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Well, this disc is a bit of a stop gap. It's a bunch of tunes from the Load sessions and some new songs mixed together and released to capitalize on the bands considerable momentum. It's not bad or anything, nor is this exactly like Load, but in the constant evolution of the bands sound, this is a bit of a plateau.
The album isn't quite the warm state of mind Load was, a lot less heavy and perhaps a little more metallic riff-wise while still miles away from say, “Through the Never” or “Four Horsemen” (he says, picking names out of a Metallihat). Kirk is increasingly dependant on that heavily distorted wah wah guitar solo style that he's come to rely on like a crutch. Lars is as solid and predictable as ever, and Newsted still doesn't have much to say (dude, he wrote "Doomsday for the Deceiver"! Give 'im a say!), and James's experimentation with other music doesn't sound so much novel as rock star-y.
The band is locked in an endless mid-tempo groove, only "Attitude" and "Fuel" stepping out of it. Some of the lyrics are rather insipid, "Better Than You" for example. And unlike Load, it seems a few tracks to long. So, this looks like a terrible review right?
Wrong. I like Reload. It's easily the worst album they'd released yet (circa-1997), but who the fuck cares? The worst Tallica record steamrolls the best release from 90% of the bands out there. Reload is a record that excels in its moments. The chunky bass intro to "Devil's Dance", the "Memory Remains" breakdown, the "Sweet Leaf" homage that opens "Bad Seed"...granted, those are some of the worst tracks on the album but it goes to show that even a bad Metallica song has moments that can just grab you and make you fuckin’ glad they still make music. Err, well maybe not the guy who gave it zero, but irregardless...
The speedy tracks are a bit of a split in quality. "Fuel" is an adrenaline pumping near-thrasher, and probably would've been a certifiable speedster has Lars given in a thrashy beat. Alas. However, it is a very heavy song that is undeniably metallic, even if your definition of metal starts with Grand Belial's Key and extends through Nile to arrive at lighter stuff like Cryptopsy and Satyricon. It's not in that league of heavy, but it's metal quotient is just as high. James freewheel burns through it with manic intensity. Catchy solo, catchy riff, and a bah gawd back-up vocal showing from Jason, if you crank the volume and listen real hard. "Attitude" on the other hand is much like "Cure", a good riff wasted by puerile lyrics.
Our ballads are damn good. "The Unforgiven II" is yet more Metallicountry, but it remains one of their more popular 90's tunes. Nice poetic lyrics, good delivery, and a convincing twang, plus plenty of musical references to the original and utterly classic "The Unforgiven" boost this track up. "Lowman's Lyric" is a strange, strange folk song, that features some of James's best singing and a very catchy structure. I know most of em off by heart, and I find myself humming the tune a lot. Strange. "Where the Wild Things Are" reminds me of the earlier Metallica dirges, a stirring Newsted penned composition that slow-boils like nobodies business before exploding into a very metal riff and powerful refrain, sung by both Newsted and a multi-tracked Hetfield. It's doubtful this kind of multipart harmony could be reproduced live, which is a shame especially because this has both Hammett's best solo on the record and Lars's most military beats.
"Prince Charming" moves at a pretty good clip actually, James's delivery making up for the rather silly lyrics. Generic riff, but a good one nonetheless. "Slither" is a strange sorta "Enter Sandman" type vibe, same way "King Nothing" was on the last record, and shows us still more of Het playing around with distorted vocals, something he's been playing with since "The Wait" on the Garage EP. Special credit for one of my fav lyrics on the album:
"Don't look for snakes/You might find them/Don't turn your eyes to the sun/You might blind them/Haven't I seen you here before?/Have your heroes disappeared?"
I've left my two favourites to the end, both earthshaking epics in "Fixxxer" and "Carpe Diem Baby". "Fixxxer" is an immense construct, opening with a dissonant violin screeching away like a skipping record. Huge, loose chords slowly begin to crawl in from where they lurk off-screen and we swing into a chugging opener. Man, if they'd done this in 1988 or even 1990 imagine how tight and fucking metal it'd be. Instead, it's something just as interesting, a big loose classic, another gravity defying monster in a monstrous catalogue. The lyrics are both thematic like pre-Load Tallica and personal like that record, a two-fold piece that feels like a bridge between old and new. Unsurprisingly it's many an ex-fans favourite 90's era Metallica song. Brilliant, and one of the big absences on the S&M record.
"Carpe Diem Baby" is one of those album tracks that just jumps out at you like a facehugger in the Alien films. More mid-tempo crunch, but James's weary yet passionate delivery and the titanic riffs save the day. And holyyyy crap what a break. If you can't tell I'm air-guitaring pitifully. The break and solo just move like a rollercoaster or an avalanche, one of those grand old Metallica moments that raise an otherwise average song to the heavens the way "Struggle Within"'s famous break did for that song.
In summation, another difficult album that rewards much listening, re-listening, and study.
Stand-Outs: “Fixxer”, “Carpe Diem Baby”, “Where the Wild Things Are”