Lars Ulrich is trying to heal. When the drummer arrives in a New York conference room to discuss the intense new documentary about his band, ”Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” he’s carrying a small tube of Neosporin – presumably a salve for a percussion-related injury. But not all wounds are that easy to treat, as ”Some Kind of Monster” chronicles in exhaustive, moving, and occasionally hilarious detail. Veteran nonfiction filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Joe Sinofsky (”Paradise Lost”) show that Metallica – one of rock’s most testosterone-driven bands – resorted to hiring a soft-spoken group therapist after dysfunctional relationships and frontman James Hetfield’s alcoholism nearly brought an end to the band. While documenting the agonizing, start-and-stop efforts at making 2003’s ”St. Anger” album, the movie offers these revelations:
James Hetfield was a very angry person. Turns out there’s a real fury behind the punishing aggression of just about every note Metallica has ever recorded. Early on, when Ulrich tries to liven up Hetfield’s predictable guitar riff with an off-kilter rhythm, the frontman freaks. ”I’m used to having the drummer do the beat,” Hetfield says, kicking off a furious argument that ends with him storming out of the room. Hetfield, who soon departed for months of rehab, now says it’s revelatory to watch himself ending disputes with slammed doors. ”It’s like, ‘Bye, Teenage James.’ I did that a lot as a kid, too,” he says. ”But it didn’t seem attractive to me. It’s not a person I’d want to be around.”
Lars is angry too. In the film’s most unnerving scene, the drummer confronts Hetfield after he returns from his nine-month-long rehab stint, which halted recording and left the band’s future in doubt. ”I was thinking about seeing you and the word ‘f—’ kept coming up,” Ulrich says, stalking around a small room as Hetfield sits impassively at a table. After a rant that includes shots at Hetfield’s controlling tendencies and alleged self-absorption, the drummer walks directly up to his erstwhile friend and screams the F-word in his face. ”What was going through my head was, this is a test of what I learned in rehab,” Hetfield says. ”The old me would never have allowed that. I would have thrown him through a window.”
Lars’ eccentric dad is Metallica’s biggest fan… and biggest critic. When Metallica completes some tracks for ”St. Anger,” among the first opinions Ulrich seeks is that of his septuagenarian father, Torben Ulrich, a retired professional tennis player. Torben has a long gray beard like ”Kill Bill: Vol. 2”’s martial arts master (even mastering a similar contemptuous beard flip) and a Danish accent that faintly echoes that of ”The Simpsons”’ Groundskeeper Willie. ”I would delete that,” Torben says of one new song, as Lars laughs uncomfortably. ”For me that doesn’t cut it. It sounds like a guy shouting in some kind of echo chamber.”
Dave Mustaine still regrets being booted from Metallica. The band kicked out former lead guitarist Mustaine in 1983 – ironically, because of his substance abuse problems. He went on to found the highly successful metal purveyors Megadeth. But when Ulrich visits with Mustaine, it becomes clear that Megadeth’s fame means little to him. ”It’s been hard, Lars, to watch everything you touch turn to gold, and everything I do backfire,” a misty Mustaine says. ”When I hear Metallica on the radio, I think, ‘I f—ed up.”’ Ulrich remains bewildered. ”It’s really difficult to comprehend that when he thinks back on his own achievements, he thinks of nothing but playing second fiddle to Metallica.” For his part, Mustaine called the film ”Some Kind of Bull—” in a posting on his website.
Therapy helped the band ? until it didn’t. Therapist Phil Towle, who’s worked on group dynamics with NFL teams and (unsuccessfully) with the defunct band Rage Against the Machine, gives Metallica incongruously touchy-feely insights that allow them to remain together. But then he seems to get too close, even suggesting a set of song lyrics (something about ”killing the boogyman”). Says the worried Hetfield in the film: ”I’m afraid Phil’s under the impression that he’s, like, in the band.” Needless to say, he isn’t.