By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES, July 5 (Reuters) - As Metallica takes another break from its year-long sabbatical to play 14 shows across the United States, the band is already thinking about its new record next year.
After releasing four albums in four years, beginning with 1996's ``Load,'' the veteran hard rock band wants to throw the rule book out the window and approach the next one completely differently, drummer Lars Ulrich said.
In a nutshell, it's out with the mainstream rock tunes recorded in laborious detail, and in with an angrier, more streamlined sound.
The impetus is the success of the group's hit single ``I Disappear,'' which the group recorded for the ``Mission: Impossible 2'' soundtrack. Ulrich said the single took a week to make, from writing to mixing, and the group wants to replicate that process for an entire album: writing a few songs at a time and recording a few songs at a time.
``It was really an interesting way of doing it because the energy in the song and the energy in the process, I think became very different than the stuff that has been on all our records, so it had a much instinctive and spontaneous feel to it,'' Ulrich told Reuters in a recent interview.
The old recording process, he said, revolved around writing 20 songs, letting them age for three months, and then recording 20 drum tracks, followed by 20 guitar tracks and 20 vocal tracks.
``There's a tendency to very easily become very labored and very meticulous ... where you sit and just worry yourself because you have the time, worry yourself about these details for months and months and months,'' Ulrich noted.
The sound will also be different. A lot of the tunes from Load (1996) and Re-Load (1997) were heavily influenced by British blues-based hard rock from the likes of Deep Purple, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin.
``I want the next album to be harsher and be a little grittier in the sounds and stuff like that, just to be a little harder hitting.''
But Ulrich ruled out a return to the speed metal days of early albums like ``Kill 'Em All'' and ``Ride the Lightning.''
It's most likely that producer Bob Rock, who has worked with the band since its self-titled 1991 release (aka ``the black album''), will return to the helm, since he also saw the light during the ``I Disappear'' session. Ulrich and singer/guitarist James Hetfield also share production chores. The group is rounded out by guitarist Kirk Hammett and bass player Jason Newsted.
``I Disappear'' recently spent four weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's mainstream rock radio airplay chart, and Metallica is playing it on the road. The tour began in Seattle on June 23 and will wrap July 22 in Chicago. Korn, Kid Rock, Powerman 5000 and System of a Down are supporting the group on 11 of the dates.
Metallica's most recent album, last year's ``S&M,'' a 2-CD collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, sold almost five million copies worldwide, according to Ulrich, and marked the band's best seller in Europe since the black album. That remains the band's high watermark with sales of around 25 million, a figure Ulrich doubts he will ever revisit. As Metallica prepares to mark its 20th anniversary next year, he is not too worried.
``The fact that we're still a functioning band, the fact that we still f-----' speak to each other, the fact that we get dressed in the same dressing room, the fact that we stay at the same hotel, the fact that we travel together, the fact that we all f-----' get along with each other still, the fact that we are a functioning entity that's still somewhat relevant, that's what I concern myself with.''
After the tour ends, Metallica will resume its break, and will ``probably'' get back to work in January, Ulrich said.
Of course, Ulrich will be in the public limelight a little more than his colleagues since he is battling Napster Inc. over its controversial song-swap software program. Just as Garth Brooks found out when he crossed swords with retailers of used CDs and Pearl Jam with Ticketmaster, Ulrich is ``definitely surprised'' at the lack of support from high-profile artists.
Despite the frustrations, Ulrich considers it a worthy cause, almost a sidebar to the bigger issue of who has the right to control music.
``This is something that in three years from now, or something like that, all this will have been settled and there'll be parameters and there'll be ways of keeping all this in line, and I think it'll just be one more thing in Metallica's history long the line of us cutting our hair (for ``Load'') or making a record with the producer of a Bon Jovi record (Rock).''