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.