Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Metallica‘s infamous ’90s haircuts are just one of many things the band has been scrutinized for over their 40-plus year career, yet here they stand today, bigger than anyone else in metal and one of the absolute biggest bands in the world. But for so many fans, the question remains — why did all four members cut their hair in the 1990s?

The decision to part with those long locks — made independently — sent a shockwave throughout Metallica’s fanbase, right as they were amid another big stylistic change.

Now, let’s get into all this ado about the hairdos and see what James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted have said about it all over the years.

What Year Did Metallica Cut Their Hair?

As detailed by Lars further down this page, the band’s four members didn’t all cut their hair at once like they were burning an effigy for hair past shoulder length.

The haircuts took place in various stages of time off for the band and, when they reemerged with Load in 1996, it had the appearance that the haircuts were something rooted in unity and as some sort of statement.

Press photos and the music for “Until It Sleeps,” the first single from Load were all fans had access to at the time, so it was all quite a surprise.

Why Did Fans Freak Out So Much?

Generally, people don’t like change and take a while to become comfortable with a new norm before finally either embracing or accepting it. We hold our music close to our hearts and have unreasonable expectations, preserving and safeguarding the things we love most about what fills us with such a sense of joy and purpose.

So, when it feels like your favorite band is betraying what you love most, a haircut can symbolize a lot more than just a fresh-faced appearance.

Metallica, 1996

Niels Van Iperen, Getty Images/Hulton Archive

For a lot of fans, Metallica’s self-titled 1991 album, better known as The Black Album, marked a departure from their thrashing ’80s days. Through the revisionist lens, this release is where so much of the 21st century’s hard rock sound originated.

Branded “sellouts” by some cranky, uptight headbangers upset they weren’t getting new thrash albums, Metallica and their short hair was a step too far, especially considering that it was in lockstep with another evolution in the band’s songwriting and musical palette.

There was even a news headline in the Chicago Tribune which read “Short-Haired Freaks: They Cut Their Long Locks, They Changed Their Sound – Is Metallica Betraying Heavy Metal or Expanding On It?

READ MORE: Seven Rock Star Haircuts + Hairstyles That Took Fans By Surprise

Jason Newsted’s Comments on Metallica’s Haircuts

Metallica, Jason Newsted

Patti Ouderkirk, WireImage/Getty Images

2021:

In a 2021 interview on the Metal Hammer podcast (transcribed by Ultimate Guitar), bassist Jason Newsted (who left Metallica in 2001) said “people are so finicky” in regards to the haircuts.

“I couldn’t really be included in that deal because I cut my hair in 1992, and so those guys didn’t do it until ’96. I did crazy shit from ’92 to ’96,” he added, going on to state how his more clean-cut looks made it easier for him to get through customs when crossing international borders, while the others in the band would frequently get pulled and questioned.

Before noting how others in the band (James and Kirk)( had previously copied his hairstyle where the sides of his head were shaved, Newsted continued, “And after a while they saw how this was easy to do, and like, I started dating models, Playboy girls, and stuff, and they were going, ‘What the fuck?’”

Lars Ulrich’s Comments on Metallica’s Haircuts

Metallica, Lars Ulrich

Roberta Parkin, Redferns/Getty Images

2017:

“It’s funny how these things end up being perceived — there was this perception that the four members of Metallica went to a barber shop together and ordered like a four-for-one discount, or some crazy thing like that. That wasn’t the case at all,” Ulrich said in a 2017 interview with WJRR (transcribed by Ultimate-Guitar).

“[Jason] Newsted actually — he shaved his head on the Black Album tour. That was the end of ’93, and Load came out in ’96. So there was like an almost three-year span where — shock, horror — all four members of Metallica got haircuts at various times between ’93 and ’96. It was kind of a downtime,” the drummer reasoned, chalking it up to happenstance.

There were conspiracies abound when Metallica’s four members crept out of the shadows and back into public view. “People came to the conclusion that that was some sort of contrived purposeful undertaking,” Ulrich recalled, “which of course it wasn’t. People always find an angle to hit you in the places where you least expect it, and you have to accept that. And we accept that — some of it is kinda funny, actually.”

1997:

Ulrich’s sentiments in 1997 are similar, too, as he told the Chicago Tribune at the time, “I suppose I should have seen it coming. Metallica to a lot of people is metal, and there is a code, a lifestyle, an us-verses-them attitude that you have to observe to keep in everyone’s good graces.”

He continued, “To which I say: I’m 33 now. What might have applied when I was 19, I can’t be responsible for that kind of thing anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love the music. But that sort of 19-year-old `let’s-(mess)-things-up’ attitude, I can’t pretend to have that anymore. To me the saddest thing is seeing some of these 35-year-old guys going on stage in their leather studs pretending to still be rebels. I’d like to say to them, `Wake up!’”

James Hetfield’s Comments on Metallica’s Haircuts

Metallica, James Hetfield

Tim Mosenfelder, Getty Images

James Hetfield has been rather dismissive of the Load and Reload era of the band. While the rest of the band has talked about the haircuts, Papa Het has more of a backseat perspective as he notably withdrew his level of involvement with all things Metallica around that time.

2016:

“Honestly, that was a time in my life where I was just backing off a little bit,” Hetfield said in a So What! interview in 2016 (transcribed by Ultimate Guitar). “I was trying to let things happen and I backed off quite a bit. Obviously the art and the photo shoot and the cover, for sure. I was tired of fighting. So I just kinda let it happen. That’s Lars and Kirk definitely running with Metallica right there, and that’s what it ended up as.”

2009:

Speaking with Metal Hammer in 2009, Hetfield said he felt like he would’ve had an “ally” if Cliff Burton was still alive and in Metallica while the band made Load and Reload.

“I think Cliff would have probably interjected some different stuff, getting his bass heard and some more musically challenging things, probably. I would certainly think that the Load and Re-Load [era], I would have had an ally that was very against it all – the reinvention or the U2 version of Metallica,” the frontman attested, also noting, “There’s some great, great songs on there but my opinion is that all of the imagery and stuff like that was not necessary. And the amount of songs that were written was… it diluted the potency of the poison of Metallica. And I think Cliff would have agreed with that.”

Kirk Hammett’s Comments on Metallica’s Haircuts

Lollapalooza 1996 at Downing Stadium, Randall’s Island in New York City

Patti Ouderkirk, Getty Images

2020:

“In the ’90s, my look changed, and it was because of San Francisco,” Hammett said in a 2020 episode of the Let There Be Talk podcast with Dean Delray.

Acting as a cultural sponge of sorts, Hammett didn’t just morph into a new person all at once.

“I cut my hair because that was part of the San Francisco look at the time; I started dressing up the same way as all my friends because that’s how all my friends dressed,” the guitarist explains, “And from the outside looking in, it probably looked really strange, like, ‘This guy from Metallica, overnight, he changes his whole look,’ but it was not like that. It was not an overnight thing. It was just taking in San Francisco culture at the time through osmosis, turning into something that was just very similar to what my peers were doing.”

These Are the 20 Songs Metallica Have Never Played Live

Metallica have never played these songs live before.

Gallery Credit: Lauryn Schaffner

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