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Metallica: Metallica

09/09/11  ||  Smalley

While I enjoyed ex-staffer Daemo’s hilariously satirical take on The Blackvst Album as much as anyone, considering the fact that TBA is the best-selling album from the best-selling metal band of all time, and paved the way for the old-school thrashers to change to a more groove-based, “half thrash” style, but still remains a highly divisive record, I figured it could do with a review that talks about its actual characteristics, and why opinions are so split about it.

First off, the legacy of the great “…And justice for all” had a major effect on the direction ‘tallica went on The Black Album: due to the lengths and complexity of the songs on “justice”, they were a big pain in the ass to duplicate live, and wore on the audiences’ patience a bit, so the band was determined to streamline things down for the follow-up. Factor in radio-friendly producer Bob Rock entering the picture, and it’s no surprise when you hear how glossy the production is on TBA, along with how simplified and relatively commercial the songwriting is.

However, sell-out record that it may be, I still can’t fault how basically good the album sounds, or how catchy some of the songs are; there should be no argument that the intro on opener “Enter sandman” is timeless, with that eerie, echoing guitar line, followed by Jason’s bubbling bass and tentative jabs of Hetfield’s rhythm guitar, until things blow up into… dumbed-down, MTV-friendly riffing that never really threatens??

Unfortunately yes, which is the big paradox for me with The Black Album; it is well executed, and isn’t an objectively-bad clusterfuck like “St. anger”, but what the band is actually executing here still isn’t very challenging, either for them or the listener. It’s like they set out to record an album full of shorter, ready-made radio singles, and indeed, exactly half the songs here did become singles. For example, take how in “Sandman”, you hear a pretty predictable progression from verse to chorus and then back again, with a big solo and breakdown that also fail to surprise, and most of the rest of the album basically sticks to that level of safeness. The tempos are often too easy-going, and while the riffs are catchy, they still aren’t aggressive enough, which is a shame, considering how TBA really does have a nice, strong rhythm guitar sound, and I would’ve loved to hear Metallica use it for some heavier, more ambitious songs, instead of what we ended up with.

Anyway, after “Enter sandman”, even if the album doesn’t really challenge you, it still entertains decently with catchy cuts like “Sad but true”, “Wherever I may roam”, “Holier than thou”, etc., while “Of wolf and man” & “The god that failed” give us a temporary picture of the heavier direction I would’ve preferred seeing here, and finally, metal ballad ( not power ballad) “The unforgiven” hearkens back to the legitimate emotion of something like “Fade to black” or “To live is to die”, with its outpour of tender, genuine feeling.

However, even after accepting TBA on its own commercialized terms, there still remain some duds; “My friend of misery” has this pathetic, Droopy Dog feel to it, “Through the never” is a half-hearted attempt at thrashier riffing, and while I do think the sentiment behind “Nothing else matters” was genuine (probably), the actual product still feels like a pussy power ballad on the same level of “Every rose has its thorn”. Finally, “Don’t tread on me” is a fucken embarrassing, jingoistic attempt at creating a sort of patriotic, national metal anthem. Hetfield said it was written to provide an opposing voice to the somewhat anti-American lyrics on “Justice” (even though being unpatriotic is completely fucken metal), but even he later admitted the song’s an embarrassment to the name Metallica (not in so many words, but you can just tell he hates it too). Outside of the “St. anger” garbage, it’s one of Metallica’s very worst songs.

Fortunately, besides those misfires, even though TBA won’t kick you in the balls or engage you intellectually at all, it’s still pretty decent fun. I can easily sympathize with the haters, as this is pretty much a sell-out album, and I don’t listen to it anywhere as much as I do “Lighting”, “Puppets”, or “Justice”, but I still feel it’s been trashed a bit too much ever since every single metalhead’s girlfriend went out and bought it after hearing “Nothing else matters” on the radio. Manage to accept it on its own terms, and you just may enjoy it. And even if you don’t, I won’t hold it against you.


  • Information
  • Released: 1991
  • Label: Elektra
  • Website:
  • Band
  • James Hetfield: vocals, guitars
  • Kirk Hammett: guitars
  • Lars Ulrich: drums
  • Jason Newsted: bass
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Enter Sandman
  • 02. Sad But True
  • 03. Holier Than Thou
  • 04. The Unforgiven
  • 05. Wherever I May Roam
  • 06. Don’t Tread On Me
  • 07. Through The Never
  • 08. Nothing Else Matters
  • 09. Of Wolf And Man
  • 10. The God That Failed
  • 11. My Friend Of Misery
  • 12. The Struggle Within