Did Metallica correct Lars Ulrich’s 'One' drumming for the official audio of their performance at Download Festival?

Lars Ulrich playing yellow Tama Starclassic kit, 2023
(Image credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns)

You might have noticed - bands in 2023 are coming under a lot of scrutiny for enhancing their live performances. The latest to raise an eyebrow or two is Metallica, after fans have noticed that there’s a rather large discrepancy between fan-captured phone footage of the band’s headline set at this year’s Download Festival and the audio included in the official video of their performance of One.

The question hinges around the famous sixteenth-note triplet double bass drum part, which Lars recently demonstrated he is absolutely capable of playing on command during an interview with Howard Stern. 

In footage captured by fans during Metallica’s performance at the UK's Download Festival on 10 June (the same night as the official performance video), we get to every drummer’s favourite part of the song. 

The guitars drop back and we’re able to hear that Lars — backbeats and hi-hats intact — is having a moment with his feet. Where we should be hearing twelve evenly-spaced bass drum notes per-bar, we get a mixture of 8th and 16th-notes and a couple of flams. We’re big Lars fans on MusicRadar, but clearly, he’s having an off night.

Switch to the official audio, though, and it’s a different story. Here, Lars’ bass drums are pounding out a razor-sharp, spiky rendition of one of his best-known beats, and the obvious conclusion is that the audio hasn’t only been fixed during post-production, but substantially embellished too.

Scroll to the comments section and there are multiple threads praising Lars’ performance, while responding fans point out that it varies wildly from other recordings captured on the night. 

Meanwhile, other fans are quick to defend Lars, suggesting a broken mic on his left bass drum, that he was only playing one bass drum, or that it’s a backing track.

We’ll rule that last one out immediately as a misunderstanding of what a backing track is and how they are used. Not only does the tempo speed up before the drum break (in a way that is unlikely to be intentionally programmed) clearly, for Lars to have had his bass drum part ‘on a track’ would have meant that the audience would have heard his part played on the money through the PA, nobody would be any the wiser, and it’s unlikely we’d even be talking about this now.  

But a broken mic? Possibly, although there's still the fact that it doesn't sound like we're only hearing half of the phrase consistently. Plus, there’s the flamming towards the end of Lars’ solo section, which would point towards a misplaced (and audible) left bass drum, since it’s impossible to play a flam with only one foot. Of course, the second note we’re hearing could be a random floor tom hit, played by hand.

UK air guitar champion, Sven ‘Sven Spandex’ Smith, who is also the vocalist in Dirty Rose compares the official audio with fan footage from the festival in a video on his Instagram, which has racked up over 17,000 likes so far. “The only thing is,” he says “It’s not live, it’s completely faked.” Before concluding “It was so much fun, though. I’m not going to lie, I loved it.”

Now, this wouldn’t be the first time a live recording has been tweaked to enhance the released audio. It’s commonplace for vocals to be tuned, solos to be overdubbed and mistakes or technical errors removed. 

According to producer Eddie Kramer (and later verified by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons), in the case of Kiss Alive I and II, large chunks of the 'live' albums were re-recorded in the studio, and Peter Frampton has admitted that Frampton Comes Alive! features more than a little post-production polish.

So, did Metallica polish-up, or even program Lars’ bass drums after the fact? Should we even care if they did? Or could it be a technical problem? The fact remains that the biggest band in metal played two headline slots to a sold-out crowd of over 100,000 people with few complaints - apart from the traffic and noise, obviously. 

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.