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Album Analysis: I Disappear (Single from MI:2 Soundtrack)

Back in 1999, Metallica was on top of the music world. After the super smash album Metallica (Black Album) shredded the sales charts and brought the band into the music mainstream worldwide, Metallica followed up that success with another pair of multi-platinum selling albums, Load and Reload. By the end of the 1990s, Metallica was arguably the biggest and most recognized rock and metal band in the world.

With success and recognition comes opportunity, and it wasn’t long before Hollywood took notice. In early 1999, Paramount Pictures asked the band to contribute a lead single for their upcoming film, MI:2 (Mission Impossible 2).

In this article, we’ll break down the gear used on the popular - but controversial - smash hit from the film.


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I Disappear Video Shoot (2000)
 

THE HISTORY

Metallica was riding a wave of success by the end of the 1990s. On the heels of multiple multi-platinum albums, the band was approached by Paramount Pictures in 1999 to provide a single for newest film in the popular Mission Impossible franchise. It was the first venture for the band into more commercial territory, and a changing of the tide for a group that was never heard on radio and didn’t produce a single music video until after they had released 4 studio albums!


Per Kirk Hammett, Metallica “wanted something that was pretty heavy and also a good representation of what Metallica sounds like.” Knowing that the film would help propel the song into the households of many listeners that may not have discovered the band before, Metallica knew they “wanted something people could latch onto immediately” because they were aware they “only have around 30 seconds to grab the audience‘s attention.” Determined to take advantage of the exposure and opportunity to turn casual listeners into new fans, the band took inventory of their riffs and songs in progress and set out to create a memorable single.


Writing a Hit Single


With the task of creating a memorable and catchy track in front of them, Metallica turned to their growing catalog of song ideas and pulled out some riff ideas that James Hetfield had been demoing during jam sessions for 1-2 years. The band had heard the opening and main riffs countless times, not realizing they were connected.

As the band chose Hetfield’s riffs as the foundation, they jammed on the track with Hammett later adding the harmonics used as the song’s chorus. In a matter days, the song that would become “I Disappear” was born.

The Napster Controversy

The soundtrack single was set to be released in early 2000, just as then popular file-sharing site Napster was reaching the height of its popularity, being active from mid-1999 until 2001. The site was an instant phenomenon as it allowed users to download MP3 files from other users computers.

The site was not without challenges. In 1999, the majority of households used dial-up internet service which ran at considerably slower speeds than today. Aside from tying up the household landline phone (in the days before cell phones were commonplace), downloading a single track via dial-up could take hours - or days if you were truly unlucky. In addition, poorly labeled files made it difficult to find tracks, and once a track was finally downloaded, it was always a surprise whether the track you intended to download was the track you received. A song labeled “Creeping Death” by Metallica could have actually been a track by Britney Spears. Napster in 2000 makes modern day Rick Rolling look like child’s play by comparison.

Napster logo, circa 2000

As Metallica were in the process of finalizing the track for release, an earlier pre-production version of the song started cropping up on radio stations throughout the US. Outraged by the leak and the less than stellar version prematurely hitting the airwaves as radio stations competed to be the first to air the single, the band tracked down the source of the issue: Napster.

As Metallica dug into Napster for the first time, they were shocked to learn that their entire catalog was available to download. In April 2000, Metallica became the first high profile band or artist to take legal action against file sharing services in Metallica v. Napster, Inc. Alleging everything from infringement to racketeering, the band successfully got their music removed from the site, but isolated some of their fan base as a result.

The Napster lawsuit arguably was the catalyst for Metallica’s darkest days as a band, culminating with the subsequent departure of bassist Jason Newsted, Hetfield’s time in rehab, and the eventual release of their most critically panned album to date (St. Anger).


 

RECORDING “I DISAPPEAR”


Metallica made their return to the studio in late 1999 with longtime collaborator Bob Rock producing the session. Determined to keep the fast and furious “don’t overthink it” vibe from Garage Inc, the band managed to complete work on the track in 3 days total. For comparison, Hetfield had spent more than 3 days just dialing in guitar sounds on prior albums!

The Guitar Amps


With the lightning pace the band was moving at, very little time was spent experimenting with diverse guitar rigs and complicated setups. Instead, much like on Garage Inc, James and Kirk turned to their tried and true live rigs to form the foundation of the song.

Hetfield’s core crunch sound from his rig (pictured below) consisted of a pair of modified *Mesa Boogie Triaxis Preamps, specifically software Version 2 with the TX4 Rectifier (Non-Phat) circuit boards for the Lead 1 Red Mode. *Admin note: While we typically go into greater detail on circuit specifics, we will not be detailing the changes made to the Triaxis preamps out of respect to Hetfield and Mesa Boogie. -Jack B.


The preamps were routed through a Mesa Boogie High Gain Amp Switcher and blended together, running one on the Lead 2 Yellow (Mark IIC+) mode and the other on Lead 1 Red (Vintage Rectifier) mode at the same time for crunch tones. The Lead 2 Yellow Triaxis was routed into a Custom Mesa Boogie 2X5 Rackmount Graphic EQ to further sculpt the tone, much like the EQ found on an actual C+ head unit. Hetfield has numerous of these EQs, one built into the remnants of older Mesa Boogie Studio Preamp and subsequent ones custom built from the ground up using parts and boards from ‘80s Mesa Mark amps.


The Triaxis pair was powered by a Mesa Boogie Strategy 400 Power Amp and sent to Mesa Boogie 4X12 Cabs with stock Mesa spec, 8 ohm Celestion Vintage 30s. These Celestion speakers are proprietary to Mesa Boogie are only available through them. Hetfield uses the traditional sized, straight front cabs. In this era, these cabs were referred to as “Rectifier cabs,” whereas that name was later rebranded by Mesa Boogie around 2005 to refer to oversized cabs.


Hetfield’s live clean sounds were derived from a combination of a 1980s Roland JC-120H Head Unit in combination with one of the Triaxis Preamps set on the Rhythm Green Mode. In the studio, however, a 1980s era, Made in USA Roland JC-120 2X12 Combo was typically used in place of the JC-120H.


Hetfield’s “A” Rig (Left) & Hammett’s Rig (Right)

Hammett’s rig (pictured above) was similar in nature, but complimentary to the tones used by Hetfield. The core of Hammett’s crunch sound was a Mesa Boogie Rackmount Dual Rectifier Head Unit that was slaved into a Mesa Boogie Strategy 400 Power Amp for power. Hammett gravitated toward the simplicity of the Rectifier series, as well as the differentiation in sound compared to Hetfield.


Hammett also used the Rectifier for leads, but with a twist. For lead work, he would blend in a Mesa Boogie Triaxis Preamp for a tonal change and a little extra kick. As with Hetfield, Hammett used a Version 2 with the TX4 board on Lead 1 Red. The Triaxis would also function as the primary clean tone amp.

Hammett’s rig also included a piece of gear that was surprising, even to him - a Marshall JMP-1 Preamp. Oddly enough, it was not Hammett’s decision to include the JMP-1 in his rig. While rearranging the amp rack during some downtime during the Load tour, his guitar tech - Justin Crew - added the JMP-1 Preamp to Hammett’s rig without his knowledge. Hammett continued to play the rig unaware of the change until he noticed it in the rack. This was one of numerous times that Crew would make a change on the fly. While Hammett relied on the Dual Rectifier for his basic crunch sounds, the JMP-1 was used in combination with the Triaxis for clean sounds, or alongside the Triaxis for the more extreme distorted tones.

Much like Hetfield, Hammett had transitioned to using identical Mesa Boogie 4X12 Cabs with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers as mentioned above.

The Guitars


Hammett focused on using 2 primary guitars during the tracking of the song. The first is his heavily customized Super Strat made by ESP called “The Mummy” (pictured below). After acquiring a poster for the 1932 film “The Mummy,” Hammett took numerous photos of it, cut them up, and taped them to a blank guitar body asking ESP to replicate his creation. After a 1 year wait, The Mummy was born from the ESP Custom Shop with Hammett citing it as one of his best sounding ESPs. It has EMG 81 Pickups in both the neck and bridge slots.

Hammett used The Mummy while tracking a large part of the song, including the solo which was recorded on the neck pickup.


The “Mummy” (Left) and ‘57-‘58 Tele (Right)

The other guitar used prominently by Hammett on the track is a stock 1957-1958 Fender Telecaster (pictured above). In contrast to Hetfield‘s more distorted tone, Hammett went for a slightly less distorted sound during the verses. To achieve this, he recorded the verses with the Telecaster.

Hammett was often seen with a 1962-1964 Seafoam Green Fender Stratocaster in this era that was used in the accompanying music video. Despite being used in the video, there is no confirmed record of it being used on the track.

For his rhythm parts, Hetfield relied on one of his ESP Explorers with EMG 81/60 Pickups. Despite one being used in the music video for the song, there is no confirmation of specifically which Explorer was used to track the single.

The Pedals


Hammett had started to employ a variety of pedals during the 1990s, and the tracking of “I Disappear” was no exception. The track starts with a thick effect on both sides of the opening riff. The effect used on the octave riff that starts the song is oftentimes mistaken as a wah, but it’s a Lovetone Meatball that’s being used.

The Lovetone Meatball is an envelope filter that was originally released in 1995. It was part of the original series of pedals released by Lovetone, which both Hetfield and Hammett acquired prior to the recording of Reload.

Lovetone Meatball, used on the octave riff

As the octave riff plays to start the song, Hammett also plays a complimentary piece on the left side of the stereo field by repeating the natural harmonic found just before the 3rd fret. On this part, Hammett employs a flanger to give the piece some ambience and separate it from the Meatball heard on the right side. There are no known records to specifically what flanger was used, but the most likely candidate is the original Electro Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress. This flanger had been making its rounds in the studio since the Load sessions. With a light mix and slow rate heard on the brief part, however, any flanger should be capable of replicating the feel of the piece by using a slow rate.

When the chorus arrives, Hammett lays the foundation for Hetfield’s vocal by picking out an additional series of natural harmonics that outlines a pseudo vocal line. To create the ambient, eerie overtones on the chorus, Hammett plays the harmonics using a Digitech XP300 Space Station pedal.

This large, golden cased pedal has achieved a somewhat mythical status over the years, being sought after by bands looking to create odd and interesting soundscapes.


Digitech XP300 Space Station

When the song reaches the solo, Hammett switches to the neck pickup of The Mummy and channels his inner Hendrix by kicking on a Univox Super-Fuzz pedal for the thick, chewy, fuzzed out sound.

The Univox Super-Fuzz is one of the “Big Four” in the fuzz sub-genre of drive pedals (alongside the Fuzz Face, Big Muff and Tone Bender). Utilizing germanium clipping diodes, it’s one of the more rough, crude, and broken sounds you’ll find in a fuzz. While the originals were discontinued decades ago, there are countless clones available today in the spirit of the Super-Fuzz.

Univox Super-Fuzz Pedal

In all, the recording of “I Disappear” marked a turning point for Metallica. It was the last studio recording with bassist Jason Newsted, and the catalyst that ignited the band’s unpopular feud with Napster. Despite the negative turn that was right around the corner, those 3 days in the studio yielded a memorable single that went to #1 on the Billboard US Mainstream Rock Charts, and for a moment, Metallica was sitting on top of the world.


If there are aspects of the recording of “I Disappear” not covered here that you’re curious about, please leave a comment or send a message. We can edit the article to include additional information if there is a demand for it. We will also update the article with any additional information found that is confirmed.

Also, please check out our other articles for a detailed analysis on other Metallica gear, album breakdowns, and more. Thanks for reading!

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