Although the 1990s had many great releases of albums throughout the decade, just as much as any other decade, Metallica went through a strange period of decline in this time which bottomed with St. Anger. Although that was to become more noticeable much later, this is often seen as a disappointment in the history of Metallica. It was five years after the Black Album and the results were quite mixed, to say the least. However, metal is metal. Let’s see if it has aged well or not.
We kick off with Ain’t My Bitch which kicks off with simple drumming, loud drop tuned guitars and simple melodies. It’s surprisingly catchy, and certainly doesn’t come across as the disaster that many mention this to be. There is quirky riffage in the chorus, which is a nice touch. It may seem dated today, but is a decent tune to hear regardless. James Hetfield sounds gloriously good here. The dual tracked guitar parts are neat, complete with a slide guitar solo from Kirk Hammett, sounding like a power drill towards the end. Still pretty good anyway, and yes it kicks the proverbial you-know-what. A strong start to this album. Rather humourous, too.
Next is 2 X 4 which is actually pretty decent as well. It is named from the musical time signature that it is in, and there are some interesting wah-wah guitar parts from Kirk Hammett here. The lyrics are pretty trashy, but the whole thing is danceable and catchy enough to hear regardless. An uplifting and fun listen. It is a great song to blast up loud to annoy your neighbours with. Great, loud and pulsating with metal grooviness, it is an underrated tune, even if Metallica don’t think so these days. There is a neat guitar solo in the middle of it, and it is actually quite memorable. Lars seemingly puts in a good performance, minimalistic but tight. A great listen, and very underrated.
The House That Jack Built sounds quite good and has some rather personal lyrics from James Hetfield here. It is a slow burner, but still is an okay listen. It goes into a good song that has multiple cut up and treated vocal sounds here. These really sound amazing and futuristic, and breathes life into this song. Even for a lesser song, this is a great listen. The chorus has some good lyrics in it too, and pushes away those who disagree on this album being listenable. Sure, it has many sound effects to it, but then again, so do many types of electronic based music today. There is a vocoder solo in the middle of it, listen out for it. It builds up towards the end in a frenzy of brilliant emotion, and finishes with an interesting finale. Good effort.
Until It Sleeps is really good, and was one of the hits from this album. The lyrics here are super personal and it seems like James Hetfield is internally crying out for help in his Metal god mode. The riffs here are wonderful and unforgettable. A great, tight and focused effort from Metallica. There is some Metal style Surf Rock guitar here too. An enjoyable and strong listening experience, the tightness of the band here is really good. There is a superb guitar solo once again, from Kirk Hammett. “…So tear me open, but beware. There’s things inside without a care…” sings James Hetfield. Obviously the guy had issues by this point, and pointed them out lyrically. Great song, however.
Up next is another hit single King Nothing which begins with some flanger sustained guitar notes, before a quirky and catchy bassline enter the scene. The guitar riff enters, and the rest of the band follow in a strong fashion. This piece is definitely a standout on this album, and is a great representation of the Load/Reload era. It is so headbangingly good that it demands listening. There is an absolutely awesome wah-wah guitar solo by Kirk Hammett in the middle of the song here, and the whole piece is excellent. It goes quiet after the guitar solo, with singing about wishing upon a star at night. Good and very listenable tune. Powerful.
Following is Hero Of The Day which is a melancholy sort of tune. It comes across as a weaker tune and although is good, falls short of being great. The lyrics don’t really make too much sense, except it is very much James Hetfield creating a personal statement. This was not a good period of time for Metallica, and you can hear this clearly in this song. There is an interesting midsection with pounding drum beats, but aside from that, this is a fairly run-of-the-mill song from Metallica. The emotion in it is very strong, however. The repeated lyric towards the end is James Hetfield pleading for help to his mother. Quite sad, really.
Bleeding Me is a very long piece that is a slow burner. It’s eight minutes long, rather a bit long for this side of Metallica. It does somewhat follow a quiet/loud progression that is fairly noticeable throughout the song. There are some neat production techniques here, mind you. The lyrics are fairly personal, once again. When the chorus kicks in, we are reminded of Metallica’s glory as the kings of modern Metal music. It is a highly emotional piece, very moving. There is a slide guitar solo in the middle of it as well, rather wacky if you think about it. This is actually quite good listening, and certainly better than some other Metallica efforts out there. Some great palm muted riffage after the first sections of the chorus come next. Towards the end, more wah-wah guitar by Kirk Hammett is here. The main riff is played right through to the end, and although this song could have been edited, it is a good effort. Interesting listening.
Cure comes next, and it is rather naff. Although it is designed to be catchy, it is definitely a weaker piece. Still, it is a good listen, without being a great one. The riff breakdowns here are pretty cool though. If you can muster up the patience to hear these songs, then this is another good listen from this album. The chorus is quite catchy, however. The guitar solos here are good as always, and this becomes an exciting listen, especially once you hear the funky bass part by Jason Newsted. It goes into some very good singing/screaming by James Hetfield towards the end. A decent tune regardless.
Next is the guitar riffage intro to Poor Twisted Me which is expertly played. Unfortunately, this is a throwaway number from this album, although the singing here is very good. The second half of the album obviously lacks inspiration and quality control, but in these circumstances, it was an acceptable thing at the time to do. There is some great guitar work here though, but apart from that, this song is unfortunately fairly forgettable. By this point, your patience will wear thin somewhat from this song. Okay, but not great.
After that is Wasting My Hate which is also rather trashy but far more direct lyrically. James Hetfield sings about keeping one’s hate to themselves over other people that they know. Maybe James Hetfield needed a proper psychologist? Whatever the circumstances may have been, this is another okay, but not great listen. There is a strange midsection with different strange sound effects, before James Hetfield goes into some pop Metal screaming. Fortunately it is rather short, for this album anyway.
Mama Said is a great acoustic ballad that sounds awesome with an excellent lyric line, “The brightest flame burns quickest”. It is a strange piece, with country style slide guitar throughout. It works quite well as an acoustic ballad, and is very well put together and constructed as a piece from this album. It holds back the emotion throughout, with it being gradually released throughout the song. It may refer to the love that one has for their own mother, in a do as I say, not as I do way. The ending is really excellent, bursting full of emotion. A good piece of music, and sounds well recorded and played by Metallica.
Thorn Within sounds pretty awful from the start. It’s quite clear by this point of the album that Metallica have made a hit-and-miss effort of an album. The music here is very abysmal, sounding like a very ordinary effort. The whole thing could have been junked here. There is nothing musically great about this, it sounds very meh. The fact that this song goes well over five minutes is also disappointing. No doubt that some songs on this album could have been reworked or better thought out. Now that Metallica had become rich and famous, there is little quality control on an album such as this. Worth avoiding.
Next is the more interesting sound Ronnie which has a neat guitar riff that is double tracked to full effect. It is about a cowboy outlaw lyrically, and it is a decent tune to listen to. It’s not fantastic, but not as mediocre as some other efforts on this album. It is a good listen lyrically, but musically, not so good. It drags on somewhat. The sad thing about this album is that the good tracks are mostly on the first half of the album. A good song, falling short of being a great song.
Last is the super long The Outlaw Torn which begins with some interesting guitar riffs, before going into a Metal jam of sorts. There is a good array of sound effects and production throughout. Unfortunately, that is far away from what Metallica were originally good at. It is still a good song, however and each member of the band puts in a superb performance. It has an array of sounds and sections though to keep you interested through this piece. James Hetfield sings from an angry sounding place. Perhaps he is the outlaw Ronnie mentioned on this album? We will not know for certain. Kirk Hammett does some great violining on guitar here, showing a diverse array of sounds and skills throughout this track. Indeed, his playing keeps this piece alive. Towards the end, an interesting jam occurs that is quite different.
This album is indeed, a mixed bag of both good and bad moments. But still, if you like Metal, Metallica is a good go-to point for that. The album cover may be gross, the music may be too long and also this is the longest CD ever released in music history. But still, Metallica did a decent job here. It’s just not as good as previous releases before it.