Metallica's James Hetfield

Born on this day in 1963 was James Hetfield, the growling lead singer and

guitarist of Metallica, one of the most popular, influential and

critically acclaimed heavy-metal bands of the '80s. From their start, Metallica

shunned the rock theatrics common to most metal bands of the time and

instead concentrated on playing down-and-dirty speed metal in their street

clothes. In the process, the band brought the metal genre back to reality

and created some of its finest music.

Metallica's Kill 'Em All

(1983), which included the hard-driving "No Remorse," was the blueprint for a new,

intelligent metal filled with complex lyrics and instrumentation. Guitarist

Kirk Hammett influenced dozens of heavy-rock axemen; drummer Lars Ulrich

and bass player Cliff Burton made a formidable rhythm section.

Master of Puppets (1986), including the title track and "The Thing That

Should Not Be," was Metallica's greatest achievement. The album brought

together vivid images with a dense, thunderous sound that many competing

bands struggled to duplicate. But shortly after its

release, Burton was killed when the group's tour bus crashed in Sweden.

Metallica carried on, though, filling the bassist slot with Jason Newsted.

The band's next release, ... And Justice For All (1988), was a concept album

that turned off radio and music television; nevertheless, it broke

the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart and amassed a devoted following.

Metallica broke into the mainstream with 1991's self-titled opus. The album saw the

band strip down its lengthy compositions in favor of short bursts of song. Metallica

went #1 and sold nearly 8 million copies in America alone. After the album's release,

Metallica began a tour, spanning almost two years, that ended with them clearly on top of

the metal heap in the eyes of fans and the music press. Rarely has a hard-rock band

earned so much respect beyond headbanger circles.

The well-received Load album (1996) was a little too alternative for some of the

group's most ardent metal fans. When the band cut its hair and joined

the metal-lacking Lollapalooza tour, fans complained loudly, but Load

still found its way to the top of the albums charts and went triple platinum

in three months. Metallica followed it with an album of leftover material,

appropriately titled Re-Load (another #1 album), with a few new

songs tacked on. They toured behind the album, which included such strong tracks as

"Fuel"

(RealAudio excerpt) and

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Metallica/Low_Mans_Lyric.ram">"Low Man's

Lyric" (RealAudio excerpt), featuring Days of the New and Jerry

Cantrell as the support acts. Metallica haven't begun working on a

follow-up album yet.

Hetfield recently told SonicNet about the band's new musical direction:

"F--- the fans that don't like our new music. From the [Metallica] album

on, it basically has been write what you know, so in a way it's

autobiographical."

Other birthdays: Beverly Lee (Shirelles), 57; John Graham (Earth, Wind and

Fire), 47; and Ed Roland (Collective Soul),35.