In the '80s and '90s, Metallica almost singlehandedly brought the attitude and sensibility of the Heavy Metal underground into the mainstream, bringing Metal back to its earthy roots at a time when commercial Hard Rock had become dominated by the more commercial sounds of Pop Metal (derided by its detractors as “Hair Metal” for its photogenic, elaborately coiffed bands). Maintaining an unpretentious regular-guy image, Metallica combined the Thrash Metal subgenre's emphasis on speed and volume with intricate songwriting and aggressive yet complex instrumental interplay.

Founded in Los Angeles, Calif., by Danish-born drummer Lars Ulrich and fronted by singer/guitarist James Hetfield, Metallica rode their grass-roots beginnings to a major-label record deal and then to multi-platinum stardom. On the way, they lost original lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was fired in 1983 and went on to lead Megadeth, and innovative bassist Cliff Burton, who was killed when the band's bus crashed while on tour in Sweden in 1986.

With Mustaine's replacement Kirk Hammett emerging as one of Metal's most influential guitarists, Metallica forged ahead and became one of the most commercially successful bands of all time, selling over 100 million records worldwide. They built on the success of early efforts such as Kill 'Em All and Master of Puppets with musically and conceptually ambitious releases including …And Justice for All, Metallica, St. Anger and Death Magnetic, along with departures like the Bluesy, more introspective Load and the band's poorly received collaboration with punk godfather Lou Reed, Lulu.