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Metallica tops the charts again

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Who’s the biggest music act of 2008? Seems like the graying rockers of Metallica — average age: 44 — may have a claim on the title.

In September, Death Magnetic became Metallica’s fifth studio album in a row to debut atop the Billboard 200 chart. That’s the most consecutive No. 1 bows in chart history — more than the Beatles, U2, or Dave Matthews Band. The album went on to stay at No. 1 for two more weeks, moving more than one million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. ”It’s completely mind-boggling,” drummer Lars Ulrich tells EW. ”When you put a record out every five years like we do, the first copy sold, that’s one more than expected.”

Of course, solid airplay for their single ”The Day That Never Comes,” which recently cracked the top five of Billboard‘s Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart, helped. But Ulrich mostly credits an online push. In the months before Magnetic‘s release, the band launched a website, Mission: Metallica, offering exclusive in-studio footage, some for free. ”I don’t think we’ve had a closer ally on the launch of this record than the Internet,” says Ulrich.

Such evangelism sounds strange coming from the band who sued the file-sharing service Napster in 2000 after discovering that fans were trading a leaked demo of their then-unreleased single ”I Disappear.” Napster eventually settled out of court, but the move was widely viewed as a PR debacle. ”That’s eight years ago, man,” Ulrich says. Indeed, he has since adopted a more Zen attitude toward pirated music. When Metallica head out on tour later this month, Ulrich is fully prepared to look out on a sea of camera phones capturing footage to stream on YouTube. ”I can’t tell people what to do,” he laughs, adding ”I spend as much time on YouTube watching all my favorite lost clips from the ’70s and ’80s as anybody else.”

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