When you are part of one of the most popular bands of all times and when you are seen widely as one of the main representatives of a whole music genre, then you know your you’ve done pretty well.
Lars Ulrich has become one of the most recognizable drummers in the world. He has many die-hard fans, as well as many haters.
He was born in 1963 in Denmark and moved as a teenager to California, USA to pursue his professional tennis career, just like his father and grandfather, who were both professional tennis players. He quickly dropped that to play drums instead. In 1981 he met with James Hetfield with whom he formed a band named Metallica… And the rest is history.
We’re going to discuss Lars Ulrich’s drumming and role in Metallica throughout this article (i.e. we’re not going to discuss anything about Napster!).
If you want to see some of his drumming, check out this video of the ‘Lars Angle’ from their great ‘Cunning Stunts’ video:
The Metallica is one of the pioneers of metal music, bringing the whole genre to the mainstream, selling millions of records and becoming one of the most famous bands in the history of music. And Lars was always behind all of it. Besides his drumming, he also acted as the spokesman of the band and sometimes even the de facto manager of the band, making business decisions and constantly working on all of the song makings, which made him irreplaceable band member. His signature drum moves are playing double-bass pedal and playing in synchronicity with Hetfield’s rhythm guitar, a sound which became the trademark of Metallica.
Even though he is one of the most famous musicians in the world and is the member of one of the greatest bands in the history of music, Lars Ulrich is constantly being accused of not being a great drummer at all, with loads of videos of his mistakes in live performances. His opponents claim that he doesn’t have any drumming skill whatsoever, that anyone can step into his place, and that he is just being carried by his band members throughout the years.
You cannot deny that Ulrich certainly isn’t the most technical drummer in the world (he himself says he’s not a fan of practicing and that he never really practiced a lot alone because it was boring) and that his playing skills are somewhat limited, but when you see the list of everything that he had achieved during the years you can’t say that he’s a bad drummer. Even though there are technically better drummers, Lars Ulrich made some of the best songs in the history of music with his simple playing style and is loved by millions of people around the world, and that’s going on for decades now. So, if he really was the worst drummer in the world as some try to present, he certainly wouldn’t have been able to achieve all of that.
Here’s a great video about some of his drumming techniques:
Also, we must take into account his legacy. Metallica and Lars with them inspired thousands of kids around the world to become addicted to music and to start playing drums (or any other instrument for that matter). Of course, because the band is playing for almost 40 years, they lived long enough to see other bands mention them as their inspiration.
Even though some of the drummers Lars inspired to start playing ended up becoming objectively better drummers than he ever was, you must take into consideration that without him, with all his flaws, those people maybe wouldn’t ever get interested in playing and the world would have less of some great drummers. All in all, and taking his problematic character into account, there is definitely a sense that he is probably a bit underestimated as a drummer and all of his achievements are being somewhat neglected.
As for Ulrich’s playing gear, he uses Tama Starclassic Maple drums, Zildjian cymbals, and Remo drumheads, all of which he endorses for decades now. Of course, he has his signature set of everything, but he doesn’t use too much of equipment as some of the other drummers do and uses fairly same equipment most of the time. As for his drumsticks, he uses his signature sticks made by Ahead, since 1994, when he made the switch because his previous wooden sticks kept breaking in his hand.
His Ahead drumsticks are a combination of an aluminum core and plastic wrapping with a nylon tip, and for some years he has been using in recordings one plastic and one wooden stick because he likes the sound of wooden stick on cymbals better.
Even though he didn’t bring some new technical marvels into the game as far as the drum playing goes, he does have some signature markings in his playing. First of all, as you surely noticed when listening to any Metallica song, he is known for synchronizing his drumming with guitars, especially James Hetfield’s rhythm guitar. That enables them to basically use the silence in their songs to emphasize and bring even more kick to their already powerful music and lyrics and they’re doing it very well.
Apart from his drumming abilities, Lars Ulrich was always highly praised for his song-making abilities. As it was shown in many Metallica documentaries through the years, he is vital in band’s song-making process together with frontman James Hetfield. The two of them worked together on composing and arranging the songs, and during the recording sessions, Ulrich is often acting as a conductor to the rest of the band, making sure they get all the minute licks and knacks in place, thus creating those great songs the band is known for.
This alone shows that without him Metallica would never have been the same, despite what the critics say. And that just goes to show that it’s not about being the most technically advanced player in the world, but that it’s all about being smart and knowing how to make a good song, using that what you know how to do.
Lars Ulrich continues to work with Metallica to this day. Even though his playing abilities remain controversial, he has shown that he doesn’t really care for what metal purists think about his playing as long as the world continues to love his songs. He inspired countless young people to start playing drums after him.
Apart from that, he is a great player who introduced some new playing styles, created his signature playing style and was a member of one of the most influential bands in the history of music. Creating some of the most iconic songs of the modern age.