If you should run into Metallica frontman James Hetfield today, toss up your most powerful metal horns and buy that dude a slice of Devil’s Food cake, because it’s his birthday. Hetfield is now 47 years old and aging rather well for a guy who has lived as hard as he has. As the co-founder (with drummer Lars Ulrich) and voice of one of metal’s most enduring bands (and one of America’s finest rock institutions), Hetfield has been responsible for some of the greatest shout-alongs in history (most notably “Exit light/ Enter night/ Take my hand/ We’re off to Never-Never Land!”).
Born in southern California in 1963, Hetfield was raised a Christian Scientist and began his musical exploration at age nine when he began taking piano lessons. He graduated to drums and then guitar, and he got deep into Aerosmith as well as a trend that was later described as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (or NWOBHM), which included bands like Mötorhead, Diamond Head, Saxon, Iron Maiden, Tygers of Pan Tang and Angel Witch. Hetfield helped form Metallica in 1981, a lineup that originally featured Ulrich, future Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine and childhood friend (and later roommate) Ron McGovney on bass. Mustaine was later kicked out of the band for his excessive drinking (a pretty profound statement considering they would later become known as “Alcoholica”) and McGovney quit out of frustration, leading to the hiring of Kirk Hammett (formerly of Exodus) and Cliff Burton on bass (whose tragic passing in 1986 lead to the hiring of Jason Newsted; when Newsted quit in 2001, he was replaced by current bassist Robert Trujillo).
Throughout their long and successful career, Metallica have seen highs (Grammy Awards, VMAs, sold-out world tours, multi-platinum albums) and some absurd lows (problems with alcohol, Hetfield’s multiple injuries, the entire “Some Kind of Monster” debacle). But they continue to crank out high-powered hard rock with striking consistency. Check out the video for “I Disappear,” an underrated track from the soundtrack to “Mission: Impossible 2.”