The top-selling album of the past 25 years, or so the hype sticker says, this takes me back. When I was fourteen, this sounding like nothing else: heavy, thunderous, massive. Plenty of the bands I was into at the time were loud and heavy, but Metallica’s Black Album (as this record became to be known) just sounded huge.
Now, of course, it seems quite tame. Strip away the bombast and what you’re left with is a well recorded, well engineered and well produced heavy rock album. After four records of long-form songs that straddled the fence between thrash-metal and prog-metal, the band took a chance by employing Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.
Rock had engineered Bob Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986) and Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation (1987), before winning acclaim for producing Mötley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood (1989). The big difference he brought to Metallica was in commercialising their sound, slowing them down in tempo, and shortening their songs. The Metallica of old would pack as many ideas as possible into one song, lasting anywhere between four and nine minutes, before running out of ideas. The Black Album’s songs are boiled down in their arrangements, to the extent that they become radio-friendly, almost…dare I say it…structured like pop songs.
As much as I loved it as a teenager, the record has definitely lost a lot of its appeal in the intervening years. Radio has done to this record as a metal album what it has done for Led Zeppelin II as a rock album: overplayed it to death. There’s no intrigue left. Hetfield, Hammett, Newsted and Ulrich used to be enigmatic (to a degree), but watching the band sit around with their analyst in Some Kind Of Monster (2004) showed that they’re very much real people, plagued by the kinds of insecurities and anxieties that stifle us all.
Hit: Enter Sandman
Hidden Gem: My Friend Of Misery