BOOK REVIEW: SO LET IT BE WRITTEN – The Biography Of METALLICA’s James Hetfield
A name that needs absolutely no introduction in the metal world is James Hetfield. The Metallica frontman has been in the focus of heavy metal’s public eye for the vast majority of his career, with Metallica being arguably the biggest band in the world. Unlike some of his brothers in arms at metal’s forefront, in recent years Hetfield has avoided making controversial or inflammatory comments in the press – let’s face it, it’s not like Metallica needs the publicity – and there seems to be a universal view that he is a pretty good guy. Recognized as one of the greatest guitarists and riff-writers of all time in numerous publications, and the voice beyond four of the most iconic, influential, and frankly, fucking brilliant thrash albums of all time, Hetfield’s story from a troubled youth to venerable rockstar is an interesting one. And that is what we are exploring with ‘So Let It Be Written’.
A name that isn’t as instantly recognizable as Hetfield’s is that of Mark Eglinton. A hugely talented writer responsible for co-writing Official Truth, 101 Proof: The Inside Story of Pantera with the subject’s bassist, Rex Brown, a previous biography of James Hetfield entitled James Hetfield: The Wolf At Metallica’s Door and the brilliant Confessions of a Heretic: The Sacred And Profane: Behemoth & Beyond– Adam “Nergal” Darski’s of Behemoth fame’s autobiography. The “Acknowledgements” page of the book reads like a “who’s who” of metal, with Metallica’s original bassist Roy McGovney, Brian Slagel (Metal Blade), Charlie Benante (Anthrax), Brian Fair (Shadows Fall), Alex Skolnick and Chuck Billy (Testament), Jeff Waters (Annihilator) and Rex Brown (Pantera), among others, all contributing or helping with the book in some form. With their help, extensive research and pouring over past interviews with Hetfield, Eglington has painted a colourful and hugely interesting picture of the life of one of metal’s biggest names.
After a short and insightful, if somewhat clumsily written, foreword, Eglington opens the book with a brilliant quote from Testament’s Alex Skolnick, praising Hetfield as an “unsung virtuoso.” He then go on to recount the story of his first (presumably) experience seeing Metallica, on their 1986 Damaged Inc. Tour alongside Anthrax, at the Edinburgh Playhouse, and briefly meeting Hetfield himself, with the late Cliff Burton.
In the main body ‘So Let It Be Written’, Eglington tells the story of Hetfield from birth to present day – detailing everything from his family and childhood stories right up to Metallica’s brief European festival jaunt with the rest of the Big Four and the release of their long awaited, and surprisingly pretty damn good, tenth album, ‘Hardwired… to Self Destruct’ last year, and almost every moment in-between. Although Eglington and I would disagree on some of the opinions he as expressed in ‘So Let It Be Written’ (suggesting that ‘LuLu’ is anything other than an abomination surely warrants a slap on the wrists), his ability to put his obvious admiration for Hetfield and adoration for Metallica aside, and to focus on the music, the man, and little else, without bias, is in itself praiseworthy.
Not everyone likes Metallica. Not every Metallica fan adores each of their releases, praising every note that comes from their rehearsal space as a masterpiece. I count myself among Metallica’s many, many fans, but I’d be lying if I said I listened to anything they’ve released since ‘…And Justice For All’ with anything akin to regularity. But this isn’t a book for people who only want to hear someone wax lyrical on how amazing Hetfield was 30 years ago. There is plenty of hero worship in there, of course, but ‘So Let It Be Written’ is a definitive biography, with criticism, praise, and just plain story-telling. This is a book for those who a interested in James Hetfield, the man, not the memory of a drunken hellraiser from the ’80s.
Although Hetfield himself has not contributed to ‘So Let It Be Written’, Eglington has told Hetfield’s story as an outsider looking in, with the help of a platoon of Hetfield’s friends, colleagues and admirers. While, of course, Hetfield’s contribution would have been nothing but a boon for the book, in his absence Eglington has done an exemplary job in showing us the life of a troubled heavy metal hero in an eloquent, unbiased and, above all, respectful, way.
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