The 1996 album Load of Metallica really was the red-headed stepchild of my music collection for a long time. It got to be the sandwich in between the self-titled Black Album and Reload with The Unforgiven II. Only Load did not contain anything unforgiven or any excitement that we could write home about.
But is this really so? Did they really lose the rudder and compass at the same time, as some of my brethren suggested? Kinda adrift in strange oceans and lost on unknown lands.
Well, perhaps the fact that Thrash Metal firmly departed out the door played a hand in it. Because what Load serves you with is some strange animal. With wah-wah boards, alt-country intrusions, and progressive elements all in one.
Like on the last track The Outlaw Town. This one really sounds like some weird metallic mix of early Prog Rock masters. Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and Genesis come to mind, right down LSD road in all its fuzzy splendor. On a Metallica album, forsooth. And did I just detect some punky elements with some Glam Metal thrown in for good measure as well?
The gods of Heavy Metal save me from their wrath.
So, by and large, it looks like Metallica just let the Great Spirit guide themselves into metal goofy land. Away from the pure path of metal that they were on before.
A portent of things to come is also the album cover with its weird pseudo flames. Stories of bodily fluids of all sorts thrown on canvas make their rounds. A somewhat unsavory affair, which makes yours truly wince every time I look at the cover, ever since I heard that story. And – indeed – the lore tells us that the band only very grouchily accepted this piece of art. And who can blame them, really.
But hold your horses for a moment!
Whilst all of the above is certainly true and Metallica kind of went off the deep end, as a final product, Load still deserves some further analysis.
This was a time of experiment for this specific metal band. Big things happened with them, like cutting off their hair, and other weird shit going on amongst the members. Which apparently wreaked havoc with some of their fans. The purists all over again that cannot deal with change in whatever form. Or – in other words – some of the band members started to finally grow up.
And experiment they did on Load. Some of that stuff barely qualifies as metal. Like the woozy wah-wah attack on The House Jack Built. Actually, this whole track is a bizarre rendition of heavy Black Sabbath in a way. Luckily, a creditable and nicely aggressive Until It Sleeps soothes some of that pain caused by its predecessor. This one at least hints at the crunchiness and some Hetfield power that went missing before. The bully track Wasting My Hate follows in the footsteps of the latter, with some refreshing aggression that really resembles Metallica and suits Hetfield‘s style better. Why bully? Check the lyrics.
Now, Bleeding Me definitely serves as the crown jewel of this series on Load. A weak runoff of The Unforgiven I at first, it morphs into a powerful and guitar-infused piece of pure metal, complete with one of the best solos I heard so far from Metallica. It is this change from something slow to powerful that really kicks the juice up a notch.
Now lastly, let me point out the track Mama Said with its weird alt-country style that also stands out from the pack. I guess the track saw the light of existence as a follow-up to the famed Nothing Else Matters. But it never quite got that high on its very own podium of fame. Yet still, it has a certain allure and was part of the marketing structure of the album.
Finally, 20/20 hindsight delivers it best, right?
It really looks like my early judgment of the record was spot on. Load gets us a weird rendering of what the band thought should be progression. Or Progressive Metal, Metallica style. Yet in essence, they went way out there on kooky lane, with a lot of these elements added without any seeming reason or rhyme.
This album feels like something they had to do, not really matched to the aggressive singing style of one James Hetfield. Proof of the pudding can be found in Reload that released a year later. It is there that some of that energy and aggression came back, much to the benefit of the record.
As to Load, it needs to remain as some sort of a go-between on the RMR statistic. An album that had and still has a hard time describing what it wants to be. Neither here nor there, kinda lukewarm in delivery. With some juicy exceptions, I admit. Few and far between as they may be, and in a sense too little, too late.