Embraced by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for more than 25 years of brutally melodic, cathartic hard rock,
Ex-bassist Jason Newsted — who was ousted from the group eight years ago — guitarist/singer James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo, along with the father of late bassist Cliff Burton, paid homage to the brotherhood that lifted a scrappy band of speed-demon metalists to the pinnacles of rock-and-roll success. Then they capped the night by showing the room full of their musical heroes the lessons they've learned along the way in a no-holds-barred set that included "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman."
The group was inducted by pal and fellow rock survivor Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With his hair dyed blue and wearing a vintage Metallica T-shirt under a green blazer, Flea recalled the first time he heard Metallica, in 1984 while on tour with the Peppers. It was 3 in the morning, they were tired, crammed into a van and sick of being on the road, and "this music comes on the radio, and I couldn't believe that it f---ing existed," Flea said, as Hetfield jokingly covered his daughter's ears. "It was like I had been living in this normal world, where I knew what everything was that came on the radio, and all of a sudden my mind was being blown by this beautiful, violent thing that was unlike anything I had ever heard before in my life."
Flea profanely described staring at the radio in awe at this music that was explosive, precise, aggressive and intense, with wild and bizarre rhythm changes that he couldn't describe. "I didn't know what it was; the only thing I knew for sure was that it was a mighty thing," he said of "Fight Fire with Fire," likening Metallica's unique sound to a rarified "cosmic chemistry" and paying moving homage to the special gift of late bassist Burton, who died in 1986 in a bus accident while on tour with the group.
"When a person gets rocking to their music, everything else disappears, and that person is just one with the rock," Flea said. "It is an inexplicable, awesome thing, and I bow down to it."
Newsted, his voice cracking with emotion, expressed his joy at being asked to participate in the event and the opportunity to spend nearly two decades with Metallica, engaging in what he called "heavy metal ambassadorship." His feelings were seconded by Trujillo, who referred to the band's ongoing creative career as a masterpiece.
By the time drummer Ulrich got the podium, there weren't many people left to thank, so he made sure to give a hearty shout out to the people in the balcony, a.k.a. the fans. "I think rock and roll is about possibilities and about dreams," he said. "The fact that the six of us can be up on the stage tonight, snot-nosed kids, outcasts, loners who grew up in very different parts of the world, in very different situations and make it here tonight, to this wonderful night in front of all these people down here ... Rock and roll truly is about possibilities. Look at us. Metallica's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Can you f---ing believe that?"
Sporting a blond mowhawk, Hetfield started his thanks with a list of bands he'd like to see enter next, which included Kiss, Rush, Thin Lizzy, Ted Nugent, Iron Maiden and Motorhead. He also dedicated the award to the young musicians trying to make it. "Dream big and dare to fail," he said. "I dare you to do that. Because this is living proof that it is possible to make a dream come true."
The band put the exclamation point on their induction with a murderous set on a bare bones stage. Hetfield and Hammett began by clicking into a blazing guitar boogie in the intro to their classic metal anthem, "Master of Puppets." Ulrich's pounding jazz fills and the throbbing double-headed bass thrums from Newsted and Trujillo gave the already pummeling song an even more ominous stomp, with the one-time-only five-man band easily slipping into the group's notoriously tight and heavy musical pocket.
For nearly nine minutes, in what is surely the heaviest tune to ever rock the stage at the ceremony, the precision changes and blazing power that earned the band its spot in the Hall were on full display. The menacing rattle continued during an equally punishing "Enter Sandman," which the band played for the coliseum full of rock dignitaries and a handful of fans with the same vein-popping intensity they muster during their legendarily sweaty stadium and arena shows.