Review Summary: There's an essential line in the song Mama Said that describes Metallica's 90s musicianship perfectly: "The brightest flame burns quickest."
While listening to the album Load, a concept that I discussed in my last review of Iron Maiden’s The Final Frontier entered my mind again. However, instead of applying it solely to Iron Maiden, this time I applied it to Metallica. To those not familiar with this idea, it’s that there is a bold line drawn between fans who only want the same classic album produced time after time by their favorite band, and those who are more open-minded to the different experiments and themes that their band explores.
In Iron Maiden’s case, I found myself belonging to the latter side of this line. However, this is only because when Iron Maiden experimented with progressive elements, they concocted brilliant epics, balanced out with enough classic-sounding shorter songs to keep their overall style varied and interesting. All in all, Maiden tried their hardest, and they delivered.
Metallica on the other hand, did the exact opposite. They took their famous progressive thrash sound that had developed on earlier albums Master of Puppets and ...And Justice For All and simplified it. Like Iron Maiden, Metallica’s evolution didn’t happen all at once, but where Maiden’s increasing use of progressive songs happened over four albums, it only took two albums for Metallica to completely change their sound. And where Iron Maiden’s effort in songwriting got better, Metallica ended up spending less effort to craft their music.
The end results, as everyone knows, were the Load/ReLoad albums. Magnificently lazy and uninspired, the first half of the Load/ReLoad series saw fans on the “classics only” side of the dividing line scream “SELL OUT!” louder than they did when the Black Album was released. And not only are they right, but they didn’t go far enough. Not only is this record an obvious money-grab, but it is also incredibly boring and overlong.
As you keep reading, please bear in mind that I do not believe that “classic” Metallica ceased to exist past 1990. I enjoyed Death Magnetic as well as the Black Album because those albums, like the classics, possessed variety, strong hooks, and interesting solos by Kirk. None of these qualities can be found on Load, and those that say otherwise have to listen to Ride The Lightning again. Many of Load’s songs sound extremely similar, partly due to the fact that almost all of the songs utilize the same monotonous beat by Lars Ulrich. Time signature changes have also been almost completely abandoned, and in those few moments where Metallica breaks out of the mainstream rock mold into something that can actually be called metal, it sounds so out-of-place that it actually does more to bring down the song than to raise it up. Such is the case on songs like “Hero Of The Day” a track which, while it would definitely be labeled filler on even The Black Album, is unfortunately one of the better songs off of Load.
Then there’s Kirk. What do you think is the best company to lazy songs" If you guessed lazy soloing, you were right. Kirk has played so many better solos that anyone familiar with at least one of them will feel disappointed with his performance on this album. The only solo that is even remotely interesting on this album can be found on Bleeding Me, whose bloated length would drive away today’s average music listener before he or she could even get to hear it. In all honesty, when an amateur guitar player like myself could figure out his solos by ear in about an hour, than you know that you’re not listening to the best there is.
As bad as this album is though, there are some bright spots. King Nothing, among the other rockers, stands out as the best of them. And like the Black Album, the softer songs on Load most often house the better moments on the album. Both Mama Said and Until It Sleeps, despite being oddly misplaced on a record of bland radio rock songs, are musically good enough to stand out and possess exceedingly excellent lyrics compared to the other songs. However, besides the fact that these bright spots are amidst many more terrible songs, they are also fairly repetitive, which decreases my ability to recommend anything on this album to other people.
Overall, while it’s true that Metallica was continuing to sell out on a massive scale with the release of Load, this time they did it with a level of mediocrity unmatched even by Judas Priest when they released Turbo. Heartbreakingly greedy and on the whole inexcusable, I recommend Load only to Metallica die-hards and the mostly mindless mass of mainstream media rock listeners.