Metallica pranks the audience

Load Tour 1997

My first time seeing Metallica was in Milwaukee on Valentine's Day in 1997 during the Load Tour. This was a little late for me. My love of metal – Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and of course Metallica – had waned considerably since I passed the age of about 14.

I was 10 or 11 when I bought a tape of Master of Puppets with lawn mowing money. It may have been my first tape ever. I was in eighth grade when the Black Album came out – my friend and I rewrote the lyrics to Enter Sandman for a school project.

So in 1997 I was in university and hadn't bought or even listened to Load, other than the singles on the radio and MTV. But my friend and I got tickets. We were in for a great time.There was a circular stage set up in the center of a basketball stadium. We elbowed our way to the front and were really close, maybe two or three people back from the stage.

Each member faced a different direction from the stage. We had Hetfield's side – obviously a cool spot. But what really made it cool was around halfway through when the lighting rig above the stage (and us) began rocking back and forth. The band looked up in surprise. So did we. The speakers started to blow, sparks flying out of some of them. The lights started to pop and go out.

It was chaos. The band dropped their instruments and bolted off the stage. We in the crowd looked at each other, some freaking out. Then a man on fire ran across the stage.

That was when it became obvious – it was all a trick. There were more explosions and flashing lights, and then everything went dark. A single bulb came down, hanging over the middle of the stage. The band came back out and played some Garage Days songs, this time facing each other.

Since then I´ve seen Metallica a few more times. I even saw them do a short acoustic set, which seemed to bore the audience (I loved it). But nothing can top the prank they pulled on the audience in 1997.

 

Lou Reed & Metallica - 'Iced Honey' (live on Jools Holland)

So the infamous collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica was almost definitely the worst album of the year, and perhaps the worst thing to happen all decade. There's still a part of me that wants to believe that Lou's deliberately trolling Hetfield and friends, though. Watching them perform live together, I'm mostly just confused at how little stage chemistry they have and how poorly their parts coalesce. With that being said, at least it's an interesting turn for the mainstream music industry to take. Fame leads to some weird music. Be the judge for yourself, I guess.

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Searchin'...Seek and Destroy

It's a little bit of a bummer that quality and budget can be inversely related in music. Metallica didn't get the money to start making music videos until after they'd put out their best tunes. But this is the age of the internet now, and we can retroactively create montages of fighter jet stock videos over our favorite '80s metal tracks. The homemade video won't exactly blow your face off, but that lead riff in "Seek and Destroy" still better. 

Metallica, "ReLoad"

The biggest heavy metal band in the world had something different to say

 

ReLoad (1997) is an odd album to make for a Metallica introduction, but that's my story. One of its songs received the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance; yet ReLoad - following the stormy reception to Load just a year prior - remains a mostly obscure release in Metallica's catalog. Only two tracks find their way into Metallica's live set with regularity, yet the album remains the band's most eclectic and diverse offering.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's no accident that Load and ReLoad are stylistically similar, but ReLoad takes Load's experiments and explorations into stranger, more unfamiliar places. While ReLoad isn't as intensely personal as its counterpart, the music is a much greater deviation from Metallica's comfort zone than anything they had done in the past. It says a lot that this is the only Metallica album to feature guest musicians, the ultra-rare occasion when the Metallica monster would let anyone else into its lair. You could argue that Garage Inc. also had guest performers, but that was Metallica jamming on Lynyrd Skynryd. ReLoad is Metallica with all the pretense of being the world's biggest heavy metal band stripped away.

 

There's still the high-octane opener in "Fuel" and the snarling "Better Than You" for the adrenaline, but as with Load, it's clear that Metallica's focus was elsewhere, like on "The Memory Remains". Atypical both for its subject matter and Marianne Faithfull's nasal, haunted vocals, this was Metallica 1997 - no "Master of Puppets" or "...And Justice For All", but tackling new soundscapes, new textures, new demons. No wonder the fans didn't like it.

 

But while Metallica were definitely onto something with the feel of "The Memory Remains", ReLoad's problem is that they liked that particular experiment so much, they didn't stop repeating it. One midtempo, plodding song, like "The Memory Remains" is fine. It's followed immediately after by "Devil's Dance", a big, dirty, midtempo plodding song. That's followed by "The Unforgiven II", a kaleidoscope of twangy guitars, set to a downtempo, plodding beat. Elsewhere, "Slither" and "Carpe Diem Baby" sound like different takes of the same song. "Where The Wild Things Are", "Low Man's Lyric" and "Fixxxer" show brilliant, multi-faceted sides to Metallica, but all at the same tempo. The fast songs are unremarkable, and there are just too many slow, meandering songs.

 

I don't want to presume to tell Metallica what they should  sound like, but I find myself wishing they'd up the pace. They do, on "Attitude" and "Prince Charming", but your head stops bopping as soon as the tracks are over and neither have a future listen in them.

 

St. Anger received all the attention for Metallica pushing themselves further and deeper than ever before, but it's really ReLoad that deserves that credit. This is Metallica operating far out of their comfort zone, and sometimes they hit it out of the park - I'll take "Fixxxer" over "Dyers Eve" or "All Within My Hands" or "My Apocalypse" as an album-closer any day. Sometimes the results are less successful, and the meandering, slow feel of the album makes me think of ReLoad as a time bomb that doesn't detonate. It's fascinating, it's complex, it's haunting, it's mesmerizing, but unfortunately, it never takes off.

 

4.0/5.0: ReLoad is even more myriad and intricate than Load, sometimes to its detriment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Metallica, "Load"

The monster looks inwards

I'd be lying if I said I always liked Metallica's sixth album, Load (1996). With its 1997 companion ReLoad, it was always the uncoolest of Metallica's albums (until 2003's St. Anger), and when I timidly entered heavy metal fandom in the late 1990s, that was the takeaway: Load sucks. It wasn't until years later did the musically mature & independent me realize: Load isn't a typical Metallica album, and because of that (maybe in spite of that), it's brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a band that prided themselves on being hard-hitting and uncompromising, the overnight change in image and music style didn't sit very well, and that sense of discomfort and unease bleeds into the songs. Part of the album's backlash might stem from thrash metal fans not wanting bands like Metallica to write musical autobiographies. Raging against parents (like on "Dyers Eve") is easy; but breaking down your feelings ("Until It Sleeps" and "Mama Said") beyond anything more than anger is going to push a lot of buttons. The music wasn't heavy, but the emotion and honesty from James Hetfield lasts longer than whiplash does.

 

Exploring and foraging as they were on Load, not every experiment is successful. "2 x 4" plods along aimlessly, and I'm not even sure Metallica knew what they were doing with "Ronnie" (although Hetfield's spoken bridge is sheer badass). The real gold is in the songs that don't sound anything like classic Metallica. The sinister, lurching feel of "The House That Jack Built", the quiet introspection giving way to rage in "Bleeding Me", the towering expanse of "The Outlaw Torn" is what makes Load a grower. Thirteen years into their career, Metallica understood that it doesn't always have to be about what you say. Sometimes it's what you don't say, and it's in those moody, subtle shifts that Load speaks the loudest.

 

"King Nothing" and "Ain't My Bitch" show the band flexing their muscles, but their attention was elsewhere, like the bitter pill of "Thorn Within" or "Hero of the Day", which must have caused at least one epileptic fit of rage from old school fans. "Wasting My Hate" and "Cure" are both decent and catchy in their own right, but they don't contribute anything significant to the album. "Wasting My Hate" is probably the heaviest song on Load, but unlike most other Metallica albums, Load isn't about being heavy. It is, but not in the musical sense.

 

Compared to his crisp, sharp sound on the Black Album, Bob Rock's sludgy, warm production contributes to the hazy and distinctly Southern feel of Load. Lars Ulrich's minimalistic drumming complements the deceptively minimalistic guitar approach, letting James Hetfield's maturation as a vocalist come to fruition. Whether it's crooning in "Bleeding Me", unburdening his soul in "The Outlaw Torn", or even the country twang of "Mama Said", Hetfield shows us what he's made of - not only as a vocalist, but as a man coming to grips with a past men like him are supposed to keep buried.

 

It says a lot that the artwork for Load makes heavy use of Rorschach inkblots, because the album is Metallica taking a deep look inside themselves. It wasn't the full-on therapy session that was St. Anger, but for how unexpected Load was, it was the only thing left to do for a Diamond Head cover band becoming the biggest heavy metal act on the planet. The album twists and turns, sampling every emotion and uncomfortable memory. If, at the conclusion, you're more uneasy than exhilarated, then Load did its job.

 

4.5/5.0: It's on the record now: Load is one of Metallica's best albums.

Where is the New Album?

Many fans are continually wondering about the latest Tool album—particularly when it will be released. It’s not finished yet, and it’s not really being discussed with the public—but it’s definitely in the works. Most know that since 2008, the various members have been taking a hiatus off and on, some writing, some working on other projects—from making wine to producing comic books.

Several pieces have been written over the years, but the album itself is not finished just yet. The band members really wanted to take a break from each other as well, without officially breaking up and with every intention of staying together and continuing to work—which is a much healthier situation than most bans get into, when you think about it. It’s a much more grown-up situation than, say, getting made and leaving over a girl or money or whatever breaks up bands these days.

Right now Tool is working harder at producing the album, and they’ve had a few shows since the 2008 break, but fans are really hoping that they’ll be fully performing again soon—as well as that their new album will stay on target and be released sometime this year.

Song of the Day: "Enter Sandman"

As a big sister, I’ve always prided myself on being pretty fair and the general “good example” that my parents always asked that I be. I think a lot of first-borns have the same story. However, like anyone else, I’m not perfect, and while there are less than a handful of things that I’d really take back that I did with/to my two younger sisters, they are each a doozy.

One of the things that I wish I hadn’t done was scare my youngest sister to death with a Metallica song.

I was ten or eleven, so she must have been about three or four—which makes this even worse, I know. She was always in my room—both of them were—bothering me, and I remember this was the year I started watching them both on my own, and boy did I resent it. It was fun at first; I remember making macaroni and totally screwing it up, serving them crunchy noodles. But when it became a daily thing, and my childhood freedom turned to unpaid babysitting, I wasn’t a happy camper.

Anyway, this night, she came into my room, wanting to hang out with me yet again, and I was really into the Metallica black album. I started singing “Enter Sandman” to her, and I made this really scary face, and of course, she started to cry. I immediately felt like the world’s worst sister, and maybe I was.

Well, at least I never told her she was adopted, like my mother did to her own sister.

To this day, she hates the song, and though I know I shouldn’t, I still love it—as well as the rest of the black album. And the joke is on me, since she’s 20 and stuck so far up her boyfriend’s butt she never has time to see her “old” sister anymore, when I would actually like to see her. That old adage to love it while you’ve got it because it won’t be around forever is certainly true.

It’s scary, and it’s got dragons and snow white and monsters under your bed, so what isn’t to like, if you’re old enough to listen to it? Hell, it would make a pretty awesome movie, when you think about it. The music sounds quite different from everything Metallica made before this album; in fact, many “purists” don’t like it at all, though it’s what threw the band into the mainstream, if I remember correctly. I remember being introduced to it while going camping with a friend and, though I don’t think of the said friend in a positive light anymore, I still love the album.

You can listen to “Enter Sandman” here. Just promise me you won’t traumatize a toddler with it like I did when I first bought the album.

And don’t even get me started on the time I traumatized my other sister with the wolf from The Neverending Story. She’s 23 and still can’t watch the movie! I really didn’t mean to do that one on purpose, though, I swear…

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