Regardless of their commercial intent, Metallica had to make The Black Album. Their previous album “And Justice For All” had many brilliant moments, but it also edged toward excess. It’s important to keep in mind that many of Metallica’s influences wrote punchy 3-4 minute songs with a killer riff and solo. And their Garage Revisted album demonstrated their love to do something like that. But, they hadn’t really done that since their early days, and they had gotten so far away from that by the time of “And Justice For All.” As a result, The Black Album was an artistic, as well as commercial, commitment. Keep it simple; keep it memorable; keep it real. No doubt, the craft paid off; Metallica’s singles (Enter Sandman, Wherever I May Roam, Sad But True, Nothing Else Matters, Unforgiven) have become hard rock classics. Each song has killer hooks; they groove even, and the latter ballad is as powerful and moving as any song they’ve ever done. Sure, Bob Rock’s production is a bit too smooth, but listen to the demos and realize that The Black Album is still thrash. Dismiss its difficult, then, consider that similar efforts by thrash outfits like Megadeth, Testament, and Anthrax were much, much less successful. If there’s any substantial flaw to The Black Album, it’s that it reveals what true metal aficionados already know — Metallica is an average thrash band with world-class compositions, The Beatles of the long-form composition. When you compare The Black Album with Pantera’s “Vulgar Display Of Power.” Where The Black Album waters down thrash’s edge (relentlessly midtempo, simpler rhythms, production), “Vulgar Display of Power” distills it, retaining the creativity, craft, yet making it even more vicious. And compare it to Metallica’s older work, and you miss out on the richness, dynamics and depth. As a whole, though, The Black Album is a great kick-a** album. As close to the perfect mainstream heavy metal album anybody has ever gotten to. It also suggested that if Metallica could combine The Black Album’s discipline with their 80s richness, their best work would lay in the future. Boy were we wrong . . .