Thrash metal had taken hold of the world in the late 80s. The “Big Four,” which included thrash gods Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica, emerged and began releasing landmark albums within the genre. In 1991, Metallica opened the gates to metal’s true commercial success with the release of Metallica, also known as The Black Album.
Though devastated by the death of bassist Cliff Burton, Metallica pushed forward with Jason Newstead and created what has become their best-selling album. From the beginning, The Black Album proved to be controversial. Bob Rock, who had produced Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood, was tapped to produce what was to be Metallica’s fifth studio album. While initially shunned by the band, Rock proved to be the missing ingredient for a band like Metallica’s success. His production skills fused the band’s elements together to create a new, more radio friendly metal sound.
The biggest track to come off this album is, without a doubt, “Enter Sandman.” Kirk Hammett’s dark riff is instantly recognizable and transports the listener into the twisted nightmare of James Hetfield’s lyrics. The drum work is also notable on this track, as well as throughout the album. Lars Ulrich is a powerhouse behind the kit and Rock’s production showcased his work without making your ears bleed (too much).
In addition to the hugely successful “Enter Sandman,” The Black Album produced another six singles for Metallica. The ballad “Nothing Else Matters” is a defining moment on the album and shows a different side of the metal giants. The song was not necessarily meant to be included on the album, but Ulrich urged Hetfield to change his mind. The part of this song that makes it deviate from the metal “norm” is the inclusion of string accompaniment. While “One” was somewhat of a departure on And Justice For All, “Nothing Else Matters” was completely different than anything the band had done before.
Another track that stands out but didn’t get the same acclaim as the singles was “The God That Failed.” One of Hetfield’s most lyrically heartfelt songs, it documents the loss of his mother and his struggle with her beliefs and faith. The other singles “Sad But True” and “Wherever I May Roam” are hard-hitting metal jams that showcase the band’s talent while crossing over into the mainstream.
Rock’s production on this album shaped Metallica in an entirely new way. And Justice For All was thought to be too complex and lengthy, so Rock wanted to simplify the equation. The result was slowing down the tempo and upping the bass volume, which Newstead felt had been unnoticeable on Metallica’s previous recordings.
The lyrical content also differed and could be described as more relatable to the general audience. Hetfield delved deeper into his personal life and his feelings to write pieces like “Nothing Else Matters” and “The God That Failed.” The end result was an album that brought metal to the masses. All masses. This crossover resulted in one of the biggest controversies in musical history (and to a lesser extent its much discussed bland album cover), but it can’t detract from the fact that Metallica and Bob Rock produced a technically sound record. Regardless of if you are a Metallica “purist” or a “bandwagon” fan, this album is well done.
While this album did stray from the original Metallica formula, it spawned some of the most iconic metal anthems of all time. “Enter Sandman” really does make the listener feel like they have entered into some other dimension. It’s as if Peter Pan dropped acid and came face to face with the devil. Hetfield’s growl delivers the lyrics with a punch while Hammett and Ulrich provide thunderous guitar and drum work.
“Nothing Else Matters” is the band’s soft moment and departure from their thrash roots. Hetfield’s vocals, however, give the song a bit of an edge that it may not have otherwise.
All six singles that came off The Black Album are inarguably good quality and the production is top notch. The band received critical acclaim and success, but it did come at a price. On one hand, Metallica gained a new fanbase and opened their catalogue to even more people. On the other, however, many people that had stuck with the band since the beginning changed their opinion. They felt that they had abandoned what they were and sold out to commercialism. But regardless of which stance you take, The Black Album is still a great work that deserves much of the credit it has received.
Since the release of The Black Album, Metallica has gone on to record four more albums. In 2001, Jason Newstead quit the band, leaving them without a bass player. That same year, the documentary Some Kind of Monster was recorded and Hetfield entered into rehab. In 2003, Robert Trujillo replaced Newstead on bass.
Their eighth album, St. Anger, earned the band their first Grammy award in 2004. Their 2008 album, Death Magnetic, debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. In 2009, Metallica were inducted into the U.S Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band is set to record a new album that follows up their 3D concert film, Metallica: Through The Never, which was released in September of 2013.
Reviewer: Hilari Barton
IRC: Bill Pulice
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