Review Summary: Too slow.
It’s one thing to change your sound. It’s another to make it sell records. Metallica definitely sold records before; …and Justice for All was a very popular album; but this album made Metallica really big. Like, they could probably have every groupie ever big. They could ride the wings of dreams. They could… you know, they were pretty much the biggest superstars you could ever think of. This album sold, and by sold I mean, you, your mom and your dad, your cousin, brother and sister-in-law, aunt, and probably the pedo down the street have heard this album. That’s just to give you an idea of how big this album is.
But big doesn’t necessarily mean good. There’s plenty of albums that sold lots of records that are complete (united) abominations: “American Idiot” anyone? “St Anger”? “Minutes to Midnight?” Any Limp Bizkit album ever? Metallica have already fallen into that category in their later career, as anyone with a grain of honesty will admit that Metallica died after this album: and no, Death Magnetic is not a resurrection. It’s as terrible as all the previous albums. It’s the best since this album, but that’s saying that a retarded kid with an IQ of 60 is not as retarded with a kid with an IQ of 40; it doesn’t matter, you’re still retarded. The problem is that with this album, people are on the fence – it’s not bad by any means, but it’s not Master of Puppets either.
The flaw doesn’t lie in the production like with …Justice though. Everything is crystal clear, no more hazing Jason Newsted out of the mix; the twelve songs, courtesy of a new producer, made it a really shiny album. In fact, before this album, metal had never sounded that polished, and that’s excluding the glam metal extravagances (or some would say, including the author, faggotries) of the 1980s. Heavy music was never this accessible, and it’s definitely got the shine and sound of a big album. Even listening to it in 2009 doesn’t feel that dated, given that Metallica’s latest outputs have featured one of the ***tiest production jobs since whores produced blow jobs with teeth.
I think the issue lies mostly in some of the material. One problem with this album is not that Metallica sold out – the material is still metal as such – but it’s too slow. It features a more mid-tempo, slow approach, and it lends the song a plodding feel, like they’re trudging through dirt, instead of moshing around in it. There’s just nothing that makes you want to bash heads in like Seek and Destroy does. It just goes nowhere. Even when the mid-tempo songs are good (and they groove like hell), it makes the absence of faster material still make it sound like it needs a gargantuan kick up the ass. It’s like the album is on cruise control all the time and it just doesn’t want to hit the gas. That doesn’t make songs like “Sad But True” or “Wherever I May Roam” bad, though – quite the contrary, most of these songs are good, and some of them are winners positively. But I can’t help but feel that things like Struggle Within, Holier than Thou, and the like would have benefited from some fast double bass action, just to keep up the variety.
The other thing is that the ballads make you want to cringe and hit something. The Unforgiven is terrible, wimpy, and the vocals are annoying to all hell. Nothing Else Matters is a nice song, but it’s been overplayed to hell and has been granted a gargantuan status that in hindsight, the conventional nature of the song doesn’t hugely merit. Of course everyone loves to play it on guitar, but by now most people are probably thoroughly sick of the song, and I know I am – and nothing else matters. Metallica aren’t cut out for slow balladry – they need to finish a song with power, in the vein of Sanitarium, One or Fade to Black. The ending groove just elevates these songs. Again, the mid-tempo trudge is a problem for this album.
It’s not that I want to bag this album because it got popular. This album has merit, as Metallica did step out of their comfort zone after the overly complex and inaccessible …And Justice for All. If you take most of the songs individually, they are definitely worthy, and it is understandable that a song like Sad But True is a mainstay in their set list. I just can’t help but wish for some more speed though; it is too meandering and dull for it to be of any real consequence. It’s an album that wasn’t a bad idea at the time, but it doesn’t completely deserve the accolades, on account of the filler and irrelevant material. In a real world, Master of Puppets would have outsold this, and in a real world, their biggest hit would have been Fade to Black. But it went differently, and Metallica are now on the bottom of the metal heap. How the mighty have fallen…