Metallica: What Happened!?

The reign and demise of the music industry's greatest metal gods
January 29, 2008

The day is June 4 1996, and a young, nineteen year old man steps out of his Ford F150 and walks into a local record store just like he did so many times before. He wears a plaid, long-sleeved, flannel shirt not because it's cold, because it's not, but because this particular man feels that this flannel shirt makes him look like a bad boy stud. The front of the flannel shirt is unbuttoned, revealing a black t-shirt with the words, "Pantera: Vulgar Display of Power" written on it and neither the flannel shirt nor the t-shirt are tucked into his loose Levis jeans that have holes at the knees and a chain coming from the back pocket to the front. On his feet are black steel toed work boots that he bought for twenty dollars from Academy. He is trying to pass them off as Doctor Martins. His hair is long and tied back into a ponytail with sideburns running past his ears and a goatee around his mouth. His attire is finally topped off with a pair of round lensed metallic sunglasses.

The Cd he is here to buy is the long awaited sixth album by Metallica, entitled Load. The young man had been looking forward to this day for over a month now. He already knows all of the controversial hype, he knows they cut their hair, but who cares, this is the '90s, you don't need long hair to rock anymore. It had been five years since the legendary metal group's last album, so he knows, he KNOWS, this one is going to ROCK! He walks into the record store with a strut that describes an excited pride. He walks strait to the 'M' zone of the 'POP' section (this has always made the young man laugh. Metallica? Pop? HA!)
There it is, Metallica: Load.

Hmmm... What's that a picture of on the cover? It's a picture of a red oozy substance swirling around in a background of deep ebony. It sure is different than all of their other covers depicting dramatic scenes of lighting strikes, grave yards and crumbling stone statues. They even changed their logo, more blocky, less of the razor metal look of their traditional logo. Hmmm... oh well, it's still going to ROCK!!
He steps into the Ford F150 and starts her up. He takes the plastic off of the CD and opens it. Hmmm... it sure does have a lot of pictures of the band in it. Why are they wearing suits? Why are they smoking cigars? Why is Lars and Kirk wearing black eye makeup? Why is Kirk showing off his flame tattoos coming from his crotchal region? Oh well... forget the silly pictures, it's time to ROCK!!
The young man takes out the CD (it has an image of a throwing star made from the old Metallica "M") and slides it into the truck's CD slot. The music instantly roars in. The guitars are very crunchy, no intense intro like with the rest of their albums. Hhhmm, oh well, it should still ROCK!!
...but then he starts to sing...
What the HELL?? He's singing??? James Hetfield isn't supposed to sing! He's supposed to bark, and growl, and sound testosterone fueled. And what's up with the lyrics? "It aint my biiiit...CHA!!"
What the Hell? It aint my bitch? Those aren't Metallica lyrics! Metallica sings about war, and dark literature, and injustice. They don't sing about bitches! What the hell is this crap!!
Later, after a few more songs with James yodeling like a hound, a few weak grunts here and there, and with none of Kirk Hammet's ripping guitar chords that have so made the band famous throughout their legendary career, the young man decides to stop and pick up a soda from a convenience store. He continued to play the highly disappointing CD while sipping on a refreshing 44oz DrPepper Big Gulp. It was up to track 11, a track entitled Momma Said. It starts out slow, great another ballad. But then it slows down even further and the instruments go silent. UH-OH! You know what that means, it's about to get good! It's about to bust in with some heavy lightning guitars! It's gonna ROCK!! Here it comes! "Let my heart go... TWANG, TWANGY, TWANG, TWANG, TWANG, TWANGY TWANG!" Suddenly, the entire contents of the refreshing beverage within his mouth come spraying out like a geyser all over the steering wheel.
What the Hell? A steel guitar country twang in a Metallica song? Metallica singing country? Has the world lost its marbles? Has the apocalypse arrived? Am I dreaming? OUCH! No, I'm not! What the f#$k is this f%^kin' sh@t! This isn't Metallica, this is crap!! Cliff Burton must be turning in his grave.
Metallica! What happened!?

Now, in case you haven't figured it out, my dear readers, this young grungy metal head was me back in 1996. I was a stone cold rebel thrown into conservative rural small town Texas. Nobody could tell me what to do or what to think, and if they did , I would have told them to blank themselves or to go eat a pile of doodee, except not in those words. I would have been more than happy to see the every single acre of this small town burn to the ground in smoldering ashes. But I wasn't always like that, in fact, let's back up a few years. Now, I have to admit, I'm not one of those fans who was all about Metallica from the beginning. No sir. Their first studio album came out in '82. I was in kindergarten at that time and my parents were strict evangelicals. If they would have caught me jamming out to songs like Seek and Destroy and Phantom Lord from an album called Kill 'em All, they would have totally freaked. They would have grabbed that record and then burned it in the backyard while quoting scriptures and speaking in tongues. Then they would have taken me to a priest to have me exorcised. Nope, my first exposure to Metallica was in either '91 or '92, from their self titled black album.

I was starting to go through a transitional phase in my life. My church friends ignored me at school because they cared more about getting in with the popular crowd and being caught hanging out with an overweight video game nerd would completely ruin their reputation. So the only people left that I could relate to were my fellow rejects, the metal heads. One day, I was hanging out with one of my metal head friends at his house, and he decided to attempt to corrupt me even more by throwing in the latest Metallica album. At first, I was all, "Oh no, I can't listen to that, it's evil, I only listen to Petra and Whitecross,"
He then smiled, and said, "That's baby stuff, my good man, check this sh*t out." He started up Enter Sandman. At first I was resistant, but then my curiosity got the best of me. I was mesmerized by its slow intro and finally its ripping lyrics that just fueled energy and aggression, I thought to myself, "This sure is a whole lot different than Micheal W. Smith." It made me think of all of those good ol' boy jerks from my church who I was always trying to impress, but they never accepted me and all of those preppy kids who thought they were better than me and constantly mock me because their parents were rich and bought them named brand clothes. Screw them! It's time for the "light" to exit and for the "night" to make an entrance. I am now a creature of the dark, I am the "Sandman." Not really, but that's what the song meant to me. Then I listened to the next song,Sad but True, and felt the truth in the lyrics. To me it was about the need for acceptance my adolescent society. I listened to Holier than Thou, and it showed me how I felt about the members of the church I went to. And then the song Unforgiven, and it talked about life being brought up in the shadow of strict conservative parents. Song after song were lyrics and melodies I could relate to, it's like the entire album was made for me.
I was hooked.
Then my friend said, "You think that was great, that was nothing, check this out." And then he threw in Master of Puppets.

OH BOY!! This became my favorite album for many years to come. The slow melodic intro to Battery before it kicks in to full force was monumental! The title track is a epic masterpiece, and the instrumental Orion was like a journey beyond the stars. I became a Metallica fan!
My parents freaked!! They told me that if I listened to bands like Metallica, that I would be hooked on drugs, and catch an STD, and worship Satan, and eat fecal matter (yes, they actually did say that), and then I would finally commit suicide, because that's what heavy metal music did to young kids, because it was the work of Satan!! Whatever! If it's the work of Satan, then so be it. That's why its so good, because Satan was the ruler of music when he was in Heaven, so any music from him must be outstanding. Metallica 4 ever!!!
So then why 5 years later am I cursing their 1996 album?

Metallica were a bunch of guys I could definitely relate to. They started as just James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, two young lower class blue collared workers in California who wanted to start a band. Lars turned James on to a bunch of hard and heavy European metal that James had never heard before, just like my buddy did when he introduce me to Metallica. It wasn't that corporate glammy stuff that was popular in the early eighties, it was real, it was dark, and it was heavy. They eventually recruited Dave Mustaine on guitars and a talented bassist by the name of Cliff Burton (for whom they gave their prior bassist, Ron McGovney, the boot). Cliff was a big influence on the band both lyrically and musically.

They recorded some cheap demos and gave them out of the back of a car in the parking lot of concerts featuring other metal artists. They were the metal band for the people, a blue collared, all American, thrash metal massacre. No make up, no hair spray, no love songs, just hard core thrash about violence and war. Eventually, they were offered a record contract, kicked out Dave Mustaine for being a belligerent jackass, recruited the talented Kirk Hammot on guitars, and the album Kill Ém All was recorded and released and the Metallica legacy was born.

Metal head losers everywhere rejoiced. Finally. somebody spoke for the majority of hard rock and heavy metal listeners everywhere, who were mostly small, skinny and covered in pimples, not tall, bluff and covered with women like most of the glam bands. These were guys the average rebellious youth could relate to.

Not only that, but these guys were smart. Their lyrics were pure poetry and discussed things only the educated would discuss; The Four Horsemen is about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Call of the Ctulu is from the works of HP Lovecraft, Trapped Under Ice is a reference to the ninth level of Hell from Dante's Inferno. They discussed issues of cultural violence, suicide, uncontrollable rage, the horrors of drug addiction, and war themes in songs like Seek and Destroy, Fade to Black, Battery, Master of Puppets and Disposable Heroes. They were songs that were inspiring, dramatic, and intelligent.

Then Cliff Burton died in a tragic bus accident while on tour. The band replaced him with Jason Newsted, who was good, but not as talented as Cliff. With In Justice For All, Cliff's inspiration held on with the dark energy the band had before, but the band was starting to drift to the corporate side, they made a video (for the song One) something they had never done before, and that song even received radio airplay. Sure, that was no big deal, but the band started to get a taste for commercial success.

Soon, the self titled "Black" album hit the shelves and it went platinum. Enter Sandman, Unforgiven and the ballad Nothing Else Matters, could be heard all over the radio. Metallica had brought in a ton of new fans with their new success, but a lot of their old fans were angered. They viewed Metallica as "sellouts", as a band that had traded in their hard thrash edge for corporate green backs. They could have sworn Cliff Burton was turning in his grave.

But seriously, is what Metallica did so bad? Isn't it the American dream to start out small, work hard and achieve ultimate success? Shouldn't all of their fans who have stuck by them for so many years be happy for their success. Would the shy, pimply faced, church boy, who was me, even have heard them and forever have my musical taste change if it wasn't for the success of the Black Album? Now they had a whole new set of fans to be introduced to the fast ripping thrash of Kill 'Em All, to the dark melodies of Ride the Lightning, to the epic grandeur of Master of Puppets, and to the haunting furiousness that is And Justice for All. Metallica became a legacy! James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammot and Jason Newstead all became some of the most recognized faces in heavy metal history, and Cliff Burton became a legend whose name is regarded as demideity. None of this would have happened if it wasn't for the success of the Black Album.

And then came 1996... and the release of Load. Metallica fans who were eagerly awaiting the bands first album in five years, were greatly disappointed. Many of the fans from the Black Album couldn't believe their ears. Many of the older fans who abandoned Metallica because of the Black Album, laughed and said, "See, I told ya so." What happened in that five years? Why did their music change so much?
Well, the answer was easy. What happened to James, Lars and the rest is what eventually happens to us all, they grew up. Musically, it wasn't a bad album, it just didn't have the same hard core, razor edge, ripping magic of the first five albums. It wasn't the Metallica that we had all grown to love over the last five years and, for a lot of us, the last thirteen years. They had changed and matured. They cut their hair and wore suits. They had shown their fans, like me, an awful truth, the truth that we, too, would eventually have to cut our hair, that we would have to go out and mature, and get jobs we hate to support ones that we love. And perhaps that is what angered the average Metallica fan the most, for their role models in rebellion, their last support for the life of sex, drugs and heavy metal, had abandoned them. They listened to Load and all they could hear was a voice that said, "This is who we are, this is who you are, grow up and get over it."

It was sad but true (reference intended), the band who so many of us have grown up with was growing up with us as well, and we hated it. Me, like many other Metallica fans, eventually moved on and started listening to a wider variety of music, I hardly ever even listen to their first five albums anymore. We eventually got a clue, mellowed out and realized that living with society and playing with the rules is better than the alternative. But I still occasionally play those old thrash metal CD's from Metalica, Slayer, Pantera, Sepultura, and others to feed that small child inside my brain that hungers for nostalgia. After all, it's that child who is responsible for the adult I am today. And as far as Metallica, they now have a whole new group of younger fans who got turned on to Load, ReLoad and St.Anger, and then delightfully introduced the band's first five classic albums.
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