On Saturday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum welcomes Metallica to the ranks of popular music’s all-time greats. The band did as much as any group to establish and define thrash metal, then gradually slowed down and became one of the world’s biggest rock bands.
To celebrate the Frisco phenoms’ hard-won recognition, Scene presents The Great Metallica Debate. D.X. Ferris, the paper’s designated metalhead, is moderating. He’ll introduce topics, which will be answered by Chris Akin, Classic Metal Show host and webmaster of Pitriff.com, and Matt Wardlaw, former Metal Show host, Radio 92.3 Inner Sanctum host, and proprietor of music blog AddictedToVinyl.com.
After the band broke through to the masses with 1988’s jamming power ballad “One,” the group truly exploded into popular culture with 1991’s polarizing Metallica (“The Black Album”), which cracked the Billboard Top 10 and eventually sold more than 15 million copies in the US alone.
After that unexpected smash, Metallica hit a rough patch. Over the following decade, the former thrash champions released a series of different and experimental albums, including the rocky Load double-shot, the symphony-backed S&M and the oddly mixed St. Anger. Producer Rick Rubin helped the band return to its metal roots with 2008’s Death Magnetic, which is generally accepted as a satisfying return to form.
Which leads us to today’s topic: What’s the best Metallica album between the Black Album and Death Magnetic?
Load takes home the prize on this one. The album tracks from this one sounded really good on the radio — "Poor Twisted Me," "Ain't My Bitch" and "Wasting My Hate." "King Nothing" was my favorite of the radio singles, and the Coffee Break Concert live version of this one from the Odeon (R.I.P.) owns — see Hetfield’s “Where the fuck's your crrr-ooown!” At the radio station, "Bleeding Me" was always the perfect time-waster for a bathroom break. If I was re-sequencing this album, I would throw on "Fuel" and "Devil's Dance" from Re-Load and ditch "Ronnie" and "Mama Said."
St. Anger. It’s a mixed bag. Very mixed. Sounds like demos for a pretty good proper Metallica record.
Reload. I just like the whole laid back feel to it. Some of the songs are just cool, like “Devil’s Dance,” “Bad Seed,” “Fixxxer” and “Better Than You.” "Fuel" was fun in a “let’s write a radio hit” way, and overall it just seems like they weren’t as frustrated with the writing process with it like they seemed to be with Load. I know a lot of this all came from the same sessions, but there’s just a whole different vibe to it. So much of Load just felt forced. “Ain’t My Bitch” and “2x4” both just feel like Bob Rock was forcing a bad idea down their throats. St. Anger could have been in my Top 5 albums from them with standard Metallica production. There’s a lot of powerful stuff there masked by Lars’ dismal sound and performance. —D.X. Ferris