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




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3.26 | 534 ratings

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2 stars Monumental Piece of Rock History - Away from Prog

In 1991, the face of rock'n'roll changed forever. Nirvana's NEVERMIND is always mentioned as the huge album that transformed music, but there was another wildly popular record that was responsible for the change as well. That would be Metallica's BLACK ALBUM. Like many other teenagers at the time, this album dominated my life for at least a semester in a way no other album did before or since. I joined my first real band at that time, and we played every single note on this album and many of them hundreds of times. We saw one of the early warm up shows and the fireworks were so loud that the band was banned from the venue for life. I caught a drum stick and was offered up to $100 for it at the time. (I still have it).

During my high school years, most popular music was fairly easy to categorize. Fans were usually divided into Metal / Rock and New Wave / Punk camps. While Metallica had already welcomed some Punk elements in creating thrash, the music was so intense that no one was going to break rank. In 1991, this split was destroyed as the New Wavers turned on the distortion (Nirvana) and the heaviest headbangers made a marked compromise to the center with the fairly straightforward rocker METALLICA (BLACK ALBUM). As in any election, the correctly timed move worked perfectly. Kids previously scared off by the intensity and raw hate of the band's previous work could now claim the pseudo-coolness of wearing a Metallica t-shirt. Suspicious metalheads held rank as their personal heroes took over the world. And Lars finally got the girls he wanted, along with more cash than any human could possibly spend.

How did they do it? By doing things that would have made their 1984 selves vomit in disgust. Bringing in pop-rock producer Bob Rock, writing hooks, rehashing their own work with the edges smoothed over. (I was astounded when I heard "The Unforgiven" the first time - such an obvious simplification of the already straightforward "Fade to Black," but without the ending crush.) James took singing lessons (I remember the exact place I was sitting the first time I heard "Nothing Else Matters" in total bewilderment.) Kirk discovered that he could still solo while signing groupies' autographs as long as his foot was attached to the wah pedal. (It would become a permanent part of his anatomy.) MTV bought in and the golden age of metal ended. (Dave Mustaine, always a step behind, would create the amazing RUST IN PEACE at the same time, but quickly follow his ex-bandmates into cash and idiocy with COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION.)

Was it all terrible? Not at all. It's hard to imagine that the band could go any further into nihilism and cold, calculated riffing after ...and JUSTICE FOR ALL without flaming out completely. Bob Rock actually turned up Jason Newstead's bass to audible. Many of the core riffs on the BLACK ALBUM had a swing and soul only seen in Metallica's covers before. At least half of the songs were still quite heavy. ("Sad but True" being one of their heaviest ever. "My Friend of Misery" combined an "Orion" style bass figure with yummy swells, harmony guitars for a metal guitar feast.) The video to "Unforgiven" was pretty cool. If the songs hadn't been there, the album wouldn't have been the enormous success it was.

While I have some issue with Metallica being part of Prog Archives, there is no doubt that this album is completely unrelated to prog. The entire concept of the album is simplification, moving toward the common man, pulling in a blues-based rock element, and giving the audience what they want instead of following the muse. As a band at the top of their game, Metallica was able to pull off the feat flawlessly. By grabbing the metal banner for themselves, they drove the stake through the heart of glam metal. By placing themselves at the new center of rock and roll, music in general became much heavier. The distorted guitar became part of almost every band moving forward. At the time, it felt like a triumph for metal. At some level, it was.

But it was also a fist in the face of many of musical values that prog fans hold dear, and it took awhile for those ideals to get back to their feet. The almost 10 year hiatus of the guitar solo, the rise of three chord pop-punk, and a general disdain for virtuosity and complexity can also be traced to this time period and this album. The BLACK ALBUM has to be considered one of the greatest enemies of prog in history. Averaging "Good Rock Album" with "Not Prog at All" I give 2/5 stars. (Though I think I may go home and crank up my amp and play the parts to "Misery" now.)

Negoba | 2/5 |


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