Album review: Metallica, Load (1996)

 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 27, 1996

By Steve Newton

Load is probably the most highly anticipated heavy-metal album ever. Not only is it Metallica’s first studio recording in five years, but it’s the follow-up to the breakthrough self-titled disc that brought metal to the mainstream via the resounding radio hit “Enter Sandman”.

Expectations are sky-high among the band’s millions of fans, who will find nothing to complain about here, since the Bay Area noisemakers outdo themselves with 14 tracks of intense guitar-rock. Teaming again with golden-eared local producer Bob Rock, the band squeezes as much music as physically possible onto one CD, and very little filler makes its way into Load’s 79 minutes of first-class raunch.

The tone for the album is set with the explosive opening track, “Ain’t My Bitch”, one of seven tunes co-written by singer-guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich. (Guitarist Kirk Hammett joined in on the creation of the other seven.) Grinding rhythm guitars provide the thrashy underpinnings for an infectious lead-guitar hook and Hetfield’s menacing vocals, and MVP (most valuable percussionist) Ulrich slams everything together with fierce aplomb.

Throughout Load, the exceptional drum sound that Rock’s name has been associated with ever since Mötley Crüe’s “Dr. Feelgood” is front and centre; Ulrich’s inventive skin-bashing doesn’t back the music up so much as it leads it thunderously along. Hetfield’s cry of “Outta my way!” segues into a snazzy slide-guitar solo, something you don’t experience often enough in the metal realm but aren’t surprised to hear from the adventurous Metallica crew.

The wide-open dynamics displayed on 1991’s Metallica continue on tracks such as “Until It Sleeps”, which opens languidly, then transforms into a raging beastie of a tune; the sprawling “Hero of the Day” also makes the most of straddling the line between quiet and chaos. On first listen “King Nothing” sounds a bit too much like “Enter Sandman”, but on further inspection its arrangement stands on its own merits. Perhaps the most winning entry in Load’s bumper crop is “Wasting My Hate”, which puts an accessible spin on the gritty machine-gun style of Metallica’s early thrash outings.

The other good news for Metallica freaks is that they won’t have to wait another half decade for the group’s next batch of tunes. According to the band’s current bio, a lot of material for the next album is already done, and Ulrich says they’ll release another studio CD in a year or so.

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