Metallica’s 1991 self-titled album, best known as The Black Album, a record which has remained a sort of crossroads for the legendary hyper thrash/hyper progressive foursome, has for a long time been the best-selling album in the history of Nielsen Soundscan. Now, the record has become the first album to scan over 16 million units in SoundScan’s history.
The Black Album also holds the record for the most weeks spent on the Billboard 200 chart in the Nielsen SoundScan era, perched high up atop that vaunted spot for a mind-boggling 307 weeks and counting, as well as being the third-longest charted record in Billboard history. This distinction makes The Black Album only trail behind only two other seminal and influential records which hold the number one and two spot in that category — Pink Floyd’s sonic landmark Dark Side of the Moon and singer/songwriter Carole King’s emotional and complex pop music magnum opus Tapestry respectively. It’s also the sixth longest-charting album of any kind in Billboard history.
Of those 307 weeks the album spent on the Billboard 200, interestingly enough, this year saw the record run 20 consecutive weeks. According to the press release, the album’s resurge in popular is due in part by Metallica’s Grammy Awards performance this past January, as well as the home video release soon after of the band’s music film Metallica Through the Never.
And while diehard Metallica fans may not agree that The Black Album is the crown jewel in the band’s long and richly varied repertoire, there’s no denying what this album – the band’s fifth studio release — did for the band and the music scene in general when it was first released. It cut like a laser beam right through the flannel-laden, weathered blue-jeaned and post-post-post punk strains of grunge, which was just starting to blaze its own musical trails, sat side-by-side with that genre and a sea of hip hop, pop and heavy metal, and carved its own piece in rock granite.
But what it also did was polarize a lot of fans who had followed Metallica since they played small clubs in the early 1980s that were packed to the rafters with rabid fans and folk of the band, who at that time had original bassist Cliff Burton, who now, almost 30 years in the wake of his death, remains an iconic figure in the band’s history and in music history.
With their first proper release Kill ‘Em All — which was like a wrench in the eyeballs of hammer attack sound that had the fury of an out-of-control serial killer plying his trade coupled with the kind of arrangements that would be found in the King Crimson/Yes/Rush songbooks, which even at that early stage, seared tight shut the band’s sound, their image and their “just the facts ma’am” kind of view on nihilism, budding apocalypse, and a full-frontal descent into the kinds of themes Pink Floyd would explore (alienation, madness, etc.) — the musical presence of Metallica was not to be denied or ignored. With each subsequent release (Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, …And Justice For All), the band rose to even greater astronomical heights, while still remaining 100 percent true to the sound, image, and fan base they finely and meticulously crafted and honed expertly.
By the time The Black Album was released in 1991 to instantaneous success, it vaulted the band, which had still clung to the weakest of branches as a cult out with the prior release …And Justice For All, (which was the band’s first full-length studio album in the wake of Burton’s death) to super stardom. Produced by Bob Rock, who was known for his successful yet arguable approach to rock ballads and the like, gave the sort of slight shellacking to the band and the record, which retained their overall power, but stripped the band down and stretched them in further ranges while doing so as evidenced by the hit tracks “Enter Sandman (with it’s power riff which in a way acted as like the Deep Purple “Smoke on the Water” riff for a new generation),” “Sad But True,” Unforgiven,” and others. There’s always the oft-repeated claim that “the original band never would have done the kinds of things they did on The Black Album, blah, blah…,” but Bob Rock and the confidence of the band to allow him and themselves into the directions he was guiding them, was able to make them do these kinds of things. And again, while no one can argue about the financial success of the band, it’s the overall end result of the songs, manner of execution, and presentation that brings some of the most heated debates from fans of Metallica and critics worldwide (who, at The Black Album‘s original release, mostly gave high marks in terms of praise for the album).
Now, over 20 years later, The Black Album still remains Metallica’s most controversial piece of recorded music… and the most successful. It took Metallica to heights and arenas, which to this day still endures, even if the band has hit a couple of musical landmines along the way. The fact that it attained this summit via the Soundscan ratings and sales, will only bring up further discussion about the record and what it means and remains for millions upon millions of Metallica fans around the globe.
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
*The CD from Amazon is an AutoRip, which means when you purchase the CD, you get the MP3 version for FREE.