CLEVELAND – Metallica, a heavy-metal machine whose menacing sound has inspired headbangers for nearly three decades, is detouring from its latest world tour for its biggest gig yet.
Twenty-eight years after forming and having survived some of the darkness found in their raging music, the San Francisco-based band will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday, headliners of an eclectic 2009 class.
"It's still somewhat surreal," singer-guitarist James Hetfield said. "The other part of it will be us kicking in the door a little bit. We've got a lot of other friends that we'd like to bring in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There's a lot of heavy music that belongs in there."
Metallica will be inducted along with rap pioneers Run-DMC, virtuoso guitarist Jeff Beck, soul singer Bobby Womack and rhythm and blues vocal group Little Anthony and the Imperials. Rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson will be inducted as an early influence. Drummer DJ Fontana and the late bassist Bill Black — both of Elvis Presley's backup band — and keyboardist Spooner Oldham will enter in the sidemen category.
Front and center will be Metallica, which has flown in following two shows in Paris. The band invited hundreds of family members, friends and associates and purchased six tables, which sold for upward of $50,000 each, in Public Hall Auditorium, a historic venue where the Beatles performed in 1964.
For all their greatness, John, Paul, George and Ringo never cranked up the amps like Metallica. The band's 1983 debut "Kill 'Em All" sent a depth charge through the stale U.S. metal scene and first introduced to the masses the group's themes of death, destruction and desolation.
An epic early body of work that includes "Master of Puppets," "And Justice For All" and "The Black Album" with their monster guitar riffs and jackhammer backbeats separated Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett, original bassist Cliff Burton and his replacement, Jason Newsted, from the rest of the thrashing pack.
"They are the gold standard for contemporary metal," said Hall curator Howard Kramer. "Despite their fame, they've never made an effort to cash in. People believe in them. That's why they're still there."
Burton's death in 1986, when the band's tour bus slid off an icy road in Sweden, was the first of several career-defining moments for Metallica, which has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide.
Newsted quit in 2001 and was replaced by current bassist Robert Trujillo; the band had a drawn-out legal fight with Napster over illegal music downloads; and Hetfield, seriously burned in a pyrotechnics accident on stage in 1992, battled alcohol and substance abuse.
Newsted has accepted an invitation to rejoin his bandmates and play alongside Trujillo at the ceremony.
Hetfield never considered Metallica's possible enshrinement until two years ago when the band inducted metal gods Black Sabbath.
"We actually got up and played because (Sabbath) weren't quite getting along, which was unfortunate — part of the drama of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," he said. "It was like, 'Wow, maybe we'll be here one day.'"
Run-DMC may not share Metallica's style, but they do share its genre-defining influence.
Raised on the streets of Hollis, Queens, Run-DMC was so much more than two turntables and two microphones. In the 1980s, the trio of Joseph "Run" Simmons, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels and the late Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell altered rap's sound, popularized its fashion and gave hip-hop mainstream credibility.
The trio's collaboration with Aerosmith on a remake of the rock group's "Walk This Way" transported rap from the cities to the suburbs and created a new musical blend mimicked but rarely matched. Sporting Adidas sneakers with no laces, Kangol hats and gold rope chains, Run-DMC had the look — and the rhymes.
"They were the ultimate trail blazers," Kramer said. "Everybody wanted to be them."