Metal fans (and Metal itself) is often portrayed as a primitive, almost idiotic type of music. While that's definitely not the case, most METALLICA fans help perpetuate the stereotype, with great ideas and arguments such as this:
Them: Metallica sold out!
Me: Why did they sell out?
Them: Because they went commercial with "Load"!
Me: How did they go commercial? They completely changed their sound, their image, everything! Wouldn't they have just released a black album sound alike? Why sell out when your previous stuff sells so well?
Them: What do you know? They cut their hair. They sold out.
Not very logical. Calling this album a sell out is like calling MESHUGGAH's "Nothing" a sell out, cos they like, went slow dude. This is probably METALLICA's most experimental album, full of strange ideas and big risks. "The House That Jack Built" is almost a Doom Metal song. It doesnt have a very conventional song structure, just lots of heavy, sludgy kind of riffs, with a long slow build up throughout the whole song, climaxing in a strange talk box (??!!??) solo. "Hero Of The Day" is in a major key (!!) for the most part, sounding bright and cheerful before going into a super heavy bridge, and then going into another cheery bit before going back into the brutalness.
I could go on like that with basically every song. Kirk treats his guitar in a very different way in this album. With the exception of maybe "Bleeding Me", every solo is a composition in itself. It's probably the first METALLICA album that Kirk showed what he was really capable off. Sure he was a good shredder, but hell, everyone can shred. But how many people could write the solo in "Outlaw Torn"? How many people could do the strange, textural solo that's in "Ain't My Bitch"? Sure, he does have a few low points in this album ("Cure" and "2x4" come to mind) but for the most part, he's doing something unique and interesting, for the first time in his whole career.
Kirk's material is somewhat unusual, but James stretches himself a lot as well. "Outlaw Torn's" middle section could almost be in an ISIS song. "Mama Said" is straight up Country. While I don't like that song much, (Probably one of the worse METALLICA have ever done) it would take a huge amount of balls to put that in a METALLICA album. There's some other risky stuff in here too, like the oh-so-bluesy stuff in "Poor Twisted Me", the strange, off kilter riffing that's in "Ronnie", hell, even the organ/piano whatever that hangs around in the background of the album's centrepiece, "Bleeding Me".
All of this is backed up by some great drumming by Lars. It's not very complicated, but it's far better then the crappy drumming in the black album. There's a sense of groove in the drums that where never there before, and while they aren't particurly technical, they are never, ever out of place. There's not one spot that has the wrong drum beat. No blast beats or double bass fills, just solid steady drumming that's never out of place. The bass is for the most part happy to fit into the background, but there's still some excellent bass line here and there, like the sublime bass licks in "Until it Sleeps" and "Outlaw Torn".
Still, despite the odd stuff coming from James and Kirk, there is some commercial things here, I will admit. The production is very commercial, but unlike the black album, it treads the line between commercial and overproduced very nicely. The guitars are heavily distorted and thick, the drums and bass are loud, fat and powerful, and the vocals are done very, very well. The vocals are definetly the best in any MET record. Not much growling here folks, just a lot of straight up singing. Great stuff. Bob has never been particurly popular with MET fans, but few could deny the great job he's done here. It's all so thick, powerful and clear.. The way a Metal record should be.
So while I'll admit there are a few commercial considerations, for the most part, this was a big risk on METALLICA's side. Strange, epic tunes ("Outlaw Torn") crash with short Punk songs ("Wasting my Hate"). Arena Rock tunes like "Hero Of The Day" against straight up Blues tunes. Doom Metal-y stuff and Country...all in the same album. You won't find this much variety in the strangest of indie bands, and here's the biggest Heavy Metal band in the world doing it! Worth picking up if you're a big MET fan. Not worth getting if you only like METALLICA "when they had long hair."
(Online November 23, 2007)