Until it Sleeps

When Metallica finally recorded and released the follow-up to Metallica (aka “the black album”), it was deemed a disappointment by many. Some cried sell-out and it’s almost easy to understand why when you hear the finished result.

The Metallica of Master of Puppets, one of — if not the — best metal albums ever, had taken their leave. In their wake they left slower songs, discernible lyrics, not to mention a beefed-up production and a cry went out into the land and it was that producer Bob Rock hath made Metallica sound like ye olde Bon Jovi! Far from it. But as the opening riff pounds you to the wall and Hetfield shrieks “Outta my way!”, you find that you’ll do well to obey.

The runaway success of Metallica must have left the band in a quandary. Many long-time fans felt they had sold out when they streamlined their sound; some of us, newer to the scene, welcomed the advent of heavier music to the mainstream. But when the dust settled, it’s difficult to see Metallica as the pinnacle of the second part of their career. Yes, it’s a good metal record overall, containing a few classic tracks, ie. the singles Enter SandmanThe Unforgiven and the balls-out monster track Wherever I may roam.

Load is the album Metallica could have been. It’s a logical progression. It must have been a difficult choice for them: what direction to pursue? The trash metal that made their name or the slower grind that broke them to the masses? I for one can’t help but be pleased that they decided to go for broke and try on a new sound.

The simple fact is that while Load doesn’t measure up to the brutal, velocity-crazed brilliance of Master of Puppets, it really shouldn’t have to: They are two entirely different kinds of beasts. Make no mistake about it: Load is a gem. It is the sound of a band growing up; Metallica are in fact facing middle age; is it such a surprise that their outlook on things would change or that their sound would mellow somewhat with the advent of children and families?

Image-wise, they took the make-over too far; the Anton Korbijn Gen X photos that adorn the cover grate. Especially since the music contained on the disc is far removed from designer angst in vogue then as now. (Still, Lars Ulrich getting a haircut was surely not so bad: It looked pretty thin on top.)

Load shows a more melodic Metallica than before: Slower, and even “groove-oriented”, many simply felt this was an excuse for the band to play sloppily. They’re wrong. Load is the sound of a tight, confident band open to change. They even introduce pedal steel guitar, for the love of Gawd. This momentary lapse of heaviosity aside, I dare you not to be blown away by the rest: The riffs to Ain’t my bitch and 2×4 are gleefully malevolent and überheavy. Hetfield’s growl has never contained more malice, nor more authority, than here; He sounds more confident than ever, barking and spitting forth the lyrics with the confident swagger of a man on top of the world.

Like most albums these days, Load outstays its welcome, being simply too long. It could easily be trimmed by a few tracks with no major loss of quality. Some songs don’t really gel either: Poor Twisted Me feels more like a parody of Metallica than the real thing. But whatever…

Looking back, now given the perspective of a few more years, it’s far easier to look at Load as its own entity and simply listen to the music. In short, Load rocks like a motherfucker. And it’s certainly the only album of theirs that can be described as “groovy”. The Bon Jovi charges sound particularly groundless when Metallica even in mellower moments sound as if they could rip the New Jerseyites in half with little effort.

By way of a final complaint, or perhaps lament, I must admit I find it unfortunate that opening track of the following year’s Reload, Fuel, was not included here: It certainly would have done a bit to silence the album’s detractors. It is classic Metallica, balls, attitude and muscles: the sound of a 747 landing right on your nose.

They should have called it Loaded

12.10.2003 • Permalink