There are two kinds of bands. Those who become famous for a particular sound, and then stick to it throughout their careers, like Maiden and Slayer. The other sorts try to change their sound, with varying degrees of success. Metallica tried to cross over as one of these in the Re/Load era, and got truckloads of flak for ‘selling out’ (ably assisted by Lar$ Ulrich in the NAPSTER controversy). I wanted to check out what the big bleeding deal was all about. The first Metallica song I heard was Memory Remains (from S&M. What a weird place to start with Metallica!), which I loved a lot. Given that I love a few songs from this era (like Memory Remains, Fuel and I Disappear), I was inclined to like Load.
If you ask me what I think of it over all, I’d say it’s an OK album. Nothing great. No big shit. And as a result, it’s a disappointment. The Re/Load era of Metallica is not at its best on Load. What hurts (and why I understand it was criticized on launch) is that it seems to have a few good but not that great songs interspersed with ‘album songs’, tunes meant to occupy the running time of the record. If a band changes its style, it’s expected (and perhaps in some eyes, proper) for the style to be so convincing as to shut out the puritans. Case in point, Pantera Cowboys from Hell onwards. Load is obviously not that kind of record. I was ready to like this a lot, but I can’t help but miss the power that earlier albums had. I miss it.
Paradoxically though, I really really like the song Mama Said. Hetfield sings with somewhat tear-chucking honesty. If I could give him some advice right now, it would be to try out all genres of singing. I see no limits to his gravelly baritone. It’s magnificent and it dominates the record. He leaves his signature even on the slower parts of the songs, where he (in a positive evolution) doesn’t sound all too aware that he is a heavy metal singer singing quietly as opposed to a singer, full stop.
Err…hmm….what else? Using straight power chords as opposed to jigajigajiga palm-muting is a good idea, which doesn’t come off well, as the riffery is quite unmemorable. The heavy bluesy riffing with aggressive guitar tones lead me to believe this is a Thrash-Blues record in places, as opposed to Korn’s ‘heavy groove’, or Pantera’s ‘groove metal’, both of which are far less melodic and uglier.
Guitar soloing is much more flowing stream-of-consciousness than the Section1 – Section2 type of soloing seen before. Despite the skill, and the obvious fit that Hammett is in Metallica, I’m not wild about his soloing, which is curiously joyless at times. I can’t help but think, ‘What if it was Mustaine/Petrucci/Marty Friedman?’ And the Talk Box in ‘The House that Jack Built’ is uninspired and a bit of a distraction. Not that the rest of the song is worth not being distracted from.
Finally, I want to pick a bone with Jason Newsted. He got away in Justice because of the mixing, and in the Black album, ‘cause his playing had to fit behind the guitars for the songs. But here, where stepping out would have vastly alleviated the music, he still chooses to be a shadow of the rhythm guitars. Great player or whatever, but I can think of a few ways per song, that the bass could have been done differently. It’s bitterly disappointing. Where’s his creativity? I see none of it. His time in Metallica is a huge missed opportunity.
The best thing for me about Load was that all of my previously mentioned favourite songs will now be on one record. Reload!! I’m actually looking forward to listening to it. That’ll surely sound right.
P.S. The video for Mama said is crappy.