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Metallica - Metallica [Aka: The Black Album] CD (album) cover




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3.26 | 548 ratings

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4 stars After "And Justice for All" went zooming all the way up the charts to the #6 spot in the late 80s, establishing Metallica as a lot more than a raucous quartet of California thrashers in the process, I sense that the band members felt that they'd gone about as far as they could go with their uniquely furious and edgy motif. They, like many other bands that've put out several full-length CDs and a handful of EPs, stood at a crossroads. They could continue to churn out what had garnered them not only a huge throng of loyal followers across the globe but also the respect of the entire music industry for carving out a niche for themselves. The risk involved in staying on the safe course is the very real possibility of becoming stale and predictable. Their other option was to go where their muse and their recently-hired producer, the aptly named Bob Rock, took them. Bob had made a name for himself by helping to make hit albums for Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and The Cure. Metallica's collective hope was that he'd not only push them to their creative limits but that he'd more faithfully capture the music they heard rumbling in their heads along with the power they generated on the live stage. Easier said than done, though. Especially when it turned out that Mr. Rock's skull was just as hard as theirs. There was a massive amount of head-butting going on during the three years, the three mixes and the million bucks in studio time it took to make this record but I have to say that it was worth it. I'm a big fan of albums that sound incredible and this one does. I was never into speed metal per se but did consider Metallica to be the best of the lot. Yet when I heard these tunes on the radio I realized that the band had evolved and become more than a one trick pony act. They were ready for the major leagues.

They start with what has become my favorite song of theirs, "Enter Sandman." My first reaction was "Wonder of wonders! I finally hear a bass guitar!" Why they never noticed or tried to do something about the lack of deep thunder in their recordings before is a mystery to me but I'm glad they figured it out. This tune has one of those immortal killer riffs that grabs you by the billiards and then worms its way into your psyche. With this track I felt like I was at last hearing how truly talented these guys were. It may not be as prog-related as some of their earlier material but when something rocks this hard who gives a steaming turd? This gets me off and I crank it up every time it comes on. "Sad But True" follows and, frankly it's born from the same metal mindset that I found on their previous records but what makes the difference is, fidelity-wise, it's as if they went from shooting in fuzzy black & white to glorious Technicolor and it sounds amazing. Kirk Hammett's and James Hetfield's guitar work is less showy and more passionate than before, which I consider a plus. "Holier Than Thou" is next and there's no dearth of ferocity on this baby. It screams. I noticed that James' vocal is clearer and more understandable this time around yet he doesn't sacrifice an iota of his aggressive mien. It's stunning what a little depth of field can do for a good song and "The Unforgiven" is a fine example. The attention they gave to the dynamics involved is noticeable and the overall arrangement works like a charm. It was quite refreshing to hear Hetfield sing and not bellow and growl constantly. He was obviously maturing into a vocalist of note. The ever-mystical electric sitar sets up a distinctive aura for "Wherever I May Roam" before the tune's energized riff takes over and they proceed to kick the studio walls down. Kirk's guitar solo is fiery and the rhythm section of Lars Ulrich and Jason Newsted is as solid as Georgia's Stone Mountain.

The heavy shuffle beat they employ to drive "Don't Tread on Me" provides a welcome change of pace at this juncture. They definitely weren't restricting themselves to stick to a "normal" progression on this number and I find the song's structure interesting. "Through the Never" follows and any of their devotees who were missing their speed demon side were undoubtedly happy with this barnburner. It's a very tightly performed adrenaline-fed rocker held together by Lars' remarkably restrained drumming. The group unveiled their sensitive persona on "Nothing Else Matters," a poignant composition featuring a light orchestral score that adds a proggy touch. I admire them for letting the song go where it needed to go. It took some guts to do something in a quieter vein but it paid off handsomely. It's one of their best efforts. They then kick the door apart on the beginning of "Of Wolf and Man" just to assure their fans that they haven't turned into Journey but it's also the most humdrum number on the album. Hammett does shred his guitar ride properly, though, saving it from being overly pedestrian. "The God that Failed" is next and again, it was so refreshing to hear a palpable and high quality bass tone on a Metallica record. This striking song is a decent specimen of prog metal in that it doesn't turn into a formulaic bore. "My Friend of Misery" is another highlight. Its intriguing intro leads to some strong, punchy rock & roll that emphasizes James' impressive vocal range and Kirk's surprisingly tasteful, versatile guitar techniques. They close with "The Struggle Within." Lars' marching snare pattern sets the listener up for a balls-to-the-wall attack that's guaranteed to pacify the metal purists who want their ears pinned back. They go out with a bang.

Released on August 12, 1991 this album debuted at #1. While there was some disappointment and more than a few discouraging words uttered from a small segment of the Metallica fanatics who cried "sell out!" this record brought millions of people who had previously shunned all things metal (including me) into their camp. When a group "goes commercial" they put out something specifically designed to be annoyingly catchy and profitable like the mindless fluff you hear from Madonna. Metallica didn't do that. What they did was to not only get better at their craft but bring in a producer that could teach them how to project their aural art in such a way that they could no longer be dismissed as wannabe rock stars. This awesome "Black Album" elevated them into a permanent place in music history. While it's no masterpiece of prog rock, it's the best record they've ever made by far and it's certainly well worth having. 4.3 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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