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I don't want to talk about Metallica, I don't want to talk about MTV, I don't want to talk about legacy. Nor money, nor Napster, nor thrash, nor haircuts, nor selling out. I want to talk about this album and the music on it, which was supposedly the point of releasing an album with a practically plain cover. And the truth is, this isn't great music. Sure, there are some catchy songs that almost everyone has heard, but they aren't really anything special and some of them are annoying. Even ignoring Metallica's previous albums, this is lowest common denominator heavy metal.
The style of music on 'Metallica' is mid-paced, stomping hard rock/heavy metal, with strong clean vocals that rarely lose their edge of harshness. Emphasis is placed equally on rhythms and guitar riffs, the production giving the drums and vocals a greater presence than the string instruments. As has become recognizable from a producer like Bob Rock, this production is slightly flat and lacking in energy and depth, leaving the sound somewhat thin and unsubtle, many of the levels pushed up too high or too low. The style and production both sound like a product of their time in 2015, as if the album were recorded cheaply (which was not the case), or according to the standards of a different era (which is certainly true). This kind of sound was ideal for bands looking to play stadiums in the late 80s and early 90s, since the powerful drum sound and strong vocals allow the songs to produce a simple physical response, as the listener can imitate the beat and sing along. As such, 'Metallica' is an album that aims for the mainstream, not for any niche group of fans.
Though the sound is fairly uniform throughout the album, there is variety in the songwriting to appeal to different groups and different moods. The two songs that lead off the album, 'Enter Sandman' and 'Sad But True', both make use of simple yet insistent riffs that are equally suitable for headbanging or dancing, opting for a loud groove approach that relies on repetition, familiarity, and catchiness to generate excitement. Of these two, 'Enter Sandman' is the more successful, since it includes more thoughtful and anthemic lyrics, while 'Sad But True' struggles to rise above that lowest common denominator tag, staying at its slow, stomping pace for too long and ending up a ponderous rocker that spends too much time on the same dull riff. This is the most common style on 'Metallica' and sometimes hits the mark, but often has little appeal beyond the first couple of listens. 'Holier than Thou', 'Through the Never', and to a certain extent 'The Struggle Within' opt for a faster pace, though do little more than reference the band's thrash roots, actually occupying more of the same ground as some of Overkill's 90s work, which grooved strongly without always dropping the pace. The style here is still catchy, though less focused on mainstream or stadium audiences, even if the songs are unlikely to alienate those who enjoyed the opening songs on the album. None of them are thoroughly satisfying, but the added energy and some fluid soloing from Kirk Hammett make them welcome additions to a slow-paced album. Finally, there are the ballads 'The Unforgiven' and 'Nothing Else Matters', both of which also offer a welcome change of pace. 'The Unforgiven' has a memorable lilting acoustic guitar line and a strong emotional climax, while 'Nothing Else Matters' seems diluted and generic in comparison - a "couples song" if there ever was one.
Despite these shifts in approach, all of the songs suffer from a common problem. They are, almost without exception, overlong and every song contains some part (be it riffs, vocals, rhythms, or subject matter) that is uninteresting or annoying, resulting in constant frustration or loss of interest while listening. For a mainstream album, the excessive running time and surplus of songs is troublesome, because the catchiness of individual riffs and choruses is sabotaged by the senselessly long introductions and over-simplistic instrumental passages, which would have been better if they had been more fully developed or cut out entirely. The ballads are both much too long for their content, while 'Sad But True' includes around a minute of focus on the main riff, which in the first place is terrible, but is also used for both verse and chorus with little variation. A set of 9 or 10 thoughtfully composed songs or 12 shorter, more focused songs totalling around 45-50 minutes would have been a more appropriate target for this sort of music, bearing in mind the playing style, pace, and intention of the album. However, individual songs also seem to be filler, such as the dull 'Don't Tread on Me', the ultimately forgettable 'Of Wolf and Man', and a few other directionless songs. The largest criticism must be that some songs forsake musical content for catchiness ('Sad But True', 'Don't Tread on Me', 'Nothing Else Matters'), meaning that 'Wherever I May Roam', 'Enter Sandman', and the disorganized but ultimately diverting 'My Friend of Misery' end up the highlights due to some degree of progression taking place in the course of their length, beyond merely a passage from verse to chorus and back again.
It would be difficult to recommend 'Metallica' to metal fans, though there is surely some material that might appeal, such as the confidently striding 'Wherever I May Roam' and some of Hammett's flashy lead work. The intended audience is clearly much wider and there are many moments that remain memorable despite the bloated scale of the album, yet based on musical quality alone, 'Metallica' has little to offer, whatever context it is considered in.
It's the album which completely polarizes opinion. There is this constant debate as to whether or not it was their last good album, or a bad album and the start of their musical decline. I happen to think that the self titled "Black" album was a marked improvement on their previous effort And Justice For All, which was just a riff too far. I say a "riff too far" by which I mean that they tried too hard to emulate Master of Puppets but failed miserably. Some critics have said that the Black album was their "sell out" moment but I consider this stylistic shift an absolute necessity because the band needed to simplify their music, dropping the messy arrangements which in part ruined And Justice For All. Even by Ulrich's own admission he said and I'll paraphrase "We felt as if we were lacking as musicians and that made us go too far with Master of Puppets and Justice."
So lets begin with a trivial issue regarding this album; the name of it and the cover art work isn't particularly interesting. The previous albums were very identifiable, projected meaning, thus making a clear statement. The Black album cover art looks as if they were devoid of ideas. I consider the Metallica self title to be lazy but most importantly does it apply to the content? Fortunately there are enough good moments on this album to make it a marked improvement over the previous release.
The speeding riffs and complex arrangements of a Master of Puppets had all but gone and they adopted a streamlined style which was well accomplished. The riffs from the start are simplified and this is evident on "Enter Sandman." This style along with Hetfield's vocals are well balanced, which is a plus as the strength of the band is in Hetfield's writing and vocals. As for the solo on the opening track, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett continues where he left off on AJFA; playing sloppy and tediously unimaginative solos. The only difference here is that he makes additional use of the wah-wah pedal, which makes it even more infuriating. It appears that he [Hammett] uses the device, not for great atmospheric purpose, but just for the sake of it, and its overuse is also due to the fact that he is devoid of good ideas. The opener, which became an overplayed radio hit, is followed up by a slower song called "Sad But True," which lands a series of slow heavy riffs with a repeated chorus line, which never tries to break out into anything more complex. The solo is thus slower and an improvement on the opening song. The constant theme of simplicity is the strength of this album because anything more complex and they've blown it. "Sad But True" is followed by "Hollier Than Thou" which is rhythmically faster. It continues in the same format, delivering a basic song structure with a style which is slightly more free flowing. Unfortunately all of the good moments on this track are again ruined by Hammett's solo.
Right from the opening riff it was evident that this wasn't going to be an album of thrash but a form of groove metal. What follows Hollier Than Thou is a power ballad called "The Unforgiven," and this along with another ballad called "Nothing Else Matters" are the most competent tracks on the album. The Unforgiven is a musically accomplished song with some fine acoustic parts and good vocal harmonies. For once even Hammett doesn't ruin it and manages to produce a solo conducive to the style of the song. The other ballad Nothing Else Matters has been excellently arranged, with musical layers which enhance every moment, and again we have some superb lyrics from Hetfield, who's writing remains reasonably strong throughout. Other tracks in the second half of the album are pretty generic without any complexities to ruin them. This variation of song style is reminiscent of 1970s hard rock, and is somewhat likened to a Led Zeppelin III but without that albums mastery. This leads to the question; was this a conscious decision based on the creative flaws of the previous album? On the other hand was it a decision based upon trying to create a style which could propel the band onto every radio station in America and beyond, thus targeting a wider audience and selling more units? I happen to think that it was for both reasons and not simply a contrived "sell out" album as some critics have stated.
The album is certainly vocally driven at times which makes it more accessible to radio air play. There is a slight difference in Hetfield's vocals where he trades in his signature aggression for a more mild and melodic tone. This was clearly appropriate as the content doesn't necessarily warrant the aggressive delivery heard on previous albums. New producer Bob Rock's influence is clearly important for the production. He added more simple guitar parts in the background to make the rhythm section more pronounced, and we have an audible bass which was completely lacking on the previous album.
The "Black" Album; absolutely loved by some and detested by others. In my opinion it falls into the category of reasonably good, but not a masterpiece. It certainly doesn't warrant some of the accolades it's received and it's amazing how it could sell so many units, but congratulations for it. It's success is probably one of the reasons why it's so detested in some circles. Hard core metal fans might dismiss it while hard rock fans might defend it. It was evident that the previous effort was a creative step too far so by dropping all of the over the top structures which contributed to the ruin of AJFA, they could focus on simplicity, and this is what the "Black" album is; simplistic! This is why the albums flaws are its strengths.
Metallica’s black album lacks so much originality that it isn’t even worth a proper name. The band kept only the worst parts of the great predecessor “…And Justice for All”, namely a very clinical production and the groove metal influences. Instead of adding diversified progressive elements, the band headed for a more commercial direction and focused on writing short tracks with simple choruses that are repeated to death. It’s a sad thing to say but the most interesting songs on here are the longer and calmer tracks reminding of Metallica’s last release or more commercial hard rock inspired by bands from Led Zeppelin to Guns ‘N Roses. These tracks don’t fit with the harsher, shorter and more repetitive tunes. Namely, the best songs on the record are the epic and melancholic ballad “The Unforgiven”, the laid back, melodic and minimalist ballad “Nothing Else Matters” and finally the dynamical “Wherever I May Roam” that recalls the last album and surprises with a few oriental folk sounds as guiding line. Album closer “The Struggle Within” is a little bit more dynamical and faster as it tries to go back to the thrash metal roots of the band but it really suffers from its chugging riffs and lifeless production. “Enter Sandman” is the only song of the new groove metal style that works for me because it has some atmosphere building up some tension in the song writing and the whole thing is crowned by the strongest chorus of this album. This kind of song has been played to death on radio and television but it’s still a good average album opener. Everything else is completely forgettable for me.
The rest is basically modern groove metal with chugging mid-tempo riffs, clinical drumming and an exchangeable bass guitar sound that barely sounds better than on the predecessor where this instrument was almost inaudible. In addition to this, James Hetfield’s vocal performance starts to sound truly ridiculous on this album. Most songs include highly exaggerated pronunciation and unnecessary exclamations and fill words such as “ah!”, “oho” and especially “yeah”. This may sound energizing on one or two tracks but it gets really annoying throughout the twelve songs including many fillers on here. The worst examples for this vocal style are the atmospheric opener “Enter Sandman” and the energizing “Wherever I May Roam”. These tracks are among the better ones on the album and a more serious vocal performance would even have rated them up. Weaker tracks like the extremely annoying “Through the Never” that almost feels as if James Hetfield was hectically and randomly shouting chopped up scraps of conversation while playing unnecessarily aggressive and yet chugging and repetitive riffs at the same time are really among the worst material Metallica has ever recorded. This song is often cited as more traditional thrash metal song but it’s rather an example of fast paced groove metal that is maybe even more annoying than mid-tempo mallcore.
There are so many bad songs on here but the worst musical example for what is Metallica’s least original release and in my opinion also worst album apart of the abominable project “Lulu” with the late Lou Reed must be “Sad but True” where the title already says everything I think about this track. Basically, this song is based around exchangeable groove metal riffs and an unharmonious chorus. The verses sound like rap metal of the worst kind and I’m not surprised that Snoop Dogg, the rapper with the least enthusiastic vocal performance I’ve ever known, has once covered this track. I don’t have any problems with a passionate fusion of rap and metal as Anthrax and Public Enemy have proven that this combination can in fact work very well. While “I’m the Man” is a vivid example with a fierce attitude, “Sad but True” is its complete antithesis and comes around with lifeless guitar sounds and a boring vocal performance. I really hate using the term mallcore but this song is somehow the prototype for the worst executions of this genre. It’s somehow a song that has pioneered a genre but in this case, it’s nothing to be proud of.
In the end, this record has three good tracks and two average songs that don’t really fit to the other material which consists of abominable groove metal with lifeless instrumental sections, ridiculous vocal performances and a horrible production that annoys me much more than the uncompromising sound of “St. Anger”. Just listen to the artificial sound and slowed down drum play in the opening of the annoying “Of Wolf And Men” to get to know what I mean. I absolutely don't get why some people still claim that this album has a great production. Even pop albums of that time sound more dynamical than this. After all, clever marketing, shorter and catchier song structures and a more commercial approach influenced by actual trends of its time have still made what is Metallica’ worst regular studio record its most successful release. As a big metal fan, I’m really not proud of the fact that this is probably the most famous genre release of all times. There really is no need to purchase this record at all as the best tracks on here are still performed live and can be found with a much better sound on many different concert releases. Don’t believe the hype around this release and avoid it at all costs.
We've heard it all before. We always complain about what bands sold out with certain albums, and nowhere is this more evident than with Metallica and their so-called "black album". Actually, it's an album with many different opinions. Some actually say that it's Metallica's magnum opus while others loathe it to the nth degree. My opinion? It's definitely not the worst case of Def Leppard's Disease I've ever heard. I've heard horn sections in a Raven album ("The Pack is Back"), and I've heard synthesizers make sweet love songs (ex. Def Leppard's "Love Bites"), so "Metallica" really is nothing compared to any of those. Still, it's a sign that the band wanted to be more accessible to the public, and they've made some dramatic changes in their music to do so.
We all know that when Metallica recorded this album, it was unlike anything they had released before. Their time signatures are slowed down almost completely, thus turning off a lot of fans. Sure, "Through the Never" is kind of a fast, driving song, but most purists would say that it's definitely not fast enough to satisfy them. While it is true that the songs aren't as rapid as we hoped they would be, they still have kind of that same edge that Metallica had when Cliff was around. The riffs, while they aren't as complex as before, still consist of those sharp, aggressive power chords that the band had used throughout their career. The infamous "Load" albums that came afterwords wouldn't contain so much of those crunching power chords found on the "Black Album". This shows that while Metallica showed signs of selling out, they haven't abandoned their roots completely (yet). There's also the fact that the guitars are pretty heavy, even for this album.
Some proof of that comes in the form of "Through the Never", which, like I said, is a pretty driving song. In fact, it just might be the fastest track on the album. With that fact aside, it's an example of a song that's got the crunching power chords and a little bit of that driving speed that we all know and love still keeps the spirit of Metallica. "Enter Sandman" and "Of Wolf and Man" have those crunching power chords as well, yet their tempos are slower than "Through the Never". The slower tempos may upset many purists, but in reality, the riffs in, say, "Of Wolf and Man", are really not that different from the riffs that Metallica had come up with in the past. If the songs were to be changed in any way, all that you would need to do is speed up the tempo and add a chugging e-note rhythm. Even though they are mid-paced, I really don't consider them to be that huge of a deal, cos Metallica has done at least one song with aggressive power chords that isn't so blindingly fast. One example of that is "The Thing that Should Not Be" from "Master of Puppets".
It must be said that in order for Metallica to make their self-titled effort to be friendly to the public, they also ditched their more political lyrical themes found on their preceding albums in favor of writing of various things. These new lyrical themes ranged from the sublime ("The God that Failed" being about James Hetfield's feelings towards religion due to his mother's passing) to the ridiculous ("Nothing Else Matters" being just another love song). In particular, "Nothing Else Matters" would be the only thing about the black album that I would have to complain about, other than the fact that somebody must have put crazy glue on Kirk Hammett's wah-wah. That is simply cos of the fact that it's a love song, something completely new to the world of Metallica. The band is no stranger to ballads, ("Fade to Black" being the best example), but since it has to be a love song, the lyrics also have to be quite pretentious. I also find the theme of werewolves in "Of Wolf and Man" to be a little silly as well.
The lyrical themes and slower tempos prove that this album is not perfect, while the crunching power chords and somewhat aggressive riffs prove that this album is not a complete disaster. Is this the most magnificent work Metallica has ever completed? No. Is this the absolute worst thing that could happen to Metallica? No. Is it an album that is at least good or bad to some extent? Yes. I know it sounds hard to believe, but, despite its shortcomings, the black album is not a horrendous album. It may seem mediocre at times, and I do consider "Ride the Lightning" to be a far superior album, but it is by no means "St. Anger". I would consider it somewhere in between the two aforementioned albums, so I am not defending it nor am I slamming it. It's different, but it's an album I really don't consider losing my head over, whether my opinions are positive or negative.
6th October 1990, One On One studios (San Francisco). Metallica started the recording of their 5th studio album, a long process that would last 9 months with producer Bob Rock leading the severe direction change of a new era for these guys. The record came out on 12th August 1991, selling 5 millions of copies that year, reaching directly the top of the American charts during 4 weeks and staying on Billboard for 5 years. So that’s when the band definitely became rock stars, from the underground to the mainstream, sharing stage with Guns N’ Roses and Skid Row, playing in huge stadiums worldwide, finally winning the infamous Grammy for the Best Metal Performance on 25th February 1992…commercial success achieved, what about the music?
The cover reflects clearly the simplicity of these songs, which are totally deprived of the difficulty of preceding works. From the very beginning, the much more basic schemes are evident on “Enter Sandman” or “Don’t Treat On Me”, cuts explicitly based on a straight insistent leading riff stripped-down from any kind of complexity, defining truly easy unchanged structures, even choruses are intentionally taking control over the humble instrumental configuration. Progression is denied again on following direct tunes as “Sad But True” and “The God That Failed”, heavier and determined by weightier guitar lines and repetitive lyrics, reaching bigger intensity and presence but still unoriginally developed, getting too dumb and uninventive soon. Consistency remains tenuous on “Holier Than Thou” or “Through The Never”, which are embracing the usual simple patterns of the record, yet including looser rhythms and greater dynamism that sadly lead nowhere, showing a scandalous lack of ambition and direction. “The Struggle Within” and “Of Wolf And Man” offer no variation or notable improvement either, becoming disposable fillers of a mediocre pack. Fortunately, “Wherever I May Roam” breaks the uniform weakness here with its effective exotic arrangements and passionate execution, much more melodic and better constructed, giving vocals excessive control, on other hand. So those are the heavy vigorous tunes, the rest are completely cheesy, inoffensive, nearly comical. “Nothing Else Matters” might be immaculately arranged and properly produced, but its absolute simplicity, its vain vocals and tiring melody make it virtually unlistenable too soon. The other ballad, “The Unforgiven”, is slightly stronger musically, kinda varied and unexpectedly rough at times with certain unpredictable elements (acoustic guitars, harmonies, etc.) making it richer, although the mellow chorus unreasonably breaks its continuity…another failure.
So they obviously wanted to make something contrary to the exhausting progression of …And Justice For All, incorporating an alternative recording methodology, exploring different textures and arrangements but mostly reducing the complication of their music tremendously. Riffs are still the leading force, not that harsh, elaborate and pretentiously developed as before, rather getting too sophisticated and melodic, whose more tender nature don’t seem to fit the rough distortion Bob Rock provided guitar lines of, generally. Well, it’s true this material is slightly better produced and mixed than its predecessor, sometimes excessively clean and dry however, too noisy and unbalanced. No matter how competent production can be, these compositions are undoubtedly weak and kinda scruffy. Rock added extra stratospheric guitar lines in the background to make it sound like U2 and gave rhythm section its proper presence again but instrumentally these titles haven’t been rigorously conceived. Everything is hanging on a basic riff in general, putting emphasis on melody often as well. Song configurations are explicitly primitive, none of them can escape the critical repetition and absence of continuity the band is incessantly unable to avoid, proving a notable lack of inspiration and sense on the writing process. Excessive vocals particularly contributed to make this stuff so commercial, appropriate for non-strict radio audiences with choruses that persist ceaselessly and Hetfield’s overacting polite performance is pushing aggression and ferocity away completely. Those quieter common rhythms deny the velocity and fury of the past, turning this music into something accessible and traditional, compatible with the mainstream standards. So they are refusing the few elements that made their material so fresh and original in the past, the brutality, speed and attitude in favor or sophistication and melody.
This was the total fall of Metallica, when they definitely sold out and started making cash just like those pompous mid-80’s rocks stars they once despised. No more thrash, no more instrumental 8 minute numbers, no more velocity…musical regression was absolute when they reached their greatest crushing success and popularity. So you see, once again the connection between money and fame with quality and musicianship is proven inexistent. The worst of all was the unstoppable impact this CD had on their peers, which pushed most thrash groups to try something similar, play cheesy ballads and sell out for some extra bucks. Testament’s The Ritual, Annihilator’s Set The World On Fire, Death Angel’s Act III the previous year, but this album most of all certainly ruined the subgenre.
No album in history has ever divided metal fans as much as Metallica's Black Album. Most purists will agree that all their later album are crap (with a few Death Magnetic fans here and there) and that all their previous albums are great, but the Black Album seems to be the cause of endless debate. And while it is pretty flawed, and does have a bit too much mainstream appeal for its own good, Black is good for the occasional listen, if you keep an open mind.
I actually think the production is very well-done. It obviously is a bit more pop-oriented, but it suits the material being recorded here. The bass has been sidelined once again (something that has happened on seemingly every 'Tallica release since Cliff died) and while that is disappointing, most of the other aspects are great. Lars's drums have an immensely satisfying "crash" feel that make the Black Album great for air-drumming. The guitar tones are cleaned up a bit on some tracks, but it still sounds pretty consistently good and doesn't stray too dramatically from the metal tones of previous Metallica classics.
Instrumentation isn't nearly as impressive as previous efforts. James plays some memorable (if not very complex) riffs, Lars still hasn't quite found the balance between "not enough fills" and "too many unnecessary fills", and Kirk's solos would be great if not for him violation the wah-pedal. I curse the day he discovered that godforsaken thing. James's voice sounds a little worn, but he can still roar on some of the Black Album's stronger tracks. One problem I have with his vocals here is his lack of subtlety. He sounds somewhat out of his element on softer offerings like the Unforgiven and Nothing Else Matters. What happened to the haunting James from Fade to Black or One?
Songwriting is another aspect of the Black Album that early Metallica diehards will roast on an open fire, and unfortunately, they're not entirely wrong. The writing here is a lot weaker than the acid-tongued political fire of their previous offering, ...And Justice For All. Most of the songs are over-the-top attempts at being dark and mysterious (Enter Sandman), misguided, oh-so-poignant "quiet" tracks (Nothing Else Matters) or just petty put-downs (Holier Than Thou), with a special mention going to the hilariously overwrought "patriotic" lyrics of Don't Tread On Me. Now, most of these songs DO rock, and are fun to listen to, but writing is probably the weakest link on the Black Album.
So, now let's look at the tracks that stand out (for better or for worse). My favorite track on this album is a bit of a tough call, and it comes down to My Friend of Misery and The God That Failed. The former is a pretty standard example of the petty put-downs I mentioned before, but it is definitely the best-written of the put-down songs on the Black Album, and has some great, dark moments. However, if I had to choose, this one goes to the God That Failed, just for how amazingly well-written it is. James sings about the loss of his mother, and how he feels scorned by God. The track has that balance and subtlety that the album's other "emotional" tracks sorely lack. Some other honorable mentions go out to Through the Never, Of Wolf And Man, Holier Than Thou, and Don't Tread On Me. I know, I poked fun at those last two, but they're still great fun at their core. The weakest track is definitely The Unforgiven, which feels like the harbinger for the Black Album's god-awful followup Load.
So overall, I'd say the Black Album is ultimately a winner. Yes, it is a sellout album for sure, but at least it was a good sellout album. Is it one for the hist'ry books? No. However, I do leave you with this piece of advice: The Black Album has some great singles, but the true strength of this LP is in its deep cuts. If you can get past the commercial desperation this album is permeated with, I recommend a listen.
Ah, this album. One of heavy metal's most famous, and in some places, infamous creations. Like the face that launched a thousand ships, this record led to so much more acceptance of metal plus two billion slabs of crunching groove, groove, groove - I jest. But quite seriously, the Black Album, whether you like, love, adore, dislike, hate, or loathe it, is one of the most important and influential albums in metal and rock history, for better or worse. This is the album where Metallica apparently decided to "go against" everything they had supposedly stood for in the '80s musically, that obviously being thrash, although not only do I not think Metallica consciously went against their original, speedier sound, I also doubt many thrash bands from that era would have given a shit about obsessive teenage fans who actually believed there was some kind of genre war going on for 'true metal' or something, bought into the whole thrash vs glam thing, and said things like: "I hate glam, it's for pussies! I listen to thrash, I'm a real man!".
Then again, there was Lars Ulrich's famous quotation, "Fuck MTV! We'll never do a video!", and then they ignored that and did one with One (pardon the repetition and pun) from ...And Justice For All. There's no doubt that Metallica often shot themselves in the foot by saying one thing and later doing another entirely. I don't think the Black Album was ever meant to be perceived as an attack on what Metallica used to be though, and I certainly don't consider it to be that.
Still, as much as I find the whole phenomenon of "thrash purism" to be somewhat ridiculous and over the top at times (although in its own twisted way, is also admirable in its dedication), it isn't hard to understand why Metallica's hardcore fan base might at the very least have been rather surprised when they first heard "Enter Sandman". Sure, it's heavy as hell with a pounding rhythm that commands you to rock hard, but it's also slower, a little easier on the ears, and nowhere near fast or aggressive enough to be thrash.
Then again, this isn't a thrash album. Metallica was tired of making epic, progressive stuff, and after the grueling recording process of ...And Justice For All, who wouldn't be? They knew that they could never keep that up, so what did they do? They made this album, a pure heavy (as opposed to thrash) metal one, chock-full of anthems related to the subjects of darkness, voices in one's head, touring, and religion, along with a couple of epics about girls and difficult childhoods. All typical rock and metal subjects, but the interesting thing is that they weren't done in the manner of bands like Maiden or Priest. It was different, more focused on ultra heavy, groovy rhythms and less on classic metal melodies and the '80s style of songwriting.
Going back to how many thrash fans must have felt when they heard this album for the first time, again one has to admit it is a little extreme for a band that once claimed to hate MTV so much that they'd never do a video to go completely the other way and make not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE videos, five singles, and five hits (or more, if you count some of the other songs on here).
So yeah, for a portion of the fan base to harbor feelings of shock, distrust, and even resentment towards the band is understandable, but at their roots, did Metallica not always have as much classic metal and rock in their veins as they did thrash? In fact, they obviously couldn't have had thrash in their veins since they virtually invented thrash. It came from an amalgamation of various sounds. I'm speaking more broadly of influences as opposed to actual music. Along with their more NWOBHM-influenced material early on, including some of their most famous songs such as Seek and Destroy, plus many other factors, Metallica also had their slower songs and ballads which many other thrash bands didn't even bother with.
The point I'm trying to make is that in my opinion, Metallica were never just a "pure thrash" band and nothing else. Sure, they had that sound, but they always had diverse influences and were never afraid to experiment. And that, perhaps, in a nutshell, explains their enduring popularity. I don't particularly like what they did with Load and Reload even if I consider them to be decent albums, because it did seem less like innovation and more like cashing into the alt-rock trend, and also the fact that they were actually saying garbage like "heavy metal is dead" at the time. However, Metallica have always played many different styles of music, all rooted in either heavy rock or metal. Diversity, I feel, is a good thing so long as one doesn't completely lose sight of one's prime influences. And at the time that this album was released in '91, I don't think Metallica had done so, they were simply streamlining their sound a bit, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. What happened later is another story, even if I don't care that much.
But I digress. Enter Sandman, that tune that so quickly became one of metal's most famous songs, is just the beginning of the ride. An anthem if there ever was one, but what comes next?
"DUN, DUN DUN DUN DIN! DIN DUN..." etc.
Followed by a brief silence.
Then a drum roll, and it begins. Something heavy enough that when played at high volumes, it's like a skyscraper falling slowly, but deliberately onto one's head, beating you senseless again, again, and again, a monster groove of mammoth proportions, if little complex, not that this matters. Sad But True, people. A song that crushes like Black Sabbath's slowest and heaviest songs with more of a groove and a really thick, bassy sound. Catchy? Hell yeah, but so are Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio, etc, and the type of metalheads who refute every thrash, death, or black metal band that's remotely catchy still barely have a single bad thing to say about those bands apart from Priest "selling out to the glam scene" with Turbo. This points to a rather odd aspect of some extreme metal fans' behavioral patterns; for those who take music a little too seriously, basically, the 'code of true metal' goes something like this: it's not alright to be catchy if you're an extreme band, 'cos metal is generally underground, not mainstream, and being catchy is selling out, but if you're a classic metal band, somehow it's acceptable and even wanted.
In any case, Sad But True was another of this album's big hits and it's not hard to see why. I can imagine the band sitting down and working out how they could write a really bottom heavy song in terms of riffage, yet still keep it catchy and accessible. Indeed, Sad But True is dominated by simple pentatonic and phrygian melodies, with the main riff a crushing piece of low, groove-based metal. And yes, like Enter Sandman, compared to songs such as ...And Justice For All's title track, this is ridiculously simple.
And in this case, that's the beauty of it. Heavy metal, like every other genre, doesn't always need to be more intellectual, thoughtful, progressive, or complex than other music. Of course it can be, and that's welcome too. However, plenty of the best metal songs are fairly straightforward, Accept's Balls to the Wall and Maiden's The Number Of The Beast being just two famous examples. Sad But True is remarkably unfettered, content to be a crushing rocker with a killer groove and little else, and that's why it's my favourite song on the album. It's not pretentious. It's just there. The bass rumbles, the vocals are a vicious snarl, the lyrics are sinister, and the solo is good.
I think I've got my main points across with these two songs; they define most of what follows, so there's no need for excessive details. Holier than Thou is another straightforward song, almost a thrasher but not quite, and aside from the unnecessary cussing, it's pretty good. The Unforgiven isn't on the same level as One, (Welcome Home) Sanitarium, or Fade to Black, but it's still a great song with excellent use of dynamics, an interesting reversal with the heavy verses and soft chorus, and a strong atmosphere. Wherever I May Roam is another more epic track, fairly straight but with interesting use of phrygian and harmonic minor scales, a cool sitar intro, a great performance by James, and another strong solo. Don't Tread On Me is a crushing groove-based track much like Sad But True, quite similar to what Pantera had already started with Cowboys from Hell, but even more similar to what followed two years later. If you ever wondered where they got inspiration from, I'd wager strongly that a lot of it was the Black Album's heaviest and slowest numbers. Again, for better or worse, it may not be true, but it seems that way to me.
Through The Never is a throwback to Metallica's old days, a vicious thrasher with really dark lyrics and an angry, nasty feel. Not a bad song, but pretty nondescript and ordinary. And of course we have Nothing Else Matters, one of Metallica's most famous and infamous songs, both for good reasons. It's a gentle ballad, probably the most purely positive song Metallica had written at that point in time, and a love song too; not something that went down well with the kind of strict thrash fans who hated glam. At the same time, it's one of Metallica's most popular songs. It all depends on your perspective, I guess. Melodically speaking, by most standards, it's very well written. Not my favourite song, but again, it generally just works as what it is.
Around this point is where the album does trail off a little bit with the rather unremarkable Of Wolf And Man. There's nothing much I can say about this song as it's just a heavy metal song with elements of thrash and doesn't really stand out at all. Thankfully, this is almost immediately redeemed with "The God That Failed" which is another groove-based monster with the guitars tuned down half a step for extra heaviness. Like Sad But True, this song simply bulldozes everything in its path with those deep, low riffs and works by virtue of its sound. I believe this song is about James' mother and her beliefs which, from what I've heard, led to her death. lt's therefore very personal, but obviously James felt it was appropriate. A powerful, crushing song, regardless.
Finally, we get the interesting, if not overly slow and miserable (no pun intended) My Friend Of Misery, followed by the semi-thrasher The Struggle Within. Considering what came before them, I wouldn't say either song is fantastic, but the former is quite unusual and the latter is a nice way to close the album, if unremarkable. Nothing special, still there are more than enough strong songs beforehand to make up for this.
So that's the Black Album. A record with an enormous legacy that both broke Metallica hugely into the mainstream and also alienated some of the band's fans who only wanted thrash, thrash, thrash, and more thrash! Again, that's fair enough, and I'm not saying anything bad about anyone here, but I am saying this: look at the direction Metallica was already taking with Ride The Lightning. That album was a huge progression from the "pure thrash" of Kill 'Em All. And then Master of Puppets, the first thrash album to gain truly enormous popularity, also a very accessible album in its own way. Even …And Justice For All had its more commercial tracks.
As for the Black Album, it was and is indeed far from either a thrash album or an underground one. At the time, though, it was simply a step towards greater accessibility, dropping much of the band's more extreme edge while retaining their variety.
This album is a landmark whether you love or despise it, a pivotal record in the heavy metal genre overall, to be either treasured or hated (depending on your point of view; I suppose it's really about how seriously you take the underground aspect of the genre, how much you cling to certain sounds, and how much you enjoy the more commercial side of rock and metal) as one of the records that really brought heavy metal into the rock mainstream (as in, heavy metal that wasn't glam) and properly legitimized an entire genre, won millions upon millions of new fans, made Metallica into a household name, and, if songs like Sad But True, Don't Tread On Me, and The God That Failed were any indication, paved the way for an entire new style of metal that would be popularized by Pantera, a band both loved and hated by many. But a lot of all this, I think, is related to the belief in some circles that "the '80s rocked, the '90s sucked!", though.
The '90s were certainly different. It's as if everything slowed down, became groovier, simpler, grungier, and darker, with less flash, less bright colours, less over the top singing and styles, less shredding, etc, while displaying more angst, more thuggish attitudes along with rapping in the case of nu-metal, more resentment towards parents and politicians, more political correctness, and general darkness. It's not hard to understand then how many old school thrashers may have felt, plus many glam fans, classic metal fans, etc. So going on the assumption that the "hated" part is really about the sounds you enjoy and more a symptom of the "love the '80s, fuck the '90s" mentality, it's fair enough.
Still, this also means that if you look at it with a different attitude, the only negative aspect of the Black Album's legacy doesn't have to be a negative. It becomes one only if you cling to the dream that Metallica should have stayed with their original thrash sound, and thus never made it truly massive commercially as they did. Since that isn't what happened and they are still one of the biggest metal bands of all time, again, for better or worse, nowadays, I just shrug, put on Sad But True, and resume slow headbanging, or maybe "head-nodding" in this case.
A different approach from songwriting here - Metallica of the 1980's used to consist only of extreme and fierce thrash metal. Here they've laid back and put forth a solid heavy metal release that really needs recognition. I'd say that the first 5 releases are good then after that they sold out. I wouldn't consider this release to be a sell-out, but they did have a "happier" form of Metallica instead of the more darker side of the band.
The music has heavy distorted riffs throughout this album mixed with some clean tone melodies as was featured on the songs such as "The Unforgiven" and "Nothing Else Matters." The guitars on this album are wholly original and thick. Really catchy rhythms, but tempos that are not wholly fast paced as was featured on "...And Justice For All." The band lightened up and put forth heavy metal here. The songs themselves were all noteworthy and deserve praise.
The guitars all of them fit together - the rhythms, leads, bass all were well mixed to the point to where you could hear everything throughout the album. Hammett's solos featured a lot of use of the wah pedal which meshed well with the rhythms. The acoustics where wholly melodic and noteworthy. Hetfield's voice was such that you could understand what he's saying throughout this entire album. He really sings as opposed to the passed releases which he was more aggressive.
The bass guitar was barely audible on "...And Justice For All", but not on this release. You can hear his efforts this whole album. I really liked that about this album because I think that it was unfair to leave the bass barely audible. The guitar riffs were totally original and unique. Each song had its peaks and valleys with the tracks varying intensely, while overall all tracks were worth hearing.
Production was awesome as I've previously stated each track was well mixed together so that all of the instruments/vocals/backup vocals were all up to par. That's what was lacking in prior releases - "...And Justice For All", "Master of Puppets", "Ride the Lightning", and "Kill 'Em All" all had mixing that were below par. The bass mainly was the problem - it was hard to hear as I mentioned. But on this release everything flew together in right proximity.
A lot of people consider to call this release as being a sell-out. I, too, for a while, was of that same mentality, but after repeated listens to I've concluded that this release was great heavy metal. The song riffs, vocals, bass, and drums all struck me to finally say that it's worth picking up. After this release was their downfall. Straightforward heavy metal is what this Metallica album was all about. Don't miss out on some great tunes here. A milder Metallica, but still very catchy and noteworthy.
And Justice For All, a point in the iconic Metallica's career when they ran out of ideas to the extreme limit. So for their next record Metallica make major changes in their music. In this album Metallica quit playing thrash metal altogether. The music is mid paced and even laid-back at times, a stark contrast from their "slaves Hebrews born to serve" days. The music is much more influenced by ACDC which may not be a good thing but yeah the band pulls in off quite well.
The music constructed is such that it fits Metallica's lack of instrumental talent perfectly. Lars Ulrich no longer has to think about multi-tracking the drum tracks as his drumming skills suit the mid paced nature of the songs. So now we do not need to complain about poor quality drumming anymore (not that he drums excellently, but still his past performances...). The riff work is so-so. Metallica always had a problem in writing mid paced riffs and on this album the problem becomes a menace. The lead work is good and so is the bass work. The vocals play a major role in the album and thankfully Hetfield sounds good for the first (and only) time in his life. I wonder why he didn't die of the shock. The vocals vary from calm whispers to heavy growls and Hetfield puts a lot of efforts in them.
The album opens with Enter Sandman which may have sounded hideous in the single, but here in the album it does not sound that bad. The problem with it is that it is quite harmless like an 'Iron Maiden Number Of The Beast' in which nothing eventful occurs and which just plods along it's length. Sad But True is much better. It is slow even slower than the opener, but heavy, crushing and the way Hetfield sings it...it is quite amazing. Holier Than Thou is where all the fans of Metallica would feel at home. It is the first song which can be labeled as thrash metal. Don't Tread On Me is similar and also quite as enjoyable. Wherever I May Roam is the highlight of the album. Everything in the sing from the intro to the huge chorus, the solo, verses, and also lyrics rock hard. It is another midpaced like sandman but this time every element in the song works perfectly as these guys wanted. Nothing Else Matters is a love ballad and much controversial song. It is as if it's arule to hate this song in metal circles. And why not? A thrash metal band playing sissy love ballads? Hideous crap, right? Wrong. Not for this particular case. Hetfield sings amazingly and the atmophere created by the synths is also amazing. Another such song is The Unforgiven. Though it may not be a ballad, it contains many soft parts like Fade To Black. Where Fade To Black contained soft verses and heavy chorus, this one contains heavy verses and soft chorus. And the chorus, what an amazing chorus it has! The solo is also quite amazing. Overall this is the best song from the album. Of Wolf And Man increases the pace by several notches and so we can't be put off. This song is another highlight. The God That Failed and My Friend Of Misery are midpaced in the vein of Sad But True and again quite good songs. They would have sounded much better if the choruses had been better. The Struggle Within is another fast cut and ends the album on a positive note.
Contrary to popular belief, this according to me is a comeback album of sots after the so-so Master Of Puppets and the disaster known as And Justice For All. This album is much more consistent, the songwriting is much more competent and thus in all angles is a much more balanced album. The filler content which was much higher compared to any respectable album in the last two records is reduced here. There are only two or three songs out of the twelve which are not enjoyable and that much consistency is good. It has been a fashionable thing to slam this album since it sold many copies and pushed Metallica out of their underground status into overnight stars. Yeah I agree that the stuff released after this sucks big time and that this album was responsible for the release of abominations known as Load, Reload. I also agree that this album inspired countless other bands to change their musical direction into commercial crap. But as long this album is an enjoyable one we can't just slam it for it's negative influence. Also this album serves as an excellent intro album into heavy metal. Having it's share of thrashy, midpaced, catchy, simple tracks and even ballads, this album can be an intro album. I have seen many punks who used to sport dyed spike haircut and Bon Jovi t shirts now listening to Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath all due to this album. I'll recommend this album to any one listening to MUSIC and wanting to check out heavy metal is, as for the metal heads I doubt if there is anyone who has not heard it. But then if you haven't go and get it.
Even though this album was the starting point of Metallica's commercial success and musical style change from their faster paced thrash metal style to a slower heavy metal style, I was still scratching my head at times wondering why this had some really harsh criticism. Then again, not many people like it when a fellow metal band supposedly changes their musical style to go mainstream. Though I definitely had different feelings about it, the tracks 1 to 5 can be listened to forever so for the beginning I was a totally satisfied. Though how was I satisfied, allow me to dive into the details.
This is one of Metallica's most legendary and most successful albums, maybe because of the commercial success that helped but please, way back when this came out there were a good amount of music stores that had 200+ people waiting for it to open. You got to bet that was no simple coincidence. Not to mention on its first few months in the stores it was hitting a 1 million, then 2 million, then like the 4 million mark all within about one month each time.
But other than commercial success shit, as far as the overall performance of everyone’s part really can’t really get any better. Usually the guitar parts for me are the best for any album, but here it was the lyrics. I mean look at these:
Say your prayers little one
don't forget, my son
to include everyone
I tuck you in, warm within
keep you free from sin
till the sandman he comes
How can you not like that? Easily one of their most thought lyrical albums; it just can’t get any better. The guitars were simple yet still great and heavy; Kirk's mind is infinite in solos and riffs. James's rhythm guitar part was just as good, his vocals were sweet as well. Lars despite the shit I may get is actually a great drummer. And Jason is almost better than Cliff, shame he doesn't get too many moments. Everyone was at their peaks here which really helps. But a further dive into performance we shall go.
As far as James and his vocals went, he really has a harsh voice, and if he wants it to sound nice and soft and mellow, he can do that too. He has a great versatility in his voice and uses so many different moods in his voice in different songs, such as one song he's screaming his ass off and the next song he's nice and mellow. His voice and versatility of it along with the fucking kick ass lyrics make the vocal category of this album blow literally everything else into the weeds pretty much. As far as Kirk and James's guitar parts, I really have to say the second best part. Like I said, Kirk's mind is infinite with writing riffs and solos, and James is very capable to back those up with some very nice rhythm guitar parts. The guitars are definitely a highlight here and definitely contain some of Metallica's most famous riffs such as the Enter Sandman riff. Lars can definitely drum. He's not some Danish idiot who bangs everything on a drum set like a six-year old. Lars has his moments such as some very brief little drum solos, most of which can be found on the tracks Sad but True and Wherever I May Roam. They are very nice and I can say will take the third best part. As far as their bass lines go, well, Jason definitely was no fluke and had some awesome bass lines; the only problem is their one step away from not being heard. Yes he did have some little short bass solos such as on Enter Sandman but after that, really all of Jason's good work sort of gets thrown in the recycling bin. I'm not saying the bass was bad; they were actually good though probably the worst part here.
The best track on the entire album to me was Sad but True. Really fucking heavy song and probably heaviest song on the entire album. Though really all the tracks 1 through 5 were the best and make me not feel like skipping any tracks you really don't have to dig for a good song because they're right there when the thing starts playing. Although, I guess I could say Don’t Tread on Me and Of Wolf and Man were satisfactory, but they really seem to require some real motivation to listen to until the end and are forgettable. Though after track 5, everything is really sort of forgettable except on Nothing Else Matters, it makes it so like after Wherever I May Roam, I just want to skip down to Nothing Else Matters and the rest of the tracks are forgettable except their little remixed Star Wars Imperial March was absolutely awesome as well, and that is coming from a Star Wars fan myself, I know how it goes and I really wish they put Metallica's version in the movies.
So there we have it, probably Metallica's third best album, but considering this is not rated 100%, you bet I had some problems with it. Like I said before, everything after Wherever I May Roam with the exception of Nothing Else Matters and the Star Wars Imperial March are very forgettable and while some these tracks may be satisfactory still require much motivation to listen to until the end. Second, not like song lengths are a big deal, but they could be kept as balanced as possible, again not a big deal, but something that could help make a good album an even better album. Third, does Jason even play here? Or did you give him his one moment in Enter Sandman and throw him out the window the rest of the time?
So that wraps up the Black Album, otherwise known as Metallica. And I say this is really worth a buy or an iTunes buy, it doesn't really matter how, just listen to it somehow.
It's so easy to hate The Black Album. It was the fatal stroke, the stake to the heart, the last passably listenable Metallica release. At the time it was needed, Metallica's brand of ever escalating thrash had overstuffed itself with And Justice For All and The Black Album served as a necessary palate cleanser. So I understand the reset but I cannot forgive what they did with it. The success of this record went to their heads. It ruined them and hindsight makes it all the more difficult to sift out the value of this recording in any sort of objective manner because it is so shrouded in thickening emotion and with Metallica still around rubbing our faces in their continually descending mediocrity, well, it makes it all the more difficult.
That The Black Album is seminal is indisputable. Personal feelings aside, it was a landmark in heavy metal, one of the high-selling records of all-time. It captured a zeitgeist so effectively that it remains for many the most important album of their lives, whether they still listen to it or not, whether they even care to admit it. The Black Album brought legions into metal (for better or worse, worse mostly I'm afraid). In terms of legitimizing metal, still a mostly underground phenomenon, with the mainstream, it is as important a record as Black Sabbath's Paranoid and AC/DC's Back In Black, though musically it pales in comparison to both.
What Metallica had achieved in the trajectory from Kill 'Em All to And Justice For All is simply amazing and had they split up afterward, their legacy would still stand untarnished. Even with the indelible stain of the last twenty years hanging over them, those first four records remain among the best metal albums ever recorded. And The Black Album killed that momentum completely.
This record is big, loud, and dumb -- much like the generation of mainstream arena rock fans who would embrace it. Musically, it is derivative of other bands with simpler formats, seeking radio friendly, accessible hits that, while retaining their previous heaviness, sacrificed much of their intensity and complexity. That a few of these songs are actually quite catchy is unsurprising given their resulting popularity but even the best songs on The Black Album are mostly mediocre.
Opener "Enter Sandman" pretty much tells the tale. The clean opening is ominous and intriguing, as the bass and drums enter, you feel an epic in the making. The songs starts to swirl as the tension builds and builds, you await the blasting speed but are met instead with an insufferably derivative mid-tempo riff that goes nowhere. The song goes verse-chorus-verse-chorus in a fairly standard way until Kirk kicks out a decent solo (his solos throughout are generally excellent) and then James goes into a weird spoken word segue that is suitably creepy but by then the song has lost my goodwill.
"Sad But True" has a decent little headbanger of a riff but it never changes once throughout the duration of the songs five-and-a-half minutes and I'm asleep before it's over. Take this riff, use it as a bridge in a faster song, a stop-gap headbanging breather, and it would be awesome but as the singular focus of a song, it drags.
The pattern rarely varies: "Wherever I May Roam" has some decent ideas but is again too simplistic to really hold my attention; "Holier Than Thou" is lukewarm thrash that fails because you can tell their hearts aren't in it; ditto "The Struggle Within," which sounds like an AJFA b-side that was wisely left on the cutting room floor. And these are among the album's better more metal numbers.
The only songs that hold up on here for me, that I can hold out as true and worthy Metallica songs, are the ballads "Unforgiven" and "Nothing Else Matters." The latter is an epic ballad in the tradition of "Fade To Black." It is brilliantly and sensitively constructed, possessing multiple layers of composition and performance, and yet quite moving in it's lyrical sentiment. The former is mid-paced perfection, with it's rolling intro, creepy atmospherics, and blazing solos. These songs would not have been out of place on any of their previous three albums and as an overall direction for the band would've been more fruitful than the dreadful arena rockers they stuffed this record with.
Credit where credit is due, this album sounds amazing. Bob Rock gave them the sound they wanted. The guitars are huge, razor sharp yet full-bodied. Jason's bass is audible (I'm sure to his relief). The drums are slightly overpowering and harsh in the mix but pumped at the mega-decibels needed for outdoor arenas, it's perfect. I can't grudge them their choice, though I wish they'd dumped him again after this record.
In the end, The Black Album is fairly execrable. I could forgive it were it but a blip on the radar. But it wasn't. It presaged doom not just for Metallica but for metal in general. For The Black Album's legacy taints Megadeth as well (Countdown To Extinction may be a better attempt at a Black Album but it still started them on their downward slide as well). And then there were the hordes of slavish imitators who chucked their hard work in favor of easy hits. As successful as this record was, Metallica has never really recovered from it. They tried to fruitlessly duplicate its success for awhile then have more recently scrambled to reclaim their previous legacy. None of it has worked. The monetary blessings of The Black Album were Metallica's artistic curse and that is this record's true legacy.
The Black Album, Metallica's biggest selling album, and the album that singlehandedly brought metal to the attention of MTV and the mainstream, opens with one of their best songs, "Enter Sandman", a simple, five-minute metal anthem. It would be a huge hit, although Metallica didn't know that when they were recording it. It would also be the last true metal anthem, the last true glorious celebration of heavy metal, that Metallica ever did.
The concept behind the Black Album was a good one. On the fantastic "...And Justice For All", every song was over five minutes and only two were under six. Metallica had gradually been growing longer and more overwrought since the early thrash of "Kill Em' All" expanded into the twin metal masterpieces of "Ride The Lightning" and "Master Of Puppets", which expanded into the ambitious, extended suites of the odyssey that was ."..And Justice For All". It had to eventually collapse on itself-the only place for Metallica to go was short and to the point, and this album accomplishes that. The members of Metallica should not be strung up by their thumbs for evolving and changing their sound. This is what great bands do. And the album itself shouldn't be penalized because of the extremely disappointing, alternative style "Load" and "Reload", and then the horrific "St. Anger", which wouldn't have been so bad but for being made by the band that once played "Master Of Puppets". And it also shouldn't be penalized because it caught on with the mainstream and alternative crowds, because although that goes against the thrash ideals that Metallica upheld on their first four albums, it's not Metallica's fault that they liked it. In fact, this album converted many of them to metalheads, who then went out and bought Pantera and Anthrax albums. And most of all, it shouldn't be penalized for the actions of the band after they became huge, including the Napster business and the rehab that made the band a joke. Very rarely is this album listened to objectively, so this is what I tried to do.
As I said, the album opens with the fantastic "Enter Sandman", which is easily the best song on the album. In fact, the entire first half of the album is very strong, or at least stronger then the second half, with "Sad But True", "Holier Than Thou", "The Unforgiven", "Wherever I May Roam", and "Don't Tread On Me". "Enter Sandman" basically perfectly executes what Metallica was attempting with this album, a powerful, concise metal headbanger. The riffs are simple, the drums are simple, the lyrics are simple, even Kirk's solo comes in, does its job, then gets out. But it all ties together in a way that's more accessible then their early thrashers but still is instantly recognizable. In my opinion, it's really the only song on the album that perfectly encapsulates what the band was intending-make it simple but keep it Metallica. And it's followed by the very good "Sad But True", which follows the Enter Sandman blueprint-just a little less. It's actually my favorite song on the album other then Sandman. As opposed to the crazy speed metal on their first four albums, it takes a menacing, slower pace, with rhythmic, pulsing chords and some of James' best singing on the album. It's a little more alternative and nu metal then their early work, but I think it holds up with a lot of it, especially because of the very well done solo by Kirk-it's heavy on the wah-wah, but it definitely keeps you interested.
Following that is "Holier Then Thou", which, along with "Don't Tread On Me", makes up the standard Metallica thrasher section of the first half. It keeps the good streak going-it's basically good ol' standard Metallica riffage. It's still not fast enough to quite qualify with older works like, say "Battery"or "Damage Inc.", but it's one of the more effective works on the album. The strong point is actually the verses, which showcase the very good lyrics (regarding James' distaste for organized religion) and the good riff. Kirk's solo goes on a little too long, and it could have done without a little of the end, but it's still doing well. So far, the album is succeeding. "Don't Tread On Me", though, two songs later, really fails. The riff is really just mediocre (for Metallica, anyway), but it's real problem is that it's just ordinary. There's nothing really special-it's not too fast, the solo is standard (cut back on the wah-wah, Kirk), and the choruses, where James is yelling "DON'T-TREAD-ON-ME!" comes off much more silly then awesome. However, this is a little later-there's still one more special song on the first half.
"The Unforgiven" is after "Holier Than Thou", and it's one of the best songs on the album-it's dark, acoustic, moody, depressing, and very well done. As a song, it's very good-the problem is that it really isn't the sort of song that has too much replay value. Although I immediately acknowledged its mastery when I heard it, I found myself skipping over it when I was listening to the album the next few times on my iPod. Even so, it's one of the best songs they have to offer, and if the end was thrashier, it would be a great Metallica epic in the spirit of "One" and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)". A little riffage would have helped.
Unfortunately, this really ends the special streak. After four songs of sustained skill, "Wherever I May Roam" and "Don't Tread On Me" give the album a punch in the gut. One of the things Metallica has been renowned for is the ability to write six, eight, or even nine (in the case of ...And Justice For All's title track) minute songs and keep you interested the whole time-this is why "...And Justice For All" is considered classic Metallica. But since it's slowed down, "Wherever I May Roam" simply succeeds in boring you. If Bob Rock's job was to make their sound more concise, he certainly failed here. And the aforementioned "Don't Tread On Me" is just sort of sad.
"Through The Never" opens the next half of the album, and it does a relatively good job of making up for "Don't Tread On Me", although it doesn't quite salvage the album. The verses can get boring, but the chorus and the opening riff (repeated throughout the song) more then make up for it. A solid, if unspectacular. But then comes the song that really kills the album. "Nothing Else Matters" is disgusting. It goes against everything Metallica stands for. James isn't growling. There's no riff-it's a ballad. Even when it gets a little angrier, it immediately goes back to James actually singing and acoustic guitars. The whole song reeks of radio and an attempt to be more successful-and I find it pitiful. It's followed by "Of Wolf And Man" and "The God That Failed", both of which go a little bit towards making up for some of the crap. The former is a standard thrasher that benefits from a great riff. The latter is another six-minute epic, but it does a better job keeping you interested, and the solo is great. And then it screws it all up with the last two songs, which fully condemn the album to never be truly classic Metallica. "My Friend Of Misery" is slow, depressing, and it fails. By slowing it down, Bob Rock and the band took away their ability to keep your attention. It overstays it's welcome and really doesn't do anything interesting. And the final song, "The Struggle Within", is an uninspired thrash standard that really does nothing to warrant listening to it any more then once or twice. And that's it.
The problem with the album is that it's poorly executed. The idea is a good one, "Enter Sandman" and "Sad But True" prove that a little slower and more accessible can be done well. But there's so much filler on the album-"The Struggle Within" and "Don't Tread On Me" both just go through the motions of a true great Metallica headbanger. And so much is unspectacular that it needs to be cut, or have some new ideas inserted. But the maddening thing is this-at least half the album has spots of true greatness. When I hear a crazy solo or a great riff buried in these songs, it makes me mad, because I hear the old Metallica in there. I consider Metallica's career like a line. On one half is their amazing first metal part. On the other half is their disappointing alternative part. This album is a dot in the middle-it seems split right down between the two. So why, you ask, have I given as high a rating as I have?
It's simple. This is still Metallica. The greatest metal band ever. The worst moments on the album would be the best on many other young metal bands. It falls a little short by Metallica's standards, but by anyone else's, it would be great. And this is reviewed on the basis of objective quality, not on a comparison to their early work. So I recommend you buy this album, simply because it's still Metallica and that alone makes it worth buying. Besides, as the biggest selling metal album of all time, it would criminal to call yourself a metal fan and not know this album, simply for the sake of history. As an album-good. But as Metallica-short.
A little addendum-I was listening to this on iTunes. As Struggle Within ended, it moved on to the next song-Battery, the opener to Master Of Puppets. I sat there, listened to Battery, and sighed. Out with the classic old, in with the slightly flawed new. And it's just not the same.
I know it’s just one more review about an overviewed album, but I can’t hide my annoyance about the way that metalheads polarize their opinions; I mean, I agree that everyone is free to speak what’s in their minds and (is a cliché, I know) each one of us has his own opinion, but there are many ways to tell them to others, I think. It’s easy to be destructive by saying everyone that Metallica sold out with this album and songs became so shitty and this is no fucking metal, but a loss of integrity and so on and so on. It’s almost trendy to say “I don’t like Metallica” and things like “if you’re a genuine metalhead, you’re only allowed to listen to Metallica until “…And Justice for All”. Bullshit. That’s just a deceptive argument to say “Hey! I know what heavy metal is and you don’t know shit! They don’t sound like heavy anymore. They shouldn’t have innovated”. These are the same guys who say that Slayer or Cathedral is bad just because it’s “always the same”. Feel free to say you hate Metallica and this album, but stop trying to change others’ minds. I bet most of you have jumped with “Enter Sandman” and headbanged with “Sad But True”. I was 11 years old when I heard “Enter Sandman” for the first time and it was enough to set me into heavy tones: first “Metallica”, shortly “Ride the Lightning”, “Master of Puppets”, Pantera, Iron Maiden and so on…
This is only my opinion:
Honestly I don’t know why so many people find this album Metallishit number one; we are in front of a monster which committed a “crime” by exposing heavy music to the world and in spite of whatever you think, I feel it’s a thing good that heavy metal didn’t remain always underground. The “Metallica” album is not the traditional thrash bay area sound, alright, but it’s still heavy metal with remarkable solos, as well as massive and catchy riffs and, most of all, songs that make us feel good and became, nowadays, true classics. It is the work that allowed Metallica to step into the rank of those bands (and I’m not talking about metal bands exclusively) who have nothing to prove to anyone and culminates a meteoric progress that probably any metal band ever had (let’s see if Mastodon can do it…).
At a first listening, you can easily catch some impressions about the whole album such as James “master of the riffs” Hetfield: the legendary one from “Enter Sandman” or heavy ones like “Sad But True” (somehow recovered in “Some Kind of Monster”) and “Of Wolf and Man”. James shows also a fine vocal display that I would define as transition vocals, very well supported by the finest production ever, though. Lars shows us decent drums. He may not be the most talented drummer, I must admit, but what he lacks in technique is left behind by a firm pulse which never lets the music down (a little bit like that Dave McClain from Machine Head acquired through the years). Lars has interesting peaks in this album that I would recommend like “Don’t Tread on Me”, “The God That Failed” and “My Friend of Misery”; Kirk’s performance is amazing, once he gets, in this album, many of the best solos heard during Metallica’s career. To finish, I’d like to enhance a detail you may not notice, but I think it was a great choice to put the songs in that order. Unfortunately, I don’t like the fact that too many songs fade out at the end.
Talking about the “elements”, talking about the music, this album is a tour de force (kill me). Metallica derives from an impure bay area sound (they’ve always been one step ahead for the fans or one step behind for the haters of the band) into a sophisticated and catchy heavy metal. I feel the anger is still there, but somehow refined. It is a landmark for all the reasons: as I said before, the classics that still remain, the millions sold (either if it’s a good or a bad sign), the tour… I would call it a drastic paradigm shift, I guess. If they had the will or the art to make it like Iron Maiden, people would noticed and admired it; the whole Maiden career is a paradigm shift (a very good one); instead, Metallica’s life is fragmented and maybe they didn’t have the ability to deal with a good management of their sound as time went by, but who knows, maybe they didn’t care for it?
I never wanted this to be a boring song by song review, but let me detach a few moments that still send “the shivers up and down my spine”:
“The Unforgiven” is not a ballad or a sweet kind of song. This is a doomy dragged masterpiece. It starts off with an addicting intro with a great acoustic support by Hetfield. Then he strikes with some hard chords and the way he sings is awesome! The chorus is mellow but always conveying a sad tone. When the main body of the song stops, it’s time to hear one of the most outstanding solos I know from Kirk. And it hauls to the end in the same melodic sad mood. “The God That Failed” is huge! One of my favourite ever. The heavy punishing atmosphere they create is almost unique. Kirk’s solo is faultless, then it stops, the rhythm beats you again and Kirk comes back. After the little pause (when you hear a distant “hey!”) the song ends in the best possible way (just listen to the last 20 seconds).
Talking again about details (but in life is all about details, right?), you can catch, here and there, a glimpse of the finest stuff heavy metal has to offer, like the way they worked the overlapping of guitars and vocals in “Wherever I May Roam” (the “and my ties are severed clean…”;”anywhere I roam…” part) or the technique they chose in combining guitars the way they did after a hypnotizing soft part in “My Friend of Misery”.
The boys took a great shot here. Just let this all flow. But hey…it’s only my opinion!
According to Lars, Metallica was jokingly calling themselves “Rocktallica” in the studio before the album ever came out. This, then, is without a doubt Metallica’s sellout album. However, it doesn’t sound like “Modern Rocktallica” or “Altallica” or even “AC/tallica”.
If I had to put this in a genre, I would call it grove/doom metal. Nearly every song has a monster riff that gets driven into the ground, and then underground through the earth’s crust by the groove part of the equation. Musically, it’s no Permanent Waves or Images and Words. Hell, it’s not even on the level of Powerage. Then again, I am a COMPLETE Bon Scott fanboy, so that’s probably not a good comparison.
…okay, the individual performances. Musically, Lars “FUCK!” Ulrich should have stuck to tennis. He is, and has always been, a crap drummer, even on Justice. Hell, my thirteen- year-old brother can do that. Then again, my thirteen-year-old brother can play Dream Theater’s “Home” with one bass drum and one pedal. Go figure. On the other hand, Jason is a good bass player, not quite up to Cliff’s level, but good nonetheless. It does feel like the others in the band are still relegating him to a supporting role, but when he is given a chance to play, (“My Friend of Misery”) he’s not bad at all. James’ voice has certainly changed, and I don’t know whether I like that or not. His enjoyable metalhead yelling on the first three albums has degenerated into a cowboy growl, and it works well for some songs, badly for others. Kirk’s solos are okay, but they are mostly soulless and strangely “bluesy”. He also overuses his wah-wah pedal. A lot.
Still there are plenty of good songs on here, including “Enter Sandman”. It might be because I have stopped listening to radio (“We’ll play the song over and over and over again until people get sick of it, and then we’ll keep playing it, mwahahaha.”), but I like the song. It has an absolutely evil riff, a nicely done creepy bridge, and, oh yeah, it’s also catchy as hell, so much that I’ve heard less catchy Bachman Turner Overdrive songs. The problem is that to get to the next good song, you have to skip all the way to track 9, “Of Wolf and Man”. Why this song wasn’t a huge hit is beyond me, but it demonstrates that the kind of metal that ‘Tallica was aiming to create on this album wasn’t inherently flawed. It’s a mid-paced, stomping, chest-thumping anthem, no less, and a great riff, too. The lyrics about being a werewolf are crap, but James could be singing anything, and the song would still be solid. The third and last great song on the album is “The God That Failed”. It’s not a great song because of its music, which is slow and doomy, but rather because of the pure venom and anger that James projects in his lyrics. It’s a great song simply because it has all the raw emotion of a man questioning why his mother had to die.
Two other songs on the album are definitely worth listening to. “Don’t Tread On Me” works because it has patriotic lyrics that aren’t blind flag-waving drivel (*coughIcedEarthcough*), along with a military march-like groove and (gasp) another cool riff. “Through the Never” is also a good song, with lyrics far better than anything on the first four albums. It’s somewhat up-tempo, but midpaced compared to anything on the albums that came before it. I don’t mind that a lot, but it does take away some of the frantic, pounding majesty that songs like “Battery”, “Phantom Lord”, and “Fight Fire With Fire” had.
There are a few more songs worth mentioning, and not in a good way. “Sad But True” is one of the most pointless songs Metallica has ever written. There is nothing about this song that doesn’t annoy me. It starts out with a cool intro riff, which promptly disappears. Then it lurches into a boring riff that sounds like “Symphony of Destruction” caught in quicksand. Then James starts near-rapping the lyrics, which suck. Kirk’s annoying drone during the chorus tops it off. Ugh. Too bad it became a “classic” that Metallica play every concert, because it’s crap. “The Unforgiven” made me cry the first time I heard it. It still makes me cry, but now I cry with boredom. Half-ballads with boring chugging verses and “emotional” choruses (akoustic guitars r teh emo!!!11) are not what Metallica should be known for. And “Nothing Else Matters”, well, imagine the acoustic chorus of “The Unforgiven” stretched out into a whole song. It’s crap, except for Kirk’s solo, which owns any other solo Kirk has done after Kill’Em All.
There’s some good stuff on this album. It’s not an essential album to have, but it’s OK nonetheless. Historically, however, it marked the end of Metallica’s rule of metal. Don’t expect a masterpiece like Ride the Lightning.
The “black album” has gone down in history as one of the most controversial heavy metal albums of all time. At the time of its release a lot of “Metallica’s” hardcore fans were largely disappointed. The reason was the huge turn in musical direction.
The band had already successfully positioned themselves in the highest ranks of heavy metal with back to back speed/thrash classics, “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets”. The highly technical and progressive thrash nature of “…And Justice for All” had put them well ahead of the metal scene at the time and fans eagerly awaited the follow up album.
To the hardcore fans’ disappointment the “Black Album”, as it has been called ever since its release in 1991 (due to its all-black cover), significantly deviated from the previous “Metallica” song writing formulas.
The album contained smaller in duration songs that were built in most cases around one riff. The songs were catchy with choruses that stayed with the listener long after the album had finished. Hell… that was nothing compared to the fact that the album enclosed for the first time ever a clear-cut ballad in “Nothing Else Matters”. That was something that a great deal of fans at the time were not ready to accept. “Metallica” had sold out…
The album is nowadays considered to be a modern classic even by many earlier disappointed hardcore fans. It contains classic “Metallica” hits such as “Enter Sandman”, “Sad But True”, “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters” which have become a vital part of the band’s set list for live shows. Besides the obvious hits the album also contains compositions of great quality and depth. Songs such as “Wherever I May Roam”, “The God that Failed” and “My Friend of Misery” best illustrate “Metallica’s” ability in writing classic songs and arranging parts in such a way so that the individual talents of its members are fully utilized.
The “Black Album” contains some of Hetfield’s heaviest (neck-braking at times) riffs. Hammett provides some of his finest melodic solos. The album also includes the most interesting basslines Newsted ever recorded and Ulrich’s most straightforward playing (which still took him forever to finish according to one of the stories told in the “black album” classic series DVD). The emphasis is therefore put on the mighty riff, which assumes the leading role and on Hetfield’s passionate vocal performance that effectively connects to the listener.
As far as lyrics are concerned, the album contains both some childish fantasy Hetfield efforts as in “Enter Sandman” but for the most part “Metallica’s” main man effectively delivers passionate lyrics about his childhood in “The God that Failed”, the brotherhood bond between the band members in “Nothing Else Matters”, the life on the road in “Wherever I May Roam” and (a personal favorite) upbringing and conformance to society stereotypes and rules in “The Unforgiven”. The last song is the closest “Metallica” have ever got to be to their “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice for All” albums, lyrically-wise.
One of the reasons this album is very often cited for, is its amazing production and mix. Bob Rock might as well have delivered the best sounding album ever in heavy metal’s almost 40 years of existence. Not only are all instruments clearly audible, they are also mixed in the most professional way to formulate three-dimensional sounding songs. One can easily hear the crunchy guitar sound above all instruments. Then right below the bass frequency plays its own important role adding both depth and the necessary melodic line, with the exceptional drum and cymbal sound complementing everything perfectly. The vocal harmonies are on top of everything else, sounding strong and driving all the songs to higher levels. This one is probably Hetfield’s best vocal performance to date.
The only serious drawback I find in this album is “Don’t Tread on Me” which I find to be a rather poor composition in comparison to the other songs. I think the album could easily afford lacking this one. Other than that I would say that “Metallica” as an album is not as good or as quality-oriented as any of the band’s previous recordings, song writing-wise. Still, no one can deny that this is the last great heavy metal album by the band.
Concluding, I would like to set the following questions:
How would you call an album so much debated upon its initial release?
How would you call an album which was hated immensely by many of the band’s hardcore fans?
Finally, how would you call an album that besides the aforementioned has effectively stood the test of time year after year and has managed to turn the haters into lovers?
I would call it a Classic Heavy Metal album.
Is there good music, or is it all a matter of opinion? Well, my viewpoint is there good and bad music, but it can't really be defined that way. Rather, there is product and art- that is, music that is designed to sell, and music that is an expression of what the artist is/was going through at the time it was created. Product and art- or, good and bad music, as such.
Now, what does this have to do with this album? Well, simply put, this album is product in every sense of the word. The production is crisp and extremely radio friendly, the chorus becomes the biggest part of the song, and everything is shortened, compressed to hell and made supremely catchy. Everything about this album is designed to sell, which is something Metallica haven't before, or even after this album. So, it's a sellout.. shortly it must suck then? Well, it isn't exactly that simple. What this album loses in lack of integrity it makes up for in it's sheer catchiness and melody. Simply put, this album is Arena metal at it's most entertaining.
This album is a very consistent album, there's no doubt about it. Enter Sandman has that cool intro and huge chorus that we are all completely sick off- but listening to the tune with an open mind shows you why it's so popular. Sickeningly catchy vocal melody, quite possibly the most memorable solo Kirk has ever done, and a simple but effective main riff. Most bands wish they could do something this good. This formula is repeated throughout the album, with few deviations. Sad but True is slow and crushing, Don't Tread on Me is full of big military style riffs, and more excellent vocals, and Holier then Thou is as close to Thrash as this album gets, with a surprisingly heavy opening, and again, a super catchy chorus.
When Metallica aren't delivering these tunes, there's some power ballads- the auto-biographical Unforgiven, and the classically-tinged Nothing else Matters, which comes complete with a string section. This song, despite it's lovely guitar parts, is probably where Metallica go a bit wrong. The lyrics make no sense, the solo is pure arena rock cheese, and the whole song just goes "Look how hard we are trying to be mellow and different!" Metallica have delivered the whole introspection thing extremely well in other albums (You've got Fade to Black, Bleeding Me, even something like Low Man's Lyric), but within the context of this album, the whole emotional, vulnerable power ballad doesn't really ring true. While the Unforgiven works quite well, Nothing Else Matters comes across as Shallow and Empty.
Amidst all the ballads and rocky tunes, it's when Metallica go a little bit back to their roots that the songs are the best. Of Wolf and Man and The God that Failed are probably the only two radio unfriendly tunes here, with Of Wolf.. having some real nice crunchy riffs, and a sweet galloping main riff. The God that Failed, meanwhile, is a slow/mid tempo crusher, with some venomous vocals and a solo that's a bit more shreddy then most of the ones in this album. You've also got Struggle Within, which is the last, and possibly the best song on the album, with an unforgettable intro, a huge call and response style chorus, and a super melodic solo.
Of course, any review of the Black Album is incomplete if you don't mention the production. Personally, I love it- it's perfect for the songs, and at the time it set a high water mark for good hard rock production. The guitars are layered, crunchy and full of weight, the bass is actually audible (!!!), and the drums, while slightly snare heavy, are full and fat. Of course, it's the vocals that are the centrepoint of this album- and damn, they're good. In my opinion, James' voice hit a peak in Load, but here he's got that aggressive-yet melodic style down pat. Basically, the production is pristine, and very hi-fi, which is the only kind of thing that would work for this album.
So, I've been raving about the way this album excels at the whole "incredibly commercial arena metal" thing, but, of course, that's where it falls down too. While I'm not a Lars hater, I would say that the drumming is incredibly repetitive and fairly retarded. The only people who can get away with repetitive drumming are the guy in AC/DC, and possibly the dude in Isis. But seriously, this drumming is disgusting. It's the same beat in every song, and the fills are rarely anything too special. It's a shame that after the great beats in AJFA, the drumming could be so sub-standard. The guitars aren't as bad, of course, (it is Hetfield we're talking about, remember), and while I know they're not meant to be as complex as they where in previous albums, it's still a disappointment that there's nothing like Blackened. Oh well.
I guess a way to conclude this review, and to sum up the problems of this album is by saying that Metallica wanted to sell a lot of records, and this is the kind of album that can do that. It is catchy, melodic and an example of how to make commercial metal and get rich as a result. As a result of that, however, it's soulless and the songs, however catchy, do not stick with you. This album is a great record for driving, or for getting drunk to, but that's about it. Those who want a life changing experience will want to look to Justice For All.
One of metal’s all-time most triumphant moments, the self-titled, fifth full-length release from these Bay Area bashers shows a refined, stripped-down sound in compassion to the overtly technical “…And Justice For All” as well as a move away from the tinny sound of that record in favor of a much beefier mix. James Hetfield’s vocal approach here is deeper and more rumbling than ever, matching well with the mammoth strains of “Sad But True” as Lars Ulrich’s precise timely pounding carries the load. “Holier Than Thou” kicks in with a suitably thrashing riff, this up-tempo rager being one of the album’s most metal moments. Bassist Jason Newsted provides not only a substantial bass performance on the sure-footed “Of Wolf And Man”, but contributes some authoritative backing vocals as well, a component Metallica records had sorely missed in the past.
Mournful dirging ensues with the uncharacteristically melodic hit “The Unforgiven”, where lead guitarist Kirk Hammett chips in a highly emotional solo that bursts with feeling. By this point, Hammett had developed into a masterful player, pulling influence from a wide assortment of stylizations in order to make up his soulful, original sounding style of soloing. Metallica delve further into sonic experimentation on the Middle Eastern sounding “Wherever I May Roam”, a track that has since become a live staple as well as a fan favorite.
The group rekindles the vibes of their thrash metal roots on the burly, hammering “Through The Never”, whilst injecting a forceful chorus that paves the way for yet another slick, tasty Hammett lead. “The God That Failed” kicks off in very similar fashion to Megadeth’s “Dawn Patrol” before lapsing into a crunching lurch as Hetfield spits forth determinedly noxious vox and “The Struggle Within” marches forward into a kicking groove with no remorse whatsoever, ending the record in assuredly intense fashion.
Ultimately, it would be the character of two extremely diverse offerings that would characterize this enormously popular release, the textured, slowly building “Enter Sandman” (the album’s first single) and its polar opposite, the deeply introverted and tuneful “Nothing Else Matters.” The former would go on to become one of the most recognized songs in all of heavy metal while the latter would cast light on the group’s ever growing diversity, proving that even the hardest of the hard have their softer, more sympathetic moments.
Dubbed “The Black Album” for it’s dim looking, minimalistic cover depicting a barely readable Metallica logo and a patently recognizable serpent symbol, “Metallica” would go on to sell millions and millions of copies, making the still youthful four piece the most extreme metal ensemble to reach such a massive degree of popularity. If, for some unknown reason, you are not in possession of this massive metal milestone you should feel shamed, indeed.
Metallica has been known as a band that doesn't do anything half-way, when they commit to a certain sound, they basically take it to it's full and final conclusion. So when they were taken under the wing of "pop-rock" producer and so-called star-maker (yawn) Bob Rock, they essentially dropped their former thrashy ways the way a space shuttle would it's booster rockets. Let me state for the record that I am a fan of many of the bands Bob Rock produced, but the way of thinking that he functions under and applies to an album's format, I can not condone.
The black album is exactly what it was meant to be, an appeal to a different audience than the one Metallica has associated with during the rest of their career. Whether one wishes to label this as "disloyalty" or "artistic liberty" is not important, but what is important is the music resulting from the change. Needless to say, the riffs and the spirit are still present, but the progressive and complex elements that originally gave Metallica it's unique edge on previous efforts has been scrapped.
The production on this album is nothing short of amazing. The drums, in particular, are loud and thunderous. Sometimes the snare hit is so powerful that I can feel my bones rattle. The bass is a loud, solid grind that will make the floor of your house shake even with the volume on 4 out of 10. The guitars have an extremely aggressive attack and a long sustain, the rhythm guitar tracks in particular are spot on. The vocals are clear, crisp, and clearly have been redone dozens of time in order to grab that sense of perfection they carry on here.
The songwriting on this album is where things start to look a bit weak. We don't have anything on this album that can be considered thrash, or anything fast enough to be considered worthy of banging your head to. "Through the Never", the fastest song on here, is far too slow to have even made it onto "Kill em" All" and probably would have been considered down tempo on "Master of Puppets". The guitar riffs are mostly quite good, but they are repeated far too much and varied far too little. The worst offenders in this category are "Enter Sandman", "Sad but True", "Don't Tread on me", and "The God that Failed". The bass and drum lines sound quite watered down (although "My Friend of Misery" give Newstead a chance to shine) and don't really leave a lasting impression.
In addition to the songwriting, it is neccesary to take into account how each musician performed on this album, which involves a bit of overlap with the riffs that they play.
Hetfield - Ironically this album is where Hetfield showcases some of his most brilliant rhythm work. "Where Ever I May Roam" and "Of Wolf and Man" are two of the best main riffs I've heard out of the band to date. Another ironic thing is that although "Nothing Else Matters" is a bit too repetitive lyrically for me to qualify it as an amazing ballad, the acoustic work on here is very intriguing, and out of all the solos on here, the one James plays on this track displays an emotional element that Kirk lacks on every solo he plays.
Urlich - His drum sound is well produced, but his beats on this album are dry and too damn slow. His fills are mostly slight variations on the actual beat itself. He does give us some rather neat sounding military beats on "Struggle Within", and his fills on "Nothing Else Matters" are quite powerful.
Newstead - Needless to say, Jason's role on this album is 95% atmospheric and support work. "Enter Sandman" and "Sad but True" are perfect examples of the patience that Jason has, as I would be bored to tears playing these basslines all the way through. His bass intros on "My friend of Misery" and "The God that Failed", as well as his short time alone on "Holier than Thou" are the only times where his presence is really of knowable consequence, although without his bass work this album would be as thin sounding as "Justice" was, and without the awesome drum work to save it.
Hammet - In my opinion Hammet has always been the weak link in Metallica, his solos are highly forgettable, with the exception of most of the work he did on the various ballads that appeared on the last 4 albums. However, I would enjoy these solos while they were playing, and would take notice when they did. Here we have very few solos that rise above the realm of pentatonic wankery. His best work on here is probably the solos of "Where Ever I may Roam", the slow portion of "The Unforgiven" and the wah pedal work done on "My friend of Misery". One additional complaint I would like to add about this album is the overuse of the wah pedal. At least half of the songs on the album have it, that's a bit too much.
The songs contained within this album basically fall into 3 categories, those which are stand-out songs (the best), those which are good but inconsistent (moderately good), and those which are too repetitive (not bad, but below average by metal standards). Here are the songs that fall into these respective catagories.
Stand Out - "Where Ever I May Roam", "Through the Never", "Of Wolf and Man", "My Friend of Misery", and "Struggle Within".
Good yet Inconsistent - "Holier than Thou", "Don't Tread on Me", "Nothing Else Matters", "The God that Failed".
Too Repetitive - "Enter Sandman", Sad but True", and "The Unforgiven"
In conclusion, this album suffers from the fact that it's creators spent too much time thinking about what others think of them. Rather than taking the self-made route that most metal bands with credibility take, or the more expedient yet equally respectable route of finding a producer that is completely like-minded and will meet you on your terms, Metallica chose to hire someone with a different set of values than theirs. The result is a compromise between two completely different worlds, ones that are not compatable with each other. When metal tries to go mainstream, it becomes pop, which is itself a form of music that is not neccesarily defined by how it sounds timbre wise but in that it orients itself completely to what others think of it. Be it the conformist music of teeny boppers like Britney Spears or the even more pathetic fashionable non-conformist music of most mainstream rock. It's adherent artists have no real musical identity of their own, and although this album represents an only slightly corrupted version of what they used to be, soon after this the disease would spread until eventually the only thing resembling heavy metal still possessed by Metallica is James Hetfield's bad attitude.
Here it is, one of the most famous, revered and hated albums – The Black Album (Or simply "Metallica"). A most sudden twist from the lengthy Prog Thrash of “…And Justice for All”, this one see’s Metallica play short, radio-friendly songs. Initially, I dismissed it as nothing more than a radio-friendly effort but gradually I began to enjoy it. Not enjoy it in that total “Kill ‘Em All” sense, enjoy it in the sense of “yeah, this isn’t half bad after all”. There are some good songs on here which though not as entertaining as the early days, still put up a nice headbanging session for the average metalhead. The production is crystal clear and really well done, I can hear all the instruments very well but the vocals seem a bit too loud.
Musically, this is Heavy Metal with a whole lot of groove and the occasional thrash riff with a lot of the ‘party’ feel to it. James voice is totally in that groovy party style that Modern Rock singers possess but he still puts up a good vocal performance on “The Unforgiven”, “Wherever I May Roam” and “Through the Never”. Kirk still delivers some great, though extremely similar solos yet this is where he relies heavily on the wah pedal and even though his solos are not the extreme wah-wah of Load or Reload, they still can be irritating. Jason Newsted is a better bassist than Cliff Burton and has always been awesome whether in Voivod or Flotsam and Jetsam but Metallica largely underplays him. Fortunately, Newsted’s bass can be well heard in this album unlike “…And Justice for All”. Lars has always been his sucky self but he actually delivers a good drum intro to “The God That Failed”!
“Enter Sandman” has that infamous start and infamous riff and is all in all an enjoyable song, horribly over hyped by MTV and yet pretty enjoyable. “Sad but true” is what some call “heavy” but what I call “unintelligent and overlong”. There’s a good reason why, a totally unintelligent and boring riff repeated constantly throughout the song with irritating vocal lines (that irritating “hey” chant). “Holier than Thou” has a good groovy riff with everything else being standard fare. “The Unforgiven” is the first really stunning song on the album – A nice acoustic start and for the first time on this album – Jame’s voice sounds good! The song is very catchy, strangely emotional and that chorus and solo are particularly memorable. Its slow but its excellent, the sequel sucked but this one wont get out of your head for a while when you first hear it. “Wherever I Roam” sends the album back to its groove sound and starts off promisingly with excellent guitar harmonies, Jame’s voice fits with the music and he does do a good job making the verses and chorus catchy, nothing special about solo and the song somehow lasts out its full length! “Don’t Tread On Me” has a strange rhythm to it and a memorable chorus but the song tends to get old fast due to the repetition the band seems to insist on.
“Through The Never” is where the album shines again. If the entire album was like this, it’d be awesome. The song is fast, heavy and the vocals are well done. “Nothing Else Matters” despite having some nice lyrics has an uninteresting structure and average vocals, extremely boring if you ask me. “Of Wolf and Man” is another excellently done number that has some groovy, somewhat thrash riffs in it. “The God That Failed” has an intro similar to Dawn Patrol and has a pretty heavy riff and a good solo by Kirk but even it tends to get repetitive. “My Friend of Misery” at least for once doesn’t have an overused riff or a bad structure and is actually a really fun song. Good solos and nice bluesy riffing and it sustain its length very well for once. “The Struggle Within” starts with a good drum intro (A first time for Lars?) and has nice heavy intro riff with annoying vocals by James’s that seems to be all over the place in the song thanks to effects but it actually manages to make through it’s length impressively.
Good Songs: The Unforgiven, Through The Never, Enter Sandman, My Friend Of Misery, Wherever I May Roam, Of Wolf and Man.
Decent Songs: Holier Than Thou, Don’t Tread On Me, The God That Failed, The Struggle Within.
Filler: Sad but true, Nothing Else Matters
So there it ends. The Black Album – revered by many, hated by many as well and a black mark on Metallica’s metal discography. Six good songs, four decent and Two fillers is actually good for an album that latched onto the mainstream. Everything after this album totally sucks but I’d reckon you’d like this album if you’re a metalhead who doesn’t mind Metal with groove and a whole party feel to it or a rock fan looking to become a metal fan – this is the perfect album for you. It’s a decent album, but nothing that makes me want to listen to it constantly.
Ah. And now we come to another turning point. Metallica had advanced the thrash sound about as far (arguably) as they could take it. They yearned for songs that they could play live (unlike say "Dyers Eve"), and wanted to experiment with new sounds. And lets be honest, the lure of mainstream success probably had something to do with it.
But there's nothing wrong with being radio friendly is there? Metallica is still heavier than anything else on the radio at the time (excepting early Soundgarden and, perhaps, Alice in Chains), and though it is not a thrash record, there are some solid thrashers on here. "Through the Never" has a strange futuristic (futureal?) vibe and Newsted makes his bass chug and squawk in ways that would make Burton proud. "The Struggle Within" has an excellent lead break, and the clanky riff and fairly numerous tempo changes (plus the lyrics) would make this a good cut on the ...And Justice record, although this one has, yes Iï¿½m serious, bass guitar. And I defy you to beat the pure metal heft of the "Holier Than Thou" intro. Sadly it's one of the few times where James's lyrics actually pull the song down.
The ballads are hardly sell outs, especially since they've had them since day two. "The Unforgiven" is like an inverted "Fade to Black" with its heavy verse and soft chorus, and lyrically it feels like an overview of the ballads of the past. All of Metallica's ballads have been dark, first because they had no light songs, and second because they had to make up for being melodic by making the songs the antithesis of say, "Photograph". This song deals with the same themes as the others, but where the others all rage at the injustice of it all, "The Unforgiven" is written by a tired man, one beaten down by the rigours of the world. Some beautiful vocals on the chorus, and it's hard to beat that titanic Hammett solo. Pity this rarely gets played live. "Nothing Else Matters" is the future, the first Metallica ballad, nay, first Metallica SONG that feels joyous and happy to be alive. And it's hard to call it a sell-out when it feels a lot like "One" with the dark bits excised.
Oh, and there are some very hard rockers floating around, some of which are even singles from the record. "Sad but True", admittedly a rewrite of "Harvester of Sorrow"(if you could write that thing, you'd use it again!) is a brutal song, a riff you could pull teeth with while Newsted proves himself to be a solid bassist. No slight could ever be made to Cliff Burton, but you almost have to think that James and Lars always wanted a bassist like this, i.e one who shut up and played rhythm. Note Kirk's oddly bluesy solo amidst the wreckage. "Enter Sandman" was played to death, but it's still got a nice dreamy vibe with a riff that screams for vengeance and a solo that rocks the house. "Wherever I May Roam" is a nice Eastern-flavoured dirge and there's no hint of blues at all. That riff is a solid chunk of metal. "Don't Tread on Me" has a military stomp, sorta feels like a hard power metal song. Also this song has some intricate layering that has a (Motor) breath of the earlier mid-tempo Tallica tunes.
And the odd man out here is "My Friend of Misery", Newsted's baby. It was originally designed to be the central riff of the fifth Metallica instrumental, and I think with this beautiful and elegant bass line it would've been worthy of the others. Still, it's probably my second favourite song on the album, with a nice whisper-shout vocal, some nice steely leads and through it all, like some epiphany after the cold alien production of Justice and the claustrophobic layering of the other three, a wonderful warm bass line. If nothing else, thank Bob Rock for that.
Historically, this one is probably the most important Metallica record since Ride the Lightning. That record started thrash proper, and this one pretty much ended it. A few acts kept the flame alive (Heathen, Overkill), but it was the end of thrash metal's flirtation with mainstream success. And since most of the people against this record cry foul at it's success, they ought to be happy the music went back underground where they could be 'unique' in holding it to their bosoms. How did it end thrash? Well, where Metallica goes, others follow. Megadeth went from the seminal Rust in Peace to the more streamlined (albeit great) Countdown to Extinction. Anthrax was thankful I'll bet, because they were seriously running out of stuff to do after Killer B's, and they switched to a more alt-metal sound ASAP. Hell, even Slayer moved away from sonic excess to the more groove oriented (and crushingly heavy of course) Seasons in the Abyss. Thus, with the big four moving on, most of the second tier acts became lost. Upsetting? Hell yeah. But the Black Album is simply a result of Metallica's progressive nature, and under the 12 million pancakes sold and controversies inherent to it, you'll find a great album.
All that praise I level with as much honesty as the day I first purchased this album, but since then I find that the record has simply worn on me worse than any other Metallica album. It isn't that the thing is overplayed, because I dig the big pop hits when they come on the dial. The problem is that, as a whole, the album simply isn't as conceptually interesting or as flatly godly as the works bookending it. The record is an endless grey, and this album as Metallica's most direct play towards the mainstream sacrifices true three-dimensional art in favour of the more obvious and anthemic, tracks slaved to blunt riffs played without the feeling of the even simpler Load record. I find that the tracks that still have face, the ones with melancholy and pain are those that resonate most strongly and continue to give me joy even as I lay flowers at the grave of what these giants once were. Oh and "Sandman", because kiddies, that is one piece of perfect songcraft.
Stand-Outs: "My Friend of Misery", "The Unforgiven", "Enter Sandman"
Metallica's self-titled fifth full-length album, also known as the "black album", is both loved and loathed by major sides of the wide world of metalheads. Some say it's a sellout album, some say that's bullshit. Personally, I'd say it's neither. While this of course takes Metallica in a far more acceptable, radio-friendly direction, it stays true to the roots of heavy metal, which unlike their previous thrash efforts is the genre where I'd place this release. The riffage of James Hetfield hammers on quite well every once in a while. "Enter Sandman" for example has some kickass chugging under-vers riffwork, but people forget this in favor of the groovy melodic material that helped in making the song a famous radio hit. And that stuff ain't bad either, honestly, just a bit on the friendly side. But that doesn't change the fact that it's really catchy, just like the majority of the album. It tries to be pretty evil, heavy and angry at times, but doesn't quite succeed. Instead, we have a barrel of fun, which most of the times works fairly well but is filled with minor songwriting flaws all over, unfortunately.
The absence of Cliff Burton on bass doesn't sting quite as terribly on this album as on "...And Justice For All". Here they seem to have recovered more after the loss, and don't suck at all as badly as on that album, and the bass is also far superior here- and you can hear it, too. Like I said, most of the stuff here is good - not quite solid, though. Here and there, we get this annoying part in most every song that hugely detracts from the overall impression. "Sad But True" for example has some very nice, heavy riffage, but the chorus is just silly and the high-toned guitar effects just don't work, and it all comes out blurry and unfocused, which totally messes up the song, which could've been really good. Also, the song seems to drag on quite a bit, moving over 5 minutes with not more than one or two actual riffs. "Don't Tread On Me" is pretty much the other way around, with some nice melody work and a really catchy chorus, but the midpaced riffs are pretty damn boring and uninteresting. The riff assault of former Metallica is definitely lost, in favour of being more catchy, and - yes, radio-friendly. I wouldn't be surprised if they'd planned "St. Anger" ever since the release of this album in a diabolical scheme to ultimately achieve the über suckage.
Overall though, there isn't one song on this album that I'd say is downright bad, except possibly the dull "The God That Failed" and the whiny "My Friend Of Misery". Songs that stand out as highlights would be quite a few, since it's a pretty even album. Not great, just even, with lots of above-average tunes. "Enter Sandman" is really a very catchy song, just sadly overplayed. "Wherever I May Roam" has a very sweet, kickass atmosphere built up by that great intro, though like "Sad But True" it's a bit too long for the minimal amount of riffage. "Through The Never" is probably the thrashiest song on here, along with "The Struggle Within". Both of them works quite well. "The Struggle Within", the closing track, is more traditional Metallica, trying (but not quite succeeding, although on it's own it's a good song) to be another "Battery" or "Damage, Inc", while "Through The Never" mostly feels like a faster version of other songs on here, aside from the high-toned main riff, which seems to serve most for a build-up purpose.
But the highlight of the album is probably "Of Wolf And Man", which while not thrashy manages to be quite crushingly heavy at some moments, and features the catchiest vocal lines on the album, and further enhanced by a great sinister mood. The lyrics rock, too. Then we have the two ballads, "The Unforgiven" and "Nothing Else Matters", and honestly, I've always been a sucker for these guys ballads. Both are pretty great, emotional stuff, featuring great acoustic guitarwork, memorable and well-done vocal lines by a James Hetfield who's softened and cleaned up his voice hugely with this album, especially on the ballads.
In conclusion, "The Black Album" ain't at all as bad as some metalhead elitists or thrash purists try to make it out to be. However, it showed the first oncoming signs of Metallica's selling out and becoming the band most worthy of loathing in the history of Heavy Metal as we know it. This is really a step up from the dreary ...AJFA, but it was all downhill from here, sadly. Oh, and the cover is stupid as hell.
Metallica’s first release of the 90’s couldn’t be better...or in other ways, i guess it could be, but i have no major complaints about this album. “Metallica” was the very first superbly produced and complete album from the San Francisco ex- Thrashers. They have made an important transition in their sound that wasn’t accepted very well by the hardcore fans and it’s still not accepted today by some of them…I just cannot comprehend this… I prefer the thrash Metallica, and of course, when I say that in other ways this could be better, I just think that they shouldn’t have stepped completely aside from their thrash roots, still, this is a HEAVY METAL album, no one can deny it, and although not being thrash, it’s heavier than hell.
Then, one thing that really pisses me off about this is the fact the some may consider them some sellouts just for having two fuckin ballads on the record. This is pathetic and hilarious. In fact, hearing it very well, it will make everyone realise that this is one of the albums where Metallica has the thickest and heaviest guitar sound…the other one only managed to have this kind of sound was “Ride the Lightning”. “…and Justice for All” had some really aggressive guitars, but in comparison to this, it just doesn’t sound as powerful as “The Black Album” ’s riffage, and I’m not talking about speed, but power!!!
The production made by Bob Rock is perfect, this was a really good work made by him at a time when he has still far from ruining Metallica’s soul and heavy spirit…Good sound coming from all of the instruments and really good voice from James Hetfield. Kirk’s solos are also hyperactive and technically amazing and the really big step on this one is the presence of the bass guitar by Newsted, something that we were unable to hear in their previous album due to mastering problems…
In this metal masterpiece we have some of their best classics, and some really great songs. Songs like “Enter Sandman”, “Holier than Thou”, “Wherever I May Roam”, “Don’t Tread on Me”, “Through The Never” and “The Struggle Within” are really excellent stuff by them, being some good and interesting headbanging experiences, and the perfect reminders that Metallica, although not practising thrash any longer, were still there to kick some serious ass…well, at least for the next four years…
We also have two ballads (??…Metallica making ballads in a few years??…NAH!!!), and even before you just start swearing about these songs, just give yourself the time to try to understand and enjoy them. “The Unforgiven” is really great…combines some cool acoustic guitar melodies with some good aggressive parts and is just responsible for having one of Kirk Hammett’s best solos IN his entire career. “Nothing Else Matters” is the other ballad, and might I say what a beautiful one…This one, more than a song, is a lesson on how to live…
We have then the “musically grown up” Metallica songs. Something really different from what they’ve been practising in the years before this. Tunes like “Sad But True”, “Of Wolf And Man”, the excellent “The God that Failed” and the angry “My Friend of Misery” only proved that the guys were really open minded about something else going out there and made these ones an essential listening on this one.
Everyone just blames this album for being the first step for Metallica’s spirit and heaviness decadence. There’s something really important that I think Metallica fans should know…changing your ideas or getting some new perspectives from each subject doesn’t mean you are a non-personality man or a big motherfuckin sellout… It’s true that Metallica got weaker in the years that came (that’s another story…) but I can only blame one single guy for that: BOB ROCK. This change of musical attitude didn’t made any harm to their spirit at this time, a time when they still had control of their musical direction…So, if you wanna tear apart “Load” or “Reload” or even spell a curse on Bob Rock’s “bon jovi ass”, fine…but you cannot do that to “Metallica”. This is in my perspective an excellent album and showed us a heavy and renewed Metallica that had two ways they could be following in the future. Unfortunately we already know which one they did take…
Somewhere I once read a review that Bob Rock had insisted that the strong songs be placed at the beginning, as is usually the custom with any pop album.
Needless to say, this album gets better as it goes on. "Wherever I May Roam" is decent metal, but it's "Through the Never" that shows the first sign of speed and fury and brilliance. "Nothing Else Matters" is of course the fluke, as it is by far the most commercial song here, so I don't see why it wasn't placed first. Okay, you can't start with a ballad. Second, then. But still, it is completely wooden and lifeless... Metallica have always been the Keanu Reeves of metal. Good action scenes (thrash riffs) but when it's time to display other types of emotion, they just... can't. WASP they are not.
Oh yes, good songs... "Of Wolf and Man" is another good song, as is "The Struggle Within", which is a nice classic-sounding closer. "My Friend of Misery" is okay, though they do drag it out quite a bit.
This album is not complete donkey crap, but it is pretty much complete donkey crap. It's not worth the strain of being forced to listen to riffless marvel "Sad But True", hideously oversaturated "Enter Sandman", and useless meandering "The Unforgiven" just so one can rock for 5 minutes on "Through the Never".
But hey, the production is impeccable, even by commercial standards. Britney Spears wishes she could sound this good.