I love Metallica. They were a huge part of my formative years, and I continue to listen to their classic records as intently as some people read their Bible verses. But let’s get real: These heavy metal legends have released some not-great albums. So I thought it might be a good idea to revisit Metallica’s notoriously divisive records—maybe they’ve gotten better with age?
Plenty of diehard Metallica fans jumped ship when The Black Album was released in 1991. But this Titanic didn’t sink; it sold so many copies worldwide, scientists had to invent a new unit for measuring sales. This was Metallica’s foray into tidier, radio-friendly songs—something the band had previously avoided like the plague. Has “Enter Sandman” been played on the radio a grotesque number of times? Yes, but it’s still a killer song. Is this record the big black turd many Metallica fans claimed it was almost three decades ago? Hell no. Many metal bands today would kill to write songs like “Sad but True,” “The God That Failed,” and “Of Wolf and Man.” The worst thing you can say about this record is that it’s not Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets.
Confession: I waited in line at my local record shop’s midnight sale to buy this CD and to get my free poster of a short-haired Metallica smoking stogies. Most people couldn’t get past the haircuts; I had a difficult time getting past the first song, “Ain’t My Bitch.” Metallica wasn’t a heavy metal band anymore—they were Kentucky-fried boogie-rock billionaires from San Francisco. But I trudged on, and liked the tracks “2x4” and “Bleeding Me.” Then one day I just stopped listening. In fact, I’ve heard Load and Reload more in the past two weeks than I have in the past two decades. Conclusion: I don’t want to anymore.
Metallica made good on their promise of a quick follow-up to Load, which I’d hoped would be their way of righting previous wrongs. Instead, Reload retreads the same stale Bob Rock production, the same lazy riffs, and the same tired Lars Ulrich drumming. “Bad Seed” sounds like a goddamn Godsmack song. And they managed to double down on “Ain’t My Bitch” with “Fuel”—quite possibly the worst Metallica song in existence (one they still deem worthy of performing live). Listening with fresh ears only reaffirms that this record is painfully of its time, both in style and in length. “The Memory Remains,” which includes haunting backing vocals from Marianne Faithfull, is the bright spot on an album that shows a once-groundbreaking band becoming formulaic, tired, and unfocused.
St. Anger (2003)
What a strange record, with its nonexistent guitar solos and drums that sound like wooden spoons bashing cookware. That’s not even mentioning its connection to the eye-opening/cringe-inducing documentary Some Kind of Monster, which is based on events that took place in the years leading up to the record’s release. (By then longtime bassist and notorious fall guy Jason Newsted had gotten the hell out of dodge.) When I first heard St. Anger, I was stoked that Metallica had seemingly learned to thrash again. There’s some filler, but overall, it’s a decent record. The chaoticness of the music and production mirrors the state of the band at that time. And that metallic snare is no bother; it reminds me of the drum sound on a lot of ’90s hardcore records. Plus, “Frantic” is one of Metallica’s best latter-day jams.
I tried. I really did. When Lulu came out in 2011, I was glad they made it… but I didn’t want to listen to it. To me the record felt like cutting-room floor Metallica riffs on top of Lou Reed being esoteric for esoteric’s sake. Revisiting Lulu, I’m still glad they made it, and I may listen to it every now and then when I’m thoroughly loaded (or reloaded). “The View”—cue “I am the table” jokes—is actually good. The dark, repeating guitar riff provides the perfect backdrop to Reed’s even darker lyrics: “Every meaning you’ve amassed/Like a fortune, like a fortune/Throw it away/For worship of someone/Who actively despises you.” I’ll just pretend this is about Trump supporters and say Lulu becomes a prophetic masterpiece.