Music documentaries often deal with the larger-than-life personas of their subject matter and embellish their stardom and fame. Some Kind of Monster, which chronicles the process of making Metallica’s “St. Anger,” does the opposite. Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, Some Kind of Monster dissects the egos and personalities of Metallica in a time of crisis. Stripped of any glamor and glory, Metallica doesn’t appear as a group of rock gods but real, flawed people. Often times wickedly funny, other moments gravely serious, Some Kind of Monster shows a band not only trying to make an album but survive.
Along with Black Sabbath, Metallica is my favorite band and there are few other groups that can make an album as powerful as “Master of Puppets” or “Ride the Lightning.” But Metallica has hurt their reputation in their post-Black Album output through the releases of “Load” and “Reload,” forgettable at best and dismal at worst, as well as the aggressive stance on Napster that led to over 300,000 users being banned. Initially intended as a return to the group’s trash roots, “St. Anger” was a mess in its musical composition, featuring the band’s weakest and most cluttered work. Yet Some Kind of Monster reveals how brutally honest “St. Anger” was, encompassing all the agony and fury Metallica has endured.
Some Kind of Monster begins in 2001, after bassist Jason Newsted left the band. The remaining members, singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, move forward in making Metallica’s first studio album of the 21st century, hiring producer Bob Rock to play bass. Because of the growing toxicity between Hetfield and Ulrich, the band hires Phil Towle, a celebrity therapist, to help the band remain together.
During the making of “St. Anger,” Metallica’s durability is put to the test. Hetfield abruptly leaves during the album to enter rehab because of his alcohol addiction, leaving only Ulrich and Hammett left in the studio. From there on out, “St. Anger” becomes a nightmare for the band to produce, as Hetfield and Ulrich debate over the production hours because of the rehab’s required curfew as well as the production. Hammett meanwhile also suffers from the fight for creative control: midway through the recording sessions, Ulrich and Rock argue to Hammett that guitar solos are outdated in contemporary music, a decision that alongside with the steely-sounding snare drums severely hurt “St. Anger.”
Removed from all pretenses, Metallica speaks earnestly about its internal problems, in particular Ulrich’s campaign against Napster. Berlinger and Sinofsky probe the members’ personal lives as well, from Hetfield’s responsibility as a father to Lars talking with his father about the album listing. In Some Kind of Monster’s most solemn moment, Lars meets with former guitarist and Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine, who does not greet Ulrich with anger but regret and sorrow.
Even for non-Metallica fans, Some Kind of Monster is an essential documentary that dives into a band in danger of collapse.