RECORD REVIEW | "LOAD" BY METALLICA
photo & text by nacrowe
METALLICA's LOAD (ELEKTRA, 1996) album (along with its sibling RELOAD) is unfairly DISCARDED and critically DERIDED often as the moment the band lost their way from which they have been, in essence, crawling back ever since.
i dont think thats entirely fair.
this record was my introduction to the band back in the summer of 1996. at the time i was very much into SOUNDGARDEN, DINOSAUR JR, FAITH NO MORE, ALICE IN CHAINS and NIRVANA as well as a few bands i had discovered in the past year like RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and TOOL. to my ears, LOAD sounded like a more than COMPETENT, above average ALTERNATIVE ROCK record that fit well in that milieu. i was of course naive to their history nad previous incarnation, a gap that was filled later that summer when i bought their back catalogue at a local NEW JERSEY record that had a sale on such. it was then that i realized that their past discography was REVELATORY. i still feel that RIDE THE LIGHTNING (review linked HERE) and MASTER OF PUPPETS (review linked HERE) are UNTOUCHABLE and BULLETPROOF even when compared to the likes of peers and contemporaries like SLAYER and JUDAS PRIEST. it was then that i appreciated the distance between those FLEMMING RASMUSSEN-produced 80s records and the revamped BOB ROCK-produced 90s incarnation of their sound. it was like two DIFFERENT bands.
and so when i think of LOAD now it is a bit of an expectations game. i think on its own terms there is some great material on this record that saw the band go way outside the sonic palette they permitted themselves beforehand. specifically songs like "BLEEDING ME" and "THE OUTLAW TORN" are EXPERIMENTAL standouts that are singularly EMOTIONAL and EVOCATIVE and definitely hit a chord when i first heard them as an early teenager. i think where the critiques pile-up are often in regards to the string of DERIVATIVE mid-tempo blues-based songs like "2 X 4," "POOR TWISTED ME," "HERO OF THE DAY," "AIN'T MY BITCH," and "THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT" that feel LISTLESS and without the punch and unflinching TECHNICALITY that established the band in the 1980s and was their signature pre-METALLICA (review linked HERE). i will say that there are some mid-tempo tracks that work in my opinion like "UNTIL IT SLEEPS," "WASTING MY HATE" and "THORN WITHIN," but really the band should have stopped after those three. the others are completely TIRED and REDUNDANT. unlike other fans and critics, i have no problem with the COUNTRIFIED TOM WAITS-inspired "MAMA SAID." perhaps it shouldve been a b-side or something put on a side project or solo album, but i feel like it is a SOLID song that holds up and adds another facet to JAMES HETFIELD's capacity as a SONGWRITER. as a whole the record just feels like a bit of a LETDOWN relative to their past output.
and that is probably the point in the end. the band undoubtedly felt like they were becoming an ANACHRONISM and no doubt paid attention to their new ALTERNATIVE ROCK peers over the previous half decade. i wouldnt say the record is a failure, but it is more of an OUTLIER in their catalogue. and it was done that way by design. relative to the 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK pack this record definitely holds its weight in terms of sonic EXPERIMENTALISM and overall SONG-CRAFT. relative to their 1980s THRASH METAL discography, the record is a completely different animal and its a bit UNFAIR to compare it to such. and that is the kicker. LOAD has long been a litmus test for fans about how much they love the back catalogue and wish the band would satisfy that METAL itch. in years since the band has largely listened and attempt to re-ingratiate themselves with varying results.
to me LOAD represent the last time the band was UNFILTERED and FREE to pursue their own course before the fans had their say. arguably the later LULU (WARNER BROS, 2011) collaboration with LOU REED was another example, but id argue that such an opportunity was never gonna be curtailed. plus REED was very much in control of that record.
do i recommend LOAD. absolutely. but if you are aware of the band's 80s output just go into it with an OPEN mind. im sure thats what any artist wants in the end anyway.
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