Metallica's 1991 Black Album LP meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The band's label saw it as a huge commercial breakthrough that could introduce them to a whole new fan base. Young fans that first learned about the band due to "Enter Sandman," saw it as their gateway to the entire genre of heavy metal. The band saw it as just the next step on their part to world domination. Finally, some of their hardcore fans from the very beginning saw it as a betrayal. To them, metal had no place on MTV and Top 40 radio. Some began crying "sell out" and haven't stopped since. Any way you see it, the album was a key turning point in their career. It's why they can still play stadiums, and why a handful of old fans never saw them in the same light again. The group devotes most of their live show to songs from The Black Album and before, but to honor their upcoming album Hardwired…To Self Destruct we asked their fans to select the band's best work since the Black Album.
As anyone that saw Metallica's stunning documentary Some Kind of Monster knows, the band's 2003 LP St. Anger had a difficult birth. Bassist Jason Newstead left before work even began, and sessions were suspended for months after frontman James Hetfield entered rehab to treat his alcohol addiction. Work dragged on for years as the group members sniped at each other and wondered if the band even had a future. Much of this aggression was poured into the lyrics of St. Anger, especially the title track. "Fuck it all and fuckin' regrets," Hetfield roars. "I hit the lights on these dark sets/ I need a voice to let myself/ To let myself go free."
Metallica took a long break from creating new music after the difficult St. Anger sessions, and when they re-emerged they decided to make some big changes. Gone was producer Bob Rock, who had overseen all their records going back to the Black Album. In his place was Rick Rubin, who convinced the band to stop worrying so much about revisiting the thrash metal sounds that defined their 1980s masterpieces like Master of Puppets. He wanted them to embrace their past, and find ways to make that sound work in 2008. The first taste fans got from the new album was debut single "The Day That Never Comes," a nearly eight-minute work that evoked old-school Metallica. It's full of furious riffs and sounded glorious when played to in front of 50,000 people at stadiums and European metal festivals.
A mere five years passed between 1991's the Black Album and 1996's Load, but the music industry went through enormous changes in that time. Grunge had come and gone and rap was now a huge force on the charts. It was unclear if there was a place for Metallica in a world of Green Day and Weezer, and their hardcore fans were a more than little confused when they saw their favorite band got haircuts and put semen and blood on the cover of their new album. Basically, they wanted Metallica to stay frozen in a very recent past. "King Nothing," the final single from Load, is a cautionary tale about what happens when your wishes come true. "And it all crashes down," James Hetfield sings. "And you break your crown/And you point your finger/But there's no one around."
Every night before Metallica go onstage, they jam in a tiny backstage room. It's an environment where they feel free to test out new ideas, and every second is saved on tape. When the group began plotting out their new album Hardwired … to Self Destruct, they poured through 1,650 sound files taped at these sessions and cherry-picked the best riffs and melodies. The process took years, but it paid off quite handsomely according to this poll. The six-minute "Moth Into Flame" has only been out for a matter of days, but it already received enough votes to make it here. It bodes well for the rest of the album.
If Metallica didn't do enough to piss off their old fans in the 1990s, they wrapped up the decade by recording a live album with a symphony orchestra. But S&M wasn't packed with sleepy renditions of songs like "Enter Sandman" and "Master of Puppets." Instead, the San Francisco Orchestra found ways to compliment the band's heavy live sound. It's a great fusion of two worlds, and it introduced the new song "No Leaf Clover." Like a clover without a single leaf, it's about bad luck. "Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel," Hetfiefld sings. "Is just a freight train coming your way."
The video for Metallica's "Hero of the Day" shows a stoned teenager watching a strange TV lineup where every channel shows members of Metallica, whether its Jason Newstead boxing Kirk Hammet, Newstead hosting a gameshow or Hammet hosting the news. In our world, this was 1996 and MTV wasn't playing nearly as much Metallica as they did back in 1991. Still, "Hero of the Day" got enough attention to top the Billboard Modern Rock Chart. They haven't touched the song a single time in concert since the 1990s.
Metallica don't play many songs from Load and Reload at their concerts these days, but "Fuel" is a huge exception. They've played it over 450 times and it never fails to get a big reaction. It didn't crack the Hot 100 when it became the third single from Reload in the summer of 1998, but Nascar began playing it during their broadcasts for obvious reasons and it ultimately became their best-known song from either of the Load albums. Just don't listen to the Avril Lavigne cover. It'll make you never want to hear any version of the song ever again.
The second single from 2008's Death Magnetic was an eight-minute long tune about being chased by a relentless enemy determined to kill. "Feel us breathe upon your face," James Hetfield sings. "Feel us shift, every move we trace/Hunt you down without mercy/Hunt you down all nightmare long." It wasn't the kind of song designed to get radio play, but old school fans loved the Kirk Hammet guitar solos and all freakish imagery in the lyrics. It also sounded amazing live, though they've only done it once in the past three years.
One of the longest songs from either of the Load records, "Bleeding Me" is a confessional tune by James Hetfield about the agony of alcoholism and his desperate yearning to improve his life. "I was trying to bleed out all bad, get the evil out," he said in 2001. "While I was going through therapy, I discovered some ugly stuff in there. A dark spot." He wouldn't fully confront his demons for another few years, but "Bleeding Me" is an early sign he knew his life had run into trouble. It was never an official single, but its a longtime fan favorite. The band hasn't played it a single time since their 20th anniversary shows in 2011.
Load wraps up with a song that runs nearly 10 minutes long and is about losing someone close to you, and many have speculated its about Cliff Burton. "You make me smash the clock and feel," James Hetfield sings. "I'd rather die behind the wheel/ Time was never on my side/ So on I wait my whole lifetime." The song originally wrapped up with a long instrumental coda, but once they learned the album ran too long they had to shave a bit off of it. It's still one of the longest songs they've ever recorded. That might explain why they've only played it 13 times in their entire history.