Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich founded Metallica in late 1981 in Los Angeles. At the time, Hetfield handled guitar and bass in addition to singing duties. Eight months after their formation, “Hit the Lights” appeared on the Metal Massacre compilation that launched Metal Blade Records. The band eventually picked up a new lead guitarist, Dave Mustaine, and bassist Ron McGovney.
McGovney didn’t last long, making way for Cliff Burton, who joined on the condition Metallica relocate to his hometown of San Francisco. They made another lineup change just before they record their debut album: Mustaine, whose drinking had spiraled out of control, was out and replaced by Kirk Hammett.
Kill ‘Em All introduced Metallica as one of the leading lights in the new thrash metal movement in 1983. But they showed their other sides on the follow-up, Ride the Lightning, which attracted the attention of Elektra Records, which signed the band for 1986’s Master of Puppets.
While promoting the LP in Sweden, their tour bus skidded on ice and flipped over. Burton, who was asleep in his bunk, was thrown through a window and the vehicle landed on him, killing him. Metallica soon found a new bassist in Jason Newsted and soared to new commercial heights, first with 1988’s … And Justice for All and then with 1991’s Metallica, which put them in the upper echelon of rock stardom.
That lineup stayed together throughout the ’90s, but as they were about to record 2003’s St. Anger, Newsted quit, and Hetfield entered rehab to sort out his alcohol issues. Newsted was replaced by Robert Trujillo and joined the band when it was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
Metallica remain one of the top bands in the world, with Hetfield leading them the entire time. Chart his history, hairstyles and evolution as we look at James Hetfield Year by Year below.