Saturday, May 1, 2010

Dusting Off a Cassette Pt. 43: Metallica: Metallica

I guess it's time for my opinions on "The Black Album" by Metallica. As I have mentioned many times before on this blog, Metallica is the band that got me into metal. At the time that I was in fourth and fifth grade, "The Black Album" had been released and had proven to be enormously popular. I remember seeing the video for "One" off of the previous album quite a bit, but "Enter Sandman" and the other hits off of this album were the ones that really made me take notice of the band. My older brother bought this album and I heard it several times while he was going through a very short metal phase.

A few years later, when I was in seventh grade, MTV was showing videos from Metallica's live boxed set. It was at this time that I finally bought my first Metallica album. But, I chose Ride the Lightning. I followed that with ...And Justice for All and then Master of Puppets before I ever bought the self-titled album. So, it took me awhile before I got this album.

I always liked the early stuff better. It's not that I mind this album, I don't. I listen to it once in awhile. It just doesn't hold up to the band's first four albums. It's different. It's the album that made fans of millions, and lost the band lots of previous fans. It's a polarizing album. The band had made a calculated effort to change their sound and become more marketable. They brought in a big-time record producer and spent a long time in the studio recording and dissecting the music so that it was perfect for mainstream consumption. This album is a product, not a labor of love like the earlier albums.

It was huge upon release. The glam scene was on its last legs and grunge was on its way, but this album was a monumental album that showed that heavy metal could be marketable still. You just had to do the right things, which included not playing too fast, not being too controversial, and follow the rules of the record labels. This album, more than grunge, helped drive a stake through the heart of metal. Metallica was a hugely popular and influential band, and now they were softening their image for mainstream approval. It wasn't long before many of their contemporaries did the same. We had tamer sounds from Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament, and many others. Thrash had become a bad word and would take years to make a comeback. Obviously death and black metal were never meant for MTV, but this album assured that they would not be seen. The fallout was almost as huge as the album sales.

When all is said and done, it was Metallica, not Nirvana, that pushed metal into the deep underground and lead to journalists claiming the death of the genre. Bands had to follow their lead to get anywhere and those bands that did not play nice were dropped from labels and not heard from again for years.

This is a decent album. It's catchy, the songs are good. But, it is not the be-all, end-all of Metallica's career, much less metal in general. Some of the songs are still very good. But, they don't hold a candle to their earlier thrash material. I don't mind this album musically, it's what it represents to the metal genre as a whole that makes it difficult to stomach. It set metal back years. I just hope that wasn't the intention.


  1. "When all is said and done, it was Metallica, not Nirvana, that pushed metal into the deep underground and lead to journalists claiming the death of the genre."

    That is a very interesting observation. The follow-up question, of course, is whether this was good or bad. I would vote for good. After groups like Motley Crue and their ilk, it had to die in order to be resurrected.

    The funny thing is, I always heard that Load was the album where they sold out--at least at the time. I won't discuss the merits of the whether-they-did-or-didn't arguments, at least not here, but that was the one people pointed to in the late 90's, not the black album.

    I did hear a few point to this in my chat room days (remember those?) but it was rare. I also heard someone say Load was good, but Reload was a sell-out, which is of course ridiculous since they were recorded at the same time.

  2. I agree that it was probably for the best that the hair band scene die out. However, thrash was becoming very interesting at the time. We had groups like Dark Angel, Anacrusis, Heathen, Intruder and others combining progressive structures with thrash metal. When Metallica went soft, most of those bands disappeared because there wasn't a market for it anymore. I think it was probably good and bad for a lot of reasons.