Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica
by Mick Wall
[St. Martin's Press, 2011]
In my recent interview with author Mick Wall, he discussed his upcoming Metallica biography, clarifying that his account was told from the perspective of a non-fan. This was not to say that Wall dislikes the members of Metallica (quite the contrary) or that he has any aversion to their music, but simply that he is too old and too seasoned to let his account of a band be corrupted by an allegiance to their music, which has spoiled many a good biography. Wall offered a few teasers in the interview but held back on the more succulent revelations. Having finished the book, I will attest that it delivers in virtually every category that distinguishes a great rock biography from the pretenders.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a reluctant Metallica fan. I came to Metallica late in the game, turning on to them with the Black album and then working my way backwards. While I love the power of the rhythms and the complex melodies within their dual guitar attack, the band’s leaders (vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich) have always struck me as self-satisfied egomaniacs struggling with a collective inferiority complex. They tirelessly bleat over how hard it is to do what they do, how vastly they’ve influenced hard rock and the tremendous extent of commercial success they earned with precious little commercial airplay. These claims are all true, but it is entirely unnecessary to constantly point them out.
Enter Night chronicles a band that has sold an estimated 100 million albums over the course of 25 years, all the while surviving death, drug abuse, rehab, legal battles and some hellaciously embarrassing public relations nightmares. There is no shortage of ground to cover and Wall deftly guides the reader through the band’s history without sensationalizing any of it. The author’s keen and often dry observations are buttressed by accounts from the band members themselves, as well as a comprehensive cast of colleagues, associates, friends and detractors.
The prose is jammed with engrossing stories and sub-plots that read quickly with one flowing easily into the next. Critical supporting details and the massive revelations that Wall promised are delivered in spades. He discloses the band’s plans to fire founder and drummer Lars Ulrich, leading up to the death of bassist Cliff Burton, presenting ample witness accounts and insider testimony in support of the story, which has been relatively unexplored until now. Of Burton’s death, he exposes both the cold, business-driven face of the band contrasted with the profound emotional toll it has exacted from the members through the present day. Guitarist Kirk Hammett recently shared “I still think about [Cliff] every day. Something he said, something he did, just… something.” Far from a hatchet job, Wall shows the members of Metallica to be essentially decent guys who struggle to balance their creativity with their fears, character defects and the corrosive properties of rock stardom.
The discussion of the Rick Rubin-produced Death Magnetic album (2008) provides a discerning account of both the musicianship and recording techniques employed- new approaches that ultimately convinced a skeptical fan base that the band could still ride the lightning. There is ample Dave Mustaine-related material in Enter Night, confirming some of Mustaine’s accounts while offering new perspectives on others. Wall lays out the evidence he has gathered, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions rather than beating them over the head with his own.
Some dynamite photographs are included and as with his other books, the “Notes and Sources” is remarkable in its depth and organization.
Despite Wall’s personal relationships with the band, the book is unsparingly objective. Metallica fans should be satisfied by his evenhanded treatment, not to mention the wealth of information presented. As usual, Wall’s encyclopedic research and unparalleled eye for detail leave no aspect of the band’s history unexamined- this is the most comprehensive, current and readable account of Metallica available. Non-fans might have a hard time keeping up with the rotating personnel and heavy metal iconography, but even casual fans will find this a relentlessly captivating page-turner.