Back in the early to mid 80s, heavy metal was redefined by Metallica.
There were others in that vanguard - Anthrax, Megadeth and others - but synonymous with the chugging, down and dirty, headbanging crunch that wiped the map clear of the NWOBHM sound was credited mostly to a young and hungry band, smashing through with the album Master of Puppets and finally escaping years of trying to get a day's sustenance at an all you can eat salad bar to stay alive.
Fast forward to 2003. The band had not had a decent record for years, and in fact they lost many a fan with their quiet descent into has-been obsolescence. The first punch was the raw-edged sound of grunge all but annihilating metal from the face of the planet, pushing its influence back into the fringes of society, where only a few kept the faith. After Kurt Cobain almost singlehandedly cut metal off at the knees, the band itself went and shot itself in the foot, worsening the situation, releasing albums like the aptly named "Load" which was a critical and commercial flop.
Then, Lars Ulrich went and feuded with Napster, making himself look like a money grubbing douchebag hostile to the music in the process. They cut their hair, they mellowed out and sold out, and then they demanded tribute from their fans at the hands of lawyers. Or so went the public's attitude towards them.
And then, their bass player walked out.
That's where the biopic Some Kind of Monster begins. It was ostensibly meant to capture the band creating what they thought was going to be the album that kickstarted their careers again. They had high hopes for what would end up as St. Anger - a stripped down tour de force recorded live and raw and edited down into a hungry band's return to its garage days.
And it turned out to be something else.
In many ways it's painful to watch. They're balding, their faces wrinkled and jowled, and wearing trendy clothes, their fans basically reduced to UFC fans and fratboys in other countries (the "big in Japan" syndrome). They record an album widely considered their worst, with a HORRIBLE drum sound that, incredibly, makes Lars' crap drumming sound even worse.
But the very worst is that although the film was meant to capture them getting their game back, their return to greatness, them finding the metal fire again - what it shows is a bunch of aging has-been musicians going through the motions, surrounded by even older sycophants, going through a series of Anthony Robbins-style "I'm great and so are you" team-building exercises that couldn't be LESS metal if they tried. (They reveal in the show that they're paying this consultant $40,000 a month). Lars sells fine art oil paintings in his collection at a Christie's show (while sipping champagne and serving cocktails and hors d'oeuvre) and raises several million, seeing them up close for the first time as he's selling them, crying over their loss and drinking.
They sit around boardroom tables, discussing what would be good for their slower lifestyle, but also good "for the business".
During the film James Hetfield goes into rehab. Upon his release, he's upset that they carried on working without him. It's just one of many instances in which they spend their entire time careful not to hurt each others' feelings and turning everything into a goddamn encounter session. They go on at great length about writing tunes with aggression and emotion, but with "positive energy". Hetfield and company play Sam Quentin, and he tells a crowd of scary felons that they all have the same sized soul. Hetfield's only truly emotional moment comes when he is legitimately angry that they carried on without him, and they confront each other about their controlling tendencies and other quirks. The rest of the time they thank each other for affirming their own and each others' feelings. It's fucking creepy. And so NOT metal.
They go to see Jason Newstead, their bassist who quit, and he refuses to see them, instead pointedly leaving them behind by ducking out the back door, leaving them standing there rather embarrassed and shamefaced. They interview Dave Mustaine, who co-wrote their first album, and though he requested they not use the footage, they did, burning their last bridge with one of their last possible friends.
It was meant to be a defining capturing of them regaining their position at the top with a fantastic new album. Instead, it shows a crowd of aging has-beens, going through the motions, having lost their way amidst the money and the personal trainers, the life affirmations and the bottled water. That's cruel to say, and I don't mean to kick them when they're down, but frankly, that's where 2003 found them.
Though nobody ever really expects someone to be living like G.G. Allin in their 40s, it's a sad commentary that the only real way to enjoy this film is to play the drinking game associated with it - to take a drink every time one of them talks about his feelings. You'll be wasted pretty damn quickly.