Monday, February 16, 2009

Great Band, Terrible Album Pt. 2: Metallica: Load

I remember distinctly the anticipation. I was 15 years old, just out of junior high. Metallica had been my favorite band since the seventh grade. I picked up all of their albums quickly, at that point there were only five. I considered myself a big heavy metal fan already, even though I only listened to about ten to fifteen groups regularly. Metallica was the favorite though.

It had been six long years since Metallica's last full length album, colloquially known as "The Black Album." That album lifted Metallica into another stratosphere, previously only known to such metal luminaries as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. Metallica was one of the biggest bands in the world, not just in metal, but all of rock music. They had toured with Ozzy Osbourne and Guns 'N Roses. They were huge. Obviously this album was one of the most highly anticipated releases in years.

There was one song on the radio prior to the album being released. A kind of strange sounding song called "Until It Sleeps." It was different, not nearly as aggressive as their prior material. Their prior album had simplified and slowed things noticeably, but this was completely different. I liked the song, so much that I picked up the CD single while I was still waiting for the album to be released.

The day finally came and I went to pick it up as soon as I could get my hands on it. I was shocked when I heard it. Gone was much of the aggression. The band had lightened their sound considerably even since the last album. In its stead, Metallica had become a blues-driven hard rock/sometime heavy metal band. There were some decent songs, but nothing like what came before. The worst song of the bunch "Mama Said" sounded like it should be played in a seedy, smoky country bar room after a rodeo. The album was long, nearly 79 minutes, and only a few standout songs. I was crushed, Metallica had let me down.

After six years I was expecting an amazing album, Metallica did not deliver that album. Now, 13 years later, Metallica still has yet to deliver an album building upon "The Black Album". Reload was more of the same, released shortly after Load. St. Anger is a stripped down, emotional roller coaster of an album, but is too bulky, its good ideas not fully fleshed out, and horrible production and lack of guitar solos make it a difficult listen. Death Magnetic is the closest Metallica has come to reclaiming their legacy. Metallica did a few things right during this downtime, Garage Inc. is a pretty decent cover album featuring two discs, one with all new cover songs, and the other with all of their previous cover songs recorded for singles. Disc Two is the best, but the Mercyful Fate cover on Disc One showed Metallica could still kill it. S&M, the live album featuring the San Francisco Philharmonic was interesting, with some quality moments. Finally, live Metallica was still great.

Load is the album that halted Metallica's forward momentum like a brick wall, even though "The Black Album" was a major decrease in quality. Metallica has yet to recover, though some positive steps have been taken.

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