Metallica: Structural Change in the Music Industry: A Marxist Critique of Public Statements made by Members of Metallica during the Lawsuit against Napster

Kieran James, Christopher Tolliday

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The music industry is undergoing extremely rapid structural change not of its own choosing, and record labels will no longer be able to rely on coercive seven-record deals and business methods that have remained unchanged since the 1960s. This article provides a case study of the 2000-01 lawsuit by extreme-metal band Metallica against the rogue file-sharing service Napster as a compressed site for analysis in which we can analyse and unpack the music industry’s present predicament, warped logic, and the greed of its various protagonists. The article is informed by a Marxist critique of public statements made by members of Metallica during what has come to be referred to as the “Napster incident”. The band’s departure from its previous existentialist and fraternal worldview in favour of a brutal form of Anglo-American market capitalism is exposed, and we conclude that long-term extreme-metal fans are justified in their vilification of the band. The band is accountable to the scene and the scene has decided that Metallica has violated normative scene ethics or, in other words, the scene’s internal social contract. We also conclude that Metallica’s Lars Ulrich’s use of the analogy that a “carpenter should be able to dispose of his table in any way he wishes” is problematic and hides more than it reveals. Marx used the same carpenter’s table analogy in the first chapter of Volume 1 of his Capital to highlight and expose how the capitalist mode of production presents as a relation between things what is really a social relation between men. Whilst Marx’s table dances, Ulrich tries valiantly (but fails) to prevent us from seeing that his table is dancing as well.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationPaisley
PublisherKieran James
Number of pages68
ISBN (Print)978-0-244-32976-1, 978-0-244-02998-2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2017



  • accountability
  • Adorno
  • culture industry
  • Existentialism
  • extreme-metal
  • Marxist economic theory
  • Metallica
  • music scenes
  • popular music
  • Sartre

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