Whilst Metallica may well be the biggest metal band on the planet, it’s also fair to say that not many bands divide the opinion of their fanbase quite like the four horsemen do…..with much of this irate ire directed towards their much maligned mid-90’s Load & Reload era.
However, the burning question is that with the benefit of well over a quarter of a century’s worth of hindsight, were these albums really all that that bad? We think, for the most part, they most certainly weren’t!
Here’s our argument:
What did Load and its sister album Reload have to offer us? For a start, virtually all traces of metal had been removed, leading Lars Ulrich to joke – prior to the release of Load – that they should change their name to Rocktallica (funny).
Drastic departure in identity and sound aside, both albums are clearly home to great songs. “King Nothing” is commercial metal at its finest, with big riffs and bigger hooks combining with a chorus dutifully designed to be belted out at festivals the world over; Load’s “Enter Sandman” if you will. The same can be said for Reload‘s commercially successful “The Memory Remains” while Load‘s “Until It Sleeps” has proven itself to be an enduring, delightfully dark, terrifically twisted, neo-gothic rock ballad.
During this period, Metallica were noticeably looser. James Hetfield may have been revered for his sledgehammer right wrist and taut, precise riffing but his riffs now felt grubbier (an understandable response to grunge’s grip, perhaps), while Lars Ulrich adopted the Phil Rudd ‘less is more’ style of drumming and, after the unparalleled success of The Black Album, it’s not really surprising that Metallica were feeling experimental. The shackles were well and truly off and it was time to indulge themselves in other influences aside from the NWOBHM and the thrash boom they themselves birthed; namely 70’s hard rock, country and folk.
Never one to shy away from dark subject matter, over these two albums James Hetfield also clearly excelled himself as a lyricist. The public view of James Hetfield was as a straight talking, hard drinking, take no shit, metal alpha male but this persona was about to take a left-field turn. It’s well known that his parents were strict Christian Scientists – which led to his Mother’s death due to not seeking treatment for cancer – however, bar the likes of “Dyers Eve” and “The God That Failed,” his lyrics were rarely autobiographical….but all that was about to change. Over the course of these two albums, James Hetfield bared his very heart and soul and a lot of his pain seemed to stem from his childhood. “Fixxxer” had Hetfield imploring “can you heal what Father’s done, or cut this rope and let us roam, just when all seems fine, and I’m pain free, you jab another pin, jab another pin in me”, a revealing insight far removed from much of what had come before.
And so it continued. “Low Mans Lyric” had him begging for forgiveness, while admitting he is beyond help. During “Until It Sleeps” he proclaimed “and the dirt still stains me, so wash me ’til I’m clean” and then further admitting “and the hate still shapes me, so hold me until it sleeps”. Meanwhile in the intensely personal “Mama Said”, Hetfield stated “I need your arms to welcome me, but a cold stone’s all that I see”. Looking back at his lyrics now, it is clear that he was a deeply troubled and pained individual and it was potentially the first time someone so influential in the metal sphere had exposed their personal thoughts on tape to such an extent.
Lyrics aside, by 1996, James had also fully refined his vocal style. Gone was the feral bark of earlier releases and in its place was a croon full of emotion and, shock-horror, sensitivity…..backed up with bite to it when needed, though! The result was a performance that perhaps should have received plaudits for its bravery and self-assurance.
We’re not not going to pretend that these albums are without their flaws. In fact, bar a few songs on the noticeably weaker Reload, it’s clear that the sometimes messy results are what happens when you lack the common sense to keep semi-unrealised ideas in the rehearsal room. However, bad albums they most certainly are not.
Such is the disdain for these albums, that just the mere mention on social media that they ‘actually aren’t that bad’ results in sections of the metal world becoming so apoplectic, they involuntarily void their bowels; a comical response given how much time has passed, and how blatantly worthy these albums are when compared to much of the 90’s risible metal/rock output.
Just for shits and giggles, here’s our take on what a more cohesive version of Load / Reload would look like if the two albums had been trimmed down to just the one release:
Ain’t My Bitch
The House That Jack Built
The Memory Remains
Until It Sleeps
Hero Of The Day
Wasting My Hate
Low Mans Lyric
The Outlaw Torn
(I’d throw in “Fuel” and “Where The Wild Things Are” too – Ed)
Perhaps, if released in this form, the world would have been kinder to an era that’s really not as bad as it’s often labelled.
Feel free to tell us how wrong we are in the comments below…..