It seems like almost every step along the way, Metallica have had critics jump on them for notable creative decisions. Ride the Lightning marked the first notable example of the band slowing their tempo with “Fade to Black.” ..And Justice for All saw them making their first music video in “One”, something that the band allegedly said they would never do, though I’d need you to produce a definitive, in-context quote from the band for me to buy that one (even then, they are entitled to change their minds). Then their 1991 self-titled album saw them clean up some of the rough edges and go commercial with tracks like “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters”.
By the time 1996 rolled around, they would do the unthinkable… they cut their hair!!
Well, that’s not where the changes in the Metallica camp ended. Besides, bassist Jason Newsted had already got a trim a few years prior. The Load/Reload era of the band saw what many would see as the end of the rationale for including ‘Metal’ in their moniker. There were certainly little to no hints that they were once considered to be a thrash metal band, and they were no longer the band that would stick to the jeans and t-shirt look on-stage or off. You only need to go a couple pages deep into the Load liner notes to see that.
If anything, more of the criticism should be that they jumped on the Anton Corbijn wagon too late. U2’s Achtung Baby photo sessions look virtually identical to this. I only bought that album a few years ago, and found it pretty amusing seeing how similarly the two bands looked. And to throw in another Corbijn collaborator, Depeche Mode had that vibe going for them once entering the Music For The Masses period.
Coming off the heals of “The Black Album”, I don’t see the how the resulting music of the Load albums would be all that surprising. Questioning their image I definitely understand more, but how many songs on Metallica were calling out to be moshed to? “Holier Than Thou”, “Through The Never”, and “The Struggle Within” possibly, but that’s only one-fourth of that album. They were slowing down in general, with songs often built on the foundation of one heavy riff of two (“Sad But True”, “Don’t Tread On Me”, “Of Wolf and Man”) rather than several. I see much of the material that came on the Load albums as a natural progression from that mindset.
While the self-titled album was somewhat polarizing, criticism seems to be nowhere close to that of the Loads, and I never really grasped that. Then again, I would say I officially became a Metallica fan in 2001, and at that point Metallica was at the tail-end of this stage of their career. They essentially were still hard rock rather than metal, and I was fine with that. I don’t know if I would say the Loads are better than “The Black Album” necessarily, but I’ll often take the time to defend those over their predecessor. The production of the Load albums had, to me, a more natural sounding atmosphere. A bit more grit was added to the sound where Bob Rock had them sounding a bit too clean at times on Metallica (not a knock, the record is a greater stereo experience). The fact that lead guitarist Kirk Hammett recorded rhythm guitar tracks alongside James Hetfield’s helps contribute to that looser feel. I’ll also say that with Load and Reload, Hetfield’s vocals were delivered in a more natural manner which he could replicate in a live setting when it came to aspects like multi-tracking and the singing of certain melodies.
I tend to view their directional shift as a similar one to what Corrosion of Conformity did once Pepper Keenan (a good friend of Hetfield’s) became a member. You would be hard-pressed to find evidence of their Eye For An Eye hardcore punk sound by the time Deliverance was released, or even much of Blind for that matter. Both bands set out for more of a bluesy hard-rock sounds, and I believe both bands pulled it off their new sounds very well. Countless other bands have made more blatant shifts in sound to catch on with current trends, and missed horribly. Just look back at how many hair metal bands went through a grunge phase shortly after Nevermind dropped. Which reminds me of another common criticism of Metallica: that they went “grunge” on Load. There may have been some influence, but I don’t hear the punk rock vibe that many of those had in the Seattle scene. Metallica’s punk influences rang clearer on Kill ‘Em All with songs such as “Motorbreath” and “No Remorse”. However, I will concede that Kirk Hammett may have been going to Chris Cornell’s barber around this time, or is that just me?
It wasn’t long ago that I did a combination of a classic double-album, but my anticipation of Metallica’s self-titled deluxe box set got my mind racing on this topic relating to the two albums that followed it, so I finished writing my second installment of the series sooner than anticipated. They are the band that truly jump-started my love for metal music, and I still hold Master of Puppets and …And Justice For All as two of my all-time favourite albums from any genre, which made this entry an inevitability anyway.
Let me do my best to cut some of the fat, and create a single album out of the recording sessions.
1) “Fuel” (4:30)
2) “The Memory Remains” (4:39)
3) “Until It Sleeps” (4:28)
4) “The Unforgiven II” (6:36)
5) “King Nothing” (5:30)
6) “Hero Of The Day” (4:22)
7) “Ain’t My Bitch” (5:04)
8) “Bleeding Me” (8:18)
9) “Carpe Diem Baby” (6:12)
10) “Thorn Within” (5:52)
11) “Low Man’s Lyric” (7:36)
12) “Prince Charming” (6:05)
13) “The Outlaw Torn” (9:49)
Total Running Time: 79:01
Now comes the time to defend my choices.
There were only a few tracks that I had not much of a problem axing. “2 X 4” with it’s wah-wah verse riff that can get on my nerves at times, and “Poor Twisted Me” has that echoing main riff that feels a bit repetitive (and it’s usually the last song that comes to mind when thinking of Load) had no chance. I won’t miss “Better Than You” either, which was one of those purely reputation Grammy wins for the band if you ask me (Rammstein’s “Du Hast” is the clear hindsight winner in that year’s Metal category). From what I saw on Wikipedia, they never even played this song live despite it being a promotional single. Some cuts were much harder. I enjoy the somewhat experimental vibe through parts of “The House That Jack Built” and it can get crushingly heavy at other parts, but I couldn’t find space for it. “Fixxxer” is a rather unique track for the band as well that’s chalk full of heavy and dark riffage, but I’ll get into why I axed that one in a bit. Pretty much every other song I don’t really have much of an explanation for them being left off, but weren’t strong enough to make them clear inclusions.
“Fuel” is one hell of a way to kick of an album in spite of what the folks at Loudwire would have you believe (it’s the seventh-worst Metallica song in their minds). I didn’t view there being a showdown between the respective opening tracks of each album as some might be inclined to do, so I included “Ain’t My Bitch” as a mid-album energy booster. Not that the first half of the album would lag at all, given that the first six songs on my compilation were singles. You may not be a fan of every single that was released off these albums, but these ones I nonetheless feel are self-explanatory for inclusion. They each touch on much of what makes this late-’90’s era of the band noteworthy, having a balance of lighter moments and maintaining many of the parts of their sound that will have you banging your head.
Everything that follows “Ain’t My Bitch” is up for debate when most people analyze these albums. Some people may wish to put the hardest-rocking songs on their cut, others may choose the ones that show the band trying new things, or you could go with a balanced mix. I think I took a bit of everything for the back half of the record. I took a few of the heavier numbers with “Thorn Within”, “Carpe Diem Baby” and “Price Charming”. The first two of those songs aren’t what you’d call traditionally heavy as they lighten up or slow down drastically at parts, but each have great qualities. The chorus riff of “Thorn Within” always grabbed me (yes, I realize it has similarities to Danzig’s “Snakes of Christ”), and how it contrasts nicely with the sparseness of the verses. “Carpe Diem Baby” has melodic elements in it that I thought would have worked well with orchestration like with S&M, slow but truly powerful. “Prince Charming” may be the closest thing that either album had to a metal song, having that proto-speed metal feel of their major influence in Motorhead.
I’ve got to make a confession about “Bleeding Me.” Back when I was around 16 and had my initial listens of Load, this would be one of the songs my impatient teenaged ass would hit the skip button on most occasions. I guess I thought it was too long, too slow, and didn’t do enough to justify being nearly as long as their classic “Master of Puppets”. Shame on me because this track was a grower! I credit listening to and watching their performance of the track on S&M as warming me up to the song. Longer tracks don’t always need to have dozens of twists and turns, and the fewer shifts that this song takes doesn’t lessen it at all. In fact, including it on my super-cut of the Loads was actually a very simple decision.
There are a few spots near the end of the album where I felt that certain types of tracks needed to be included. “Low Man’s Lyric” and “Mama Said” I feel were two songs that would be dueling for an album slot. Each of those tracks sees the band entering uncharted territory, with the former being sort of a celtic folk song with violin and hurdy-gurdy instrumentation and the latter being a country & western ballad with steel guitar. I chose “Low Man”. For such a dark track, this one just feels so powerfully uplifting to me as the song builds. I’m not familiar with the origin story of the lyrics, but while it seems to be from the perspective of a homeless person or drifter, I can relate to how adaptable the words are to any situation where you have wronged someone. “Mama Said” has lyrics that I can see working that way as well, but this choice was a personal preference.
Both Load and Reload end with an epic, and of the two I chose “The Outlaw Torn”. “Fixxxer” from Reload was a very difficult cut, but it came down to a feeling that there should only be one track of this nature. To fit the running time below 80 minutes to squeeze the songs on one CD (some sources say 79 minutes, but if I can’t edit that one second out, I’d be a pretty crap editor!), I opted for the shorter version of “The Outlaw Torn” that concluded Load. I’ve only just heard the original extended jam version, which was given the subtitle “Unencumbered By Manufacturing Restrictions Version” when released as a B-Side on certain editions of the single “The Memory Remains”. If I’m honest, the two album-enders are a near coin-flip on certain days for me, but I’ll say “Outlaw” has the edge more often than not.
Now that I made my picks, what do I call this album? Since I’m aiming for the best of both albums, I think Fully Loaded makes for a suitable title.