That’s what 1996’s Load was to longtime Metallica fans. After bringing thrash to the masses with 1991’s Metallica (The Black Album), they were among the most popular bands in the world. Load just felt like a totally unnecessary money grab. New short haircuts and makeup replaced long hair, denim and leather. Artsy-fartsy layouts and heavy handed production created a product that was palatable to the alternative rock loving mainstream. It worked, and the album catapulted Metallica even further into the realm of the world’s biggest rock stars.
What does this have to do with 1997's Reload? Well, the albums are two peas in a pod. Their packaging suggests they could have been a double LP. Old school Metallica fans (including yours truly) hate Load, but Reload is even more despised. Reload ended up with the weakest songs of that lousy but successful era. I hadn’t heard Reload in years, so I really tried to listen to it with an open mind. I thought maybe I’d discover some lost gem that I overlooked the first time around. I’m sorry to say that I did not. As a matter of fact, repeated listens only confirmed what I had known for years: this record is a turd.
Reload actually started out well enough with the rock radio hit “Fuel”. While it certainly didn’t contain Metallica’s greatest lyrics, it was a catchy, sturdy opener. Second track was the ballad “The Memory Remains”. It was mellow, but also above average. The crusty Marianne Faithfull vocal line at the end made it work. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. Like a lot of albums made for the CD era, Reload ran way too long. The two good songs were followed by more than 65 minutes of filler. At times, it’s actually painful to listen to.
The epitome of badness was the sequel ballad “The Unforgiven ll”, but all the rest of the songs were pretty terrible. The music was was clunky and forgettable. There was no trace of the inspired thrash and speed metal of Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets or ...And Justice for All. The once cool and cryptic lyrics were replaced by something far more mundane. James Hetfield’s glorious bark had been neutered and turned into something resembling singing.
Maybe I could have enjoyed Reload if it hadn’t had so much baggage, but I doubt it. Even in the context of a straight up rock and roll album it’s still deathly dull. I mostly blame producer Bob Rock, but ultimately Metallica is responsible for this debacle. It felt less like trying to keep up with the times and more like completely selling out. It brings me no pleasure to trash this ill advised record, but it’s a bit easier now that Metallica has largely righted their ship. Still, it’s probably best if we all just agree to never speak of Reload again.