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Don’t Jump on the Bandwagon - 75%

mdmetallica, March 30th, 2011

Let me to start off by saying that I’m a metal-head, proud and loyal, not some mainstream kid who believes that the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are the most talented band ever, or that Justin Bieber has the best voice in the industry. I love metal, but I can appreciate it when bands choose to change their musical direction. Metallica has been consistently assaulted with harsh, negative reviews with labels like “Sell-out”, “Mainstream” and “Alternative”, following the release of Load and ReLoad. These widespread propaganda-like statements not only prove the narrow-minded intolerance of the writer, but, in many cases have caused listeners to develop a very negative attitude to the record, before giving it a fair go. Before analysing the music of ReLoad, let us sort out a few pressing issues:

1. Metallica did not sell out... If by following your musical interests and believing in a change of direction is selling out, then I’ve lost all faith in the musical community.

2. Metallica is not mainstream... Despite a less aggressive approach, Load and ReLoad do not crossover into the mainstream audience. Perhaps Metallica is no longer the underground thrash metal act it used to be, but by no means is it a mainstream crowd-pleasing pussy band.

3. Metallica is not an ‘Alternative’ band... Yes, there are songs that have alternative rock tendencies, but not to the extent of R.E.M. or modern Good Charlotte.

Okay, now... ReLoad is definitely not my favourite Metallica album (that would be a three way tie between Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All), but this does not distort the fact that it is musically worthwhile.

The approach undertaken by Metallica is very similar to their style on Load, an emphasis on hard rock, as opposed to its’ heavy metal predecessor, the Black Album. In fact, ReLoad contains songs that were originally intended to be released on Load, as a 2CD album, and true to this, ReLoad seamlessly continues the trend. From the initial moments of crowd-favourite Fuel, the opening track, it is clear to the listener that Metallica has committed to another hard rock record. The heavy riff-age and rock-style drumming provides a perfect insight into the tracks to come. These form the backbone of the album.

Gone are the blazing guitar solos and furious choruses of Master of Puppets and Justice. Metallica, instead, seems to have expanded on the more abstract techniques, such as those found in Load’s ‘The House That Jack Built’. This is clearly demonstrated in songs like The Memory Remains, Slither, Where the Wild Things Are, and Low Man’s Lyric. Hetfield digitally disfigures his voice, rather annoyingly, in several instances like Slither’s chorus (“See you crawling”), creating an almost whining impression. This element, I believe, adds nothing to the value of the song, and is the only thing I truly dislike about this album. Ulrich’s drumming is permanently slower, with the exception of ‘Fuel’ and parts of ‘Bad Seed’, further cementing the bands departure from metal. Whilst I have always respected Lars for his efforts in the classic albums, and more recently, St. Anger and Death Magnetic, his performance in Load and ReLoad is rather slow (and, dare I say, occasionally boring). Jason Newsted, the bands’ “energy bunny”, as claimed by Lars, is still struggling to be heard, despite the clear and polished production; and Kirk Hammett’s solos are less-than-memorable, and few and far between.
ReLoad does, however, have its fair share of ‘keepers’:

• The Unforgiven II is a simply beautiful, melodic sequel to the original. James’ voice is strong, yet soothing, full of purpose and emotion. The powerful chorus amplifies the mood, contrasting the softer, more placid verses. I get shivers thinking of how good it is. Possibly the most underrated song on the album.

• Prince Charming is a catchy, faster paced hard rocker. The opening riff draws me in every time I listen to it. The chorus (“Hey look, it’s me! The one who can’t be free. Much too young to focus, but too old to see,”) seals the deal. Again, very underrated.

• Fuel. If you’re even only a small time fan of Metallica, Fuel is bound to be one of the first songs you come across. Energetic and thick, Fuel remains a staple element of Metallica’s set list.

• The Memory Remains is a more obscure form of hard rock. The guest vocals (courtesy of Marianne Faithfull) during the ‘outro’, are strange, yet create an eerie, fading atmosphere. Nonetheless a very worthwhile song.

Lyrically, Metallica seems to have taken a couple of steps backwards. Unlike the fiery anthems such as the environmentally motivated ‘Blackened’, or the truth-seeking ‘Eye of the Beholder’, the lyrics presented in ReLoad seem to lack a greater meaning. For example, Fuel. Driving really fast cars, really dangerously. An immature topic (reminiscent from the adolescent ‘Motorbreath’), and definitely absent from a greater sense of purpose. This may not be of concern to you, but personally, I take great pride in listening to good music with sensible and purposeful lyrical content. To me, it just proves that a band is not only a group of talented musicians, but a group of vigilant and aware individuals. Metallica is certainly capable of being in this category of “meaningful metal”; however ReLoad is a letdown in this regard.

Concluding, ReLoad is not Metallica’s fastest production, nor is it their best. What ReLoad is, is a catchy, thick-and-heavy album, which embraces less-traditional musical techniques and explores new horizons set forth by Load. I strongly encourage the reader not to judge this album from the harsh reviews it has so often received. I implore you not to jump on the bandwagon. If ReLoad is listened to with an open mind, I guarantee it will pleasantly surprise.