I must say that I couldn’t have cared less about this album when it came out, I was only vaguely aware of Metallica as the band responsible for those videos from The Black Album. (I did not know it was The Black Album.) I wasn’t aware that they were now playing the kind of music I was getting into until “Whiskey in the Jar” three years later. Had someone introduced me to this record in 1999 it’s entirely possible I’d be trying to argue that this album is “underrated” or “not bad” or some such thing. It really does depend when you discover something.
And I listened to this 25 years later, long after I’ve grown tired for classic rock and after I’ve spent two decades getting into metal. Now, sure, calling this “classic rock” is kind of unfair. It’s louder than classic rock. It is, for the most part, “hard rock.” And I guess it’s competently done, in terms of musicianship. But Metallica were once the best metal band in the world or, at the very least, the most important metal band in the world. And this left turn into hard rock feels like a u-turn to the past, a past they had ignored almost completely until this moment.
Hetfield and Ulrich (and Hammett, sometimes) are just not as good at writing compelling hard rock songs as they are at writing compelling thrash metal songs. You can complain all you want about 21st century Metallica albums – about how archaic they are, about how poorly produced at least one of them is – but they know how to write and perform compelling thrash metal. They aren’t as good at writing hard rock.
That might not matter as much if this album weren’t so interminably long. I can imagine listening to a 44 minute version of this record and trying to defend it. But this is just the first of two 75+ minute records they attempted to record around this time. (The story is they had so much material they had to wait to record the other half of it. There’s a lesson in there somewhere about editing oneself.) I don’t know what specifically set off Hetfield and Ulrich about writing in this new old style. And I guess I’m glad they felt so prolific. But, seriously, you don’t need to release everything you record and you don’t need to record everything you write. It’s usually indie rock bands and R&B acts most responsible for ’90s album bloat, but this is one of the worst examples of its I’ve seen. It’s really hard to imagine being in the room and believing that all of this music needed to be on one album.
It’s hard to think of too many other examples of missteps by major bands like this. Not only did they get less musically interesting and compelling, but they released an LP double album of their less interesting music. (And then, a year later, they released another one.) It’s funny, I actually don’t hate it. But I can’t really abide the arrogance and the pomposity. But it doesn’t matter what I think, because this record sold a preposterous amount and they’re all sleeping on big piles of money.