By Thor, I just realized that this blog never REALLY looked at the folks of Metallica. Okay, we got Hardwired…To Self-Destruct on the menu for sure. The somewhat frugal 2016 offering that only got some grudging claim to fame.
But one of the turning points in their career really spread along a series of albums starting with the self-named record Metallica, also called the Black Album. Back in 1991 the band already had serious action under their belt. Kill ’em All or Master of Puppets kinda rocked them to stardom already.
And yes, I know that we should have started at least with the latter. But you know what? The Black Album always was one of my guilty pleasures. Hetfield with touchy-feely tracks like Nothing Else Matters? Hoots, and respect at the same time. On top, don’t we ever appreciate metal ballads, when they come our way?
Fact of the matter is, the band somehow began to see the light, and realized that narrowly screaming about the stage wasn’t keeping their whiskey bottles filled forever. Thus, they made that decision to change direction. Something the core fan base, the ones that cannot stand change, did not appreciate very much. And in truth, the bitching and bickering was truly remarkable.
Metallica – however – just forged ahead and enlisted Bob Rock, whose very own claims to fame are bands like Aerosmith or – Loki help me – Bon Jovi. In between many others of different types and flavors, of course. I admit, even with 20/20 hindsight this selection still makes me cringe to this day. Yet, to bring about change and dissuade James Hetfield to scream wildly about the stage forever, this guy was definitely a good choice.
Because you cannot deny the astounding success of this record.
Metallica got to be a chart topper, hitting #1 straight in many national charts. A tremendous megahit at Platinum and – for sure – Diamond levels (France) that was truly astounding. The Black Album still sits on the Billboard 200 at rank 186 in December of the year of the Lord 2018. Just before AC/DCs Back in Black. But – hold on to your seats – Nirvana’s Nevermind still beats them to the punch. Go figure for outstanding oldies.
So, it looks like all the conflict, confusion and difficulty were definitely worth the pain and misery. And truly, it took Metallica out of their old realm of kinda underground Thrash Metal masters, straight to a broader public. Not quite the mainstream, as their style still was and is way too metal for the ears of many. Even if they don’t growl.
And they tried to soften the blow with string instruments and some sort of an orchestra in some of the tracks. Which – of course – added to the virulence of the complaints from the ever-yesterday fans. But hey, you win some, you lose some, like everywhere.
The Black Album sports some of the most iconic tracks the band ever made. Like – for example – the aforementioned ballad Nothing Else Matters. Lars Ulrich‘s pained get-me-out-of-here expression on their official video really gets the best of me. Also, the subdued power of Enter Sandman with its ever-repeating 5-note riff doodle and stellar solo just increases my mood. Simple and simplistic as it may be on song structure. Or the grouchy viciousness of Don’t Tread on Me always get on my good side, too.
The filet piece of the record will – however – always be The Unforgiven. You know, the track that got a refill on Reload and Death Magnetic. A little like Bleeding Me on the 1996 Load that still knocks me out of my chair to this day. Mid-tempo and more melodic than thrash allows, it really marries the raw power of Metallica with this new direction that the band decided to embark on. Specifically the change into this riff / solo challenge at minute 3:47 really makes the track.
Looking back, Metallica scored their most successful album of their career. Not that the others were without value, but the Black Album really takes the cake over any of their other records. Of course, we can argue all day, if or if not it was blasphemous to leave the pure path of bare bone Thrash Metal.
Yet, by injecting a few ‘progressive’ elements, subdued as they may be, the band managed not only to up the ante, but also get into the earphones of a much larger fan crowd. As always, in the end all is in the ears of the beholder. Whereas the purists will never be satisfied with change in any metal genre. Any change.
As to this fanboy, Metallica‘s Black Album will forever be right at the top of this band’s very own Olymp. Will Master of Puppets be able to dethrone it? Well, one of the following reviews will surely tell. But don’t keep up your hopes too much. We can’t have such change, now can we?