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Metallica - 1991 Metallica

ARTIST: Metallica
ALBUM: Metallica
LABEL: Elektra
SERIAL: 9 61113-2
YEAR: 1991
CD REISSUE: Numerous..


LINEUP: James Hetfield - vocals, guitar * Kirk Hammett - guitar * Jason Newsted - bass; Lars Ulrich - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Enter Sandman * 02 Sad But True * 03 Holier Than Thou * 04 The Unforgiven * 05 Wherever I May Roam * 06 Don't Tread On Me * 07 Through The Never * 08 Nothing Else Matters * 09 Of Wolf And Man * 10 The God That Failed * 11 My Friend Of Misery * 12 The Struggle Within


It's doubtful that any album in heavy metal history has ever polarized fans as much as the so-called 'Black' album. Metallica emerged from the 80's as easily the most successful act of the thrash movement of the decade, their 1988 classic '..And Justice For All' pushing them into the mainstream just two years removed from the death of original bassist Cliff Burton. With metal at its peak commercially Metallica teamed up with Bob Rock for the album, a shock to some given Rock's involvement with Motley Crue and Aerosmith. Ulrich claimed at the time they would never work with original producer Fleming Rasmussen again, looking to adopt a new direction, one that didn't involve thrash. With this album Metallica changed tack radically, altering their sound to that of a basic metal band, one that begat speed in favour of shorter, more commercially melodic tracks. This shift affected the world of heavy metal radically at a time when the signs were already there that the golden years were coming to a rapid halt.

The Songs
As with most albums of such immense stature, most of the songs here need little explanation. It would be virtually impossible to find anyone who hasn't heard the tried and tested likes of 'Enter Sandman', 'Nothing Else Matters', 'Sad But True', 'The Unforgiven', or 'Wherever I May Roam'. All these tracks are prime examples of the shift in sound, more melodically aware, free of the shredding riffs and complicated song structures of the 80's, especially with ballad based fare like 'Nothing Else Matters'. There is not a single instance of thrash on the album, with 'Holier Than Thou' and 'Through The Never' coming close, but never executing. The heaviness is there, but never as effectively as earlier albums. There are moments of rage, 'The Struggle Within' a lost gem that rates with the best of the bands 80's output thanks to some vintage thrash riffs, which overall are scarce. Some tracks tend to plod, 'My Friend Of Misery', and 'The God That Failed' especially, which showed without the element of speed Metallica had to compensate in other ways through melody, which wasn't always there. Somehow all these years later 'Enter Sandman' remains unsatisfying, but the thumping 'Don't Tread On Me' and 'Of Wolf And Man' are vastly more satisfying, short and to the point, a far cry from epics that made up the bulk of 'Master Of Puppets' and 'Justice'.

In Summary
To me the album is more interesting from a fans viewpoint. This bought the band a whole new audience, shifting untold millions in an era when Nirvana were ascending, making Metallica a rare case of a metal band thriving when so many others began to flounder. Sensing this just about every thrash band imaginable did the same as Metallica and abandoned their thrash origins. By 1992 contemporaries like Megadeth, Exodus, Testament and Overkill were all following suit, slowing down their sound, with only Megadeth making any impact. This in many ways ruined the thrash genre and things were never the same. At the time this left many fans disgruntled, bemoaning the more commercial Metallica and during that decade I was one of them, not necessarily in 1991, but definitely in the ensuing years. In hindsight the band was probably feeling limited by the thrash tag, but this wasn't the frame of mind most metal fans operated with, then or now. Whether or not this is what Metallica had in mind is unknown, but the massive success of the album negated any such thoughts.

More than 20 years later fans still debate the merits of the album. Having shifted some 13 million copies is proof enough of its success, but the endless debates created by Metallica's direction thereafter will probably never cease. For me this album is a solid offering and one I hold in higher esteem than I did some 15 years ago. Furthermore the likes of 'Metallica' will never be seen again, the days of iconic records like this now extinct. I don't consider it Metallica's best work, but it has aged brilliantly and it could be released today and you wouldn't know the difference. That's the mark of a legend.

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#1 | Eric on January 09 2012 12:59:02
I was watching VH1's 'Metal Evolution' with Sam Dunn just the other day. It was the 'Thrash' episode and this album gets a big blame for the 'death' of the genre. Never big on Thrash, 'Black' is the only Metallica I can play from start to finish and never once think about hitting the 'skip' button. Classic.
#2 | dangerzone on January 09 2012 14:38:46
Great album indeed, but things went downhill soon after when almost everyone copied. A few bands stayed true, but maybe it was just a sign of the times. Being a teenager in the mid nineties it certainly pissed me off however when everyone seemingly abandoned thrash. You would have laughed seeing me and MUSCLE's disillusion listening to various records by Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Sepultura in the mid to late 90's. Only Slayer kept true, but they stuffed it up with that punk cover abomination 'Undisputed Attitude' in 96.
#3 | Eric on January 09 2012 17:08:08
Exactly what Dunn said- the feeling of betrayal. I found a second-hand copy of 'LULU' over the holidays. Bought it out of curiosity, despite already having heard various clips and the fact the UK avant-garde/ new music magazine 'The Wire' rated it in the top 50 best of 2011. Haven't had the will to sit through it yet....

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