American Heavy Metal and Lars Ulrich
Along with Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer, Metallica spearheaded one of the most popular substyles of heavy metal, called thrash metal. However, as the band matured, they entered into the mainstream with a self-titled album that has since been referred to as The Black Album. This record, while still heavy hitting, featured such hits as “Nothing Else Matters” and the very popular “Enter Sandman.”
Drummer Lars Ulrich (born 1963) was the cofounder of Metallica, and his percussive skills remain a focal point of the group's sound. Ulrich was born in Denmark and moved to the United States to pursue a career in tennis, but instead found himself drawn to music and drumming. Ulrich's musical inspiration came when he saw Ian Paice play with Deep Purple, and the seeds were sown for a career in rock at age thirteen when Ulrich received his first Ludwig drum kit from his parents. At age eighteen, the young Ulrich met singer James Hetfield, they formed Metallica, and the rest is history. To date, Metallica has sold over 90 million record albums internationally.
As a drummer, Ulrich's style may be the very definition of modern heavy drumming. Unlike the heavy hitting of John Bonham, Ulrich's approach is more precise and exacting. This is not to say that Bonham's drumming was loose. Ulrich's playing, however, is particularly ironclad and metronomic. These qualities are key characteristics in thrash metal. For example, double bass-drum flourishes sound like machine guns and tom-tom beats almost sound computerized.
With some exceptions, Ulrich's style is decidedly inorganic, though it contains all the passion and intensity you would ever want from a drummer. The inorganic element comes from Ulrich's lack of warm, earthy jazzy influences. (This contrasts with hard rock and classic metal drummers such as Bonham and McBrain, respectively.) Because he is not building off of drummers like Joe Morello, Elvin Jones, or Art Blakey, he does not employ a lot of finesse. He also rarely creates subtle colors on his drums and cymbals. But this is not a criticism of Ulrich's playing.
Thrash metal is not supposed to groove like a swampy N'awlin's march or seethe like a James Brown funk vamp. Nor is it supposed to swing or contain understated cymbal textures and dark earth tones. The beauty of Ulrich's playing lies in its pure unbridled power. Metallica's music is a concentrated and mind-blowing musical assault. There is great bombast and energy in their music and, again, it's supposed to strike the listeners this way.
Ulrich's style of drumming is also extremely difficult to play. In truth, few drummers can do it well. Most who attempt to play like Ulrich sound sloppy and, frankly, out of breath; they just don't have the dexterity. Ulrich, on the other hand, is impressive to listen to (and watch) if only because he has great stamina and such overwhelming musical drive. He remains one of the most significant heavy metal innovators.