I was 16 when this album released, and have great memories of waiting for it to hit the shelves. The anticipation felt throughout the states was not surprising, for this album came at perhaps the height of this bands glory. With the exception of the single “One” from “…and Justice for All”, up to this point Metallica had become a household name and had sold millions of albums without any radio play or any exposure on MTV. The album had a similar take with fans as did Van Halen’s release of “1984″. What was the self titled album was quickly becoming known as “The Black Album” and despite some fans having a hard time adjusting to the change of pace in with the direction the music seemed to be going, it was still an album that was received with praise and accolades by most of the band’s fans. The Black Album became a classic nearly overnight, and still today holds its power among the top metal albums of all time.
The Black Album starts out with the powerful single that first blared over the airwaves to fans back in 1991. Nostalgic to think of a time when one listened to a song over the radio, then went down to the store to buy the CD as opposed to getting everything “online” instantly! Enter Sandman was the song and its opening riff builds up to a steady riot of continual onslaught as Hetfield blares a dark, haunting tune centered around the “Sandman”. Kirk’s guitar work on this is marvelous as is the crashing thunder of drums from Lars Ulrich. “Sad but true” has a choppy, repetitive riff that is addictive to the ears. “Holier than Thou” speeds things up with a fevered frenzy of guitar and drums. The vocals are more in the forefront of this album, along with the in your face lyrics.
Track four is “Unforgiven” and is a slow, melodic song that ever bit as powerful as the ones that came before it. In the days of mushy high pitched “power ballads” or “love ballads” as they are sometimes called, a song like this was welcome, and could still blow the doors off the car. “Wherever I may roam” is another thundering monster that has great bass in it from Jason Newsted, who had replaced the original bass player Cliff Burton a few years earlier. Poetic in lyrics, this song invokes some spooky guitar sounds throughout its course. “Don’t tread on me” was actually a song dedicated to the troops at the time who were currently serving in Desert Storm. Another heavy, invigorating song that I never tire to listen to. “Through the never” is still somewhat thrash, although by now fans realize that despite being heavy and dark themed, this album does not have so much of the visual doom that past albums brought to the table.
“Nothing Else Matters” is another slow song, with beautiful guitar sounds throughout. It quickly downtrodden into a feeling of despair before rising up again to begin the chorus. This is not a song you hear, it is a song you FEEL. Perhaps the most “elegant” song from a metal band. I may get hit with rotten fruit on that, but that is okay. “Of Wolf and Man” has some great riffs and though isn’t one of the stronger songs on the album, still belongs here. “The God that failed” is epic in its beginning intro and it breaks into some crashing drums that are again encompassed by the superb guitar playing by singer James Hetfield and Kirk Hammet. The song has great changeups and has addicting beats to it that never let up.
The album rounds out with a couple more powerful tracks that differ in tempo but not in taste. “My friend of Misery” has a classic Metallica feel to it in the beginning and launches into an alerting chorus that exclaims, “you just stood there screaming/fearing no one was listening to you!” The last song is “The struggle within” and starts out with an almost civil war type drum roll that quickly takes off into a bevy of flurried guitars. “Struggle” is fast paced and furious, which is a perfect way to end the album with.
The Black Album will forever be argued among fans. Was it the album that jumped the fence into the mainstream, or was it the one that clung to the fence as it was being pulled over, trying to stay on the side it came from one more day? This fan would prefer to think that it was the one that stood above both sides, on its own in all its own well deserved glory, receiving its props for what had come before, and not necessarily being a sign of what things were to come. There is an old saying I would apply to this album, and all who seem to despise it: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift.” Although it is perceived by many as a time of change, The Black Album was still Metallica to most of us, and it wouldn’t be until the release of the ever-strange “Load” album that fans would learn to appreciate Metallica’s “Metallica” all the more. A top-notch album that today has proven to stand the test of time, trends and MTV talk, by a band that was at the time of its release, at the height of their glory.