Producer BOB ROCK On METALLICA's Black Album: 'It Was The Biggest Cultural Record I Made'

September 19, 2017

Decibel 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. Asked what it was about METALLICA that interested him in working with the band, Bob said: "Okay, I had bought [1988's] '…[And] Justice [For All]'. THE CULT were warming up for [METALLICA on] the 'Justice' [tour] after [releasing] 'Sonic Temple'. When the tour hit Vancouver, I went to see Ian [Astbury] and Billy [Duffy]. I stayed to watch METALLICA. I had heard the 'Justice' record, but they sound heavy and big and monstrous and thick live. On record, there's none of that weight. That was my thought. Months later, I hear they want me to mix their new album. I said, 'I don't want to mix your album, but I'll produce it.' Somebody told me they were put off by that. Evidently not. A little bit later, they came up to Vancouver to play me their songs. On cassette, right? I heard 'Sad But True'. In my mind, I said to myself, 'I can do this! I know how to make this sound big!' I knew how to make their weight work for them."

He continued: "[Previous METALLICA producer] Flemming [Rasmussen] had a way of recording the band. That's pretty much what they knew. He did a fantastic job and it worked well. But they said to me, 'If you produce this, you've gotta do what you do.' So, I said to them, 'I want you to play in the same room at the same time.' They had never done that before. Basically, there was no preconceived way of doing METALLICA. I brought what I knew to the table and did what they told me to do. It was quite a change.

"These guys, they were deeper. More intense. There were times when I was thinking about James's [Hetfield] lyrics. I was thinking, 'This guy's as good as anybody.' He's intense. He's deep.

"I didn't grow up on METALLICA. I just came in to help them with a record. If were doing LED ZEPPELIN, that'd be a different story for me. I'd be so enamored with them, I'm not sure I could do it. With METALLICA, they were just guys to me. I didn't cater to what they were. I catered to what they wanted to do. That's ultimately what a producer is."

Rock went on to say that he is "very proud" of having worked on METALLICA's self-titled 1991 album, which has shifted 16.5 million copies in the U.S. to date, making it the best-selling LP of the Nielsen SoundScan era (1991 to present). "It's a huge part of my life," he admitted. "I spent fifteen years with those guys. I couldn't have worked with a better band. It was difficult, but when you're in a place that's not comfortable, you do your best work. Clearly it's some of my best work. It was all of us that made that record. No compromise. Culturally, in the music business, that's when METALLICA got on the radio. It was the biggest cultural record I made. It changed what went on the radio. I'm very proud of that. I look back on it fondly."

Bob added: "I continue to be impressed with artists I've worked with since. Like [Michael] Bublé and Van Morrison. But I will say the 'Black' album is the one where it all came together."

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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