NEW YORK – When Metallica (search) nearly rewrote the heavy metal genre with its 1988 album "...And Justice for All," a prophetic lyric rooted in political satire emerged on the track "Eye of the Beholder."
"You can do it your own way, if it's done just how I say," the band's distant, brooding lead singer James Hetfield (search) scorched.
In 2004 — after 16 years, tens of millions of records, two bassists and countless brain cells — what Metallica once barked about censorship now eerily applies to what nearly caused the musical juggernaut to crumble — power struggles between Hetfield and the tiny-but-dominating drummer Lars Ulrich (search).
Thankfully, the cameras of filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky caught the band's hardships and tug-of-war while recording their latest album “St. Anger” — and also followed the band into group-help sessions with therapist Phil Towle in the amazingly fresh and innovative documentary "Some Kind of Monster," (search) which debuted in limited release last week and opens in more cities Friday.
"This isn't the Dave Matthews Band we were filming here," Berlinger told FOXNews.com. “We knew what we’d be filming would be intense and powerful, but we never anticipated the final product.”
"Monster" was initially meant to be a one-hour promotional video for the album release, but turned into much more when fighting between Ulrich and Hetfield reached a climax. Then, Hetfield abruptly entered a year-long rehab program, which put both the album and the film in a state of limbo.
When he returned, things appeared to be in even worse shape than before, as Ulrich and his bandmates became irritated by Hetfield's limited time schedule and post-rehab edginess.
From the band's inception, Hetfield and Ulrich were two rams with their horns bungee-tied together, butting heads with a vengeance every time it seemed each would calmly back away. Recording an album was more war than artistic process, with both members clenching for control over every note in every song.
“We’re two guys that want to lead and it’s tough when you’ve got two leaders,” Hetfield told FOXNews.com. "We both have great ideas, and sometimes you don’t want to admit the other one is better.”
Through all this, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett (search) was forced to swallow his pride and allow Ulrich and Hetfield to devour control of Metallica's songs, with Hammett only controlling his solos. "I've been playing this role from day one and I've accepted it. I don't mind it because I know what the end result will be, and that's Metallica music," Hammett told FOXNews.com.
What's revealed in "Monster" transcends music. The bonds and strains of human emotion are tinkered with in every way, leaving hearts pouring and anxious eyes awaiting every new scene.
“Once you decide to go down that path and open yourself up, it’s got to be all or nothing, and the minute you start second-guessing it, you’ve already lost something,” Ulrich told FOXNews.com about the band's decision to film their every move. “There’s a definitive purity that comes out.”
In perspective, Metallica has always been a band of irony, contrast and discontent. During their dominance of the heavy metal genre in the '80s, their faster-harder-louder-angrier-than-everyone-else attitude kept the band united while forming a fanbase that rivaled a religion. Their lyrics offered up a roller-coaster of dark emotion, lending a grave-but-exhilarating view of the world, leading to the sale of more than 90 million records worldwide.
As the band got older and their music slowed down, internal relationships became more agitated. Nine-minute epic bursts of intricate layered song based on Ernest Hemingway and Dalton Trumbo novels became four-minute standard radio fare and sporting event anthems.
Metallica has taken a beating over the years, and as shown in "Monster," they drag quite a bit of baggage because of it. They were nicknamed "Alcoholica" for their legendary drinking and debauchery.
In a critical turning point for the band, Cliff Burton (search), the band's exceptional bassist was killed in 1986 when Metallica's tour bus flipped in Sweden. He was replaced with Jason Newsted, who left the band in 2001 after years of creative differences and relentless hazing (Newsted was eventually replaced in 2003 by former Ozzy Osbourne bassist Robert Trujillo). Fans in 1992 were disappointed with the slower, easier sound of "The Black Album", and while touring, Hetfield was almost killed by a mistaken pyro blast that left nearly his whole body seriously burned. The band's battle with file-sharing giant Napster in 2000 was the final straw for what remained for many Metallica fans, with Ulrich even testifying before the U.S. Congress.
The first positive event to happen to the band in quite some time was when MTV gave them "Icon" honors in 2003, an accomplishment shared by only Aerosmith and pre-Nipplegate Janet Jackson.
It's within the doldrums of this grey area in which an uncertainty — and possibly a threat — lies in "Monster." Can fans raised by early Metallica songs like “Fade to Black” and “Damage, Inc.” fathom their millionaire heroes seeing a shrink to work out their petty squabbles?
“Going against the grain, that’s what Metallica founded its principles upon,” Hetfield said.
Hetfield explained that some fans will go in with their minds made up, and those who are willing to "open up and see what's happening will take away the true meaning."
Even further, Ulrich said much of the feedback he's heard has been along the lines of "I'm not a Metallica fan, but I really loved the movie."
The end of "Monster" shows the band still in a state of uncertainty — unable to come to grips with all the ego, tension and disarray of past and present. Though concerns remain, there's a collective feeling of unity when Metallica takes the stage in the final scene. All the bickering and macho braggadocio witnessed in the first two hours of the film is erased as the group of 40-year-olds transforms from whiny egomaniacs to rock immortals.
According to Hetfield: “All the 'Icon' and legend labels, I guess that’s good, but we’re not done. I don’t know what it’s like to feel done."