Halfin, Ross – Metallica (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: July 2012
Released: 2005, Omnibus Press
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JP


Big, bold, beautiful pictures of Metallica from 1986-2005.

For about 20 years (1988-2008) I had pretty much given up on Metallica. After AND JUSTICE FOR ALL I felt they got bogged down in arena rock, covers albums, symphonic albums, self-indulgent grunge albums and poorly produced garage rock albums. Of course, my opinion is in the extreme minority as the band catapulted to the stratosphere to become one of the most influential, most popular, best-selling bands of all time. With the resultant fame there came all the peripheral products: DVD’s, a movie and of course books. Lots of books. There are photo books, academic books, historical books and several biographies. I felt it was high time that we got caught up on some of the many Metallica books that have been published in the past decade or so. This month I am featuring and reviewing six titles about Metallica and a bonus book about the origins of Bay-area thrash. They are (listed by authors last name)

-Daniels: Metallica-The Early Years (2012)
-Halfin: Metallica (2005)
-Irwin (ed.) Metallica And Philosophy (2007)
-McIver: And Justice For All (2004)
-McIver: To Live Is To Die (2009)
-McPadden: If You Like Metallica (2012)
and the bonus book, Oimoen/Lew: Murder In The Front Row (2012)

Please feel free to read and enjoy all the book reviews for Metallica Month. This list is by no means comprehensive there are many more books about Metallica for you to enjoy.

If I’m going to buy a book about a band, I don’t automatically gravitate towards collections of photos as my preferred purchase. I tend to lean towards biographies and autobiographies with facts and figures moreso than just pretty pictures. However with a band as iconic and visibly identifiable as Metallica sometimes these collections of ‘pretty pictures’ are a worthwhile investment. As I mentioned in my intro I had left Camp Metallica years ago and wandered off into the wilderness and METALLICA (the book) is a great visual representation of what I had missed over the years.

By a number of accounts Ross Halfin, the legendary photographer is quite the curmudgeon. Tales range from him being a complete asshole to a less negative perception of him as difficult to work with. I think Metallica experience of Halfin falls somewhere in the middle, but regardless of temperament and personality this book is his testament to creating and capturing the best images of the world’s biggest Metal band.

Metallica is a big oversize coffee-table book and it looks wonderful. The soft-cover is 236 pages long with (naturally) hundreds of photos of Metallica. It is very loosely designed chronologically with earlier era shots coming first. There is every sort of photo imaginable in this tome. There are casual backstage shots, candid personal shots, big, formal ‘photo-shoot’ shots, and lots of shots of the band onstage of course. Many of these are iconic shots for example the Aircraft carrier photo shoot, the Garage Days Revisited photo shoot but for me the added bonus were the out-takes from those formal sessions.

Lots of the shots are candid but time-after-after time someone is mugging for the camera or giving the lens time-honoured tradition of ‘the finger’. To me, it showed perhaps how intrusive the camera can be. It’s one of the prices of fame I imagine. I wouldn’t want some guy with a camera following me all day! After 5-6 hours I’d probably give the photographer the finger too! The band is back stage or working and some guy, Halfin in this case, is in their face. I suppose it is human nature to make a face for the camera and so there not as many shots of the bands just fully relaxed and not ‘at work’. One of my favourites is a shot of Lars on a glacier in Alaska. He actually looks very happy with a natural smile and not his usual goofy grin. I enjoyed the series of shots in Japan and the thematically linked, sepia toned shots from Australia, Portugal and Bangkok. The shots range in size from thumbnail to spanning two pages! Hammet pens a brief but nice forward and concedes that Halfin was tough to work with. Halfin in his own opening comment says it was easier back then, when he didn’t have to deal with ‘bodyguards and personal assistants’. I get the impression that it is a love/hate relationship. The shots span generally from about 1986 to 2005 so you can see the band visibly age and track the evolution of their fashion sense, or lack of!

It’s not all pretty however. There are some cringe-worthy shots, Kirk looks really silly during the Load/ReLoad era, and it can get monotonous looking at picture after picture of four, sweaty, head-bangers drinking beer backstage and putting things up their nose or whatever. There is also a lack of photo credits. I realize that sorting through hundreds and hundreds of shots to compile this book that they must all blur together…(ie. was this one Houston or Dallas in 1991?) and look sort of the same. However there are a few interesting notes of trivia added by Halfin about the weather, the location, the behaviour (or lack of) on certain shots. All the shots are ‘working’ shots meaning no pictures of their friends, family, possessions or homes or holiday pictures, for obvious reasons, so in that sense there is a lack of intimacy. For example here is a shot of the band against a wall in City A. Here is a shot of the band against a wall in City B, Here is a shot…etc, and Hammet even addresses that issue in his foreword.

Looking at all these pictures really gave me a sense of how huge Metallica is and the amount of work and energy that goes into ‘the machine’. There are shots from all over the world as these young thrashers morphed into the beast that they are today. I enjoyed looking through this book more than I expected I might. METALLICA (the book) really provides a timeless glimpse into the development of the band and the rock star life-style.

Track Listing:

Technical Details:
Format Reviewed:
Publisher: Omnibus Press
Pages: 236