Elektra Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


In the music industry, time usually leads to irrelevance. Today’s hot star can be tossed aside if they fail to follow up with a product equally as compelling as their first, in short order to boot. This situation is even more inflamed if the last taste the artist has given their audience was not to their fans liking. Months drag by, years rack up, and the expectations game begins to take effect. “This album needs to be better than the last,” or “This is their last chance; if things don’t shape up I’m out.”

Metallica had built up enough goodwill from their stellar run of landmark ‘80s heavy metal records that the departures of The Black Album failed to severely limit their momentum. 1996’s Load was a different story, finding Ulrich and Hetfield moving into – dare we say – an alternative-rock landscape that was decidedly light on complexity and speed. The hair was shaved, the intensity muted, and there was not an apocalyptic scenario to be found. For many, Metallica’s time on top of the metal world had come crashing to an end.

Were this critic to analyze the situation, he would allow Metallica the experimentations of Load as a necessary evolution in their career. That album has some moments on it that justify its existence. If anything, the fan base should have saved their immediate scorn for the disaster that was to come in the form of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 ReLoad.

No one would argue the point that Load contained too much filler material. Those songs that failed to make the cut for that record were instead touched up and fleshed out, then released on ReLoad a year and a half later. That’s right, ReLoad consists of songs that were deemed unfit to appear on its predecessor. Considering the place these two records have taken in Metallica’s discography, that is not a promising subtext.

It is my solemn duty to point out the sometimes incredibly small amount of good material contained within the poorest of records. In the case of this album, that task is incredibly easy, as Metallica wisely sought to place the two best tracks at the front of the proceedings. “Fuel” would never be confused with their thrash metal heyday, but the track is far heavier and faster than anything else that was playing on radio at the time. “The Memory Remains” comes close to being too cute for its own good with the complete unnecessary and hokey “nanana” refrain, but kicks off with a decent enough riff to keep the audience interested as well as some top-notch soloing from Hammett.

From that point on, however, things get tougher. Mindless Black Album-era riffing show that the band had taken one too many trips to the well and were unable to come up with anything that stood apart from their peers. A track along the lines of “Devil’s Dance” is a perfect example. The similarities to “Sad But True” are numerous, almost too numerous. Metallica had walked that ground before, and attempting to alter it slightly wasn’t going to fool anyone. There was no reason to craft a sequel to the hit song “The Unforgiven” (creatively titled “The Unforgiven II”), save to allow Hetfield to actually reuse some of the lyrics from the superior first installment. Lesser bands could have written “Better Than You” and for them, perhaps it would have meant something more. But for Metallica, it meant they were slumming it, too content from their success to really make a serious effort at something new and different.

On a certain level, I find aspects of ReLoad more insulting than what is unquestionably their worst album, St. Anger. Whereas with the latter, the band was legitimately trying a new approach that simply was the wrong way to go about doing things, the former is the textbook definition of a group sitting on their laurels. Where’s the hunger, the fire, the passion? Where’s the rage? To the Metallica fan sitting in his/her room in 1997 listening to this record for the first time, I can understand why you stopped listening. Apparently, the band had stopped as well.

Rating: D+

User Rating: B-



© 2009 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.