Album Review : Metallica - Load (1996)
I'm one of the few people who have defended Metallica's sixth studio album Load for the last twenty-two years. It's interesting. The music sure isn't nowhere near as great as anything that came beforehand, but it marks the moment where Metallica stopped being the sophisticated, groundbreaking thrash metal band we all knew and loved. They turned to a heavy, bluesy brand of alternative rock that wasn't bad at all, yet was heavily criticized by fans. I've listened to Load a couple times again in preparation for this review and found out that... maybe the criticism was somewhat warranted after all. It's really not that good of an album.
There are some of my favorite Metallica songs on Load. For example, King Nothing has every element of their canonical work, except maybe for a long and complex guitar solo: an instantly recognizable guitar riff; powerful and introspective lyrics that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways and a catchy fucking chorus. Screaming "WHERE'S YOUR CROWN KING NOTHIIIINNNG?" is fun as hell. Same goes the first single Until It Sleeps, which is more or a low key, tormented song that progressed into what I thought would be Metallica's song from here on now: a darker, heavier, more sophisticated brand spin off alternative rock.
Oh, I was wrong.
I like other songs on Load. The House Jack Built, Bleeding Me and to a certain extent Hero of the Day all fit the mold I've described in the above paragraph. But that fucking album is over an hour long. The songs range from four to ten minutes and don't have nowhere near the complexity of their earlier material. Anthony Fantano said in his Metallica retrospective that if you took the best halves of Load and Reload and make it into one album, it would be a classic. And he was absolutely right. Load is a bloated, self-indulgent album that outsays its welcome a little past halfway in, but the inspired songs on it are actually pretty fucking good.
Here's an example of 10 solid minutes of padding. Ain't My Bitch is a rather simple, oddly efficient butt-rock anthem built around a basic guitar riff. It's decent and moderately catchy, but nothing we like about Metallica to it. Then, the follow-up 2x4 starts and it's, to a couple details, the same fucking song. Coming from a band that would never ever cut corners for over a decade, I can understand the disappointment in perspective. I have a personal grudge against Mama Said on this album, too. Who the fuck that buys a Metallica album wants to hear a country song? But I have to admit it stands out in the long, sludgy and uninspired last leg of Load.
I have this theory that The Outlaw Torn was written solely for the sake of making Mama Said seem more acceptable to fans who were bleeding from their ears, but that's a debate for another day.
In retrospect, I probably liked the idea of Load better than I liked Load itself. Metallica had a right to change their style. They had already started to tone in down with the black album, they were getting older, changing and they were also desperate to get through the nineties. If a band doesn't have it in them to keep such a high level output, they should have a right to seek inspiration wherever it comes from. But Load is not even half of an inspired album. And it fucking lasts forever. I still don't mind the change of style on the album, but what I have a grudge against is the letting go of the integrity and work ethic that characterized the band's earlier efforts. There is still a lot of talent on this record, but there's some disconnected millionaire decision-making too.