Metallica Metallica – The Black Album U.S.: CD | MP3 UK: CD | MP3 Recorded October 1990 – June 1991 Released August 13, 1991
At the end of the 1980s, an epic battle was about to take place. Grunge was wafting its sweaty cardigan in the direction of the drainpipe-trousered metallers hoping to lay claim to their throne. One band was not about to concede the new decade to any pretenders and set about writing not only one of the defining albums of the decade, but one of the greatest metal albums of all time. The almighty Black Album arrived, and nobody was going to remove Metallica’s crown.
Officially titled Metallica, it became known as the Black Album thanks to the cover art. It’s black. Released August 13, 1991, it demonstrated a marked change for Metallica. The band’s thrash-heavy, white-hot relentless riffs were replaced by a slower, heavier sound that was less like a machine-gun attack and more like a steady series of hammer blows. On previous albums like …And Justice or All and Master Of Puppets, Metallica showcased their songwriting abilities through epic, challenging musical pieces. This time, however, they went in the opposite direction and kept everything much more simple. The riffs were shorter and catchier and in “Nothing Else Matters” they even have a love song that is actually my favourite track on the album. The galloping riffs of “Through The Never,” “The Struggle Within,” and “Holier Than Thou” prove that Metallica is still the same band. Much of this praise — or blame — was laid at the feet of producer-of-the-moment Bob Rock.
This is the album which did (and still does) divide opinion between not only Metallica fans, but metal fans in general. The black cover artwork could be construed by some as the death of the old Metallica and the beginning of the new. For others it was the beginning of the end, for this was the sound of “Alcoholica” putting an end to their beer-gulping can-crushing ways and becoming a more mature and talented band.
Frontman James Hetfield has never sounded so good. His angry howl still in full flow on “Of Wolf And Man,” but this time he gets to sing ‘properly’ on “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters.” I adore listening to Kirk Hammett’s guitar solos on this album. He reminds me of a wrecking ball, charging in with a smoking solo and playing with utter joy.
Whereas before (and especially since) it sometimes sounds as though Lars Ulrich is pounding on his drums trying to keep up with the furious pick strumming of Hetfield, on the Black Album, Ulrich is totally in control and dictates the pace and power throughout. It’s somewhat of a shame that bassist Jason Newsted doesn’t more space on the album, but his performance is still faultless.
The Black Album opened the doors for a much wider audience and introduced people who were not so inclined before to start listening to heavier music, thanks in part to the album’s big hit “Enter Sandman.” Metallica did not sell-out, they stripped down their sound and whether by luck or design it became more accessible to a more mainstream audience and has since gone on to become one of the highest-selling metal albums of all time.
Despite the protests by those early Metallica purists, who cried loudly that this was the final pop nail in Metallica’s metal coffin as they feathered their mullets and cradled a copy of 1983’s Kill ‘Em All, the Black Album is still spectacularly heavy. To me, it is closer to something by Black Sabbath than early ‘Tallica, but it still has an edge that was unparalleled in 1991.
1 – Enter Sandman 2 – Sad But True 3 – Holier Than Thou 4 – The Unforgiven 5 – Wherever I May Roam 6 – Don’t Tread On Me 7 – Through The Never 8 – Nothing Else Matters 9 – Of Wolf And Man 10 – The God That Failed 11 – My Friend Of Misery 12 – The Struggle Within