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Metallica has been on a steady track towards complete artistic death since the early 90s, this much is obvious. When listening to the tainted fruits of the labor of a band that used to be worth a damn, we must consider the history that spawned the corruption. Although there is a good case to be made that it's origins lie before the Black Album in the mid 80s, it's symptoms did not come about until the Black Album, particularly the tour that supported it.
Being on the road for 4 years plus to support a single album is absolutely ridiculous, I don't care if it's Metallica's self-titled fifth album, or Iron Maiden's Killers (The only album I might be able to make excuses for resulting in a tour this long). Not only do you lose time better spent on writing more music, but you also confound the lines between what truly matters in heavy metal. You begin to see the crowd as some omnipotent collective that makes the music possible, and this is as far from the truth as it gets.
Fans do not create heavy metal, they are not the cause, they are the consequence. The people who created heavy metal were the artists who toiled over their guitars, basses, and drum kits creating something amazing, something that no one had ever done before. The fans came because they saw great music, something so great that their bodies were compulsed to move to it violently, to shout out the lyrics and try to overshadow the people they were idolizing, and ultimately, to pick up an instrument and to do it even better.
Being on the road and touring on your music is one of the greatest things in the world, every time I play a live show I feel a euphoria that nothing else could come close to. However, you don't tour without having something to tour on, something great to make it worth it first to yourself, and then to those whom will come to see you. Metallica forgot this while on the road living the good life, they forgot that what created the music that the audience loves was introspection, and that does not happen on the road.
How does all this relate to this album, this 2nd rate modern rock garbage that is passed off as metal? This album, along with it's predecessor, was written while on the long ass, 4 years plus, Black Album tour. In 4 years, in between concerts and alcohol binges, Metallica created 2 and 1/2 hours of mediocrity as a substitute for true heavy metal.
This album, dubbed "Reload", is essentially a B-side collection of songs that didn't make it onto "Load". From this first fact we learn both that Metallica has actually done something original, create a sequel to something that is actually slightly better than it's predecessor. Consequently, we also learn that Metallica can't tell the difference between bad songs and collections of quasi-good songs. This album actually rocks harder than Load, and has better songs, though to keep the context clear I am comparing this album to an absolute load of shit (no pun intended).
Unfortunately, like the first Load album, only half of the songs here are actually listenable, and of those only a handful are enjoyable. "Better than you" is essentially a better version of "Ain't my bitch" that has stronger riffs and better lyrics, although James' voice is still a shadow of it's former self. "Fuel" has some decent riffs in it, rocks hard and moves fairly quickly, and James' voice is actually sounding quasi-masculine. "Devil Dance" is a slow, heavy, evil sounding track that actually reminds a bit of the slower tracks of the later 80s, though the guitars don't have the punch they used to. "The Unforgiven 2" is essentially a set of recycled riffs from both it's name sake on the Black Album and "Fade to Black", the goal was obviously to have an atmospheric equivalent of "Until it Sleeps", although it's been done before, it towers above most of the other crap on here.
The highlight of this album, ironically, is the most popular one. "The Memory Remains" has a good set of riffs, many of them borrowed from other bands, which is essentially the approach that defined the original thrash sound of their early work. I can hear bits and pieces of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" here mixed in with "God of Thunder" by Kiss. This is the one track where Kirk's leads actually sound half decent, mostly due to the use of the wah pedal to clean up the choppy Neil Young sound he's adopted. Although it must be stated that both of the Load albums suffer from something else that the Black Album suffered from, overuse of the wah pedal.
The rest of this album is mostly a giant pile of musical debris, and of these only two merited a full listen through. "Low Man's Lyric" is hailed by proponents of this album as another brilliant innovation by the "New Metallica". NONSENSE! RUBISH! POPPYCOCK! Throwing together a 3rd rate country tune and throwing in a violin is not original, I don't care if Metallica does it or if Garth Brooks does it. "Fixxer" is listenable, but suffers from The Outlaw Torn Syndrome, a rare disorder where you have an extremely loose and sloppy performance that meanders around long enough to enduce either deep sleep or a drop in intelligence.
That's right ladies and gentlemen, Metallica successfully released a whole album where after the first 5 tracks, you have nothing but pure crap. Instead of naming this album "Reload" they should have named it "Prematurely blowing your Load", and swapped the album cover from the first Load to underscore the fact. But you know what, it's all fine and dandy because Metallica is back on tour now and we can all go and see them play live and hopefully they'll play some of their older stuff. After all, touring is the only thing Metallica cares about now, as evident to their complete refusal to get the job done in the studio. Maybe next time they'll stop fucking around and go the whole 9 yards and just do farewell tours the way Barbara Streisand does.
In conclusion, as was the case with "Load" this album represents the 2nd step down into the depths of irrelevance. It has some moments, but they represent a total time length of 26 minutes out of nearly an hour and 1/2 worth of music. Between these two albums we have 9 tracks equaling roughly 50 minutes of music, about the average time length of Metallica's early releases. If I had been managing Metallica at this point of their career, I would have combined the 9 decent tracks between these two piles of excrement into one album, dropped the utterly stupid cover arts, and the album titles. For the new album cover I'd use the goofy picture of the band in Pimp outfits and smoking cigars from the back of the first Load, and the new title would be taken from the song "Better than You", both the cover and the title would be symbolic of the arrogance this band has carried with them throughout their career. Then I'd write a review for it here, and it would score a 72, and still be described as a step down from the Black Album. Think it's a good idea? I did it 6 years ago as my first ever CD rip attempt, I accomplished the cover by taping the back picture of the Load album to a piece of printer paper and doodling the new track list on the back in pen. Suffice to say, I listen to it on occasion, and it's alot less painful than listening to what was originally released.