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Metallica - Reload CD (album) cover




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2.20 | 412 ratings

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3 stars I've been playing catch up with Metallica over the last few years and I must admit that it's been an enjoyable ride to experience their steady evolution into being one of the giants of the music industry. I'm not what you'd call a metal head so their early stuff didn't flick my switch very often but I could hear the raw talent they possessed seeping through their noisy, angry melees and I stuck with them in order to see where they took me. I'm one of those who consider their impressive fifth studio album to be the apex of their career not just for its popularity but for its undeniable qualities. Some of their fans think it too "commercial" but I'm still struck to this day by its pristine audio fidelity, the caliber and timeliness of the songwriting and its overall cohesiveness - all of which combined to make it an instant and enduring icon. Therefore, when I got around to listening to "Load" my expectations were respectfully modest because of the difficulty even the best of bands have in following up the golden goose album that puts them over the top like the ebony "Metallica" LP did. "Load" wasn't in the same area code but it also wasn't as bad as I feared and nowhere near as disappointing as some reviewers and diehard followers had claimed it to be but it was definitely a step down from its predecessor. Since I surmised that "Reload" was going to be nothing more than a collection of a handful of tunes left off of "Load" for one reason or another I figured it would be average fare, at best. Not so. It would seem that after "Load" failed to stun the globe into submission the group smartly reexamined, revamped and improved what was about to be unleashed on the world. These boys did take pride in their craft and the end result of reassessing what they had was a CD with fewer weak spots.

They wisely open with "Fuel," a combustible number with plenty of honest energy pouring out of it like molten steel from a furnace. It has all the ingredients for a memorable hard rock juggernaut: A gutsy vocal from James Hetfield, hot guitars from Kirk Hammett, earth-shaking bass lines from Jason Newsted and a strong backbeat from Lars Ulrich. "The Memory Remains" is a dirge-like pounder. Guest singer Marianne Faithful turns in an eerie and somewhat confusing performance but, taken in the context of her sordid history, I guess it works on a certain spooky level. The slow pace they apply to "Devil's Dance" would suggest that Lucifer is more of a stomper than a lithe Baryshnikov. The song itself is rather pedestrian but I do appreciate Hammett's demonic guitar work that adds a threatening dimension to the aural territory. "The Unforgiven II" is a bit of a head- scratcher for me because I'm not sure why they felt it necessary to revisit a composition that was a cornerstone of their mega-successful fifth record. Like many sequels this one's okay but it doesn't pack the punch of the original. However, it does effectively demonstrate that James doesn't have to scream and growl all the time to get the message of a poignant song across. The man was born with an enviable, distinctive singing style and he should explore its many aspects with confidence. "Better Than You" is next and it's a pile-driving rocker that emphasizes everything that got Metallica to the top of the heavy metal heap. Don't look for anything even slightly progressive on this cut, in other words. It's a battering ram meant to slam into things. "Slither" follows and it's a highlight of the album. Its Ozzy-ish vibe is infectious and its excellent hook riff along with Hetfield's ominous vocal make this tune stand out from the others. It's no masterpiece, mind you, but it does warrant repeated listens. "Carpe Diem Baby" is a good song but by now I'm feeling the album is starting to suffer from the guitar tones becoming repetitive and predictable. On the upside, though, they add something in the background (An organ? A Mellotron? A droning guitar effect? I can't tell from the credits.) that provides the track with a much-needed deeper atmosphere. Depth of field is always a plus in my book, no matter the genre.

"Bad Seed" sports a rock solid groove that propels the song efficiently and it's refreshing to hear them mess around with the vocals a bit. What I'm yearning to hear most but ain't getting is for Kirk to throw caution to the wind and rip out a torrid, decapitating lead guitar solo. I don't understand why he plays it so safe. On "Where the Wild Things Are" they present an opening segment that's at least a little different but then they soon drop into their familiar, tried-and-true headbanging motif to mollify their rowdy aficionados who will accept nothing less. I do like the fact that they get creative with the arrangement, however, and that's worth noting. "Prince Charming" is next and it possesses more of a traditional metal tinge than what's been offered so far. It's not a letdown, necessarily, but there's nothing going on inside the tracks that I haven't heard before. "Low Man's Lyric" follows and it's my favorite cut on the CD. I love it when guys like these have the balls to step out of their comfort zone as they do on this tune and deliver some comprehensible lyrics in a toned-down setting. It doesn't mean they're selling out, it just shows they're more than a stagnated one trick pony act. The tinny Hurdy Gurdy organ is a nice touch, providing the number with a cool Irish aroma. "Attitude" is a decent enough rocker but it does come off as mediocre filler material to my ears. They end with an epic, "Fixxxer." Hammett's tortured guitar effect augments the song's gargantuan riff but at 8:14 in length I was wishing they'd been much bolder and perhaps run off on some proggy tangents just to mix things up a tad but, alas, they stick with their bread and butter.

Released on November 18, 1997 "Reload" did not pass go but went straight to the numero uno spot on the charts. While there may have been grumblings amongst their legion of devotees about what they thought Metallica should be doing for them those minor misgivings had absolutely no effect on the number of discs purchased. If any group is able to sell over 4 million units in any era you gotta hand it to them. They're doing something right and I'd be a fool to criticize them for dancing with the girl that brought them to the prom. While a particularly revealing rock doc about the band (that showed what was transpiring during this period) indicates that all was not cool breezes and soft moonlight in the ego-sated board room of Metallica, Inc., they still managed to take care of business. This was the last go-round for bassist Jason Newsted who (along with producer Bob Rock) had been instrumental in bringing a big, fat low end into their music, thereby broadening the group's appeal in the process. Yet his departure didn't derail this locomotive. They're still a force in the biz to this day. While "Reload" is slightly better than "Load" I still have a difficult time in thinking of either album as being exceptional. Still, they both kept the metal flame lit throughout the unpredictable 90s when the winds of change were blowing in from every direction imaginable. And, by the way, I've heard much, much worse. 3.2 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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