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Metallica - Load CD (album) cover




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2.43 | 354 ratings

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3 stars After spending a decade slowly but steadily rising through the ranks with very little radio support, Metallica hit the jackpot in '91 with their eponymous CD that was so accessible and expertly- produced it broadened their fan base exponentially and made them a household name worldwide. No longer were they a 'cult' band to be summarily dismissed as part of a fad. They spent three years touring 'Metallica' and then took a long break from the road and each other to write new material and allow lead singer James Hetfield to completely heal from his almost-disastrous run-in with a dangerous pyrotechnic stage prop. Yet I'm not sure that even they themselves realized that almost five years would elapse between album releases and, in the music biz, that can be an eternity. Tastes can change drastically in less than half that time so no one really knew what to expect to hear on 'Load.' Grunge had invaded and set up camp in the interim so it definitely wasn't the same sonic landscape that had so unreservedly nurtured and fertilized the 'Black Album' they were releasing their latest offering into. Their old fans hoped they'd go back to the manic thrashing and speed-pedaling ways that had characterized their early work while their more recent converts were most likely anticipating more stuff developed along the lines of the irrepressible 'Sandman.' I have to count myself in the latter group. When I first took notice of them in the mid-80s I didn't really understand what their brand of metal constituted because in that era I was enamored with groups like Genesis and Steely Dan that were a lot less noisy and didn't involve any head-banging. Plus, I was jealous because, as a guitarist, I'd never been able to play at even near the mind-blowing tempo they performed their music at. But the 'Metallica' disc had won me over with its high-level musicianship and mature songwriting acumen that confirmed to me they weren't just a rough gaggle of white punks on dope so I looked forward to hearing where they'd venture next. What I didn't expect was for them to incorporate so much of a bluesy mien into their product.

They open with 'Ain't my Bitch,' a big slice of hard rock metal that reaches down into your groin area and splits your billiards as we've come to expect this band to do consistently. Kirk Hammett's slide guitar is a new addition of sorts but overall I find the song to be average at best. '2x4' is next to arrive, sporting a strong shuffle beat that brings to mind a drunk Bigfoot bopping about at a rave. James is in good voice and throughout the record I'm impressed with his ability to sing without shouting all the time (a nuance that helped the Black Album to be more palatable to the public). The tune's breakdown to a half beat is okay but the guitar solo is surprisingly lame. Things improve with 'The House that Jack Built.' Deep guitars set up an ominous mood that I always like when it's done right and the change of time signatures on the chorus piques my interest. I'm glad to hear them experiment with and employ various state-of-the-art effects without fear of insulting the stodgy purists. 'Until it Sleeps' follows. After a minimalist beginning they find the fat groove and ride it properly yet once again the composition isn't memorable enough to make a lasting impact. That's not the case on 'King Nothing,' though. An edgy, buzzing guitar note flies in and then the song's powerful riff takes over and rules the realm. This number has the knockout punch that made the previous CD so special so I'm happy to report that this one has the goods. 'Hero of the Day' is a winner, too. I especially enjoy the deviation from their normal approach on this cut. Its upwardly mobile progression along with the tactfully infused distortion keeps me engaged from start to finish. 'Bleeding Me' is a step backwards. Building on a basic riff is what these guys have always excelled at but here they seem to run out of inspiration and the tune grows monotonous and repetitive halfway through.

'Cure' owns a beefy, skull-cracking motif that's difficult to knock but they certainly weren't taking any progressive risks at this juncture, either. I label this MOR metal and, therefore, nothing to get excited about. 'Poor Twisted Me,' is a keeper, however. It's got a bit of a nasty ZZ Top flavoring that I wouldn't have thought they could pull off but the fish-out-of-water factor actually works to their advantage here as it provides a nice twist on their traditional sound and Hammett's guitar ride is suitably aggressive. 'Wasting My Hate' is next. They lay down a generous, solid foundation early on that helps to carry the song over its relatively pedestrian and predictable structure but it's no highlight by a long shot. 'Mama Said' is truly the odd duck in the pond, though. I'm still not sure what to think about this folksy, acoustic guitar-driven number that includes some anemic C&W strains that only serve to further confuse me as to what they were going for. My final assessment is that it blows. 'Thorn Within' possesses an old school, Deep Purple-ish aura that's very alluring and somewhat refreshing after struggling through the previous cut. Alas, it's missing the necessary hook line that would've pushed it over the top and made it unforgettable. 'Ronnie' is a gem. This tribute to Mr. Dio exudes great tension, masterfully generated by a taut guitar lick that establishes an uncomplicated but eventually forceful tidal wave of sound for Hetfield's impassioned vocal to surf on. They end with 'The Outlaw Torn,' a piece that features a fade-in to a Brontosaurus-sized riff (I'm still pleased that I can hear and feel Jason Newstead's bass. Thank you, producer Bob Rock.) that thunders and shakes the floor. No doubt this was written to be an epic concert stunner and it probably benefitted immensely from the spectacular lighting and visuals that accompanied it live but here it just kinda drags on for almost ten minutes without anything remarkable happening.

'Load' was released on June 4, 1996 and debuted at the number one spot on the charts where it remained firmly ensconced for four weeks. Obviously demand for Metallica's rowdy, ear- pummeling assaults hadn't dissipated one iota yet the general opinion was that, in the long run, it was a letdown of sorts. I'll come to their defense and remind everyone that following up an overwhelming success that cements your permanent display in the Hall of Fame forevermore is no easy feat and one that few acts ever succeed at doing. All things taken into account, 'Load' delivered in enough ways to keep the Metallica boat seaworthy and viable. There's enough above average tracks on it to justify repeated listens and, as long as you don't compare it to its predecessor, it holds up fairly well as a worthy specimen of mainstream metal rock. 3 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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