That evening, Hetfield and Hammett shredded their way through the anthem. Afterward, Hetfield handed off his guitar and strode toward the pitcher’s mound. The throw was good. Strong, assured, unwavering. Straight across the plate.

In July, the Netflix series “Stranger Things”—which follows a group of rangy, anxious teens as they attempt to save their home town from a spooky alternative dimension known as the Upside Down—débuted the second part of its fourth season. The show is the platform’s most watched original series. The main protagonists are devotees of Dungeons & Dragons and members of something called the Hellfire Club, which is led by a sweet metalhead named Eddie Munson. In the season finale, Munson, who preaches nonconformity as a kind of sanctifying practice, volunteers—spoiler alert!—to sacrifice himself, and does so while standing on the roof of a trailer in the Upside Down, playing the guitar solo from the song “Master of Puppets.” (The season is set in 1986.) Two weeks after the episode was released, “Master of Puppets,” which is more than eight minutes long, appeared on the Hot 100 for the first time, at No. 40. (The show gave a similar boost to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God),” which came out in 1985.) “Master of Puppets” entered the Top Ten on Spotify’s U.S. chart, and the Top Fifty on its global chart; soon, it had been streamed more than half a billion times.

Unsurprisingly, older Metallica fans found the attention annoying. It’s easy to forget that, in the mid-eighties, publicly identifying as a Metallica fan often meant being labelled a druggie, a weirdo, a creep; back then, a person suffered socially for an allegiance to thrash. The idea that true metal fandom requires weathering such stigma is foundational and long-standing. Yet the band was quick to embrace its new acolytes. Metallica’s members even filmed themselves wearing Hellfire Club T-shirts and jamming along to footage of Munson’s solo. In a pinned comment on its official TikTok, the band clarified its open-door policy: “FYI—EVERYONE is welcome in the Metallica Family. Whether you’ve been a fan for 40 hours or 40 years.” Well, fine. The solo was recorded for the show by Tye Trujillo, Robert Trujillo’s eighteen-year-old son. The hope was that it would sound raw and frenetic, as though a teen-ager were playing it. “I don’t think Tye fully understood how this thing was gonna blossom,” Trujillo told me. “I liked that. At our house, we don’t have a whole lot of TV going all the time. We live in Topanga Canyon, and there’s a lot of time to play music and make art and go hiking and surfing. In some ways, he’s sheltered from the energy around these kinds of things. There’s a purity there, which I love.”

“The time has come for you to all compliment my cooking.”

Cartoon by Sophie Lucido Johnson and Sammi Skolmoski

In late July, Metallica headlined Lollapalooza, in Chicago—its first U.S. date since the “Stranger Things” finale aired. When the band first played the festival, in 1996, the booking angered Perry Farrell, Lollapalooza’s co-founder and the front man of the alt-rock band Jane’s Addiction. “A lot of people were pissed,” Burnstein told me. “I understand how Perry felt—like his alternative thing was being co-opted.” He added, “Of course, there was Perry last night backstage, saying hi to the guys.” These days, Lollapalooza is mostly indistinguishable from any other major American music festival. The weekend’s other headliners included the pop star Dua Lipa, the rapper J. Cole, and the pop-punk band Green Day. In the wake of “Stranger Things,” Metallica was now the most newsworthy act on the bill.

The night before the show, the band met in Grant Park to film a short skit with Joseph Quinn, the twenty-nine-year-old British actor who plays Munson. “You’re taller than on the TV,” Hetfield joked, shaking Quinn’s hand. The band took Quinn into its tuning trailer to jam. “I’ll give you a four count,” Ulrich said, drumsticks aloft. Quinn left with a signed guitar; the video was posted to the band’s social-media accounts. Afterward, the band went onstage to rehearse. It had rained earlier in the day, and the ground was slick with mud. I stood on a piece of plywood in a mostly empty field and watched Metallica warm up.

Hetfield has evolved into a magnetic front man. Early on, he said, his stage persona—cocky, aggressive, hard—was mostly aspirational. “Being up onstage is a fantasy world,” he said. “Everyone is out there sprinkling you with wonderful dust. You start to believe it, and then you get home and you go, ‘Where’s my dust?’ ” he said. “Not so wonderful now, sitting here alone with two cats, taking the garbage out.” On tour, he said, the days off are harder than the days on. There’s nowhere to funnel the energy; time turns into a strange, liminal expanse. “My body is tired, but my mind is still going. What do I do with that?” he said. “I just ask people in the crew, or friends, or my assistant, ‘Hey, can you just sit down and watch TV with me?’ ” “Moth Into Flame,” a song from “Hardwired . . . to Self Destruct,” is about the intoxication of celebrity. “I believe the addiction to fame is a real thing,” Hetfield said. “I’ve got my little recovery posse on the road to help me out. We’ll say a prayer before going onstage: ‘James, you’re a human being. You’re going to die. You’re here doing service. You’re doing the best you can.’ That is helpful for me.”

The following afternoon, the park filled with thousands of Metallica shirts, many of which looked conspicuously new. The atmosphere backstage was relaxed. I sat on a wicker couch with Robert Trujillo and drank a brand of canned water called Liquid Death. One of the group’s trailers was labelled “Yoga.” Shortly before Metallica’s set, I climbed a riser on the edge of the stage so that I could see both the band and the crowd. Festival sets can be hard—much of the audience had been bobbing in the late-July sun for nine hours by the time Metallica took the stage—but the energy was high. “Master of Puppets” has been a fixture on the band’s set list for decades, but now it’s been granted extra prominence as the final song of the encore. As Hammett began to play the solo, footage of Eddie Munson appeared on huge screens flanking the stage. The crowd went nuts. I clung to the edge of the riser. For a moment, it felt as though all of Chicago were shaking.

After Metallica’s set, Ulrich rushed off to the Metro, a rock club near Wrigley Field. His two oldest sons—Myles and Layne—play in an excellent bass-and-drums duo called Taipei Houston, and had a gig opening for the British band Idles. “That was the past, this is the future!” Ulrich joked, sprinting toward a waiting S.U.V. wearing a navy-blue bathrobe with the hood up. At the Metro, he stood in the V.I.P. balcony, glowing with pride. After the set, as Myles and Layne dutifully broke down their gear, Ulrich chatted with the club’s owner, Joe Shanahan, about the first time Metallica played the Metro, in August of 1983, opening for the metal band Raven. Ulrich was nineteen.

Later, over tea at his hotel, I asked Ulrich about the “Stranger Things” phenomenon. He leaned back, sanguine: “If you and I were sitting here twenty years ago, thirty years ago, back then it was really only about the music. Partaking in these sorts of opportunities would have been considered selling out. But the culture is so much more forgiving of these types of things now.” He continued, “When you’ve been around as long as we have, you have to kind of ebb and flow. I don’t think there were any writeups about Lollapalooza this morning that didn’t mention Eddie, didn’t mention ‘Stranger Things.’ And it’s not like ‘Eh, what the fuck, is the music not good enough?’ It’s like . . . it’s cool.”

In 2021, the band released “The Metallica Blacklist,” a collection of fifty-three covers of songs from the Black Album, in honor of the record’s thirtieth anniversary. Twelve of the fifty-three artists chose to cover “Nothing Else Matters,” which Hetfield wrote when the band was on tour in support of “. . . And Justice for All.” Elton John once compared “Nothing Else Matters” (favorably) to “Greensleeves.” It is, by my accounting, Metallica’s first song about romantic love. Hetfield can be coy about its origins—he missed his girlfriend; he found that feeling embarrassing—but it is also true that, since its initial release, “Nothing Else Matters” has come to sound less specifically romantic and more like an ode to any kind of life-sustaining devotion. It’s technically a waltz, but it feels like the last of the great power ballads: momentous, tortured, cathartic, triumphant. The Metallica community often talks about the track as a fan anthem of sorts. In moments of deep communion with the band and its music, nothing else matters. It’s an emotional song, but a terrifying one, too. “What’s heavier than love?” Scott Ian said.

This sort of vulnerability was once anathema to Metallica—“What I’ve felt, what I’ve known / Never shined through in what I’ve shown,” Hetfield sings on “The Unforgiven”—but it now feels central to the band’s mission. The singer and songwriter Kris Kristofferson, a longtime supporter, praised Metallica’s humanity and good will. “I’m a huge fan of their music, but even more so of the remarkable human beings they are,” he told me. “All heart.” In conversation, I found Hetfield warm and disarmingly open. He often inquired after my baby daughter. When I mentioned that I was having a hard time sleeping in my hotel room, he reminded me that it was important to have something from home. “My daughter gave me these stones—what are they called? Crystals,” he said. “You’ve gotta bring something. A pillowcase, some lavender oil.”

One afternoon, I asked Hetfield if he felt as though he’d finally found the life and community he’d always wanted: he lives in Colorado, hunting, beekeeping, spending time outdoors; he sees friends; he tours with Metallica. He paused to consider the question. “Will I ever admit that I found it? Will I ever allow myself to be happy enough to say I found it? Maybe that’s a lifelong quest, the search for family,” he said. “When my family disintegrated, early on in life, I found it in music, I found it in the band. I remember Lars being the first one to buy a house and have friends over, and I was, like, ‘Who are these people? You didn’t invite me! You’re cheating on me with another family!’ Obviously, our fans have become a kind of worldwide family. But at the end of the day they say they love you and you kind of go, ‘O.K. . . . what does that really mean?’ ”

But they do at least love a version of you, I ventured—the version of you that exists in the work.

“Yeah, and what version is that?” Hetfield countered.

It was a naïve thought, presuming that he could cloister or delineate a self in the context of a band he has led his entire adult life. “Metallica is bigger than the individual members,” Burnstein told me. “And to some extent, in their lives, they are subservient to the idea of Metallica.” That feeling of obligation has kept the band going, by giving shape to what its members have sacrificed. “The fifth member of Metallica is the collective,” Ulrich said. “People say, ‘What does Metallica mean to you?’ It’s just a fuckin’ . . . it’s a state of mind.” He paused. “Metallica is the whole energy of the universe. We just steer it along.” ♦



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