The next Metallica album is beginning to take shape, more than a year after the band began compiling ideas.
Despite social distancing due to COVID-19 and encountering no shortage of technological limitations working remotely, the band has at least 10 songs partially complete, according to frontman James Hetfield.
Hetfield tells The Fierce Life podcast that the four band members have been checking in weekly via Zoom since early in the pandemic. After getting "a little bit antsy" Hetfield begin sending some ideas around last spring. That eventually led to the acoustic single "Blackened, 2020."
From there, Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo and Lars Ulrich began exchanging new ideas.
"Then we started experimenting with writing on Zoom. Lars and I would get together, or Kirk and Lars, and we would get little bits of time here and there writing," Hetfield continued. "It was difficult because of the delay in the sound, so we couldn’t actually play together, but we would play to a click track and watch each other play. We had our producer, who was running my computer while I was playing. He was running my computer from L.A., and I’m in Vail [Colorado]. And then Lars had an assistant running his computer from L.A. — he’s up here in San Francisco — and we were playing together, and it was pretty bizarre. We started writing. We got about — I don’t know — over 10 songs going that way. And then we finally got together. There’s only so much you can do on Zoom.”
After revealing last spring that the band had started writing, Ulrich repeatedly complained about how difficult it was for the band — which has always written and arranged music together in a rehearsal room — to write virtually.
But Metallica buoyed its social distancing writing with a few in-person get-togethers in a 'bubble' for various projects, including the band's Encore Drive-In Nights concert film, its annual 'Helping Hands' fundraiser. and a pair of performances this past winter for Late Night with Stephen Colbert.
Hetfield expressed optimism that the band will be able to reconvene in person sometime soon to do more writing. He admitted he is personally "skeptical" of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine — in large part because of his Christian Science upbringing — but noted that he had gotten vaccinated before in order to tour with Metallica and would do so again if need be.
"It really is up to the safety of everyone..." he noted, before added that he hopes "...it doesn’t come to a point where you have to have that COVID stamp in your passport or something to go everywhere. But if it comes down to that, then I’ll make a decision then. We got vaccinated to go to Africa, so it’s not like I’ve never been vaccinated before."
It's unclear where the proverbial finish line will be for the next Metallica studio album. The band's previous effort, 2016's Hardwired...To Self-Destruct, was a 12-track double-album that ran over 77 minutes. A third disc, included in deluxe editions of the record, included one additional studio track, plus covers and live versions that ran another 79-minutes total.
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