It’s easy to think of Metallica being dubbed sellouts as more of a ’90s thing. After all, in 1991, the Four Horsemen rejected their thrash roots in favour of stomping heavy metal on The Black Album and subsequently sold 10 kajillion copies. As the decade progressed they also cut their hair and softened into art rock territory.
However, the fact is that offended purists have followed Metallica for almost as long as they’ve been around. Case in point: a video interview that singer/guitarist James Hetfield and late bassist Cliff Burton gave as far back as 1986. The band’s seminal third album, Master Of Puppets, had just reached number 30 on the Billboard US charts and received rave reviews from every magazine worth reading at the time.
When the offscreen interviewer asks Metallica how they feel about the subsequent cries of “Sellouts!” from a vocal and, in hindsight, hilariously wrong minority, James answers: “I don’t think you can say that on TV. We don’t worry about them.”
“We do what we wanna do,” Cliff adds. “If they consider that selling out, then… whatever!”
“A lot of people think you’ve sold out just because you’re on a major label and very popular,” James continues. Cliff finishes the thought: “Or maybe you don’t play 1,000mph the whole time!”
“We’d be doing the same thing if we were still on an independent label,” says James.
The interviewer then quizzes the pair on a quote from drummer Lars Ulrich: “Metallica’s gonna be big, but we’re gonna do it in our way.” “Can you explain that?” he asks.
“We’re at 30 in the charts with no radioplay from the major stations,” James replies. “A lot of college stations are helping out, but we have no videos or mass media. There’s still a huge buzz going on, and I think it’s because of our music. We’re doing it our way and a lot of the major magazines are picking that up. We’re doing it our way and it’s great.”
Sadly, this interview was one of the last Cliff Burton ever gave. The bassist died in a road accident while touring to promote Master Of Puppets in September 1986. James’ words about making music in their own way continued to be true long into the future, though: The Black Album, Load and Reload – despite annoying certain people – proved Metallica were a band with a singular vision as they became the most formidable name in heavy music.
Watch the interview below: