter, it just keeps you at the same level.

“What you’re really doing is preventing the curve from pointing south.”

Like any self-respecting hard-rock god, Ulrich has done his fair share of hellraising.

But now he confesses: “The late nights and crazy shenanigans of the past have become few and far between.

“When we start touring again [starting in Amsterdam on April 27], we’re playing two shows in every city with a completely different setlist for each night.

“Every day will be a f***ing slog but I actually quite like it. I’m stronger than I’ve been in many years.”

Ulrich certainly needs to be strong to perform If Darkness Had A Son, which requires pulverising drumming.

“The priority is always what’s best for the song,” he says. “The interplay between James’s rhythm guitar and my drums is the foundation of our sound and has been for 40 years.

“But these days, I’m more focused on swing and swagger and setting up the whole band to be at its best. This record has landed in a good place.”

Ulrich heaps praise on Hetfield’s lyrics and his delivery of them, the way he confronts big issues with utter conviction. “I’m in awe of what comes out of James,” he says. “Obviously the lyrics are intensely personal to him, maybe even more so this time than in the past.

Tim SaccentiUlrich explores in detail why he was so drawn to the 72 Seasons idea, brought to him by Metallica singer, lyricist, and rhythm guitarist Hetfield, above[/caption]

Tim SaccentiLead guitarist Kirk Hammett[/caption]

Tim SaccentiMetallica bassist Robert Trujillo[/caption]

“He’s very open and pouring it all out. The vulnerability is at a different level and I’m really proud of him for that.”

The album is filled with shades of light and dark as downward spirals alternate with what Ulrich calls messages of “redemption, forgiveness and hope”.

Perhaps the most visceral song is Screaming Suicide, which addresses the inner demons inside us all.

“Understanding that others feel the same as you is a big part of getting rid of taboos around mental health,” says Ulrich. “Human beings just need to know that they’re not alone.

“And it’s very important to James to get these conversations going for the whole Metallica family.” This brings us to the final song on 72 Seasons, the sprawling Inamorata (a quaint old word for girlfriend), which has moments of relative calm compared to the rest of the “relentless” album.

“I didn’t expect it to end up being the longest original song ever committed to record by Metallica,” says Ulrich.

“It felt like Inamorata needed to go on a journey and to breathe.

“I kept moving it down the running order until I said, ‘You know what, f*** it. Let’s just put it at the end.’

“It feels like a good final destination.

“Somebody said, ‘It’s the shortest 11-minute song I’ve ever heard’. I like that.”

Ulrich is late for another call so it’s time for us to hang up.

But it has been fascinating getting the inside track from the eternal outsider.

Tim SaccentiMetallica 11th studio album 72 Seasons[/caption]


72 Seasons