METALLICA's Longtime Producer Explains What Makes LARS ULRICH's Drumming 'So Wonderful And So Unique'

December 12, 2017

Tape Op magazine recently spoke to Canadian producer Bob Rock, who has been responsible for some of the biggest rock and metal albums of the last thirty years, including all of METALLICA's studio output during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Saying that METALLICA told him that they sought him out to produce "The Black Album" based on the drum sound he had gotten for Tommy Lee on MÖTLEY CRÜE's "Dr. Feelgood", Rock detailed the strengths of each player he was focusing on to get the best sound out of both their kits.

"I think what Tommy always brought to MÖTLEY was pushing the muso-quality of the band," he explained. "He was always trying to push, like with the different beats. For instance, with 'Dr. Feelgood', things got a little funkier. In terms of the rhythms before, it had always been pretty straight ahead. All of a sudden, with 'Dr. Feelgood', Tommy sort of broke away from what had been their traditional drumming sound. To me, Tommy, as a drummer, is like an open nerve end, whereas [METALLICA's] Lars Ulrich is probably closer to Keith Moon than anything. Tommy is a classic back-beat drummer; he is the basis and a rhythm kind of guy. He does have syncopation, but he's a rhythm machine. Whereas what makes Lars Ulrich's drumming so wonderful and so unique is that he's reactive to the music. 'The Black Album' was him consciously trying to be more of a backbeat, keep-the-time kind of guy. Most of his fills and unique drumming all comes out of the fact that he plays to the riff of the music, much like with THE WHO. THE WHO and METALLICA are very similar, because Keith Moon played to Pete Townshend's solid rhythm playing, and Lars Ulrich has always played to James Hetfield's solid rhythms. I don't believe Lars thinks in the terms that most drummers do, I think he thinks in a musical world that is unique. He plays to the riff, rather than trying to control the riff."

Rock also talked about collaborating with personalities as strong as those of METALLICA's James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich and how the interpersonal dynamics affected the production decisions that were made on "The Black Album."

"Lars and James are equally the life-blood of METALLICA; that is a marriage when it comes to METALLICA," he said. "Not at all short-changing Kirk Hammett [lead guitarist]. Kirk has always been the mediator between the two, but James and Lars — when they're both strong — they're the sound of METALLICA. When one or the other dominates in any situation, it changes drastically."

Rock, 63, told Reuters in 2006 that he felt "twenty years younger" after his split with METALLICA, whose 2008 studio effort, "Death Magnetic", was helmed by Rick Rubin.

During the making of 2003's "St. Anger", a petition that some one thousand and five hundred fans signed subsequently was posted online calling for METALLICA to dump Rock, claiming he had too much influence on the band's sound.

"The criticism was hurtful for my kids, who read it and don't understand the circumstances," Rock told Reuters. "Sometimes, even with a great coach, a team keeps losing. You have to get new blood in there."

METALLICA co-manager Peter Mensch argued that Rock "nursed METALLICA out of almost complete collapse on that record. Bob is one of the five best producers on the planet. But it was time to shake things up."

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