Called "the Black Album" by many (due to its monochrome cover), Metallica
marks the group's entrance into the mainstream, with shorter songs, simpler song structures and slower tempos overall. That said, this is an excellent album, featuring some of the best songwriting Metallica has ever done. "Enter Sandman", "Wherever I May Roam" and "God That Failed", despite being slower and more groove-oriented than the band's earlier work, feature the same heavy riffs and heavier rhythms that have always been a feature of Metallica's music. The band goes introspective with "Unforgiven" and proves that they can write a ballad with "Nothing Else Matters", which succeeds better than one might expect. Overall, this is a high-energy album despite its laid-back approach and is in many ways superior to the previous ... And Justice for All
, which was weakened by overly complicated song structures and mediocre production. --Genevieve Williams
Any attempt to move away from a tried and tested formula is often met with resistance by some fans who never want their idols to change. Smarter than your average heavy metal band, the more complex turn-on-a dime twists of their previous albums, Master Of Puppets and 1989’s And Justice For All, were trimmed back in favour of a more honed-down delivery. Though the band didn’t always see eye to eye with Bob Rock (who had previously cut his teeth engineering for the likes of Bon Jovi before producing Motley Crue’s Dr.Feelgood), the tensions between the two camps resulted in an album bursting at the seams with alternative ideas.
Sure enough, accusations that they had sold out came from the rump of hardcore fans within seconds of their fifth album being released in 1991. Several years later thousands of fans signed an online petition calling on the band to sever its links with Bob Rock such was their conviction that their beloved Metallica had strayed from the straight and narrow.
Yet his involvement gained them mass sales (number one on both sides of the Atlantic) and earned them the Grammy they’d missed out on, having lost out to Jethro Tull’s Catfish Rising the previous year. With millions of new fans going on to discover their back catalogue, Metallica moved from cult metal gods to bona fide rock stars, straddling the airwaves with the psycho-dramatics of “Enter Sandman”, whose terse motifs served notice that things were changing. The spaghetti western set dressing of “The Unforgiven”, “Nothing Else Matters” with its sensitive lyrics and string section embellishments, as well as the widescreen dynamics of “My Friend Of Misery” demonstrated how keen they were to move things on.
In “The God That Failed”, vocalist, rhythm guitarist and principle writer, James Hetfield deals unflinchingly with parental loss and the contradictions of faith in a mature and considered manner. The confidence exuding from almost every track isn’t due to a clichéd, puffed-up HM swagger but a result of literate and articulate artists breaking free of generic expectation. --Sid Smith
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