METALLICA — Load (review)

METALLICA — Load album cover Album · 1996 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
1.5/5 ·
Vim Fuego
Metallica’s self-titled 1991 album was a big surprise.

Also known as the “Black Album”, it surprised long-time fans in the radical change of musical direction the band took. The cover was a bit of a surprise in its Spinal Tap-like none-more-blackness. The choice of Bob Rock as producer was a big surprise, since Rock was better known for producing metal pretenders like Motley Crüe, not a contender like Metallica. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all was how the popularity of the album absolutely took off. It sold tens of millions of copies, made Metallica a household name, and made a huge impression on metal and rock the world over.

Following up such a monolithic album was always going to be a challenge, but this was a band which had always tackled challenges head on. They had been uncompromising as a young band, hiring and firing who they felt they needed to complete their all-conquering line-up. They soldiered on and recruited a new bass player after the tragic death of Cliff Burton. They didn’t bow to MTV pressure and achieved success on their own terms. And then they created a big, black-clad monster. What came next was anyone’s guess.

And nobody guessed.

Five years after the “Black Album”, “Load” hit the shelves, with a sticky looking cover, made of blood and jizz. Inside the bodily fluid covered cover, there was photographic evidence of haircuts, new wardrobes, and make-up. All this caused a stir even before the album landed. Yes, there had been a single released a few months earlier, the hard-driving “Until It Sleeps”, with its Heironymus Bosch-inspired music video, but it didn’t prepare fans for the massive image shift.

And then the biggest surprise? The music. Of course it was the music. It’s always meant to be about the music. And surprisingly enough, what “Load” served up was an even duller version of the “Black Album”.

There was no return to the thrash roots, as many long-time fans were still vainly hoping for. The heavy was dialed back – there’s nothing that approaches Sad But True’s Godzilla stomp. And there were a few more non-metal shades infecting the music. It sounded like more of the same, but less. And more. More in that this album is too long. It’s an absolute chore to sit through all 79 minutes of it. Towards the end of the album, you find yourself checking “Is it nearly done yet?” Ever done that with Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets? It seems the band had got too big, and too self-important, and just didn’t know when to fucking stop. And who was going to tell them to?

The album kicks off with “Ain’t My Bitch”, a slightly more up-tempo song than those on the “Metallica” album, but James’ singing seems to have lost its edge. Also, the gut churning bottom end which made up for some of the previous album’s loss of tempo is gone. “Ain’t My Bitch” just ain’t as heavy.

“2x4” swaggers and swings, and Kirk wails on the lead, but it’s ultimately pedestrian. It’s different to what Metallica had ever done before, but it is also unadventurous.

“The House That Jack Built” is more like it. The dark Lovecraftian Gothic shade hinted at by the “Until It Sleeps” single is back. It has some great melodies, it’s has the body-slamming heavy vibe, and there’s even vocal harmonies. There’s some creepy wah pedal effects, along with talk box guitar, popularised by Peter Frampton, and used by Mick Mars on “Kickstart My Heart” – could this be Bob Rock’s influence again?

“Until It Sleeps” is the first outstanding song on the album. It is nightmarish and creepy, heavy and compelling. It uses contrasting dynamics highly effectively, and isn’t ploddingly obvious like some of the other songs here. James Hetfield’s oblique esoteric lyrics are open to interpretation (hint: it's about cancer!), but this definitely isn’t a happy song!

“King Nothing” and “Hero of the Day” are slightly less dark, but both are hard driving, dynamic songs. “King Nothing” harks back to the “Black Album” again, with a big main riff, but with more going on around it, and like “Enter Sandman”, revisits childhood verse in an adult context. “Hero of the Day” mixes soft/loud/soft, light/heavy/light song structure, and builds to an almost thrash mid-section, punctuated by stuttering kick drums from Lars Ulrich. The song includes some of Kirk’s best lead guitar on the whole album, and one of Hetfield’s smoothest vocal performances ever. By the final fade, it feels like Metallica might have pulled it out of the fire, and delivered a good album after all.

Yeah, nah. Didn’t happen. It’s mostly downhill from here.

“Bleeding Me” is just long and boring. Yeah, there’s another big riff, there’s more solos and shit, but it’s all the same damn plodding tempo we’ve already heard.

“Cure” is pure filler that those kings of poorly padded albums KISS would be proud of. What’s the fucking point of this song? It’s a boring shit sandwich of a song, the lowest point on the whole album. It’s only slightly longer than “Fight Fire With Fire”, but feels like it’s never going to end.

“Poor Twisted Me” has a megaphone vocal effect, which is really the most interesting thing about it. Once again, mid-tempo and little purpose. “Wasting My Hate” starts with a bluesy riff and vocal, and threatens to take off, but just settles into that mid-tempo groove again. Every time it seems like it’s going to get good, it gets pulled back from the brink and ends up squarely in mediocre again.

If you make it through those four turgid lumps of over-produced yet half-baked stodge, you’re treated to a diamond in the not-rough-enough. “Mama Said” is a country-tinged ballad. Though they built their reputation on hard charging thrash, Metallica have always been amazing balladeers, because they always avoided the clichés the 80s hair metal bands built their hits around. Metallica always understood when to stomp on the overdrive. The song is fleshed out with multi-tracked vocal harmonies, a string section, and steel guitar. “Mama Said” is heart-felt and emotionally powerful, written about Hetfield’s mother, who died of cancer when he was only 16.

“Thorn Within” once again promises much, and delivers little. There’s simply no risk taken. It drives straight down the middle of the road Metallica have been building for much of this album. “Ronnie” is painful country/blues infused mid-paced metal. Yep, mid-paced. Again. It’s like the whole album is stuck with the handbrake on.

Don’t expect any mercy just because you have reached the end of the album “Outlaw Torn” creeps promisingly, like a bulldozer track, slowly crawling and crushing all beneath it. And finally, what we’d all been waiting years for but heard only sporadically – Jason Newsted prominent in the mix! His subtle but supple bass weaves through the main theme of the song. With all the ostentatious egos and undoubted talent of other band members here, it’s easy to forget what a maestro Metallica had in their bottom end, but here is one of their greatest resources wasted on a meandering fade out to nothing. This song clocks in at nearly 10 minutes long, but apparently is missing the best part of the song cut off the end, because they ran out of space on a CD. You should have dumped one of the other songs, you stupid bastards!

“Load” is what Metallica felt like they had to record. It’s safe and unchallenging. After all, what do you have left to do once you’ve conquered the metal and musical world? You cement your base by delivering more of the same, without alienating or scaring your massive fan base. There IS a good album in here. It’s just it’s buried under an avalanche of pointless detritus.
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Tupan wrote:
5 months ago
I saw it now, thanks!
Vim Fuego wrote:
5 months ago
@Tupan yes, I've reviewed St. Anger. I've done most of the Metallica studio albums now.
Tupan wrote:
5 months ago
Ah, yes, and Mama Said, beautiful song.
Tupan wrote:
5 months ago
Yep, pretty mediocre album. I like "The House Jack Built", "Until it Sleeps" and the orchestral version of "Hero of The Day", but that's it. Did you review St Anger?
siLLy puPPy wrote:
5 months ago
When i first saw the photos inside it was obvious that they were copying Jane's Addiction so that they could ride the alternative wave of the 90s and although the album is OK it was really the beginning of the end because they never regained their momentum again. This is where i pretty write them off.


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