Looking Back at the Post “Black Album Metallica” with Grown Man Vision
As many people that follow us on here can imagine, I’m a bit of a metal head.
Much more so than my lovely wife and co-conspiriter in this mayhem we call La Fin Absolute Du Monde. Heavily influenced by the the 80’s Thrash Metal sound that was being crafted in my area (Metallica actually relocated to the El Cerrito/Richmond boarder when they moved from L.A.)
as well as the harder edge more locally influenced hip hop of the late 80’s early 90’s as well. All of which was blossoming all around me everyday. I guess I’m pretty lucky growing up in a musical mecca like the Bay Area. Home of the so many legendary acts from various genres of music. Now that we live inside of not just any music rehearsal studio, but one that boasts a rich history featuring some of the most influential and interesting artists you can imagine. Oh, I also get the privilege of working here too! Just the other day, I had to help change drum heads for Willie Sparks of Graham Central Station and Sly and the Family Stone fame. It’s an interesting life to say the least. Talking Dallas football with Gene Hoglan, having Bill Gould from Faith No More ask me how the new record is doing, at times it can be surreal.
There is a picture here at the studio. A picture I see everyday on my way to cleaning the restrooms. It’s a giant poster of Metallica from the Black Album. Apparently they rehearsed for the Black Album at one of the owner’s other studios called Jackson St. also here in Oakland, California. One day while mopping I stared at the poster and thought about this iconic band. A band, that to this day is STILL one of the biggest bands, in metal, not just metal. They’re probably one of the biggest bands in the world. I started thinking back to what made me fall in love with this band, and this style of music in the first place. I was about 9 or so. I lived most of the time with my grandparents in the tiny suburb of El Cerrito, California. They were a consistent rock for me while I was shuffled back and forth with my divorced parents. Simple, kind, giving religious people who didn’t bother with, and pretty much refused to get cable. So as a kid I watched A LOT of PBS. Maybe that’s where I fell in love with Ken Burns and documentaries..? WHO KNOWS? Anyway, there was a documentary they aired on punk music. Particularly how the NY scene influenced the heavily influential UK scene. The Sex Pistols and all those bands. I don’t know if it was the attitude, the clothes or what, but THIS SHIT LOOKED HELLA COOL! While staying at my grandmothers, her nephew Kenny was a reoccurring visitor. Often coming over to in a bit of a drunken stupor at various hours of the night, I never knew what to think of him. He was much older, but he had dreads and an uncompromising style and was highly intelligent. The following days when he sobered up he’d either help me with my homework, or just hang out with me. I knew he was into different music, he’d tell me about these shows he would attend and he’d mention bands that weren’t on the pop music MTV radar at the time (which was all I had when I’d go see my dad or stay with my mom). After watching the PBS punk documentary, I told him that I was into heavy punk music. He looked at me and said, “Oh yeah? Like who?” In all honesty I didn’t know any bands other than the Sex Pistols. So I blurted that out. He looked at me with a bit of a side eye. He was probably understanding that I was just 9 or 10 and didn’t know shit about quality music, he offered to make me a “punk rock mix tape”. A few days later it was in my hands and being played on my very primitive clock radio tape deck. London Calling by the Clash was the first song.
I had no idea what I was listening too. I just knew I liked it. I loved the attitude, the dissonance, but for me, the music was still missing something. A few years later in at Adams Middle School I would find that something. Metallica.
Like most grade schools even todays kids don’t really get a chance to show their personality during that time period. We all pretty much wore what was laid out for us until we actually wanted to request clothes that reflected what we actually cared about. So I didn’t really see any heavy metal swag on my peers until I reached jr. high school. I can’t remember any grade school “cliques” but I sure did realize them in my 6th grade year at Adams Middle School. I remember there were a group of kids with Metallica t-shirts, cut off denim vests with patches and long hair. For the next few years these kids were my introduction into the world of heavy metal. Some of them were a bit older, but for the most part we were all the same grade. While they knew nothing of the punk/hardcore music that I started out with, they were encyclopedias on metal. I befriended one and we shared a locker. Phillip. He got me started down the hard rocking rabbit hole. He had these cool Motley Crue shirts. Motley Crue shirts were a bit heavier than the party fuck music they wrote post Shout at the Devil. Phillip would let me borrow his Motley Crue tapes. These tapes became my bedtime music. Equipped with an auto reverse tape deck it was all night Crue. Too Fast For Love was on constant rotation. It had the attitude, it was a bit heavy. More polished than the punk, but still missing something. I wanted to hear Metallica. All the headbanger kids had the shirts, but wouldn’t let me borrow their Metallica tapes. Too precious these were to be in the hands OF ANYONE else. Finally one of the older headbangers told me for $6 I could borrow his Metallica, “Jump in the Fire” single for a few months.
I couldn’t get home fast enough to put this album in my tape deck. WOW! This, this is EXACTLY what I had been looking for. I had heard Zepplin, Van Halen, Motley Crue, and some punk stuff, but this music here was exactly what I was looking for. Furiously heavy, with frightening lyrics. Cover art that made me love it even more. I would read the album credits and discover more acts to quench my thirst for this ferocious brand of music. I stare endless at the cover art for hours. Fantasizing about being in my own metal band. Hours upon hours of headbanging with a pillow case or t-shirt on my head emulating the actions of my long haired guitar heroes. After finding out money was the key to borrowing these tapes from the headbangers, I would save lunch money to buy tapes from them, or have them make me copies of the albums. Albums my mother forbid me to have. Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and finally the opus. The album we had been waiting for…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.
A lot has been said about Justice over the years, and I have to agree with the main complaint, NO BASS. It was just guitars and double bass. It was perfect to my ears. The cover, the pictures of the band in the back. I would read those lyrics over and over again. I thought Jamyz Hetfield was the world’s most the smartest man alive. While everyone else was crowing U2 and R.E.M the most important bands in the world, this record was the album that birthed literally a million bands. The mid range crunch that became the standard sound for heavy metal for years to come. For me, that sound was perfected on that record. Quick side note, after I dubbed Justice from my good friend Paul in I guess it was around 7th grade. My mother took me to a Sizzler restaurant in Pinole, California. It was a nice break from the steady fast food diet we had back then. I couldn’t tell you why she did it, sometimes she just wanted to hang out. At this point she was treating me like a big boy/young man pre-teen. I got to go the salad bar and get what I wanted. As I went up to the salad bar (which back in the day was BOMB) I was awed by the colorful selection of pre-made salads and other assorted treats. I was probably more excited that I could get EXACTLY what I wanted. I was so excited that ran into the very large gentleman in front of me. I looked up to say sorry and it was Metallica’s singer, rhythm guitar player, THEE Jaymz Hetfiled. He looked over to see what hit him, then down and saw it was a scared child. He chuckled. He then sat right across from my mother and I. I was too terrified to say anything since I felt bad for some reason for dubbing the …And Justice for All record, and I thought he knew that.
Fast forward a few years later and we are all waiting for the new Metallica record. Was it going to be heavier? Faster? Could there actually be a better opening riff than “Blackened”? The Black Album would follow Justice. The bands most successful record, and the record with the most videos. Now, Metallica were MTV darlings. The kings of underground Heavy Metal, and band you couldn’t hear on the radio, NEVER SAW on TV, and refused to be MTV hair metal fodder by not making a music video. It was not until “Enter Sandman” that they were on MTV 24/7. I tried to like it, but it wasn’t heavy enough. Megadeth had just released Rust in Peace (maybe that band’s best work)or for me heavy metal perfection. The Black Album didn’t hit me the same way. Every new video was further and further away from the Metallica that fueled my testosterone filled pre-teen years with headbanging rage. I never hated the songs, they just weren’t for me at the time. These songs had something that no metal at the time had. Unbelievable melody and last by not least, Mass Appeal. Now, every girl that sported a Cinderella, or Poison shirt at my school now had had the Black Album to add to their collection. Even if the record didn’t resonate with me like the previous 4, I was proud of Metallica. They were nominated for a Grammy, played award shows, they were becoming the biggest band in the world.
Following the massive success of the Black Album, Metallica would go on release one of the more controversial albums of their catalog to date. Load. If the Black Album was a slight departure in the thrashy sound that Metallica had ushered in the 80’s, then Load was a quantum leap in the socially acceptable direction. The long hair was cut. The tight black pants and sneakers (the look I STILL ADMIRE TO THIS DAY!) was replaced with pimp suits, cigars and martinis.
Even the font on the album was changed. Gone was the Metallica logo that had graced so many book covers and notebooks throughout Jr. High. This was not a thrash record. This wasn’t even really a metal record. It was a very radio friendly stadium rock record. STADIUM ROCK? Metallica? What? The heavy metal press went crazy talking at length about the LACK OF length of Metallica’s hair. But the band that played the Stone in San Francisco and Ruthie’s Inn in Berkeley was now an arena band.
This album is where the term “sellout” was being used every time Metallica’s name was brought in a heavy metal discussion. While most metal fans were split on the Black Album, it was pretty much universally accepted by the metal community that Metallica was now a hard rock act. More on par with Bon Jovi than Motorhead (R.I.P Lemmy). Did Metallica sell their soul to make a buck? Were they just a bunch of money grubbing rock stars cashing in…?
First off, as an artist I’d like to say that we all strive for some sort of success. That success is all relative. Living and working at Soundwave Studios here in Oakland, I’ve gotten to meet many 80’s thrash bands. Much like punk and hardcore before them, I don’t think huge stereotypical rock star like success playing this type of music, that was only played after midnight on MTV (Headbangers Ball if you were lucky) and got NO RADIO AIRPLAY, I don’t think 11 million records sold was even on the radar for these guys. I was talking at length about this particular record (Load) with Stavros Giannopoulos lead vocalist of the band The Atlas Moth. He’s a actually a fan of this record. And listening to this record with adult ears and not the childlike connection to the previous releases, I have a new appreciation for it. It’s not my favorite. I’m not putting it on at the Planet Fitness when I’m on the treadmill…but I get it now. I don’t think the band “sold out” as much as they starting writing songs for the arena, and the massive audience they were acquiring not just the metal dudes in their “scene”. Metallica, at this point no longer was a part of a scene. They were officially on another planet from their contemporaries. Gone were the riff filled 7 minute songs, more streamlined made for radio songs. While the metal underground, which at this time, 1994, was starting to completely splintered into sub genres was hating Load. So, up stepped a new crop of fans that had jumped on the Metallica train with the MTV mainstay, “Enter Sandman” and the Black Album. For them, Load was the perfect follow up.
When an article in a local magazine here in the Bay Area called BAM titled, “And Hair Cuts for All” I immediately was turned off by the title. They were just hating. If Metallica wants to cut their hair, they can do that. I mean does the length of hair really mean that much?
After hearing and seeing the video for “Until it Sleeps” I knew this wasn’t going to be the same Metallica. I pretty much dismissed the record and jumped on the bandwagon of disgust with everyone else. Listening to it now I don’t know if it’s as bad as I previously thought. Coming from personal experience, when we (La Fin Absolute Du Monde) come up with music ,we do write with crowd reaction in mind. We’ve always wanted our live show, and records for that matter to ebb and flow like a good suspenseful movie. Taking you on a journey. We truly expressed that in our most recent release, Clarity Amongst the Rubble. We also tend to play with more heavier bands, and has effected the growth of our sound. That being said, we made sure the record had some heavier cuts, and the live show is a heavy moving experience. Now if for whatever reason, we started selling a shit ton of records, crowds got exponentially bigger, I’m sure there would be a bit of change in our sound. I think that too is what happened to Load era Metallica. I don’t think they “sold out” and made music they didn’t like. That for me would is the definition selling out. I think they were allowed to finally get in touch with a different side of them that they couldn’t express being immersed in the thrash world. I mean these guys were influenced just as much by Aerosmith and KISS as they were by Diamond Head and Saxon.
Another thing people forget about Metallica is that they seem to do what they want to do. When video was making people overnight sensations, they stayed away. Opting to tour, tour and tour some more. Looks like it’s worked out pretty good for those dudes. The most punk rock, metal thing for a band so synonymous with heavy/thrash/speed metal to do was make a complete departure from what they had been doing, and challenge themselves and make a great rock record. Not a great metal record, but a great ROCK record. They had done metal to death. Was there really anywhere for it to go after the Black Album?
That’s a bit of my 2 cents about Load, I’m going to more in depth on the other records that followed in another post. For now, I’d love to hear your opinions on this…